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Tactical Review: Granada 0 - 4 Real Madrid (La Liga 2016/17)

One down, three to go - Real Madrid’s offensive quality overwhelms Granada.

Granada CF v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images

Model of Play

A visit to the south of Spain to face 19th place (and mathematically relegated) Granada was sandwiched between the Champions League semi-final games against Atletico in Real Madrid’s schedule. Similar to the trip to A Coruña, this was one of the few opportunities Zidane had to rest players. Despite the Granada manager, Tony Adams, implying that fielding a heavily rotated side would be lacking respect - the French man did exactly that as he replaced nine of the starting XI from Madrid’s last match.

Granada, on a five game losing streak, played their regular starters for the most part as they sought to earn a respectable result and make some noise in the league.

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Having players like Kovačić, Rodriguez, Vazquez, Asensio, and Morata on the pitch at the same time signaled Real Madrid’s intent to offensively overwhelm Granada. As has become standard when the “B” side plays, Kovačić was positioned deeper at the base of the midfield together with Casemiro as James, Vazquez, and Asensio supported Morata, the lone striker, in attack. It was immediately apparent that this was a strategy that would work well in the context of the match as the vitality and intensity of Real Madrid’s offense quickly undid Granada. The away side scored inside three minutes utilizing incisive passing to unlock the hosts. This came in the form of a great Morata pass to Vazquez who layed it off for James to finish. The sequence encapsulated the most successful scheme employed by Zidane’s men. Their play through the wings to find open men who could take advantage of favorable one-on-one matchups or deliver balls into the box was very effective.

However, Real Madrid’s possession did not have the standard level of stability. This naturally occurs as a result of not having Kroos and Modric on the field but there were other factors that impeded Los Blancos from implementing efficient and smooth ball possession. The first was score effects: due to running out to a strong lead very early, the impetus and urgency significantly decreased. Real Madrid were comfortable letting Granada hold the ball and adopted a more direct counterattacking model. The second reason was the team’s high positioning as the wingers often seemed to be on the same line as Morata. This undermined central passing options and negatively impacted the connectivity of the team. It should noted that on the flip side, the combination play and level of support was consequently great in the offensive third.

Despite the team managing to score four goals, their final balls and decision-making could have been better. Numerous opportunities were squandered as players would fail to detect and take advantage of better options. This could again be attributed to having a significant lead given Real were up by four in the first half — players perhaps felt this was an opportunity to go for goal and build confidence which was particularly evident with Vazquez and Benzema.

Defensively, Real Madrid performed admirably but it must be admitted Granada did not attack with significant quality. There was little penetration and despite having a competent marksman in Adrián Ramos, they did not test Real Madrid aerially. Ramos and Nacho were excellent but their primary responsibility from the totality of their contributions was to supplement play-making and play progression with active buildup and long passes from the back. Coentrão and Danilo were equally formidable with the latter acting with more offensive freedom than the former. This does not mean that the Portuguese didn’t help propel his team forward. He smartly and selectively chose his moments to maintain balance and cater to the winger — ultimately notching a magnificent assist for the second goal.

Lastly, Casemiro and Kovačić, while also not persistently challenged were up to the task and were key to the implementation of a compact 4-4-1 (4-5-1 secondarily) off-the-ball shape that denied space and time to the opposition. This was enough to nullify a timid Granada attack. The home side did get chances but only when there wasn’t any more legitimate threat to the result and Real Madrid entered a sort of “cruising” mode.

Summary of Select Key Chances

Minute 2: Vazquez-->James-->Asensio-->Danilo-->Asensio-->Ramos-->Casilla-->Nacho-->Asensio-->Vazquez-->Asensio-->Ramos-->Nacho-->Morata-->Danilo-->Vazquez-->Danilo-->Vazquez-->Casemiro-->James-->Ramos-->Morata-->Vazquez-->James-->Goal

The opening goal was beautifully created. The team circulated the ball patiently as they navigated Granada’s shape. Real’s passing stretched their opponent leaving a gap on the right flank. Ramos’ delightful vertical pass to Morata preceded the latter’s excellent ball behind the defense for Vazquez who squared it to James.

Minute 10: Coentrao-->Ramos-->Kovačić-->Nacho-->Vazquez-->Ramos-->Coentrao-->Ramos-->Vazquez-->James-->Casemiro-->James-->Danilo-->Nacho-->Casemiro-->James-->Vazquez-->Coentrao-->James-->Goal

This play followed another stretch of extended Real Madrid ball possession. Moving from the right to the left and instigated centrally, it was the result of a progressive style.

Vazquez received the ball on the right wing but overhit his cross which Coentrao got to on the opposite side. The leftback made an adept touch to control the ball before perfectly crossing into the box for James to head home.

Minute 30: [Off camera]-->Casemiro-->Danilo-->Morata-->Goal

Continuing the theme of the night, Casemiro found Danilo’s run down the right wing before the Brazilian provided a great cutback into the box. Morata met it with aplomb for Real’s third of the game. Morata was one of several options in the box emphasizing Real’s attacking intent..

Minute 35: Danilo-->Kovačić-->Casemiro-->Asensio-->Morata-->Goal

This goal was produced by a well executed counter-attack. After adjusting into a more reactive state after scoring their second goal, Real became dangerous in transition.

The goal was a perfect example as Danilo forces a dispossesion in Real’s half before a succession of passes (Kovačić and Casemiro) set Asensio free. Asensio drove into the heart of Granada’s defense and passed to Morata who twisted and turned before decisively finishing.

Minute 79: Ingason -->Silva-->Pereira-->Angban-->Silva-->Ramos-->Hongla-->Shot off target

Granada sliced open the Real defense on a counter after a corner kick. Dollowing a little confusion in the box, the ball was laid off to Hongla whose effort on essentially an empty net is wide. Difficult to assign blame to a single player but Kovačić and Danilo could have tracked their men better.


Real Madrid outclassed Granada in the match based on key statistics. The former had 16 (8 on target) to the latter’s 13 (3).

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James and Morata’s productivity has been simply astounding this season. They manage to obtain an assist or a goal regardless of who they’re playing and who their teammates are. On a related note, Zidane deserves credit for developing a viable rotational strategy and sustaining the engagement and commitment of players. There are now a maximum number of five matches remaining in the 2016-17 season. Each game with increasing importance as the march towards silverware continues.

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