Real Madrid improve tremendously in the second half to escape El Sadar with three points after a very tumultuous first half. Here are some notes..
The main talking point in the first half was Zidane’s decision to roll out a 3-5-2. Fine. The formation in-essence means nothing — it’s the way you play it that can hurt you. It turns out that tonight’s 3-5-2 was an insult to all 3-5-2 formations ever played (except for the 3-5-2 played in Vigo, it was a homage to that one). Look, I’m a fan of a theoretical formation with three central defenders and two capable wingers (as was the case in Sevilla), and I think it would work well, in theory, against Napoli who are so good at skinning you from the flanks. But as I’ve written before, it can’t be rolled out blindly, and it’s not meant to be stretched the way it was tonight.
I wrote about this exact situation just a couple week's ago. pic.twitter.com/kyj4ABcQVk— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) February 11, 2017
Tonight’s ‘disorganized chaos’ was far too familiar. The team was stretched, again. Marcelo spent too much time playing in a central role where Modric should’ve been dictating, Isco was pinned, and the front-two were isolated. The line was also incredibly high and spread thin. This is just not how a 3-5-2 should be played — it’s meant to provide stopgaps and plugs across the horizontal plane, and ironically it did the opposite.
As I mentioned on tonight’s live FB half-time video, there is no reason why Real Madrid shouldn’t play its trusted 4-3-3 in 95% of the games on the schedule. This team is just too talented to not impose its own will on every single match — particularly against Osasuna (who, let’s be real, apart from Sergio Leon, are a disaster).
Amid the holy mess at El Sadar in the first half, Real Madrid had some good movement up front which salvaged a goal after Benzema’s precise through-ball was finished by Ronaldo. 1-1 at the half with a lot for Zidane to improve on.
The turning point
Zidane was forced to make a substitution due to Danilo’s injury in the 57th minute which shuffled the formation. James came on for the Brazilian right back, while Nacho shifted to the right and Real Madrid played a more familiar back four. This provided more stability. James aided Marcelo on the left flank with defensive work (I’ll include some gifs in Monday’s column) and relieved the midfield’s workload — allowing Isco to push further up the pitch where he finished Real Madrid’s second goal brilliantly.
Vazquez eventually added a goal late to seal the three points.
As always, the immediate reaction is just that — a quick post-game piece to get the conversation flowing. We’ll have a more thorough recap tonight, plus a post-game podcast tomorrow — and my column which will pull out some tactical tidbits from this match.
I just want to add how absolutely brutal today was in terms of injuries. Danilo leaving on a stretcher was awful, but it also pails in comparison to what Aleix Vidal suffered today (ankle dangling and all) — and just when I thought I couldn’t see anything worse, Tano suffered something truly horrific tonight and my heart goes out to him. These moments in sports always leave you with a bad taste in your month — and I just want to send out genuine condolences and best wishes to Vidal, Tano, and Danilo.