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Tactical Review: Real Madrid 0 - 0 Atletico Madrid; 2018 La Liga

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Real Madrid followed up their away loss to Sevilla with a derby against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. The clash between the two sides has become increasingly competitive in recent years with Los Blancos finding it difficult to defeat their neighbours. The Santiago Bernabeu outfit are currently experiencing their worst run of games without a win against Atletico at home.

Soccerway website

Lopetegui went with essentially the same team that suffered the heavy loss in the previous match. The only change was Carvajal – who recovered from his injury – coming in for Marcelo. Nacho shifted to the left back position to cover for the Brazilian while Carvajal assumed his usual right back station.

Attacking asymmetry and Atletico’s dangerous breaks

Real Madrid was flat in the first half with the players having few progressive passing options when in possession. This occurred naturally as a result of Altetico’s renowned defensive compactness but also because of the home team’s spacing and positioning.

Real Madrid’s flat possession structure evidenced by non-staggered horizontal spacing.

In the above scene, Modric is offered limited support to maintain possession and even more importantly advance the play. He tries a pass to Casemiro which fails to reach its mark because of the difficult angle Atletico’s defense created.

Another aspect of Real Madrid’s setup that negatively impacted their offense was Nacho. The fullback struggled to support the team offensively as he’s a more reserved option than Carvajal or Marcelo. Given Real Madrid’s reliance on their full backs to generate offensive actions (especially in closed games such as against Atletico), this stunted the left side of the team and created a lopsided attacking structure.

Carvajal’s participation in the offensive third far outstripped Nacho’s.
WhoScored website

This led to a level of predictability in terms of the source of Real Madrid’s offensive threat. Although it didn’t occur consistently, Carvajal and Asensio (occasionally Bale and Modric) demonstrated the effectiveness of utilizing the fullback in offensive sequences.

Atletico’s best chances in the first half resulted from incisive counter-attacks that took advantage of Real Madrid’s high line.

Real Madrid’s high line left them vulnerable to Atletico’s clinically executed speedy counters.

The speed and clinical passing ability of the visitors meant dispossessions high up the pitch had grave consequences for Los Blancos. This was particularly the case because of Griezmann and Diego Costa’s smart runs often starting from the blind side of the last defender.

Diego Costa’s chance following a loss of possession in Atletico’s half.

In addition to those breaks, Atletico also occasionally displayed solid constructive play – inspired in part by Lemar’s dynamism. The French midfielder was a spark going forward as he offered energy and guile in Simeone’s midfield.

Bale’s substitution and Asensio’s decision-making

Bale was replaced by Ceballos at half time due to injury (or injury risk). The introduction of the Spaniard slowed down Real Madrid’s possession as they were much more patient with the ball. Ceballos’ energy was noticeable even if the player had to navigate the unfamiliar winger role he was assigned.

Modric dropped deeper in the second half with Casemiro also retreating into the defensive line to allow the full backs to push up more which improved combination play. This led to a few openings with the best being when Modric fed Asensio with a through ball in the box – the subsequent pull back didn’t unfortunately reach a teammate. That was a constant theme as Atletico’s low block and packed defense limited space for attackers.

However, Real Madrid’s best chances in the half came as a result of counter-attacks when they managed to recover the ball during some of Atletico’s more extended possession spells.

Asensio fails to make the most of a counter-attacking opportunity.

In some of the most notable counterattacks in the second half, Asensio’s poor timing and decision-making hampered the plays. In the above example, he has a good opportunity to release either Ceballos or Benzema but soldiers on alone towards a low probability situation. In addition, Asensio was also the recipient of the Kroos pass off a counter attack – that left him 1v1 with Oblak – which he couldn’t convert into a goal.


Real Madrid played out a somewhat typical draw against Atletico where both sides had chances and spells of domination throughout the 90 minutes. A flat possession structure in addition to an inactive right side hindered the home team’s offense while each side had great counter-attacking opportunities in both halves.

Understat website

Real Madrid recorded more shots and shots on target as well in addition to accruing a better xG value. This signifies that they played quite well and could have earned more out of their performance on another day.

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