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Getafe 1 - 5 Real Madrid (La Liga): Tactical Review

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How Real Madrid's passing patterns and movement into channels dominated Getafe, Real Madrid's weakness when defending counters, James and Isco's dominant performances, and further bits & pieces.

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s Attacking Play Dominated Getafe


Real Madrid cut Getafe to pieces with neat passing that flew through Getafe’s defensive lines with ease. From the off, Isco and James took control of the game and combined with BBC to drive Los Blancos up the pitch. This type of interchange and passing play was a feature of our game, as 93% of our passes were played short.

But Isco and James’ roles as roaming playmakers also allowed Madrid to play direct as well. They danced into whatever pockets of space available and tore Getafe’s defensive structure to shreds. This allowed Real Madrid to play several long balls up the flanks and move up the pitch quickly.

Due to this, Getafe’s defensive line was caught out early on in the match. For example, in the 13th minute, James received a ball over the top from Toni Kroos and broke into space on the left flank. With all the time in the world on his side, he picked a good cross into the box to Ronaldo, who amazingly missed it. This sort of play demonstrated the effectiveness of Real's strategy, which exploited Getafe's weakness on the flanks heavily throughout the first half.

Movement into Channels

This led to tons of movement into channels down the flanks, as James, Isco, and BBC all roamed freely in search of space. This tactical move by Zidane made it impossible for a Getafe player to mark anyone with a White shirt. The freedom created by this movement allowed Ronaldo, Bale, and Benzema to either comfortably engage in Zidane’s preferred style of short passing, or dribble their way up the pitch. The success found in this strategy caused nearly every one of Madrid’s attacks to be concentrated down the wings in the first half.

Nearly all of Real Madrid's passes are directed down the flanks

Nearly all of Real Madrid's passes were directed down the flanks in the first 45 minutes

This made Real’s fullbacks fundamental to their team’s build-up play, as Marcelo and Carvajal both combined to complete 11 out of 13 long balls and 4 key passes.

This tactical trend of using the flanks as a primary route to goal is nothing new for Zidane (in fact he has shown an over reliance on this strategy at times), but the importance of his fullbacks in constructing play down the flanks was something rather new. That is largely due to the decision to play James and Isco, who both possess greater attacking mindsets than Modric and Casemiro (whom they replaced, though not exactly on the pitch) and possess a willingness to roam towards the flanks. Additionally, the decision to play Kroos as the DLP allowed Madrid to retain possession in an incisive way, helping Real move up the pitch quickly. This isn’t a knock on Casemiro or Modric. It’s just a fact that with both of them on the pitch, Madrid would have had less overloads on the flanks and would possibly have been unable to distribute as effectively from deep with Casemiro as the DM. Having both Isco and James on the pitch increased Real’s attacking fluency greatly.

Real Madrid Were Weak When Defending Counter-Attacks

Of course there’s a con to that, as Isco and James’ eagerness to get forward often left poor Toni Kroos alone to face Getafe's counter-attacks.

As you can see, Kroos was forced to make tackles and interceptions all over Madrid's defensive third, possibly taking a strong physical toll on him. While having Kroos run a marathon wasn’t ideal, it was a timely reminder of Kroos’ improvement in the defensive department and his capacity to play the DLP role to perfection. But it was also a reminder of the stability Casemiro inherently brings to Madrid’s midfield when protecting Real Madrid on the break. If the Brazilian had started, his positioning combined with Modric and Kroos’ more balanced attacking natures would’ve shut out any Getafe threat. But he didn’t start, and the tiredness of Kroos combined with Isco and James’ lack of speed when tracking back, allowed Sarabia to score a stunner in the 83rd minute.

So what did Isco and James do defensively? Both players did drop back properly when Getafe built play more slowly, helping to form a 4-4-2 in defense. But that was as far as Isco went in his defensive contributions for the night. He made no defensive actions, while James at least made 3 interceptions and 1 clearance. The eye-test also seemed to indicate that Isco was a bit lax in his positioning tonight, positing that he was the bigger reason for the pressure Kroos faced rather than James.

The heatmap confirms this, as Kroos’ positioning is slanted to the right, which is Isco’s side of the pitch. While this isn’t a huge deal as Isco usually has an immense work rate and a better sense of positioning, this is something that Zidane should take note of and talk to Isco about.

Isco and James were the stars of the show

There were plenty of people that had a good game. Benzema opened the scoring, Bale and Ronaldo were involved throughout, and Kroos had a fine all-round display, but Isco and James truly ran rampant vs. Getafe. Despite their defensive shortcomings when defending counters, they were truly electric in their offensive efforts. They were the controllers-in-chief for Zidane’s attractive style of play (allowing Madrid to play a stunning 37% of their passes in Getafe’s defensive third), and they made Madrid tick at a pace that was a level above Getafe’s rhythm.

Isco moved all over the place, usually finding pockets of space centrally

Isco moved all over the place, finding pockets of space centrally as well as on the flanks

James also covered every blade of grass, but instead found spaces to move into out wide.

James also covered every blade of grass, but concentrated his movement into space into channels out wide.

They were also involved in 4 of Madrid’s 5 goals, with James creating the first one for Benzema with a beautiful cross from the right wing. Isco constructed the second by linking up with Bale on the right flank, and then by playing a one-two with Benzema before finishing with his outside of the boot. After already assisting one, James was the beneficiary for Real’s 4th goal, as he controlled Lucas Vazquez’s cross, beautifully side-stepped past a defender, and placed the ball into the corner of the net with his right foot. For the final goal, Isco played a brilliant defense-splitting pass with his left foot to an open Jese, who then teed off Ronaldo to finish into an open goal.

Bits & Pieces

Despite Ronaldo’s seemingly unimpressive contribution to Real Madrid’s 5 goals, the Portuguese forward was very involved in general play, as he created 1 key pass, completed 2 out of 2 long balls, executed 4 dribbles, and made a goal-line clearance.

Keylor Navas is simply a god. His incredible save on Getafe’s indirect free kick was mind-blowing and will make Florentino Perez look even dumber when he chases De Gea in the summer transfer market.

Jese and Lucas have both proven to be excellent impact subs for Madrid this season. Jese provides versatility, pace, and end-product, whereas Lucas provides dribbling, excellent defensive presence, and one heck of a cross. Both picked up assists as rewards for their efforts tonight.

What has Kovacic got to do to get minutes under Zidane?

(All statistics & charts taken from and FourFourTwo statszone)