Four things we noted from today’s win in Lisbon.
After two matches and five goals away from home with this 4-5-1 (or 4-4-1-1, depending on how you interpret it), I’m a fan of this ideology.
It provides stability, for one. With a packed midfield, defensive lapses can be masked, and offensively, outlets are pretty well always available. On one hand, you sacrifice flair without BBC, but on the other, you have cover in multiple positions, and can take advantage of space left in-behind the opposing backline with darting runs from Bale and Ronaldo.
On multiple occassions Sporting looked like they had space to work with, but they were closed down within moments - such is the advantage of a packed midfield that sways and moves cohesively. Even when Sporting were enjoying good spells offensively, Real Madrid were able to tame them and cope with every single bit of pressure that was thrown their way. Most telling stat: Sporting had just one shot on target outside their penalty shot.
Of course, the game was far from flawless. As well as Real Madrid did as a team defensively, they definitely sacrificed a lot going forward. In this particular instance, Isco was just a shadow of who he was at the Vicente Calderon, which stagnated the offense. It didn’t help Luka Modric either, who had several misplaced passes without much support from Isco.
This isn’t a look you throw out every game, to be clear, but it still remains a very viable option for Zidane to roll with when he needs plug some leaks defensively. But, again, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ solution here. Some games it will work, and some games it won’t. Case-in-point the chaotic ending and a winning goal from Karim Benzema off the bench.
The main criticisms from today, of course, will come from the lack of composure towards the end. No chance Real Madrid should have been made to sweat as much as they did after Pereira’s red card. The gap in front of the defense increased as the front three become lackadaisical in their tracking, and Coentrao’s decision to put his hands in the air to make an appeal in the box will go down as one of the most embarrassing moments of the season.
That’s on Zidane. He has to keep the team’s structure and stability in-check after he makes substitutions.
Lots of shade thrown over Sergio Ramos today, which I thought was quite harsh. Yes, he did make a silly pass that nearly led to a goal - but as did Modric and Vasquez at one point or another. Ramos also had two goal-saving plays in the first half - one challenge on Adrien Silva as he was through on goal early on, and the other a last ditch block which forced a corner.
Important note: Sergio Ramos is also a booking away from missing El Clasico, meaning he might not be risked for 90 minutes against Gijon this weekend. Only logical he gets minutes tonight.
Undoubtedly the biggest concern now is Gareth Bale’s health. Bale was the team’s most dangerous player going forward tonight, taking advantage of space left in behind by Gelson on the left, and interchanging between both wings which gave Sporting all kinds of headaches. If he misses the match in the Camp Nou, who is going to score all of Real Madrid’s disallowed goals? Let’s hope he recovers.
Just one last note to share: Sporting attacked Marcelo relentlessly all night and it worked in creating havoc. They did the same thing in the first leg - along with hounding Casemiro like wildfire - and it was a problem. That’s something you live with if you don’t want to sacrifice Marcelo’s offensive prowess, and I’m surprised more opposing coaches don’t implement it.