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Immediate Reaction: Real Madrid 3 - 2 Malaga

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A breakdown of today’s win at the Bernabeu

Real Madrid v Malaga - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Real Madrid snuck a 3-2 win at home to Malaga (Benzema, Casemiro, Ronaldo; Rolan, Castro). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, takeaways, and post-game podcast.


Another grind-it-out-game at the Bernabeu where an inferior team, on paper, visited and played at a level above their normal La Liga standard. We knew Malaga was better than their results. The eye test with them isn’t as bad as their results show, and they’ve held their own against both Atletico and Barcelona. Today, they were good too. Not otherworldly, or completely staunch (defensively, they clearly had holes to exploit, and generated little offensively apart from their goals), but they played a pragmatic scheme, picked their poison wisely, and gave Real Madrid a good punch before going down.

Again, Real Madrid put themselves into a bad spot with their misplaced passes from deep (if you haven’t already, you absolutely need to read this, which specifically talks about this very issue and warns that Real Madrid will get punished for it against better teams). One of their misplaced passes directly resulted in a goal, and the others made Real Madrid sweat. On Malaga’s first goal, it was Kroos (who otherwise played well offensively playing close to Casemiro) who gave the ball away, and by the time Jesus Vallejo could react, Rolan had already scored.

(To be clear, there was a lot of chatter on Twitter and my Facebook-live-video about Vallejo lacking confidence here, which is harsh. Yes, his known weakness at Frankfurt was defending crosses; but specifically it was about beating his man to meet the header or low-driven ball. He was put in an unfair situation on this goal, and was behind the play when Malaga retained possession. Once he realized he needs to react defensively, he’s unsure where the cross is going to go, and all things considered, he still did good to close down Rolan’s shot as best he could. It wasn’t a perfect defensive sequence, but it also was exaggerated on Twitter).

Real Madrid scored almost immediately after Malaga’s equalizer via a strong Casemiro header from a corner. But in the second half, they switched off again to concede a very preventable goal:

Varane’s clearance is soft here. Neither Kroos or Casemiro are in a position to close Gonzalo Castro. It takes Real Madrid’s right winger, Lucas Vazquez, to zip to the left side only to close the wrong passing lane. Casilla makes a blunder. There’s a case to be made that Isco’s roaming in this scheme confuses the team defensively, as no one really even knows where he will be on the pitch at any given time, and the team is shifting constantly to cover different positions on different sequences. That’s something I’m interested to analyze further with the crew on tomorrow’s podcast.

Real Madrid eventually turned this into three points — Modric was taken down in the box and Ronaldo converted his penalty (off the rebound).

I mean — three points, yeah? Need to grind these results out in a more ‘lax’ part of the schedule, and hope Valencia can pull something off tomorrow.