BBC’s Off-the-ball Movement Destroyed Deportivo La Coruña in the 1st Half
Real began the game at a rapid tempo, with the ball being zipped about at high speeds and with accuracy. The entire team pressed up high in the first 10 minutes of the match and the midfield trio of Modric, Kroos, and Casemiro dominated the midfield. Open for passes at nearly every opportunity were the trident of Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema, and Bale. Taking full advantage of the fact that Deportivo were pinned inside their own half with 10 men behind the ball, BBC swapped positions seamlessly and demonstrated the full extent of their cerebral understanding. This tore Deportivo’s defensive organization to shreds, as despite the home side's best efforts to stay compact using numbers, Madrid scored a goal in only 6 minutes. In this move, Bale switched to the left flank and skinned his defender alive before crossing the ball to Benzema. The Frenchman miscued his strike, allowing Ronaldo to finish smartly from the right-wing. The Deportivo defense simply had no idea where any of the BBC were thanks to their incessant movement and offensive work-rate. But the BBC weren’t just running around and swapping positions for the sake of it, while hoping that their chaos would destabilize Deportivo’s defense. There was a method to the madness.
As can be seen in the heatmaps of the entire front three, their primary movement was focused down the left flank. While this may make it seem like BBC were limiting their options, it actually was a clever strategy to target 40-year-old right-back Manuel Pablo. While the veteran did his best to stop the full force of Madrid’s attacking trio, he was well and truly picked apart as Ronaldo, Benzema and especially Bale enjoyed beating him off-the-dribble time and time again.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the Man of the Match
Bale is a close second, but Ronaldo’s dominant performance simply cannot be ignored. The Portuguese forward looked like a man on a mission, as he stepped onto the pitch and demonstrated his intent with each touch of the football. With the jeers from the Deportivo home crowd obviously spurring him on, Ronaldo scored a huge goal in the 6th minute of the match. His positioning, instincts, and finishing were all excellent, as he quickly adjusted himself to redirect the path of the ball off Karim Benzema’s boot. Real Madrid looked set to put 5 past Depor, but they experienced a minor lull in comparison to their first 10 minutes of dominance. But there was no reason to worry, as Ronaldo secured the result with a dominant leap and a deflected header into the goal from a corner in the 26th minute. Clearly not satisfied with shutting up the home crowd again, Ronaldo struck the woodwork twice, as he demonstrated his utter dominance over all members of Deportivo’s back line.
A performance like this would be very welcome against Atlético Madrid in the UEFA Champions League Final.
Zidane was Right to Slow Things Down in the 2nd Half
With the result all but secured and with Barcelona 2-0 up, Zidane was fully justified in bringing Cristiano Ronaldo off and instructing his players to "take a breather," as Football Manager players would say. There was no point in chasing more goals when there was no reward for it, and thus Real Madrid did the right thing by merely looking to create chances through counters and by having fun. Isco, Marcelo, and Bale in particular enjoyed themselves, as they displayed some jaw-dropping touches and pieces of skill.
But there was no need to allow Depor to have their chances to get back into the game. Completely shut out in the first half, Deportivo got 7 out of their 10 shots in the second half (worth noting that all of their shots on target came in the second half as well), dramatically reduced Real Madrid’s hold on possession by several percentage points, more than tripled the number of their attacking third passes, and forced Keylor Navas into a brilliant save from point blank range. While it’s understandable that Deportivo would have had a few more chances due to the nature of Zidane’s half time instructions, it would’ve made more sense if Real Madrid were ordered to simply dominate possession without a real purpose. This would’ve reduced the number of chances that Deportivo would’ve received and would’ve been easier on the legs of the players.
Zidane Got His Subs Right
As mentioned earlier, subbing off Cristiano Ronaldo after the first half was the right thing to do, as the Portuguese forward will be the most important player come the final vs. Atlético. Taking Kroos off was also the correct decision, as the German will probably be the most overworked player on the park in the final. He will need to be everywhere in attack in order to break down Atlético’s sextuple-decker bus and will also need to be ready to sprint back to defend against Los Colchoneros’ inevitable counter-attacks. The Bale sub was also a good one (though it’s a surprise he didn’t come off earlier) for the simple reason that his calves are made of toothpicks.
Despite Losing The League, Real Madrid Can Still Hold Their Heads High
Who would’ve even thought that we would take the league this far when we were 13 points down to Barcelona early in Zidane’s reign? After the initial honeymoon, Real Madrid were struggling away from home, Zidane was laboring to fix our defensive structure and press, and Ronaldo was still yet to hit peak form. But as the final part of the season ominously shrouded Madrid, Zidane’s man-management and legendary motivational abilities came to the fore. All of a sudden we became a different team, as we beat Barcelona in the Camp Nou and set a league record for the most consecutive games won till the end of the season (12). This may have not been enough to win the league, but we came damn close from an impossible position. If we had completed our improbable comeback, it would have been the first time a team would have lost La Liga with a 10+ point cushion and would’ve been the greatest comeback in La Liga history. Barcelona held out in the end, but we fought them till the last second with a squad demoralized and in transition from the Benitez era and with a still inexperienced manager. For that we can hold our heads up high and have big hopes for the future.
Authors Note: It’s been a pleasure covering this La Liga season with all of you guys. It’s been great fun and I’m a little sad it’s all over. I also hope you’ve enjoyed my work and the discussions that my articles have created. Now enough of the soppy stuff, let’s go get that 11th Champions League title! ¡Vamos!
(All statistics and charts taken from whoscored.com and FourFourTwo statszone)