Real Betis’ game plan
It was clear from any decent pre-match analysis that Betis were going to play a defensive game and look to grab opportunistic goals on the counter. However the intensity with which they pressed was rather unexpected and very brave. While Betis’ attackers put some pressure on Madrid’s CB’s, Betis saved the majority of their hassling for their own half. They invited Madrid’s playmakers 6-10 yards in front of the halfway line before closing them down with extreme speed. While the forwards, Alfred N’Diaye and Petros did this, the wide midfielders and defenders made sure to shut out all options for the pass. What resulted was a small panic from Madrid’s midfielders. For the first 5 minutes, things were rough for Madrid, as Isco, Modric, and Kroos saw their speed of thought tested. Clearly not expecting such a game plan from Betis, Madrid’s midfield came up short in the opening stages of the game. They either gave the ball away, passed it back to the defenders, or pinged the ball into men that were tightly man-marked, leading to an eventual loss of possession. It was a structured and well-organized system that had Madrid on the ropes and Betis made it count. They had a bit of luck with shoddy defending from Madrid, but Cejudo converted a wonder goal to vindicate Betis' game plan.
As the game went on, Madrid looked to find their forwards more and more often, causing Betis’s second defensive phase to come into play. They furiously snapped at the heels of Benzema, James, and (especially) Ronaldo, forcing Madrid’s attackers into poor touches and cheap losses of possession. Essentially, Betis did their utmost to prevent Madrid from finding their rhythm as long as possible. Players were given no time to turn and face the goal. When Madrid’s forwards tried to do so, they were met with the sharp crack of a boot to the knee or to the calf, as Ronaldo found out on 4 occasions.
In the end Betis’ new manager will be happy to see that his strategy produced results:
Number of poor controls by Real Madrid: 15
Number of times Real Madrid was dispossessed: 13
Real Madrid’s response
Having gone 1-0 down to a surprise goal, Madrid actually responded quite well. It took them 10 minutes or so, but Madrid finally found their rhythm in a high-octane atmosphere. Isco was the first midfielder to begin floating in between the lines, dragging Betis’s players out of their defensive shape. He made several good runs throughout the match and doggedly tracked back to help out his defenders. Soon Modric got into the act as well, as he refused to stand still in an attempt to defeat the press. As soon as he started doing that, Madrid’s players began finding the Croatian with more regularity. Kroos followed suit and Real began to switch the ball from side to side with speed, to further ruin Betis’ organization and tire their players out.
Madrid’s forwards responded to the change in tempo by becoming extremely fluid in their movement, as they moved across the width of the pitch in order to get the ball.
Madrid’s change in strategy and attitude worked, as they played their fullbacks into good crossing positions and managed to create good chances for Ronaldo and Pepe. They were also denied two clear penalties.
When the second half started, Betis quickly disbanded their pressing game as they were clearly exhausted, and instead recoiled into a defensive shell. As Madrid probed and probed it became evident that the great Whites were possibly running out of ideas. Cross after cross came in for Adán to easily claim.
In order to mix things up, Ronaldo and Benzema tried to combine a couple times, but their efforts were fruitless. But just as things were getting a little tedious for Madrid, Modric took control of the game. He charged forward with the ball at his feet and connected with every single player on the park. Around the 60th minute, Modric played a brilliant through ball to Danilo that gave Madrid a chance. While it was squandered, it signaled a change in Madrid’s approach. Penetrative passing was mixed with crossing, creating a breakthrough for Madrid in the 71st minute. Kroos did brilliantly to dance past his marker on the edge of the box and play in James, who teed up Benzema for the easiest of goals.
From then on Madrid had several chances to win the game as Betis’ defensive organization looked on the verge of collapse, but Los Blancos simply couldn’t make their dominance pay-off. James in particular had good chances and Benzema had a glorious opportunity, but in the end Adán was just too good.
1. Madrid's approach was good tonight. The response to going down was admirable as every player kept their head up and kept attacking. The change in tactics orchestrated by the midfielders was also very encouraging and showed Madrid's ability to adapt to the game.
2. Madrid's defensive frailties were exposed once again, as a single counterattack exposed Madrid's centerbacks, who additionally, had no cover from their fullbacks or CM's.
3. While the finishing wasn't great in some instances, Adán simply had an imperious game with 7 saves. The man of the match for me.
4. Madrid's inability to defeat passionate teams that play with an intense pressing plan has become a worrying trend over the years. This weakness reared its ugly head once again vs. Betis.