Zidane’s men put in one of their top-2 performances of the season tonight. This match was an absolute gold-mine filled with little tactical tidbits which I’ll go through and dissect later, and aim to publish for you tomorrow. Until then, here are some quick notes to tide you over.
How it went down
I mentioned yesterday on Twitter that if Zidane can give himself a cushion in tonight’s match, he’d also give himself the ability to rest players in the 2nd leg before a crucial La Liga match three days after. I couldn’t foresee it unfolding this way, to be sure. Ideally, Zidane would’ve played his full strength line-up tonight to ensure his cushion.
Yet, without Bale, Ronaldo, and Benzema, the team didn’t miss a beat in attack. Furthermore, Varane and Nacho were both outstanding. The team suffered zero drop off from it’s Once de Gala.
All night, Morata made cutting runs. Everyone in a Madrid shirt would look for him when they received the ball. He was a thorn in Sevilla’s side - a side so out of their depth you would easily forget it actually was Sevilla playing out there.
The team was fluid - clearly benefitting from a winter break to recharge the batteries. The movement without the ball was contagious, and Real Madrid were intercepting passes, covering the flanks, and finding pockets of space with every touch. Sevilla gambled defensively over and over again. Zidane’s scheme picked them apart.
In a rare occurrence, Zidane implemented a high-press to start this match which had Sampaoli’s men paralyzed - unable to get the ball out of their own half. Sevilla, remember, have the third best offense in Spain. That Real Madrid could pin them back like they did and limit opportunities was a huge factor in dictating the outcome.
The press was at its rabid peak within the first 15 minutes. What followed was a pragmatic and compact midfield which worked well without the ball. Defensively, Real Madrid held their lines in banks of four and five - from there, they retained possession and opened up on the counter. Again, we’ll dissect this more beyond the immediate reaction (Om has a tactical review coming later, and I’ll be snipping .gifs from this game overnight for your enjoyment tomorrow).
- Three cheers for Kiko Casilla. In case it gets lost in the shuffle, Sevilla actually had some good chances throughout the match. A couple of those stemmed from looping passes in-behind Carvajal on rare moments where Real Madrid’s central midfielders didn’t cover properly. Kiko Casilla came up big on at least three occassions to keep Sevilla off the score sheet.
- Casemiro was inch-perfect. From his impressive ball-winning assist in the first half high up the pitch to the way he worked diligently to help Carjaval on the right flank, or when he denied Samir Nasri in the box; Casemiro’s performance should be recognized. There was no ‘good and bad’ with the Brazilian anchor tonight. Just a whole lot of good.
- It goes without saying, James is the biggest standout. From minute one he imposed himself on the pitch. I can nitpick some defensive issues, but I will let it simmer for now, as he worked tremendously hard and was blitzing Sevilla all night. This was the best game we’ve seen from him under Zidane.
- This was sorcery from Marcelo, who was outstanding tonight.
How Marcelo? (Video from @UniversalRM) pic.twitter.com/zsv70dDsnb— Chopp Saint Laurent (@ElasticoChopp) January 4, 2017
Sevilla fans, after realizing they still have to play against Real Madrid 2 more times after this. pic.twitter.com/SRsUcIG5Mj— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) January 4, 2017