Real Madrid’s Build-up vs. Leganes’ Defensive Block
Facing the mighty Real Madrid at the intimidating Santiago Bernabeu, Leganes could’ve been forgiven for hunkering down and “parking the bus.” Instead, they played a fairly proactive defensive game that troubled Madrid in the first half.
Setting up in a 4-5-1/4-3-3, Leganes created a medium-high block that looked to compress the space Madrid could play in and win the ball relatively high up the pitch.
In an effort to force play to the flanks, Gabriel was used as a singular presser to harry Nacho and Varane. Madrid could’ve easily played the ball around Gabriel by creating a passing triangle between Varane-Nacho-Kroos, but Los Blancos played straight into Leganes’ hands by choosing the easy option of pushing the ball wide.
The second this happened, Rico/Bustinza pushed up to mark the winger, while Szymanowski/Machis pressed the fullback and Pérez/Lopez marked the CM.
This proved to be extremely effective in breaking down Madrid’s play and preventing any entry into the final third - partly because of Madrid’s incredible lethargy and partly because of Zidane’s poor tactics.
Plays like the one above were down to individual error and a total lack of focus, but Zidane’s asinine commitment to playing through the flanks did not help Madrid at all. Thus, Madrid were often forced to ping hopeful passes to their front line or merely recycle the ball endlessly in their own half.
As a result, Madrid’s top passing combos were dominated by passes to Marcelo-Varane-Kroos-Nacho-Carvajal by Marcelo-Varane-Kroos-Nacho-Carvajal, leading those players to pick up a truly ridiculous 503 touches between them (Carvajal - 100, Varane - 116, Nacho - 98, Marcelo - 86, Kroos - 103; 68% of Madrid’s total touches).
This left Morata, Ronaldo, and Bale, isolated for most of the match, with any attempt at a vertical pass brutally cut out by a strong challenge (Morata was fouled 7 times). This lack of service saw Morata push out wide to the left in search of the ball, but things got little better for him thanks to Leganes’ astute defense of the wings.
Bale found more joy because of his extremely deep movement, but even he was quiet until the last 7-8 minutes of the match.
Meanwhile, Ronaldo drifted more centrally, looking to make runs in behind the defensive line in place of Morata.
This created a focal point that allowed Madrid to play long balls, something that proved to be Madrid’s greatest chance creator.
In the 22nd minute, Varane put Ronaldo one-on-one with Serantes, before Isco exploited a big gap in Leganes’ defense with a brilliant assist to Gareth Bale in the 38th minute.
Real Madrid’s L-Shaped midfield
But perhaps one of the biggest problems in Los Blancos’ build-up was their poor structure in midfield. When building play from the back, only one of Isco or Kovacic would push up into the halfspace, creating an asymmetric L-shape that allowed Madrid to penetrate only one half of the pitch. It was mostly Isco who made these movements, while Kovacic was usually the one who sat deep next to Kroos.
I am unsure if this was because Zidane was really playing a 4-2-3-1, but I doubt that was the formation, since Modric immediately enforced a more regular “V” structure when replacing Kovacic in the 62nd minute.
Whatever the reason, it pretty much destroyed any chance of build-up through the middle, something that really irritated me because it was so easy to fix.
WAT IS THIS L-SHAPED MIDFIELD IT'S PISSING ME OFF— Om Arvind (@OmVArvind) November 6, 2016
The Change in the 2nd Half
Real Madrid’s set-piece goal before half time was a crucial blow, as it forced Leganes to come out with a different mindset and game plan from the first half. Needing more than just good defense to win the match, Leganes pushed men forward, opening up spaces behind them that Madrid could exploit.
In addition to this, Madrid actually came out of the tunnel focused and ready to play football, causing them to dominate the opening 10 minutes of the second half through sheer intensity (more ball carrying, more crosses, more off-the-ball runs). They also ferociously pressed Leganes’ back line, which knocked the away side out of their rhythm and allowed Madrid to retain possession in the final third.
All of these factors coalesced to create a comfortable ending to the match, with Madrid finishing the game with a shot differential of 10.
Bits & Pieces
Bale was the man of the match. His off-the-ball movement and desire in the box was far greater than Ronaldo’s or Morata’s, leading him to pick up 8 shots, 6 of which were on target.
In contrast, Ronaldo had a really poor game. He just wasn’t involved and his only two moments of significance was his miss one-on-one with the keeper and his cross to Bale early in the second half.
Leganes were structurally sound, but their individual defending was poor and they created little to no threat in offense. Thus, they were deserved losers.
We got a clean sheet!