Model of Play
Following the soul-crushing defeat against Barcelona, Real Madrid needed to rebound quickly as they travelled to A Coruña to take on 16th place Deportivo. Zidane, true to form, took this opportunity to give first team players some rest and make use of the team’s incredible depth. Nine of the eleven players that started last match day were replaced in the XI. In very welcome news, Varane returned to the pitch for the first time since coming off against Alaves at the beginning of the month.
Deportivo came into the match having lost four of their last six matches. They fielded a relatively strong team but the odds were stacked in Real Madrid’s favour.
A notable issue Real Madrid has when they don’t play with Kroos, Modric, and Casemiro is a lack of positional discipline that imbalances the structure of the team. Kovačić, Isco, James, and Asensio are very fluid attacking players that are prone to moving dynamically and towards the offensive third. This was not the case in this match as they played a hybrid 4-1-4-1 and 4-5-1 with Kovačić at the base of the midfield line sitting in front of the defense. The Croatian played in a reserved fashion remaining stationed between the midfield/attackers and the defense to provide the vital linkage in play progression and buildup. Furthermore, his stable presence facilitated possession and combination play as his availability provided a constant option to his teammates. Another beneficial consequence was the offensive freedom it provided to James and Isco. The two primary wide midfielders were excellent in instigating offensive sequences accomplished by: 1) directly penetrating through the centre and 2) incisive and varied passing into dangerous zones.
Vazquez, Asensio, Danilo, and Marcelo provided valuable width that has come to typify Real Madrid’s most prominent attacking scheme. The activity down the wings capitalized on the spaces that became available due to the attention that Asensio (occasionally), Isco, and James’ central play drew from the opposition. Isco, particularly, with his dribbling would attract players and, as a result of his strong on-the-ball ability, eliminate them from the defensive zone before passing to a forward who was now less marked. Asensio was also able to do this very well and in addition utilized his speed to great effect to directly bypass players and defensive lines. These two elements of Real’s offensive strategy combined with excellent adept movement to disorient a relatively fragile Deportivo defense. James and Morata were instrumental in this aspect as they continually created openings and passing lanes for the wingers and wide men.
The passing from Real was magnificent and helped assert control. Patient but intentional ball circulation meant they didn’t allow the hosts a moment to settle and kept them on edge throughout the contest. This was evidenced by the efficient use of triangles and one touch passing to circumvent possession recovery and containment (admittedly fairly weak to begin with) efforts. This connectivity in Real Madrid’s gameplay was valuable and highlighted the trust they had in each other. They played where they were facing simplifying their decision-making but enhancing productivity as a whole. Again, Kovačić’s positional discipline was a key ingredient in this synced display.
Defensively, Real Madrid weren’t significantly tested because of their offensive dominance and comparatively poorer attacking from their opponents. Although Deportivo moved the ball fairly well and could progress play into Real Madrid’s half, that was the extent of their ability to move forward. They could hardly create danger in the box and were limited to low probability crosses and shots from unfavourable locations on the pitch. There were moments Real lacked concentration and their otherwise stellar defensive organization and performance wasn’t ideal.
This lapse in focus was particularly the case after Deportivo scored their first goal to make it 2-1. It was partially due to the effects of the goal, and partially due to the natural swing of momentum as the hosts grew in confidence — in addition to Madrid relaxing their early offensive pressure. After Los Merengues re-established their two goal lead, they fantastically managed the rest of the match denying Deportivo quality opportunities while strategically loosening their tight shape without compromising the result. Casemiro’s introduction and deployment as Kovačić’s partner contributed to Real’s defensive composure.
Summary of Select Key Chances
Minute 1: Danilo-->Isco-->Morata-->Goal
Danilo stepped up and made a great interception before passing to Isco. Isco turned and did well to find Morata who sat between two defenders just outside the box. The attacker drove into the box and scored with a powerful shot.
Minute 14: Kovačić-->James-->Vazquez-->James-->Goal
Real doubled their lead with a wonderfully worked goal. Nacho’s deflected pass fell to Kovačić who made a directed run to half, and released the ball to James. The Colombian took his space advancing towards zone 14 where he played the ball out wide to Vazquez. Vazquez returned it beautifully to James who finished from close range.
Minute 34: Bergantiños-->Gil-->Guilherme-->Luisinho-->Guilherme-->Juanfran-->Kakuta-->Andone-->Goal
One of Deportivo’s better plays of the match. An exchange of passes in their half led to a stunning long pass to Juanfran. The full back sent a dangerous ball into the box that landed at Kakuta’s feet. The Frenchman’s miscued shot was slotted in by Andone. Danilo and the centerback’s marking and positioning were the key issues for Madrid.
Minute 44: Isco-->Marcelo-->Vazquez-->Goal
Another case of Isco magic. The Spaniard picked up the ball near the sidelines before dribbling centrally towards goal. After a great pirouette to evade a tackle, he slid the ball through for Marcelo whose cross was finished by Vazquez.
Minute 66: Kovačić-->Nacho-->Kovačić-->Isco-->Morata-->James-->Goal
In a running theme, Kovačić made a good tackle to recover the ball. After receiving it back from Nacho, the Croatian played Isco into space — the latter charged centrally and delivered a through-ball for Morata. The attacker nudged it past the keeper before reversing it for James who coolly passed it into the net.
Minute 77: Kovačić-->James-->Vazquez--->Isco-->Goal
A lethal counterattack resulted in Los Blancos’ fifth goal. Vazquez’s assist to Isco was especially key as he found the open man in the box after Kovačić and James worked to bring the ball up the field.
Minute 84: Çolak-->Bergantiños-->Luisinho-->Çolak-->Andone-->Joselu-->Goal
Good combination play after an errant Casemiro pass preceded Çolak’s fantastic pass to Andone. The forward cut back and played a great cross that Joselu headed past Casilla. Nacho’s marking should have been better as he left Joselu completely open.
Minute 87: [Off camera]-->Marcelo-->Morata-->Diaz-->Casemiro-->Goal
Marcelo and Morata’s passing was good. Diaz’s movement and cross to Casemiro was also well executed but this goal belongs to Casemiro. The Brazilian put his name on the score sheet with a decisive drive from outside of the box.
The shots read 22 to 19 for Real Madrid at the end of the match but the game was anything but close. Upon closer inspection, the difference is reflected a little better by shots on target favouring the visitors by four (11-7). However, nothing illustrates Madrid’s utter dominance of proceedings better than the expected goals where Deportivo’s 1.36 was more than tripled by Zidane’s men who achieved 4.57.
It was very promising seeing a more disciplined midfield structure without the presence of two of Kroos, Modric, and Casemiro on the field. The continued evolution of players is fascinating to observe and exciting given their incredible potential. Kovačić, for example, who has a tendency to dwell on the ball and hamper the possession fluidity and stability of the team, especially when played deeper, performed very well. He fulfilled the duties of his role almost to a T and was a large reason for how well the team did.
A quick review of match objectives: Give first team players rest. Check. Provide playing opportunities to secondary players. Check. Win the first of six finals in the league. Check. Five more finals now await the team. Next up -- Valencia over the weekend before the first leg of the Champions League semi-final next week.