After passing the three previous tests as manager of Real Madrid, Solari had a chance to make it four wins in four games against Celta Vigo. The head coach seems to have reinvigorated the squad and continuing his good start in the hot seat would have been his objective for the game. Injuries have been accumulating however and several changes were required to respond to the absence of key players (particularly in defense where Varane, Carvajal, and Marcelo are all out).
Nacho partnered with Ramos to form the centerback pairing while Odriozola and Reguilon deputized once again on the flanks. The front six were the usual suspects except Vazquez who was — somewhat surprisingly — given his second consecutive start leaving both Isco and Asensio on the bench.
Benzema breaks the deadlock in a closed first half
The game began at a slightly uneven pace as both teams gained a feel for the game with neither being able to fully get a hold of it. Celta frequently implemented a high press that placed Real Madrid under some duress. It almost resulted in a dispossession in the visitors half near the box which could have led to a good Celta opportunity.
Despite holding Celta to fairly speculative attacking (the hosts’ best chance was a contested header off a corner), Real Madrid still displayed some vulnerability defending in transition. Celta were very good at moving the ball up the pitch once they recovered it in their own half but their lack of numerical presence and poor execution meant they never made much of these sequences.
Going forward, Odriozola was active for Los Blancos causing trouble down the wing with his pace. Within the first two minutes, he burst into space and played the ball back to Benzema who was able to force a save from the keeper. The right back utilized his speed well throughout the game and was an important outlet in possession.
Reguilon was quieter in terms of direct attacking participation but was still significantly involved as much of Real Madrid’s play occurred on the wings. That being said, Benzema broke the deadlock courtesy of a delightfully weighted ball delivered into the box by Modric from deep. The French attacker created space with a decoy run before changing directions, beautifully controlling the ball, and expertly scoring. The goal was one of the very few attacking forrays that went through the central zone.
Benzema was key in another great scoring chance engineered later in the half as he supported Odriozola’s overlap on the wing to provide a passing lane into the box before cutting it back. The ball fell nicely for Kroos who unfortunately missed.
Benzema’s brilliance and Ramos’ penalty allow Real Madrid to ride defensive issues
In the second half, Benzema picked up right where he left off before the break as he slalomed between two defenders before causing an own goal with a great shot. The goal was created by an effective application of a counterpress as Odriozola quickly pressured David Juncà leading to the giveaway.
Celta answered almost immediately with a goal of their own in the 61st minute. The recurring issue with midfielders failing to properly track runs from deep (magnified without Casemiro on the field) was again a factor. Hugo Mallo easily bypassed the midfield line (Modric and Kroos particular culprits in failing to follow him) and snuck into the box past preoccupied defenders. The midfield lacked structural symmetry with the ball which created problems when they lost it. As there wasn’t a stable presence in a holding central position, it was possible for Celta to quickly gain ground without much resistance which was evident during a turbulent spell in the middle of the second half.
In more settled Celta possession phases, Real Madrid were actually fairly solid off the ball. Despite having to deal with three forced substitutions because of injuries — with Vazquez having to cover at LB late in the game — to Casemiro, Reguilon and Nacho, Celta couldn’t penetrate Real’s 4-5-1 shape and seldom created any truly dangerous chances even though they dominated possession. On the other end, some good work from Modric (tackle), Asensio (run and ball retention), and Odriozola (positioning) won a penalty which Ramos converted. Celta’s Cabral was sent off shortly after essentially ending the game. Each team still managed to add one goal apiece for a final score of 4-2.
Real Madrid’s Benzema powered performance was sufficient to overcome a resilient Celta Vigo side. Stale wingplay and midfield defensive issues persisted but the team defended well once they organized and were able to take advantage of their chances thanks to a supreme showing by their point man.
Real Madrid registered a higher xG despite Celta closely matching their total shots and shots on target count. Solari will hope the team builds on these great results and momentum to further sharpen their offensive dynamism while patching up the defensive issues in midfield. Looking to the immediate future, the international break will be very welcome due to the dire injury situation.