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Real Madrid - Sevilla (La Liga; 4-0): Tactical Review

How BBC dismantled Sevilla, the attacking efficacy of our fullbacks, the movement of Modric and Kroos, and what this match means for El Clásico.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

BBC Provided Renewed Fluidity and Incisiveness in Attack

After all the rave reviews about MSN circling in our own camp, it was thoroughly refreshing to see our dynamic trident absolutely tear a team to shreds. Sometimes we really do forget how good our front three is, especially when they spend extended periods of time on the sidelines. But thankfully for us, they were fit and firing today, as they made what could have been a very difficult game look very easy to win.

Bale and Benzema’s Magic Busted Sevilla’s game plan

Within the first few minutes of this match, it was obvious that Sevilla were looking to play an extremely proactive and brave brand of football. The likes of Figueros, Escudero, Iborra, and Gameiro, pressed insanely high up the pitch, with Cristoforo or Krychowiak often waiting to pounce on a mistake. This put an immense amount of pressure on the decision-making of Madrid’s back line and initially overwhelmed them. Additionally, Sevilla looked to flood men forward with speed and play in the pockets of space left behind by Kroos and Modric in order to stretch Casemiro. It was a clever strategy, and it paid off in the first 3 minutes of the match, as Navas was forced into making 3 decisive actions in order to abort legitimate threats posed on his goal. But while such a gung-ho attitude was definitely better than the alternative of hunkering down, the number of people in Madrid’s half made Sevilla ripe for feasting on the counter. This was signaled early on by Danilo’s excellent foray into Sevilla’s half in the 1st minute, and was realized when Bale burst down the right-flank and played in a clever cross for Benzema to smash home. That early goal totally threw Sevilla’s mentality out of whack, and their press collapsed as indecision haunted the back of their minds whenever they looked to hunt in packs. For the next 15-20 minutes, Real Madrid had an absolute field day.

BBC’s Intelligent Runs and Combination Play Dismantled Sevilla

In this period of tactical flux (where Sevilla couldn't figure out whether to sit back or press), and even after, BBC’s off-the-ball movement and combination play with their teammates was too hot to handle.

As can be seen on the heatmaps, Ronaldo and Benzema in particular, took their license to roam seriously. Acting as a foil for Ronaldo, Benzema rotated across the width of the pitch in a menacing arc, connecting with his teammates and providing the Sevilla back-line with a constant source of worry inside the box. Ronaldo for his part looked to isolate defenders one-on-one in order to blaze past them and torch Sergio Rico’s goal, and combined with Marcelo tantalizingly to create further opportunities for himself and others.

Looking at the top passing combinations in the first half, it can be seen that Ronaldo and Marcelo combined evenly for a neat 18 passes between themselves. Kinetic.

While Bale’s heatmap gives off the image of a more restricted role, Bale was no less influential than his strike partners. While Ronaldo and Benzema roamed endlessly, Bale provided structure to the trio, supplying constant width and pace down the right-flank. He tormented Sevilla with his dribbling, and used his pace and intelligent movement in tandem with some excellently timed through balls by Danilo, to consistently get in behind the Sevilla defense. The opposition simply could not live with the Welshman, and his pure individual ability made what was left of Sevilla’s press unviable. He simply ghosted past it.

BBC Statistical Summary

All-in-all, BBC accounted for: 21 of Madrid’s 26 shots on goal, 11 of Real’s 21 Key Passes, 3 of Madrid’s 8 dribbles, and 3 of Los Blancos’s 4 goals. Stellar stuff.

The Effect of Real Madrid’s Fullback Play Today Cannot be Understated

This was touched upon earlier, but there really needs to be a separate paragraph on the influence of Madrid’s fullbacks on the game. Despite all of BBC’s individual brilliance, some of their productivity would’ve been stunted had it not been for the consistent overloads provided by Marcelo and Danilo.

