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Tactical Notes (La Liga): Real Madrid 5 - 2 Osasuna

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Real Madrid steamroll past a poorly planned Osasuna press.

Real Madrid CF v CA Osasuna - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Osasuna Pressed With Their Legs And Not Their Brains

One of the biggest misconceptions about pressing is that you need a squad filled with tireless machines who just run after the ball whenever they see it. While you certainly need fit, energetic, and aggressive players, pressing has a lot more to do with teamwork, cohesion, and positional intelligence, something that Osasuna completely lacked today.

On the face of it however, it seems like they pressed rather well, completing 6 tackles in Madrid’s half.

But a lot of that had more to do with cheap giveaways and Real Madrid’s lack of focus in the beginning and end of the match. It’s also worth noting that Osasuna’s intense start to the game initially surprised Madrid and caught them on the back foot. Los Blancos had clearly come into the Bernabeu expecting a walk in the park, but now it looked like they had a game on their hands.

Well, it did for five minutes, until Real Madrid recovered mentally and began to pick apart Osasuna’s porous trap.

Playing in a 5-3-2, Osasuna needed their strikers to spread wide and press to make up for their lack of width, but instead they often stayed central, giving Madrid an easy outlet out wide. They would then try to reassert themselves by drawing their defenders into a higher line when Madrid were in the center of the pitch, something that made them extremely vulnerable to a ball over the top.

Both these positional mistakes were on display in Real Madrid’s first goal of the evening.

You can clearly see Osasuna set-up perfectly in their cone-shaped formation, which looks nice, but is completely useless for stopping the ball from being played out wide. Not only do they lack pressing access to the flanks, but Kroos has also formed a perfect triangle with his center backs to overload the press and provide Real Madrid the option of playing though the middle (an option they used many times to great effect throughout the match).

This allowed Danilo to push up on the right and pick his pass.

Osasuna should already have proper vertical compactness to close Danilo down, but since the defense were not sharp to the situation, their access was non-existent.

They tried to rectify this by desperately pushing up the pitch. But since this isn’t done in cohesion throughout the back line, they can’t even play a proper offside trap.

Thus this allows Bale to skin his markers with his pace and play a square ball to Ronaldo who finishes easily.

If you thought the defending in those snapshots were bad, remember that this sort of poor pressing structure wasn’t isolated to just this moment; take a look at Osasuna’s team heatmap versus Madrid’s in the first half.

Osasuna look totally chaotic and clueless compare to Madrid’s deep and organized structure. It was clear to Madrid’s very intelligent midfielders early on in the game - all they needed to do was concede possession, sit back, draw Osasuna in, and hit them on the break. It was a very simple, but very effective strategy, that allowed Madrid to penetrate Osasuna’s box time and time again.

Madrid completed 4/11 passes in Osasuna’s box in the first half.

Select Player Performances

Toni Kroos

Toni Kroos played a magnificent game, completely controlling play with what little possession Madrid had, whilst cutting Osasuna apart with incisive vertical passes. His positioning off-the-ball to constantly create passing options for his teammates was also excellent, and he rounded it all off with two assists from two corners.

He ended the night with a team high 88 touches, 68 passes (94.1% passing accuracy), 5 key passes, 2 shots, 3/7 accurate crosses, 8/9 long balls, 4 tackles, and 2 assists.

Mateo Kovacic

Kovacic also had a great match, providing Real Madrid with the bursting box-to-box runs and the verticality that Real Madrid have been missing since Angel Di Maria. He contributed to build-up as well, with 87.5% of his 56 passes completed, and had a good overall performance that will increase everyone’s faith in him.

Luka Modric

Luka Modric had a bit of an odd game, as he was not the consistent presence we have come to expect. His rhythm may have been affected by a nasty slip early on in the match, but he looked physically fine afterwards, as demonstrated by some slick touches and turns sprinkled throughout the match.

Nevertheless he didn’t provide the usual off-the-ball options we are used to and failed to help control the game, as he completed only 17 passes in the first half (approximately half of what Kovacic and Kroos completed). It didn’t matter in the end, as he conjured up some magic every time he touched the ball, ending his night with a brilliant goal into the bottom corner.

Bits & Pieces

What is it going to take for our defense to focus properly?

But then again, they must be credited for 3 of the 5 goals tonight. Who needs attackers when you have our defenders?!!

Kiko Casilla may have had two goals put past him, but he was still a boss, saving a penalty and briefly preventing Osasuna from scoring their second goal.

Nacho had a fantastic game standing in for Marcelo at left-back; he seems to never rust.

It just wasn’t Morata’s night. He got in all the right positions but his finishing was off.

Zidane’s substitutions were smart. Luka was looking a bit off so Asensio came on for him and Ronaldo was subbed off around 66 minutes so he didn’t strain himself after just recovering from his MCL injury. Benzema replaced Ronaldo to get some crucial minutes to regain his match fitness.

How many times did we hit the post?

Everyone on the pitch looked to be in good form, a welcome sign for the rest of the season.

(All statistics & charts taken from whoscored.com and fourfourtwo statszone)