Real Madrid were looking to make it four league wins in a row against Eibar at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday. In light of their poor home record, fans were anxious to see the team reassert dominance against visitors. Zidane chose to rest some players who took part in the midweek match against Tottenham.
Kroos, Marcelo, Benzema, and Achraf were all replaced in the starting line-up while Casilla was chosen to man the posts due to Navas’ injury.
Real Madrid prod the Eibar defense
The match almost started with a bang as Isco came close to scoring with a great chance inside of a minute. A Varane long ball from the back was cooly tipped by Nacho towards Asensio on the right wing. The young prodigy’s fantastic touch took a defender out of the play and opened the field — he played a perfect pass to Isco who was free in the box. The latter took a one-time shot that was aimed directly at the keeper. The sequence immediately showed the benefit of having numerous ultra technical players and touch specialists on the field at the same time due to the advantage built up through accumulated individual superiority.
Despite that bright start, the opening quarter of the match was mostly defined by Real Madrid uneventfully testing Eibar’s defense. Due to the visitors’ casual press and general deep positioning, Los Merengues focused on initiating play through controlled build up. Casilla, Varane, and Ramos would only clear the ball as a last resort. This approach was useful in moving the ball up the pitch due to Casemiro’s disciplined positioning. Unlike other matches where we sometimes see the Brazilian move up the field while Kroos and Modric establish a possession base with the defense, Casemiro was the clear holding midfielder in the scheme employed against Eibar. This allowed more dynamic proponents like Modric, Isco, and Asensio to play freely, progress play, and engage the forwards. Ceballos participated less at the start but his role was conservative and supported Casemiro’s function.
Somewhat fortuitously, Real Madrid got the lead off an own goal. Paulo Oliviera nodded the ball past his keeper as he tried to defend Ramos getting to a great Asensio cross.
The problem with play construction in the first half still persisted after the goal. Part of the difficulty was Ronaldo’s isolation and lack of vertical supply to complement his strong runs and eagerness for goal. While Modric made an effort, Isco and Asensio slowed down the play and inadvertently caused possession to become somewhat stale. The other problem was the fullbacks who didn’t have the same involvement as Marcelo, Carvajal, or even Achraf typically do. While it was partially a consequence of player profile, Asensio’s free movement would often leave Nacho without support or access which had an impact.
Emerging themes take center stage
It was a little alarming how well Eibar broke through whenever they counterattacked. For this specific match, it could be argued that elementary and unforced errors were at the root of many of Eibar’s most dangerous plays. But this isn’t the first time this season that teams have been able to fashion great openings from transition offense. In fact, it’s not unique to this season but there is a worry that it’s happening more efficiently than it used to. Varane and Ramos were both culprits but the latter more than the former. In fact, the French defender made several incredible and vital interceptions that prevented key chances.
There doesn’t appear to be any real tactical cause for the greater susceptibility to counter-attacking beyond sporadic tendencies (midfielders/defenders over-committing in challenges) — like the team’s finishing woes, perhaps this is simply an issue of form and bad luck that will normalize over the course of the season.
The other theme that has been brought up numerous times and is observable in most Real Madrid matches was the lack of killer edge in the final third. There were notable occasions where players glaringly failed to make the pass to the open man or use speed of play and thought to play teammates into space or through on goal. The player’s name that is most associated with this issue is Isco and while he lacked incisiveness in certain moments, he certainly wasn’t the only one. Asensio, Modric, and Ronaldo were also culpable.
The goodness of Isco and Asensio
Isco and Asensio displayed a huge amount of chemistry and understanding between the both of them. At times it seemed forced and unnecessary when they would look for each other but overall, it was generally a sight to behold. The Spaniards have great swagger and confidence and almost seemed to connect telepathically on the field. Add the freedom afforded to them by the team’s structure to the mix and you have a pair that can terrorize defenses.
Case in point. Yes, Isco may not have really known Asensio was where he was. And yes, Asensio’s goal was more than a little bit due to his fantastic finish but there was a sense of expectation when the goal happened. Asensio (who was nominally playing as a right winger) moved into the left space of the box as play was evolving and created numerical support for Ronaldo. This is one of the biggest positives of floating players. They don’t have a fixed position and their movement inspires unpredictability which can cause all sorts of chaos and destabilization for defenses. The team can quickly shift focus to a weak area of the other team and almost instantly create overloads without substantially fracturing Real Madrid’s shape.
An all-around amazing Real second half seals the win
If the question of why teams have started playing very defensively against Real Madrid ever arose, the second half against Eibar can be presented as the answer. When the game opens up even slightly, Real Madrid becomes incredibly deadly. Everything seemed to come together for the team in the second half as Hernandez and Nacho began seeing more of the ball and were more actively helping provide width to the team. Theo’s speed was heavily leveraged to take advantage of mismatches and put him in positions to deliver crosses into the box. Similarly, Ceballos who had a quiet first half blossomed in the second by coordinating and dictating play.
Although the game was essentially over, Marcelo’s goal helped put the icing on the cake and truly eliminate any chance of an unlikely Eibar comeback. This goal was sprinkled with every confectionery from the Real Madrid “good football” shelf. Benzema, living Zidane’s exact words spoken in defense of the striker after some criticism, did excellent work to sew together a masterful play.
On another note, Cristiano Ronaldo’s league scoring troubles continued as he couldn’t find the back of the net. Where he could have claimed to have received poor service in the first half, he could make no such excuse in the second. He was provided with several excellent opportunities to score but couldn’t. It seems a matter of luck and confidence at the moment and it feels that the goals will start raining in at any moment for #7.
An uneven first half that saw Real Madrid score two goals, regardless, led to an astounding second half showing by the team giving them full points.
Overall, the numbers reflected dominance by the home team but perhaps not as strongly as the eye test would suggest. Real Madrid next begin their Copa del Rey journey in a round of 32 clash against Fuenlabrada.