Real Madrid Began the Match in Disappointing Fashion Once Again
It seems that Real Madrid’s slow starts are becoming something of a systemic problem, as Zidane’s side opened the match in lackadaisical fashion for the third straight La Liga match. It’s hard to say who should be blamed for this unbelievable level of complacency, but it is fair to remark that Zidane and the players should share some of the blame (to what degree we have no idea). It is the job of the manager to ensure that his team is focused and sharp from the first minute to the last, but it is hard for him to accomplish that if his players are not willing to cooperate.
Real paid for this attitude with an Eibar goal that seemed to come from nowhere. Knocking the ball around slowly on Madrid’s left-flank, Ander Capa saw Fran Rico make a run into the box before pummeling a deep cross into the box. While it was frustrating to see how Kovacic reacted slowly to close down Capa, it was agonizing to see Pepe lose Rico because he was caught ball-watching like an amateur.
That seemed to wake Madrid up from their slumber, but the resulting reaction was not enough erase Los Blancos’ mental collapse.
Zidane’s Tactics Were Unimaginative, But They Created Enough Chances
There was a lot of criticism post-game about Zidane’s continuing decision to rely on unsophisticated wing-play, but it is worth noting that this plan created a fair amount of chances
The problem of missing your chances is a lot easier to fix than a problem of not creating them. Still a problem.#xGplot pic.twitter.com/zqGNofpae7— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) October 2, 2016
xG map for Real Madrid - Eibar. Maybe not the time to panic for Real Madrid fans.— Caley Graphics (@Caley_graphics) October 2, 2016
But it is the time for the correct graphic. pic.twitter.com/SqqgH3qsu1
As can be seen above, Real Madrid completely outperformed Eibar on expected goals, suggesting that a lot of Madrid’s woes were due to poor finishing: Ronaldo missed his fair share of chances and both Benzema and Bale failed to convert blocked tap-ins.
But this doesn’t mean that Zidane can be absolved from any blame. With a full pre-season under his belt and the 2016/17 campaign now truly under way, the Frenchman has totally failed to come up with a sophisticated attacking strategy that enables Real Madrid to provide penetration through the middle. This means that any team that sits deep in a low block stands a chance against Madrid, something that was a pattern in the Rafa Benitez era.
Benzema suffered because of this, managing only 6 touches, 4 attempted passes, and 1 shot for the 45 minutes he was on the pitch.
While he was admittedly poor himself, he did drop extremely deep to try to connect with his teammates and receive the ball. Instead of being rewarded for this, he was consistently ignored for easier and less imaginative passes to the flanks, leaving the French striker completely isolated and detached from the game.
This is further proven by looking at fourfourtwo’s passing combination chart, which shows that the top two passing combinations mostly involved wide players, with Danilo being the fulcrum of this distribution pattern (Danilo made more passes than anyone not named Pepe, Carvajal, or Toni Kroos).
Ronaldo and Bale’s Individual Ability Allowed Zidane’s Strategy to Succeed
So with such a predictable passing pattern, how did Madrid manage to create so many chances? Three words: Ronaldo and Bale.
Tactics often only mean so much when you have two of the best wingers in the world on your side, as they can create something out of nothing even in the worst of situations. In fact, they can even improve a manager’s tactics though intelligent positioning and cerebral movement.
Case in point: Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward was masterful without the ball, as he constantly moved into pockets of space in order to create passing triangles with Kovacic and Danilo. This was crucial, as it allowed Madrid to play cute passes around Eibar’s low block and transition into the final third.
Ronaldo has done brilliantly out on the wing today. Has kept width, connected with Danilo and Kova, and put in dangerous crosses. pic.twitter.com/u9E1lEJRtc— Om Arvind (@OmVArvind) October 2, 2016
Nevertheless, it was his individual magic that made the biggest difference, as he brilliantly shook off his marker before delivering a gem of a cross to Bale. He created another chance like that later on in the match, boosting Madrid’s xG total and vindicating Zidane’s strategy.
Bale for his part, provided more with his dribbling, as he completed 3 take-ons and consistently drove Madrid up the field single-handedly. In one move, he even managed to split two defenders before firing a shot from range into the side netting. Without such individual ability, it is highly doubtful that Madrid would’ve made any headway down the right flank at all.
Bits & Pieces
Kovacic was Madrid’s best midfielder on the night. His ball carrying ability was stunning, his quick feet was mesmerizing, and his intelligent positioning and clean passing allowed Real Madrid to retain possession and advance down the left flank.
Keylor Navas should’ve saved the Fran Rico goal.
Varane’s only notable play was a poor pass inside his own half.
Here’s a nice stat to cheer you up:
8 - Cristiano Ronaldo has made more assists to Gareth Bale than any other Real Madrid player in all competitions (8). Prize.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) October 2, 2016
And here’s one to put you down again...
Madrid not drawn four in a row since 2006 [via @carrusel ]— Dermot Corrigan (@dermotmcorrigan) October 2, 2016
(All statistics & charts taken from whoscored.com & fourfourtwo statszone)