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Stat-Pack: Analyzing Real Madrid’s Attacking Patterns

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Real Madrid’s tactical identity is “crossing.”

FourFourTwo Statszone

With the Club World Cup done and dusted and the winter break finally upon us, now is the perfect time to look back at Real Madrid’s offensive performance in La Liga in the first half of the 2016/17 season.

Currently, there are several differing opinions as to whether Zidane has concocted an effective attacking scheme, with a sizable group of fans feeling negatively about Real Madrid’s offensive play.

Some of this may be down to stylistic concerns, but the overall statistics irrefutably prove that Real Madrid are an offensive powerhouse.

Basic Shooting Data Across Europe’s Top 5 Leagues

When comparing Real Madrid to nine of the top goal scoring teams from Europe’s top five leagues, Real Madrid sit in second place behind Monaco, with 2.7 goals per 90 minutes (p90).

This sets Madrid above established teams such as Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Arsenal, and Chelsea.

When looking deeper at the shot statistics, Real Madrid take a clear lead, with Monaco disappearing from the top ten all together (perhaps suggesting an unsustainable conversion ratio).

With a prolific 19 shots p90 and insane 7.3 shots on target p90, it’s pretty clear that Real Madrid’s goal scoring record is down to more than just luck.

However, it doesn’t explain how Los Blancos are approaching their attacking game plan.

In-depth Creation Data Across Europe’s Top 5 Leagues

Looking deeper at the types of goals, shots, and assists Real Madrid create, there are a couple things that stand out immediately. The first, is that Real Madrid are utterly superior aerially.

They manage 0.7 headed goals p90, a statistic that is decisively ahead of their closest competitor’s - Real Sociedad - numbers.

Like with the basic goals scored p90, this statistical lead is down to more than just luck. As can be seen by the number of headed shots p90 (4.7, which is far ahead of Bayern’s 4) and number of cross-assists p90 (0.7), it is evident that Real Madrid actively look to launch the ball into the box from wide areas to take advantage of the aerial dominance of Benzema, Bale, and Cristiano (they each take 0.8, 1.5, and 1.2 headed shots p90 respectively).

It is interesting to see how this compromises play through the middle, which has been a contentious point of debate throughout Zidane’s tenure.

While many would like to claim that Real Madrid’s reliance on crosses is overstated, Los Blancos’ low statistic of 0.1 throughball key passes p90 provides hard evidence against such an argument.

It’s also worth mentioning that Real Madrid aren’t even part of the top 10 through ball creators. While the rest of the teams in the graphic consist of the top nine from Europe’s top five leagues, Real Madrid sits in 22nd place. Los Merengues are only placed next to the other teams in the chart for comparison’s sake (in other words, the placement is not due to qualitative equivalence).

Crossing Data Across Europe’s Top 5 Leagues

So having established that Real Madrid rely heavily on crossing to create shots, it only makes sense to delve into the crossing figures themselves.

While Real Madrid sit in only 8th place for accurate crosses p90 and 10th place for inaccurate crosses p90, it is interesting to see them top the key pass crosses metric with a figure of 4.6 p90. This suggests that Real Madrid possess quality delivery-men, which makes sense when you remember that they have a roster with the likes of Marcelo, Carvajal, Bale, Kroos, and Modric.

The success of such a figure perhaps justifies Zidane’s intense crossing approach, since Madrid create the most chances p90 from crosses, finish off the most crosses p90, and score the most headed goals p90, but it is worth noting that it takes Real Madrid 34.57 crosses p90 to create one goal.

In other words, Real Madrid have just under a 3% chance of scoring off of each cross - a pretty inefficient ratio.

To be fair, this isn’t the only way that Real Madrid try to score, as evidenced by the fact that they score only 0.7 of their 2.7 goals p90 from crosses, but it is ignorant to deny that Zidane sets his side up to cross their way to goal.

A compilation of several Real Madrid passmaps shows a distinct network of passes around the wings, with little to no final third networks through the center.

Couple that with the fact that Lucas Vázquez is Real Madrid’s top key pass provider p90 minutes - 4 key passes p90 - (he is also “coincidentally” Real Madrid’s most accurate crosser with 2.7 accurate crosses p90), and it becomes extremely clear that Real Madrid’s attacking gameplan is heavily reliant on crossing.

In fact, I’d go even further and claim that Real Madrid’s tactical identity is “crossing,” in the same way that gegenpressing is for Klopp and positional play is for Pep Guardiola, since “crossing” is the one metric-group (coupled with linked statistics like headed goals p90) that separates the All Whites from all the other teams in Europe’s top five leagues.

While that may seem like Zidane has developed a rather crude and unsophisticated style of attacking, it is worth noting that Real Madrid have the second highest goals p90 statistic and are currently on a 37 match unbeaten run; so clearly something is working.

Nevertheless, the inefficiency of such a strategy is startling, meaning it just might serve Zidane well to diversify his attacking tactics come the second half of the season.


(All statistics taken from whoscored.com)