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Real Madrid - Celta Vigo (La Liga; 7-1): Tactical Review

Why our CDM wasn't the reason we won the game, how our off-the-ball movement improved, Ronaldo's brilliance, and other bits & pieces.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The Absence of Kroos and Modric was Evident

Despite the final score, Real Madrid began the match in a lethargic manner, struggling to stamp their influence on the match and take the game to Celta Vigo. This was in large part due to the number of first team regulars on the sidelines, specifically Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. For all those raving on about how a DM was (somehow) the key to us winning this game, Casemiro and Kovacic didn’t come close to replicating what the original central duo gives us. Both Modric and Kroos easily complete 90-100 passes a game with a supreme 90%+ passing accuracy, whilst simultaneously whipping the ball from side to side. They keep the tempo ticking and the team clicking and that was seriously missing in the first half.

Taking a look at Casemiro’s passing dashboard, it’s clear that he wasn’t poor; there is no way that argument can be made. But if you have closely watched Kroos and his statistics’ dashboard, you will notice that all his passes have a rough fulcrum at the center of the pitch, with all of them fanning out in a somewhat visible semi-circular pattern.

Kroos vs Athletic Club

Kroos vs Athletic Club

This demonstrates Kroos’s sense of purpose on the pitch. Each pass keeps Madrid moving forward, each pass pressures the opposition, each pass switches play, and each pass keeps Los Blancos in control. Casemiro’s distribution looks rather chaotic in comparison, and demonstrates why it was hard for Madrid to consistently pressure Celta Vigo in the final third of the pitch as effectively as they would have liked. Instead, Pepe was the one who had to take control of the game, demonstrated by his team high 74 passes, and that is never ideal (79.7% pass accuracy).

The knock-on effect of not having a good distributor in midfield is clearly seen above, as Real completed a poor 65% of their passes in the attacking third of the pitch in the 1st half. With Ronaldo and Mayoral starved of service in the first 45, the duo were forced to combine with each other and Isco, to play opportunistic one-two football in order to create efforts on goal. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it in fact shows that our attackers took initiative. The problem was that it was the only thing causing danger.

Now to be fair to Casemiro, no one expected him to take to the pitch and start controlling the play all Xavi-like. That responsibility falls to Kovacic, and the Croatian didn’t step up today in the way I wanted him to. More than just having a box-to-box presence, Kovacic has to show that he is willing to take control of the game and make everything flow through him.

Much like Casemiro, the passing looks a bit chaotic and looks like it lacks a plan. However, maybe I am being too critical, as this is the first time ever that Kovacic has had the full responsibility of the midfield thrust upon him. At a club like Madrid, that is a huge task, but you can’t miss chances like this when your playing time is already sparse.

Real Madrid Beat Celta Vigo due to Ronaldo’s Brilliance & Further Stellar Individual Play

Now many must be pointing to the 7-1 scoreline as the emphatic evidence that a DM is the solution for Madrid, but it is worthy to point out that 6 of those 7 goals were from brilliant individual play or set-pieces. This is not to decry the role a DM has in Madrid’s roster (in particular matches especially), it’s just that a DM wasn’t the reason Madrid won so handily today.

There is no doubt the game was in the balance at the beginning of the second half. The only saving grace of the first 45, was Pepe’s headed goal from a set-piece. We were quite simply abysmal. The second half started with more energy, as Ronaldo, Isco, and Mayoral surged forward with renewed vigor, but Celta were clearly still in it. Then everything changed in the 50th minute. Receiving the ball from Ramos (another example of Madrid’s center-backs having to step into midfield to control things), Ronaldo swiveled, sized up his chances, and smashed a sizzling thunderbolt into the back of the net. 7 minutes later, Ronaldo stood over a free-kick, and spurred on by the menacing clap of the Santiago Bernabeu, arced a devastating meteor into the top corner. GAME OVER.

Madrid’s 4th strike was the only team goal on the night for the All Whites, and to be perfectly fair, Casemiro was the one who created the chance. He committed himself to a brutal challenge, won the ball, and released Lucas Vazquez, who played in Isco, who then teed up Ronaldo for a tap-in. That underlined his credentials as a DM and perfectly summed up what he can offer offensively for Zidane’s side. But that was a one-off in the 90 minutes he participated in. Maybe playing him in more end-to-end away matches would stylistically suit him better than the type of game he played in today (not like Zidane had much of a choice when selecting his midfield vs. Celta though).

Madrid then wrapped things up with another set-piece goal and two pieces of individual magic from Jesé and Bale.

The final attacking third chart shows that Madrid’s passing accuracy in the final third, while improved from the first half (up 6%), was still poor. On another night Ronaldo’s shots could’ve scraped the bar or could’ve been whiskers wide, making this a whole different story for Madrid. Let’s not underestimate the way Ronaldo’s first goal lit a fire under Los Blancos and completely destroyed the morale of Celta Vigo. It totally made the difference.

Movement of Real Madrid’s Attackers

But undeniably, there was some good passing and link-up in the attacking third. So where did that originate from if it wasn’t from Casemiro or Kovacic? The answer lies in the movement of Ronaldo, Mayoral, and Isco. CR7 and his partner in crime Mayoral stretched Celta Vigo’s defense beautifully, never standing still, as they whisked from side to side in order to show for a pass. If Kroos and Modric were on the pitch, they would’ve had a field day passing to all the options they had up front.

Ronaldo in particular took charge of this game in a way that has become common since January.

He had a neat 50 touches of the ball, as he dropped deep to help his midfield break past Celta Vigo’s midfield line, charged forward from defense to single-handedly change the tempo of the game, and constantly rotated flanks to destabilize Vigo’s defensive structure.

Mayoral as well was brilliant, showing intelligence far beyond his age, as he buzzed around the entire final third, linking beautifully with his teammates in a way that should be impossible for an 18 year-old.

Let’s also not forget Isco, who put the in hard yards to make the transition from midfield to attack. He also provided crucial width and was the clear delivery man, as he completed a cool 3 of his 8 crosses - a team high.

This is the off-the-ball movement I was ranting about in my previous two articles.

Top Player Performances

10/10 – Man of the Match: Cristiano Ronaldo

What can I say about him that I haven’t raved about already (besides the fact that he is La Liga's second all-time leading goalscorer)? Maybe this one thing: there is really only one player in the world who can fire a shot straight at the goalkeeper and simultaneously make it impossible to stop. The dip on that first goal was insane.

8.5/10: Borja Mayoral

This kid is the future. His intelligence and decision making is there for everyone to see, the only thing he really lacks is physical maturity. That will come with time.

8/10: Isco

Isco kept the attack moving, ran circles around Celta’s defense, and picked up 2 assists. That speaks for itself.

Somber Side Note:

Madrid were defensively caught out once again today, as they conceded when there was no reason to. Clearly high on Ronaldo’s magic, Ramos and Pepe were caught so far up the pitch, it would’ve been a national travesty if Aspas hadn’t scored. Luckily for his own self-preservation, he did.

(All statistics and charts taken from and fourfourtwo statszone)

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