Model of Play
In what seemed like an ideal opportunity to rotate the team and give rest to first team players, Zidane started Nacho, Kovačić, Isco, and Morata; giving Modric and Benzema time off while leaving Casemiro off the match day squad altogether. Nacho started in place of Pepe, and Morata got the start the press has been clamouring for. Although the midfield seemed a little lightweight and the team overall felt decidedly second string due to the absences of several key players, the XI selected for this match should have been of sufficient quality to get a win against 12th place Las Palmas.
Las Palmas for their part played a very strong team spearheaded by Kevin-Prince Boateng. In addition, the squad featured ex-Madridista Jesé Rodriguez making his return to the club for the first time since his departure last summer.
Real Madrid started the game with very direct attacking scoring within a minute but it was ruled off-side. They gradually settled into a more standard tempo moving the ball around and targeting unprotected spaces once detected. The absence of Modric was felt in this regard as neither Isco nor Kovačić provided a suitable counterbalance to Kroos’ more reserved distributive role. This was partially due to the slight adjustments to team structure as Isco operated further up the field and was active in the offensive third. Kovačić’s support wasn’t as measured and tempered as his compatriot (when he plays) making progression of play less even and responsive (i.e. dynamic) than usual.
Isco’s strong individual skills and adept positional sense (from an offensive point of view), especially when the team has the ball, allowed him to combine with the forwards to create overloads — primarily on the wings but also in more central zones at times. Marcelo and Carvajal were prominent in this context providing necessary outlets for Kroos and others when shorter more immediate options were not available due to constrained ball circulation.
Defensively, Real Madrid appeared looser and more stretched than normal as Isco and Kovačić were less positionally disciplined than Modric and Casemiro. The Brazilian particularly is fairly reliable in terms of managing the space he is ‘assigned’. This contrasts with the wide midfielders that started in this match — they have a tendency to play in a freer floating capacity due to their innate attacking instincts and ability on the ball. This in addition to Kroos’ relative ineffectiveness, when saddled with the sole responsibility for containment and recovery, made it somewhat easy for Las Palmas to cut through their opponents as they moved the ball up the pitch.
Generally, the game was fairly open (split a goal apiece in the first half) and both teams were content with letting the other have the ball whenever they were in possession. Pressing at both ends was passive and disengaged with neither side showing any level of urgency. The overall pattern of the game suited Real Madrid, as both teams essentially traded blows, with the hosts favoring their high powered offensive setup that was inches away from adding to their goal tally in the first half. Ronaldo, Bale, Isco, and Morata were all on the receiving end of a fair number of dangerous balls. There was a sense that once the calibrations were fine-tuned as time wore on, Los Blancos would eventually begin to land some devastating punches.
The presumed script was completely flipped at the start of the second half when Bale’s reckless foul and behavior resulted in a red card. Going down a man arrested Real Madrid’s budding momentum and gave the visitors the edge. Las Palmas efficiently exploited the numerical mismatch by utilizing the pace and passing incision of their forwards to endlessly trouble Keylor Navas’ net. This was worsened in the latter stages of the match after Real Madrid conceded two further goals due to individual defensive mistakes. Although it should be admitted the errors were pressure induced because of having one less man, the players should be expected to make better decisions.
In chasing the draw and potentially win, the game became completely end-to-end with Real Madrid committing huge numbers forward and being struck on the counter whenever they lost the ball. It almost felt like a game of Russian roulette as fans frantically watched on tensely to see which of the plethora of chances being created would be converted. The entrance of Benzema, Vazquez, and James added much needed energy and substance. Benzema although wasteful was especially helpful in taking advantage of the tired and weakened Las Palmas defensive shape. Vazquez ‘s direct running, dribbling, and wing patrolling was very useful for balance while James’ passing quality supplied our attacking with a touch of venom.
Summary of Select Key Chances
Minute 8: Kroos-->Isco-->Ramos-->Isco-->Ramos-->Kroos-->Carvajal-->Bale-->Carvajal-->Kroos-->Isco-->Kroos-->Kovačić-->Isco-->Goal
This was probably Real Madrid’s best offensive sequence of the match. Carvajal and Kroos smartly pressed to win the ball back and Madrid then patiently circulated it until there was an opening which Kovačić found with expert precision. Isco calmly finished with only the keeper to beat.
Minute 9 : [Off-camera] -->Bigas-->Viera-->Jesé-->Viera-->Boateng-->Mesa-->Gómez-->Simón-->Tana-->Goal
There is certainly an argument that Las Palmas were allowed too much time and space on the ball as they moved it in our zone — which was par for the course in this game — but the biggest highlight of the goal was Ramos over-committing and easily being turned at the edge of the box by Tana. The finish was a strong hit although perhaps Navas could’ve done a little better given it was his near post.
Minute 56: Viera-->Goal
Penalty goal scored by Las Palmas after a Ramos handball. Navas did well and almost saved it with his foot. The play leading to the penalty call again showed Las Palmas being able to progress vertically with relative ease. However, that being said, Ramos should have dealt with the shot better as it was not from a particularly dangerous position.
Minute 50: Varas-->Mesa-->Viera-->Boateng-->Goal
This goal was reflective of how high up the pitch Real Madrid were due to chasing the game with a man down. Immediately after a Madrid attack came to an end, Las Palmas restarted and played a long ball to Boateng who was poorly marked by Marcelo. Navas came out carelessly and missed the ball leaving the ex-Ghana international to slot the ball into an empty net.
Minute 86: Ronaldo-->Goal
Ronaldo excellently converted the penalty hitting the side netting. The penalty wasn’t a direct result of intricate attacking but a clear consequence of Madrid’s heavy pressure towards the end.
Minute 89: Kroos-->James-->Ronaldo-->Goal
A good display of Real Madrid’s set piece competence. From James hurrying to the corner urging Kroos to play a short pass to the Colombian pinging in a wonderfully curved cross — that Ronaldo got to impressively to head past Varas. Their movements and actions seemed almost choreographed.
The match was very even based on the number of shots and quality of chances. Real Madrid had 20 shots (7 on target) compared to 17 (8) for Las Palmas. The match turned out much more complicated than expected (even before Bale’s red card to a degree). Las Palmas came into the game with an idea to stand toe to toe with Real Madrid and attack them decisively and with purpose. This plan was boosted when Bale was unfortunately sent off. The red card was very costly and unnecessarily put the team in jeopardy as they lost further ground in their bid to consolidate their position at the top of the table.
The absences of Casemiro and Modric (especially) were strongly felt as the positional fluidity and freedom Isco and Kovačić seek can decrease defensive solidity. Las Palmas took great advantage of this as their transitions consistently led to good chances. Defensive mistakes and errors are occurring far too frequently and fans can only hope this repeated trend (extreme in recent games compared to standard) is an anomaly that will cease soon.
The league leaders should be commended for mounting the comeback with only ten men and coming close to winning the match. In the grand scheme of things, that does not change that this was a terrible slip in the league race that will trigger fears the team is starting to crumble under pressure as has been witnessed in recent seasons.