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Tactical Review: Real Madrid 1 - 2 Levante; 2018 La Liga

Two goals prove too much to overcome for Real Madrid despite their effective attacking strategy based on increased numerical presence and space optimization.

Real Madrid CF v Levante UD - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The near eternal international finally break came to an applauded end as Real Madrid hosted Levante in the ninth fixture of the league season. Lopetegui and his men were eager to start afresh and rediscover their dominant form from August and September. The team stumbled following the heavy defeat against Sevilla and have since gone winless and scoreless – for four matches in total. This run has seen them break records for the wrong reasons and Levante presented the perfect opportunity for Los Blancos to emerge from the gloomy fog that has set in at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Soccerway website

Despite the importance of getting a positive outcome from this game, Lopetegui didn’t show too many signs of panic or nerves with his team selection. Benzema and Bale who both recently recovered from injuries were left off the starting line-up. Kroos finally got some rest as he also wasn’t in the first eleven. Carvajal, still sidelined due to a calf muscle strain, was not in the match day squad. Otherwise, the rest of the picks were expected with Isco and Marcelo making their returns to the field.

Defensive mistakes change the dynamic of the game

Two defensive miscues proved fatal for Real Madrid as they went down by two goals early in the game. For the first goal, Sergio Postigo delivers a searching ball from Levante’s half that Varane completely misjudges. The French centre-back was on the wrong side of the attacker and most importantly failed to anticipate the trajectory of the ball as it evaded him. Jose Luis Morales expertly collected the pass and skipped past Courtois before slotting it into the net.

Varane is on the wrong side of the attacker and makes a miscalculation on the flight of the ball allowing Morales to get in behind him.

The second goal was more misfortune as Varane handled the ball inside the box. His hand moved towards the ball (appearing to be some kind of reflex) and following a VAR inquiry was adjudged a penalty offense. Rudi Marti dispatched from 12 yards narrowly escaping Courtois’ diving attempt.

The two goals compromised Real Madrid’s tactics as Levante promptly retreated and adopted a purely counter-attacking approach compared to their more balanced game-play during the opening exchanges.

Real Madrid numerical presence and overloads in attacking spaces

A notable feature of this game was the quality of Real Madrid’s offensive plays. The players dissected Levante numerous times and created openings and opportunities from better locations compared to their previous games during the barren run. One of the key reasons for this change in dynamism was the oft activated three man defensive line which allows players to push up into an almost 3-3-3-1 shape. This was visible from almost the start of the match.

Casemiro retreating into the defensive line showcased Real Madrid’s intent to push more numbers up structurally.

After conceding two goals, Casemiro’s positioning became less fixed in possession as he occasionally moved up to support pressing actions and ball recovery. This space optimizing shape was conducive to adept player movements to enter into half spaces and gaps between lines enabling the team to progress vertically with control and dexterity. Furthermore, it allowed players to flood into Levante’s half regularly to combat their defensive block.

A good example of Real Madrid’s excellent attacking play.

In the above sequence, Real Madrid put on an excellent display of how to force a low block of place to creating space. There were lots of subtle flowing movements into dangerous areas — facilitated by the high numbers of Real Madrid players in the offensive zone. Mariano cleverly shifted into zone 14 often to give clear passing options to Asensio or Modric which he would then return or recycle with a one touch play. The presence of players in the box as the ball is zipped around takes the defenders’ attention away from incoming runs such as the one Marcelo makes before playing the one-two with Isco.

Benzema’s entrance powers Madrid’s ultra-touch offensive system

Benzema’s substitution took Real Madrid’s game to another level as he combined incredibly with Marcelo to exert significant pressure on Levante. Part of the reason was Benzema (who had fresh legs and is very well suited to this type of football) replaced an underwhelming Isco. The Spaniard had a subdued evening likely feeling a little rusty from his time off. Marcelo benefitted enormously from an improved wing/inside channel support as the two wreaked havoc almost instantly.

Marcelo and Benzema connect for Real Madrid’s first goal in over eight hours.

The goal was one of many opportunities created by the deftness and intricacy of the two players. Benzema hit the post and each served numerous appetizing balls into the box during the course of the last half hour of the match.

However, it should be said that despite everything, Real Madrid suffered from a faulty transition defensive. They struggled (though individual matchups and tactical overexposure) to contain Morales and co and were fortunate the visitors weren’t more clinical with their execution and decision-making.


Defensive errors give Levante a major advantage as they go up 2-0 early in the game. This leads to them playing much more defensively. However, Real Madrid is able to wonderfully navigate their low block due to increased numbers in attack that facilitate ball circulation and movements into dangerous spaces.

Understat website

Despite vigorously knocking on the door, Real Madrid could only score one goal as they failed to translate their 34 shots (12 on target) into more than the solitary goal Marcelo blasted into the roof of the net. Despite Levante’s low show count, it must be noted that the score effects created a dynamic where they were comfortable with Real Madrid exerting pressure and could have completely killed the game if they converted one of their threatening counter-attacking plays.

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