Solari’s men travelled to Rome to dispute the first place position in their Champions League group. Real Madrid and Roma were tied on nine points prior to the match and the result of the game could prove pivotal for the tournament. A win would almost guarantee Real Madrid finishing as the top seed and potentially avoiding some of the heavyweights in the Round of 16.
The manager made three changes to the starting line-up from the loss against Eibar. Carvajal, Llorente, and Vazquez replaced Odriozola, Ceballos, and Asensio respectively. LLorente was getting his first minutes since he featured in the Copa del Rey almost a month ago.
Tame first half sees dearth of central midfield play
Perhaps the knowledge that Viktoria Plzeň’s win over CSKA Moscow meant that both Real Madrid and Roma were qualified contributed to the meek nature of the first half. Neither team played with great intensity as evidenced by casual pressing and low intensity in attacking phases. Another key observation during the first half was the lack of activity at the center of the park. Neither team’s midfield left a significant imprint on the game as both sides focused on getting the ball up the pitch fairly quickly via the wings.
Both teams struggled in buildup with Real Madrid seeming to experience more difficulties playing out from the back. There were a number of occasions where players lost the ball close to their own box as a result of sloppy play or positional misalignment. One of these dispossessions almost led to a Roma goal. Regardless of this, controlled play construction was a fundamental aspect of both teams’ tactics and they persisted with doing so.
In terms of attacking, Real Madrid attempted to leverage Bale and Vazquez on the wings for instigation. The wingers were tasked with making runs and spreading the play wide as much as possible. This allowed for space to open up near the top of the box for cutbacks to Kroos or Modric who would find themselves in good shooting range. Benzema diversified the attack by providing an outlet in central attacking zones.
Roma also worked through the wings quite heavily occasionally looking to catch Real Madrid’s backline off-guard in transition but were let down by the quality of the deliveries. The Italians were more reliant on crossing, however, with Ünder and Kolarov as the primary service providers.
Bale breaks the deadlock and Real Madrid dominate proceedings
Roma conceded a goal shortly after the restart as their defenders were slow to react to Olsen’s mishit clearance. The ball was inadvertently headed back to Bale who was sitting behind the defense. The Welshman calmly controlled the ball and slotted it into the back of the net.
The intensity and tempo of the match increased significantly but soon settled into a dynamic of Roma committing many players forward during open play and set pieces and Real Madrid responding through counter-attacks to exploit the vacated space. This suited the visitors much better as they were able to generate several great chances during this period. One of the counters precipitated the second goal.
Real Madrid showed intelligent game management choosing to steady possession during the latter stages of the half. They effectively dictated the pace of the match and limited Roma’s offensive threat.
Roma and Real Madrid played out a stale first half punctuated by a distinct lack of central midfield play. Both teams struggled to build up from the back and utilized a wings focused attacking approach. In the second half, Gareth Bale’s goal gave Real Madrid the edge and they were able to exploit Roma’s overexposure as the latter pushed for an equalizer.
The xG stats show an even performance but it should be noted the numbers are heavily skewed by Under’s miss. A goal there could have changed the dynamics of the game just like Bale’s did. The performance was good (although far from faultless) but one the club will no doubt be happy with as they confirmed their qualification to the Round of 16 as the top seed.