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Tactical Review (La Liga): Las Palmas 2 - 2 Real Madrid

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Real Madrid’s defense flops again.

UD Las Palmas v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s 1st Half Tactics Were Good

Zidane has certainly come up short in previous matches (especially the one vs. Villarreal), but he approached the Las Palmas game relatively well, as he chose to sit back against a side that holds a lot of quality in possession but has serious weaknesses at the back.

Las Palmas scored 12 goals in their past 5 matches and conceded 10 goals in the same time span (not counting the Madrid match)
Real Madrid’s midfield and defense sat deep and allowed Las Palmas almost 60% of the ball in the 1st half.

Zidane also chose the right formation to do it, playing in a 4-2-3-1, which theoretically would’ve used Asensio as the hook in midfield to start counter-attacks. Instead, Madrid ended up playing through the wings, with Asensio only receiving 31 touches (most of which were out wide).

This initially seemed like it would hurt Real, as Las Palmas’ employed a heavy counterpress that easily forced Madrid into giving up the ball several times. But they inexplicably dropped off their high pressure five minutes in and conceded an insane amount of space out wide, thus allowing Real Madrid to counter-attack through the wings with ease.

This led to some good results for Madrid, as Morata, Asensio, Bale, and Ronaldo flew up the wings again and again and pummeled the Las Palmas goal with shot after shot.

Madrid received several shooting opportunities in the box in the 1st half, with a lot of them being blocked by last ditch defensive actions

The only problems in attack were the poor decision making in regards to the final ball and the seemingly inexplicable mis-controls that led to dispossessions in midfield and players failing to capitalize on golden shooting chances (I’m looking at you Ronaldo).

The Flow of the Game Changed Once Las Palmas Sat Back

With Real Madrid the better side going into the break, Quique Setién smartly analyzed his opponent’s game plan and decided to sit off and let Real Madrid have more of the ball (overall possession changed from approximately 60%-40% in the 1st half to only 54.4%-45.6% in Las Palmas’ favor).

This slowed the end-to-end nature of the game and forced Real Madrid to try to break Las Palmas down. Struggling from the same lack of connection between BBC as in the last match, Madrid also failed to see any excellent off-the-ball movement from most of the men up front. Only Morata consistently dipped in-between the lines, made excellent off-the-ball runs, and charged at players with skill and pace.

Seeing his side struggling up front, Zidane made the odd decision to bring Benzema on for Asensio, playing Madrid in a 4-2-4, but the decision paid off, as the Frenchman nearly scored from a corner and then scored via a rebound from a saved Ronaldo shot. Only minutes later, Zidane made the correct decision to bring off the struggling Ronaldo (who had only 24 touches and had been poor aside from one volley from range and a pass to Bale) for Lucas Vázquez to shore up the lead.

Real Madrid Finally Employed A Press

After all the experimentation with various pressing schemes in pre-season, Real Madrid finally came out with a press that lasted the entire game. It was hard to see how rigorous the plan was, as it seemed to be driven by a lot of individual movements and actions, but the fact that it lasted for such a consistent period of time shows that Zidane was behind the idea.

Real Madrid attempted 8 out of their 20 tackles in Las Palmas’ half of the pitch
Real Madrid completed 5 of their 12 interceptions in Las Palmas’ half of the pitch
Real Madrid completed 10 out of their 19 fouls in the opposition half of the pitch

As mentioned before, while there were a lot of separate individual actions driving the press, there was a basic scheme that served to trap Las Palmas on the flanks. Real Madrid essentially looked to swarm the wings with at least one fullback and one midfielder, with the back-line pushing up to create vertical compactness.

In this example, Ronaldo has just failed to capitalize on a brilliant Morata cutback, meaning Real has to stop a Las Palmas counter.

As can be seen above, the press is not ideally organized, with Ramos failing to be in coordination with his midfield partners to ensure vertical compactness. This leaves a runner free to break through the pressure, but Nacho uses superb body positioning to cut off the pass and force play square.

In this next frame, you can see that Ramos has finally recognized what his midfield is trying to do by pushing up to close down the gaping vertical space in front of him. Meanwhile, Kroos moves to close down the man on the ball, whilst Nacho keeps his marker in his sights. Morata should help his teammates by rushing backwards to create a 3 vs. 2 pressing combination, but he fails to analyze the situation.

Play is forced back, causing Kroos to charge forward and leave his marker behind. Luckily for him, Nacho is on the same wavelength, as he reacts to close down the man Kroos abandoned (in order to negate this risky movement from Kroos, Morata should’ve tracked back to close down the space Kroos currently occupies in the snapshot).

But Kroos is relentless, and he joins forces with Nacho to double-team the man on the ball and successfully prevent the counter-attack. Behind them, Ramos has finally caught up to the speed of play and has ensured vertical compactness whilst covering the left-wing in case Nacho loses out in the fifty-fifty challenge.

Thus, several brilliant individual pressing actions came together to ensure a rough plan was able to work, something that was not totally repeatable throughout the game. Madrid’s pressing often looked disjointed and dis-organized, but there was enough of a work-rate from the central midfielders and the fullbacks to make it work, as evidenced by Nacho’s tackle that led to Real Madrid’s second goal.

Real Madrid’s Defense Flopped Once Again

While there were certainly some rough edges to Zidane’s decently envisioned tactical plan, it would be really harsh to throw most of the blame at the manager’s door, as he certainly was not helped by some terrible defending.

On the first goal, Raphael Varane made an absolute mess of the initial cross, while Ramos was caught ball watching instead of marking Tana. As fate would have it, Varane’s weak clearance fell to Tana, who took a free shot from inside the area and scored.

The marking for the second goal was even worse, with no central midfielder taking up a position to guard the man receiving the cross, allowing the ball to be headed to a runner into the box who should’ve been followed by Modric. To make matters worse, Kiko Casilla flapped at the ball and allowed Araujo to score a tap-in from the rebound.

A player like Casemiro would’ve been extremely useful when defending the second goal, as his physicality and natural sense of defensive positioning would’ve allowed him to stop the cross from even connecting in the first place. Instead, Madrid brainlessly chose not to purse a number of defensive midfielders on the market, leaving them with no natural option to replace the Brazilian. If all the noise about Zidane being in control of transfers was true, it is now clear that he made a heinous mistake.

Bits & Pieces

Nacho was probably Madrid’s man of the match, as he possessed a tireless work ethic down the left-flank that pushed him to burst forward and press like a hound.

Despite all of Las Palmas’ attacking strength, they are a side that is very weak defensively. For Real Madrid’s first goal, they allowed Nacho to run through their entire midfield uncontested.

Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos need to start focusing, they’ve made two bad mistakes in two straight games.

Ronaldo was not on form and Zidane was right to substitute him off the pitch, but the media coverage of this event is overblown.

Ronaldo showed little to no reaction when coming off the pitch, said a couple words before sitting down, and chucked an object onto the ground. For all we know Ronaldo was incredibly pissed at his own poor performance, but instead we have genius psychological interpreters telling us differently.

Expect a barrage of nonsense articles to start surfacing in the coming weeks.

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