Real Madrid struggled at San Mames today, to put it lightly. Most of their problems were tactical. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, takeaways, and post-game podcast.
Athletic Bilbao are treading water this season. They’ve suffered a huge injury to their most in-form player, Iker Muniain; while their best defender, Yeray Alvarez, is recovering from cancer. This is the worst Bilbao in years, and they’ve been one of the most underwhelming teams in La Liga this season.
Yet, they caused Real Madrid problems today, and in the first half in particular, got in-behind Zidane’s lines continually. On one occasion, Real Madrid were coping with huge gaps in front of the defense. On others, passing lanes were neglected, and Aduriz and Iñaki ducked into blindspots to force great saves from Keylor Navas.
Offensively, the team laboured. The counter-attacks looked good in patches, but were often defanged. Ronaldo had done well to drop deep and retain possession, but his outlets weren’t always there. Sometimes they were — but Toni Kroos isn’t exactly the gunslinger to latch onto a through-ball he can’t catch up to. On Real Madrid’s best counter-attack in the game, Ronaldo released Isco on the left flank, and his cross was controlled by Benzema, who eventually hit the post. He should’ve finished. Ditto Ronaldo later in the half after he brilliantly controlled a cross but struck it wide just outside the six-yard box.
In the second half, Real Madrid attacked in waves, but couldn’t break through a packed box, and Bilbao did a good job to contain the attacks as best they could; and they even almost grabbed a winner at the end.
Here are three bullet points from my notepad:
- Again, Isco: his free-role is a bit confusing defensively. He’s in a different spot in every defensive sequence, and no one knows where he’ll be at any given moment. This causes the players to constantly have to recalculate where they need to be defensively, who to cover, and where Isco is.
- In case you haven’t realized: this is not actually a diamond. It’s three flat midfielders, and Isco going wherever he wants. This has huge domino effects.
- There were actually moments where the build-up looked OK. Modric and Isco linked up well with Carvajal, Marcelo, and Kroos. But most of those resulted in cutting runs, cut-backs, and blocked shots. Bilbao packed the area and got to their defensive spots in timely manner.