Real Madrid rolled out a massive win today, beating Deportivo 7-1 (Nacho x2, Bale x2, Modric, Ronaldo x2; Adrian) and playing great football along the way. Here’s our quick reaction to the match. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review)
Getting Real Madrid out of their historically bad slump was never going to be easy. Player selections were only going to go so far, given that the entire roster — bar a handful of players, if that — were severely out of form. It was going to take more than simply bringing in new players. It was going to take something new. Zidane’s scheme needed a dose of renewal, a fresh change from the diamond that opposing coaches had scouted to its core.
Enter the 4-3-3 — a blueprint unearthed from Zidane’s archives. It was a welcome change, to be sure. At this point, any change was welcome, but today’s formation in particular picked Real Madrid up and gave them a boost in a weekend were both Atletico and Valencia both dropped points.
Quickly, a list of ways today’s scheme made Real Madrid tick again:
- Luka Modric hedged forward into his traditional role. Here’s the thing about Modric: you can ask him to do anything and he’ll do it well, if not great. In the diamond, he did a lot of defensive work and relieved the right-back. He has tremendous IQ, and is elite at so many aspects of the game. But put him in his more traditional role, where he can be the engine of the team, and watch him really thrive. Today, he was an important outlet higher up the pitch -- stringing passes together, slinging through-balls, and acting as an adhesive glue between the midfield in attack.
- Supporting Modric in this role were Bale and Casemiro, who were both tremendous. Bale will rightfully be evaluated with his tremendous work offensively today, but what shouldn’t go unnoticed is the balance he brings on the flank in a 4-3-3. He’s the best two-way winger on the squad, understands his defensive duties, and does a lot of work to help Carvajal (while himself, using his pace to get into attack with a blitzing run in transition) so Modric can focus on organizing the midfield.
- Casemiro was tremendous as a more traditional anchor, putting in challenges and snuffing out attacks. He lost possession in a dangerous area in the second half (Nacho’s clearance off the line prevented a goal to save his blushes), but overall was really good, and I’ll have plenty of delicious gifs of his performances in this week’s column.
- Dynamism in attack. The team was fluid. Ronaldo was much more involved hugging the left flank, and often cut into space, or drifted to do some defensive duties. The key here — he was involved and having fun rather than being isolated and frustrated.
There was a lot to be happy about in this game, namely the performances of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric, and Casemiro; but also the confidence boost the entire team received. The three aforementioned players stood out, but in truth, everyone played well. Even Borja Mayoral, who wasn’t efficient, worked really hard to pop up in central channels constantly and provide outlets.
By the time it finished, we got a brace from Ronaldo, Nacho, and Bale, and an emphatic response to this season’s struggles. We’ll break this down further in the coming hours.