Zinedine Zidane Made Several Tactical Mistakes
There’s no doubt that individual mistakes and brain farts played their hand in Madrid’s dispiriting 2-1 loss to Celta Vigo, but Zidane didn’t set-up his side in a system conducive to winning this game.
One of his biggest mistakes was structuring his midfield so that Casemiro sat at the tip of the triangle, with Modric and Kroos sitting behind him. We’ve seen this before in matches earlier this season and on many occasions last season, but it always happened when Zidane wanted to move Casemiro out of the first possession phase and help him stay away from opposing pressers.
While Celta didn’t allow Madrid an easy path into the final third, they hardly pressed at all. They sat in a medium-high block that looked to contest possession only when Madrid tried to penetrate Celta’s defensive lines. With Casemiro sitting highest (almost as an attacking midfielder), he was tasked with dipping in-between the lines and facilitating central play.
He actually did a decent job (probably because he’s used to the box-to-box role that he had at Porto), as his touches were often neat and his passing was generally accurate, but it was clear that Casemiro’s advanced positioning was negatively affecting the whole dynamic of the game (and can you really blame Casemiro?).
For one, it restricted Kroos and Modric from pushing forward with regularity, meaning Ronaldo, Lucas, and Asensio often had to drop too deep and deviate too far into the half spaces to provide central occupation.
This led to some decent opportunities from range (since Ronaldo and co. could drive from deep), but those sorts of opportunities are rarely enough to win a game on their own.
Eventually, Modric and Kroos just started pushing the ball wide because of how ineffective Madrid’s possessional structure was, leading to mindless cross after mindless cross from Asensio, Lucas, Marcelo, and Danilo.
If that wasn’t enough, Casemiro’s advanced positioning also affected Madrid offensively. As one might expect, Real were extremely vulnerable to Celta’s counter attack thanks to the fact that their defensive midfielder often struggled to track back in time due to his positioning as a trequartista.
This ended up costing Madrid the game when Lucas gave up the ball in Madrid’s own half and Real’s center backs were left with little to no cover.
Usually, Casemiro sits 5 yards in front of his center backs to act as a safety net for any mistakes his teammates might make. But due to his advanced positioning this time out, he could only watch as Castro slipped through a DM-sized hole and scored.
It’s no secret that Zidane often makes wacky substitutions that often leave fans’ scratching their heads, but usually they pay off in some way that no one could’ve foreseen. This was not the case against Celta, as ZZ’s substitutions served little to no purpose.
His decision to put on Kovacic for Lucas might’ve been a punishment for the latter’s mistake, but the replacement of a winger with a central midfielder completely threw Madrid’s shape out of wack. At times, Madrid looked like they were playing in a 4-4-2 diamond and at times it looked like a flat 4-4-2; it was utter chaos.
Zizou’s decision to sub off Danilo for Karim Benzema was even more puzzling. Sure, the fullback didn’t have a great game, but it made no sense to play a 3-4-3 formation with only one wing-back.
Isco should have come on for Casemiro, making the shape a rough 4-2-3-1 and allowing for some sort of central penetration.
Zidane is Tinkering Too Much
Perhaps Zidane is reacting to the criticism that he’s a “tactical banana” (as our commenters like to joke) or perhaps he’s just trying things he’s been thinking about for a while, but he needs to slow down. It makes sense to try different tactics and team structures when they have been properly trained and pondered over, but adjusting things at the current rate simply causes immense confusion.
Against Sevilla, Madrid clearly didn’t understand how to attack in a 3-5-2 and today they looked chaotic playing in an asymmetric 4-4-2 and a 3-4-3.
Zidane needs to return to his 4-3-3 and keep things simpler. When people asked for him to improve tactically, they didn’t mean for him to cycle through formations like Pep Guardiola. They were merely asking for him to improve upon his already existing system by bettering compactness, implementing a sounder pressing structure, and penetrating through the middle.
Patience With Danilo Can Only Last So Long
Look, I’ve been a huge defender of Danilo for a very, very, very long time. But at some point we’ve got to start wondering if he’s ever going to really improve defensively. I agree that he’s been unfairly pegged as a scapegoat and harshly blamed for mistakes at times, but there’s no denying that Danilo is heavily inconsistent and a massive defensive liability when he’s not having a good day.
Today, his tackling was alright, but his positioning was downright terrible. I don’t know if it’s for a lack of focus or positional intelligence, but he was always caught up field when Celta countered down their left flank.
To make matters worse, he made a horrific gamble in the 64th minute, when he charged forward to press, leaving a massive gap behind him that Celta exploited. 1-0.
Things Simply Didn’t Go Madrid’s Way
Like I touched upon before, it wasn’t all Zidane. He simply can’t control Lucas getting dispossessed stupidly, or Marcelo forgetting how to execute a clearance, or Benzema missing from six yards out.
Bits & Pieces
Lucas Vázquez’s dribbling was good.
Asensio’s crossing was probably the best on the pitch. Instead of constantly looking for looped balls to the six yard box, he often looked for cutbacks and low crosses to free men.
Marcelo may have scored a goal, but let’s not forget that he made an absolutely abominable clearance that allowed Iago Aspas to have a free shot on goal.
The chance creation scheme was terrible, but Ronaldo didn’t make things easy on himself. While his general off-the-ball movement was good, he was uncharacteristically sloppy and wasteful.
Celta Vigo do deserve credit for this win. While I found their compactness to be somewhat off, they were decently organized and well set-up to exploit Madrid’s weaknesses on the counter.
It looks like the end of the unbeaten streak has affected Madrid mentally. Zidane needs to use his famed man-motivating skills to set his players’ heads right and get them back on track.
While there was plenty wrong in this match, Zidane and the players deserve our patience after going 40 games unbeaten.