Real Madrid vitally needed to win full points at home against Sevilla to avoid falling even further behind Barcelona. And beyond the table toppers, Los Blancos are also chasing Valencia and Atletico Madrid who are in 2nd and 3rd place. Every game is now an opportunity for the team to build some momentum especially in the lead-up to the upcoming Clasico.
Zidane was forced into using a heavily adjusted starting line-up due to injuries to numerous players along with the suspensions of Carvajal, Ramos, and Casemiro. The manager also decided to leave Isco on the bench as he utilized the exciting Kroos-Modric double pivot flanked by Asensio and Vazquez. Nacho and Vallejo manned central defense while Achraf filled in for Caravajal. No surprises otherwise with Marcelo, Ronaldo, and Benzema completing the team.
No Casemiro and Isco immediately gave the team a different texture stylistically. A flat 4-4-2 with Vazquez and Asensio supporting a central midfield pairing of Modric and Kroos is significantly different in functionality and capacity than the standard 4-4-2 diamond. Vazquez and Asensio are more attack minded which along with their profile (specifically the speediness they bring) means the characteristics of the team are more geared towards a fast paced offensive scheme.
Positional spacing and attacking verticality shred Sevilla’s defense
The fast vertical approach the team adopted worked well because of the support Asensio and Vazquez offered Ronaldo and Benzema in central attacking zones and how the players ensured they achieved optimal field coverage. Vazquez or Asensio would stay wide if both Ronaldo and Benzema played more narrowly. Additionally, either of of the wide men would move into the center when Ronaldo/Benzema stretched the play. The spacing was highly effective and gave Sevilla more reference points to deal with disorientating their defensive organization.
There was a taste of this (vertical focus aided by great positioning) in the early goings of the match when the ball travelled from Navas’ six yard box all the way to Vazquez at the edge of Sevilla’s penalty area who had the time to test Sergio Rico with a curling effort. This sequence happened in less than 20 seconds and with just five passes. The goalkeeper could only parry away the shot out of bounds and the resultant corner led to Nacho’s goal as his instincts allowed him to latch onto a loose ball and score from close range.
Similarly, Asensio’s assist for Ronaldo was a great example of the described offensive tactic. He picked up the ball in the center and drove through the middle before feeding Ronaldo. Asensio’s dribbling, vision, and skill allowed him to pull of the play but Vazquez, Benzema and Ronaldo’s positioning and off-the-ball movement helped create the space he was able to exploit.
The flipside of this sort of ultra-rapid progression with the ball was that Real Madrid didn’t hold possession for as long as they usually do giving Sevilla more time on the ball. However, the Andalusian side passively moved the ball around without much incisiveness and couldn’t convert it into dangerous shots thanks in part to Real Madrid’s solid defensive shape. Sevilla’s most threatening attacks came through the left side targeting Marcelo’s advanced positioning. Nacho read these plays exceptionally well and made valuable interceptions/tackles time and again.
Real Madrid show flashes of pacy attacks from the Mourinho years
You would be forgiven for thinking you were watching footage from the team under Mourinho given just how brutally quick and efficient they were with the ball. But before delving into that, it should be noted Real Madrid narrowly escaped being fatally struck a few times if not for more great defending by Nacho and the defense. Real Madrid’s pacy attack meant the players took riskier decisions which naturally led to more dispossessions in some in particularly vulnerable areas. On one occasion, Achraf recovered brilliantly to intercept a pass from Jesus Navas to Nolito around the 25th minute after Benzema’s misplaced pass. In another instance, Nacho was the saviour after some miscommunication between Ronaldo and Kroos. The reliable Spaniard stopped Navas from finding Muriel behind the defense.
Now, back to the ruthless elegance of just how effective Real Madrid were going forward. Ronaldo had doubled his tally and increased the lead after converting a penalty but Real did not ease up. Contrasting the sometimes stale and controlled buildup offense Madridistas have observed this season, Zidane’s men breathlessly tore through Sevilla with mechanical precision in passing and movement. Case in point: Kroos’ goal. Kroos picked up the ball from Ronaldo near the halfway line and effortlessly bypassed two Sevilla defenders. He then played a superbly timed and executed one-two with Vazquez before delicately finishing with his left foot. The consideration, accuracy, and speed of the passing was unstoppable and stood out wonderfully.
It is fascinating how well Kroos and Modric read each other’s game and play together. During this phase of the game (latter part of first half), Kroos was the more advanced of the pair compared to earlier when Modric was the one pushing up the field to support the attack. This dynamic is evidence of their amazing individual versatility (to be able to manage different duties) but also testament to how synchronized their interactions on the pitch are.
Kroos’ goal wasn’t the end of it. There was still time for Achraf to make a lung-bursting run from his own box blowing past Nolito to exquisitely finish off after Ronaldo and Benzema did good work in the buildup.
Second half is a mere formality
The match was essentially over at half time due to Real Madrid’s sizeable lead. The second half focused on game management and minimizing Sevilla’s chance creation. Real Madrid did this by deliberately enhancing their control of tempo by increasing the level of possession. Modric and Kroos (as well as Asensio secondarily) dropped deeper to support the defenders and implement a more patient and steady buildup.
The result was possession increasing from 47% in the first half to 67% in the second. Going forward, Real Madrid took their feet off the gas pedal so to speak which led to only generating seven shots in their favor compared to double that number (14) in the first half. Kroos, Modric, and Ronaldo were replaced by Llorente, Ceballos, and Isco respectively. This gave some valuable minutes to the former two while also allowing the three taken off to get some rest. The scoresheet would remain unaltered as Navas registered a clean sheet and the team held on to finish the game.
Comprehensive first half domination by Real Madrid gave them an unassailable lead which they maintained in the second half. The team capitalized on the profile of the selected players to implement a fast paced hyper vertical approach that Sevilla couldn’t handle.
Real Madrid performed better than the visitors based on shots and xG statistics which aligned with the eye test. The team will try to carry this form to Abu Dhabi as they look to win their second successive Club World Cup title.