Take a look at how high they both pushed up the pitch! They actually spent more time in the opposition half then in their own defensive third! While this clearly allowed Sevilla to execute several dangerous moves down the flanks (especially on Marcelo’s side), and while Konoplyanka would’ve taken better advantage of this, the offensive firepower our fullbacks provided was just too great. Marcelo took 1 shot, smashed 8 crosses into the box, provided 3 key passes, executed 1 dribble, and kept up an incredibly high offensive tempo down Madrid’s left-flank. Sevilla’s left-hand side simply had no time to breathe when you factor in Ronaldo's performance as well.

Danilo did is best to replicate the same suffocating presence on the right hand side, linking up brilliantly with Bale and often roving forward with pace to start counter-attacks on his own. Danilo got a tangible reward for his immense work, when he picked out an intelligent run by Ronaldo to make it 2-0 and effectively end the game. After seeing Danilo execute performances like this over the past 3-4 games, I think he just might be finally morphing into the player we imagined he would be when Florentino bought him those so many months ago.

The Fluid Movement of Modric and Kroos also Contributed to Real Madrid’s Success

With Casemiro in the side to provide the physical grit and defensive presence, Modric and Kroos were freed up to do their thing in the attacking third.

As can be seen above, Casemiro’s more conservative positioning allowed Kroos and Modric to flow all over the pitch and help out wherever they were needed most. There were so many times in this match where Modric and Kroos would interchange positions, providing fresh ideas across the whole width of the pitch. But more importantly, Modric and Kroos’s fluid movement caused Sevilla’s defensive structure to become defunct no matter what Los Rojiblancos tried. In the pressing stages of the match (first 10 minutes of 1st half and intermittent periods in the 2nd half), Modric and Kroos’s movement provided easy passing outlets for their center backs and Casemiro, enabling quick transitions that maximized BBC’s pace and individual ability. When Sevilla decided to enter a low block (2nd part of the 1st half and intermittently in the 2nd half), the duo’s movement allowed them to create triangles with their fullbacks and wingers to break down the opposition or allowed them to camp on the edge of the area to shoot.

This fluidity allowed Real to dominate the game in their opposition's defensive third, especially in the first half, as Madrid completed an amazing 89% of their 114 attacking third passes.

Admittedly, they did get a bit carried away with their offensive freedom, as Sevilla found significant attacking potential in the space they left behind them when the ball was lost. But Modric and Kroos also showed great desire and work rate to make up for their sometimes overzealous positioning.

In the end, credit must be given to Zidane for playing Casemiro as the CDM in this match. When you want to break through a press and battle an intense team, pushing Modric and Kroos up is a must.

So What Does This Mean for El Clásico?

After such a gung-ho attacking performance, the question on many a fan’s lips is whether this is a viable game plan versus Barcelona. I think it’s easy to rule out the viability of our fullbacks pushing up so high in tandem, when the likes of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez, are waiting to counter, but that doesn’t meant there aren’t strategies that can be taken from this game. The main thing Zidane should focus on is the speed of transitions employed to steamroll Sevilla. If there is one thing that any dominant possession-based team is vulnerable to, it is the counter-attack. There will always be times against Barcelona, where Madrid can win the ball and find a way onto goal in a mere 3-4 passes. While some of that depends on the individual ability of BBC, Zidane has to do some immense preparation in regard to the positioning of Modric and Kroos (in relation to their attacking partners), in order to maximize efficiency on the counter while still keeping defensive stability. Kroos and Modric can’t have the same degree of freedom they had today, as they need to be positioned to win the ball, but they also can’t be static in their movement so that Barca can snuff the life out of Real Madrid.

There is also the question of whether Isco or James should come in for Casemiro against Barcelona. Isco and James, when on form, easily provide a better source of transition play and magic to beat the Big Boys, and their work rate is often enough to cover their defensive deficiencies. But needless to say, Isco and James are not on form, and thus it would be risky to play them against the world’s best team, especially when they don’t seem to really understand their role in Zidane’s system just yet. Casemiro should stay.

(All stats taken from and fourfourtwo statszone)

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