How the manager affects player performances
Before going onto how horrific our players performed, it is worth nothing that a large part of the way a team plays is down to the way a manager sets them up. Benitez had his Blancos play in an asinine 4-4-2 that struggled to make any inroads against a Malaga back line that sat back deeper and deeper as the game went on. To put it simply, if you want to break down a side that is "parking the bus" you do not set up in the flattest formation available. Things got better when Kovacic was subbed on to make it a 4-3-3 as this offered Madrid more chances. But the movement off the ball continued to be poor and Madrid continued to pile crosses into the box. Don’t be fooled by the number of shots we had (several were from range and tight angles). It was tactically poor and naïve from Benitez and was a large reason for why we performed so stagnantly.
Easily Madrid’s best player of the match. He didn’t have too much to do but was brilliant when called upon (again). He had no real work in the first half, but made one good clearance and showed good bravery to battle Juan Carlos in a 50-50 aerial challenge. In the second half he made one of the saves of the season on Recio’s free kick and was extremely clever in denying Malaga a corner in the 75th minute.
He was pretty quiet the whole match but livened up near the last 10 minutes of the match. He showed some good bursts forward but struggled to really break down a resolute Malaga defense.
Varane started off the match decently enough but digressed rapidly in the second half. Amrabat gave him a fair amount of trouble but Varane really made his mistakes in a tackle that led to Recio’s free kick and a horrific attempt at an interception/clearance that gave Namrabat a really good chance on goal.
Nacho was quite simply shambolic. Whenever really tested he came up short. He was the main culprit when Madrid needed to clear their lines in the second half. He then followed it up with a horrible tackle and Amrabat and a horrific defensive header in the 86th minute that ended up giving Malaga a corner. In the 91st minute he easily allowed a shot on goal that deflected off him and went into the side netting. With very few chances to make an impression, Benitez will not be very confident in handing Nacho a start for a while.
Marcelo was average going forward and and average coming back defensively, but he was the least troubled out of any Madrid defender. But in a situation where Marcelo had the full run of the left flank he wasn’t quite decisive enough. But he did show some good mazy runs and it wasn’t really his fault that Benitez’s set-up wasn’t conducive for breaking Malaga down.
Kroos was generally good with his passing and ball retention, but too often he seemed content in letting the responsibility of changing the match fall into the hands of other players. The game desperately needed a defense-splitting pass or a game-changing cross and Kroos never seemed like he was going to offer it. But again, there is only so much he can do when for the majority of the game he had to hold his position as one of the players in a double pivot in a 4-4-2.
Aside from Navas he was Madrid’s best player (which isn't saying that much). He wasn’t vintage Modric (lets make that clear), as he was shackled by Benitez’s decisions. However, with the game winding down, Modric made a real attempt to come forward and change the game. He distributed the ball into dangerous positions fairly well and enabled Carvajal to become explosive on the flank. His try on goal after a one-two with Benzema should have been better, but the Croatian did more than most to push Madrid towards a win they didn’t get.
Isco did plenty of running and dribbling, but that horrid 4-4-2 generally shackled him (the movement of Isco was especially confusing. He was exchanging positions randomly with Jese and at times was almost a half center midfielder and half attacking midfielder when he vacated the flank, causing all sorts of positional confusion). He was bright in the first half but his shots went nowhere and his final ball was the most disappointing aspect of his game.
Jese had some good strikes in the first half, but (and you must be tired of hearing this) Rafa’s decisions did not help him. His pace and trickery was good but an injury in the second half ended any chance he might have had in impacting the game. In a squad where there are 6 possible positions for the wing spot (excluding Jese), the young Spaniard may have just seen his last chance at genuine Madrid minutes if this injury lasts long. Vazquez and Cheryshev may just have of secured a proper back-up role by then.
Ronaldo was Madrid’s most consistent threat throughout. There is no doubt about that. But there is simply no excuse for missing the amount of chances that he did. He had 15 shots and had one of the worst nights that I have ever seen.
He was unbelievably quiet in the first half. There really is nothing else to say about what the Frenchman did. In the second half he played a good one-two with Modric and got two weak strikes on goal. Again, that’s pretty much it.
His arrival on the pitch offered Madrid better tactical variety, but there was little he could do to change the course of the game.