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Real Madrid vs Granada (La Liga; 2-1): Tactical Review

The reasons for why Zidane needs to start doing things differently away from home.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s win should not mask their pathetic away form

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Madrid’s away form is costing them the La Liga title. We got away with it today thanks to a wonder goal from Luka Modric, but it is clear that there are issues when we travel away from the Bernabeu. Why this is the case is hard to diagnose, but there are tactical issues (as I will elaborate further on in this article) as well as possible mental issues that need to be addressed. Zidane hasn’t had much time in the hot seat but he needs to be on this problem like a piston if Madrid are to put up a serious title challenge this late in the season.

Los Merengues's tactics need to change away from home

Offensive vs Defensive Stability

Coming into this match I expected Granada to play with intensity, passion, and a direct style of football, and they did exactly that. In the first 5 minutes of the game there were some intense passages of pressing that suffocated Madrid’s supply lines and neutralized the Los Blancos attack temporarily. When Granada won the ball, they looked for a quick ball over the top to exploit the space left by Madrid’s high line. This strategy produced immediate results as Granada forced Keylor Navas to take decisive action from outside his box in the 3rd minute. The way the home team were exploiting Madrid’s defensive weaknesses should’ve been taken as a warning by the Whites, but all signals were ignored. Real’s fullbacks pushed up with little care for the space they left behind them in order to affect the game in advanced areas. This gameplan paid off offensively minute Madrid created their first chance of the game in the 8th minute when the ball moved from Marcelo, to Modric, to Carvajal, and then to Benzema, and created a goal in the 30th when Carvajal assisted Benzema for the opener. This, along with the below stat, reaffirms my belief that fullback play is crucial for Zidane, but there is no doubt now that the defensive costs with this strategy are high.

At home, Madrid can get away with this sort of play as teams will sit back and look to soak up pressure 99% of the time. This sort of "park the bus" strategy actually makes it necessary for fullbacks to push forward in order to create overloads and break down defenses, but Zidane is too naïve if he thinks teams will do the same at when facing Madrid with home ground advantage. As long as clubs like Betis and Granada are gutsy and play with intensity, Madrid cannot afford to be so cavalier in their attacking style. Zidane has to start working on a plan B for away games ASAP.

Zidane’s philosophy may have got in the way

To anyone that has researched Zidane remotely well, it is clear that the Real Madrid manager’s preferred style of play is based is attractive possession football. In Madrid’s recent games, our CM’s have been getting more touches on the ball and attempting more passes than ever due to Zidane's immediate stylistic changes. In particular I like the way we circulate the ball from back to front in short quick passes in order to bamboozle our opponents. However, this didn’t work today. Many of Madrid’s players just weren’t sharp enough tonight, as Madrid gave away pass after pass. This combined with the fact that Madrid insisted on playing the ball in short passes all the way up the pitch, made for a very boring and lethargic Madrid at times. Around the 20 min mark onwards, Madrid’s tempo dropped significantly as Madrid searched to find control of the game. I was fine with this style after we took the lead, as I just thought we were playing sensible and careful football. However, this style of play went on far too long. With Granada pressing and destabilizing their own shape, we tried to play our way out of trouble one too many times. There were obvious gaps on the flanks that could be exploited if a more direct ball was sent up the pitch. There were glimpses of our potential to blow Granada away when Modric changed the tempo of the game, but otherwise Madrid’s laborious play left Ronaldo, Benzema, James, and Jese out to dry. Zidane has got to recognize when stylistic changes need to be made in-game, and has to communicate such necessary changes precisely to his midfield.

Zidane needs to start rotating away from home

Even if Madrid’s fullbacks do play more conservatively, a midfield duo of Isco-Modric-Kroos is not the best defensively. Zidane wants to negate this by attacking in a 4-3-3 and defending in a 4-4-2 like Ancelotti, but that is hard to do when Isco, the LCM, is positioned higher than James, Madrid’s right winger. While I have noticed Isco relies on his legs and work-rate more than an acute positioning sense, he usually keeps himself smartly restrained when playing in central midfield. However today he pushed up too high along with Marcelo, giving Isaac Success ample time and space to show off his skill and flair.

Isco's positioning is too high for an LCM

James's positioning as Madrid's RW is deeper than Isco's

Isco should be doing better here, but he is an attacking midfielder. When Madrid struggle as they did today, his natural tendency is to push up the pitch to influence the game. Instead of trying to re-purpose players like Isco too much, or instead of putting too much pressure on the still-learning Toni Kroos, Zidane has to make use of players like Kovacic and Casemiro in these types of situations. Kovacic is naturally a box-to-box type player who thrives in games like the one today. He has a great engine, is positionally used to a CM role, and has a dribbling ability that is comparable to Isco's. Casemiro for his part has the potential to be a defensive monster. He is powerful, not afraid to commit to a tackle, and reads the game well. With the wave after wave of attack Madrid faced today, someone like Casemiro would’ve done a lot to stem the tide. I understand Zidane wants to play his best players to give himself some time before he perfects his system, but his best players might not make the best team in all cases, especially when playing away from home. The Frenchman has got to start trusting his lesser lights.

Impressive Player Performances

Modric was our best player tonight by a country mile. His ability to take control of the game and deliver in moments like these is damn near irreplaceable.

Navas was once again brilliant today, as he came off his line decisively and made key saves. He isn’t in the spotlight anymore like he was at the beginning of the season, but Madrid fans should not forget his quality. The last thing I want to see is for people to start calling for David De Gea again.

Another keeper in fine form was Andrés Fernández, as his saves denied Benzema and Modric superbly to keep Granada in the game. He would’ve been man of the match if it wasn’t for the Croatian.

Isaac Success was very good today. He carried the Granada attack and left scorch marks on Madrid’s left-hand side. Marcelo will be having nightmares about him tonight.

All stats and charts taken from

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