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Tactical Review: Alaves 1 - 0 Real Madrid; 2018 La Liga

Real Madrid’s goalscoring issues continue in concerning loss to Alaves.

Deportivo Alaves v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Real Madrid were in a major slump heading into the Alaves game failing to score a goal in three games and suffering a defeat in the Champions League against CSKA Moscow. Lopetegui and his men set out to reverse the trend in order to maintain their strong position in the league and enter the international break on a good note.

Soccerway website

Real Madrid were dealing with injuries to both fullbacks and Isco. The manager called on Odriozola (getting his second start of the season) and Nacho to cover for Carvajal and Marcelo respectively. Surprisingly, Ceballos was included in the XI leaving Asensio – who had otherwise been a primary starter so far – on the bench. This was the first time the team had lined up in this configuration (in terms of midfield and offense).

Alaves’ pressing and Madrid’s continued offensive struggles

Alaves implemented an impressive pressing scheme that posed Real Madrid serious problems as they attempted to circumvent it as part of their possession buildup. Alaves’ pressing worked well due to the effective coordination of defensive pressure. The hosts intelligently made sure that they closed off options for the ball carrier and forced the latter into hurried actions as much as possible.

Alaves’ intense and synchronized pressing disrupted Real Madrid’s buildup phase.

Despite struggles to evade Alaves’ press, Real Madrid’s possession wasn’t severely affected. Los Blancos saw much more of the ball which was somewhat expected. On top of the visitors’ new found prioritization of ball retention, Alaves averages one of the lowest possession rates in the league. The issue of turning that possession into dangerous attacks persisted. Shy of a few promising actions resulting from set pieces and occasional individual play, they couldn’t really create anything of quality.

The primary attacking mechanism was utilizing the width provided by Odriozola’s deep runs mimicking Carvajal’s role. The young defender burst forward frequently opening the outside channel up for deep deliveries. The only issue is that Odriozola didn’t have teammates available to combine with and work the ball into the box more intricately – and consequently either had to play the ball back or cross it.

Odriozola was the major outlet into deep attacking zones in the first half but had to resort to crosses or passing it backwards due to isolation.

On the other hand, despite showing up on the statsheet offensively (touches and passes in opposing half), Nacho’s participation in attack was very muted. This again imbalanced the attacking structure where activity on the left side was much less threatening.

Odriozola breathes life into attack but Real fall to last minute winner

Lopetegui took off Benzema for Mariano in the second half but other than a noticeable injection of energy and pace into the attack leading to a through-ball around the 50th minute, the difference wasn’t too stark.

The biggest change in the second half was tactical with Bale and the midfielders moving into half-spaces to receive the ball and better engage with Odriozola. This led to a number of great openings that unfortunately didn’t materialize into testing shots. Part of the reason was poor pass selection and execution of crosses by Odriozola. However, the quality of the attacks were significantly higher than in the first half.

Advanced positioning and improved support in second half allowed more intricate play to capitalize on Odriozola’s overlaps.

Casemiro also came off for Asensio midway through the second half which reinforced the strategy that had been set out. The team’s shape systematically advanced further up the pitch which allowed them to capitalize on overlaps and utilize combinations. That being said, the attack still languished and Alaves made Real Madrid pay with a last ditch winner at the end of the game. The goal arrived courtesy of a corner which Real Madrid weren’t able to defend properly.


Real Madrid’s goalscoring troubles continued in dramatic fashion as stale possession and a stunted left side in attack highlighted troubling tactical issues. Deportivo Alaves won the game at the death with a corner kick after showing great pressing and defensive organization to disrupt their opponent’s buildup.

Understat website

The stats do not paint a kind picture for Los Merengues. They registered a lower xG value despite having more shots and shots on target. And while Alaves’ xG was inflated by the last minute goal, it doesn’t in any way deter from the overall theme which has emerged in the last four games. The team’s offense is looking dull and will need to be remedied when action resumes after the international break.

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