Santiago Solari took charge of his first league match as Real Madrid manager against Real Valladolid. The former Castilla head coach led the first team to a resounding 4-0 victory in the Copa del Rey earlier in the week. However, that was against a Segunda Division B team and Valladolid would be a tougher matchup.
The current injury situation in defense meant Solari needed to bring in Nacho, Reguilon (the young left back making his La Liga debut), and Odriozola to complete the back four along with Ramos. The midfield was the standard Kroos-Casemiro-Modric band while Benzema, Bale, and Asensio started upfront.
Real Madrid rely on crossing while lacking dynamism in attack
There weren’t any drastic changes in the tactical scheme that could be observed during the game. Many of the issues that plagued the team recently persisted as ball circulation was very flat and limited to wings in attack. The main source of danger in the first half was through Reguilon (and Asensio to a lesser extent) who did well to stretch the field and create space on the left side. The youngster was continually fed by the midfielders and his service was impressive as it was targeted and created panic for the Valladolid defenders.
That was essentially the only way Real Madrid caused any real threat in the first half. The team lacked incisiveness in the final third and there was a severe deficit in creativity. Part of the reason was personnel as neither the midfield trio, Benzema, Asensio, and Bale are particularly adept at breaking lines – either with dribbling, speed, or vision. While Bale is one of the fastest players in the game, he doesn’t often use it in closed spaces to advance play. The only player whose actions reflected some verticality was Modric but his impact in this area was stunted because of stale attacking structure and movement. A large part for the poor level of central penetration was due to Valladolid’s deep low block as they often kept high numbers in their half that retreated as Madrid moved up the field. They would also often clog the box diminishing the actionable value of central zones.
Beyond this, as noted above, Madrid were positionally flat and lacked good movement. In the graphic, Modric receives the ball with very few passing options. Casemiro is pretty much in line with him behind a defending player. Benzema while in a position to receive the ball is also surrounded by Valladolid defenders and doesn’t make a run which Modric was hoping for. Modric’s poor touch and missed pass were the culprits for the loss of possession in the play but imbalanced spacing indirectly created the unfavourable situation.
Valladolid exploit space between the lines
Because of the nature of the game (Valladolid’s low block), Real Madrid’s lines in defense struggled to readjust without the ball as the midfielders didn’t regroup quickly enough sometimes forcing the Ramos and co to riskily step up. This manifested itself in several ways. One was in the form of a potentially lethal counter attacking in the 28th minute that was one easy pass away from leaving Unal in a one vs one against Courtois. The other way Real Madrid struggled in defense was when Valladolid adopted controlled buildup.
In the sequence preceding the above moment, Kroos, Modric, and Benzema half-heartedly carry out a non-effective press that barely affects Valladolid. Kroos and Modric are easily bypassed and Casemiro (who had gravitated to the left side towards where the ball was horizontally) isn’t covering the middle. Ramos is forced to step up to challenge Toni Suarez who receives a pass in plenty of space. Suarez reacts quickly and plays in Antonito who is left one on one with Courtois.
Madrid’s failing emergency plan rescued by Vinicius
Real Madrid showed more intensity in the second half leading to some more energy in attack. This was still largely futile as attacking consisting of crossing and long shots were dealt with relatively well by Valladolid’s shape. Furthermore, on the other end, Valladolid struck the post multiple times from long shots negating the chances the home side were generating. Solari pulled out Casemiro for Isco which in theory should have led to better intricacy and combinations but it ultimately didn’t seem to work. Valladolid easily broke through on counters while Real Madrid still heavily struggled to create – at least until Vinicius entered the fray.
The young Brazilian was a breath of fresh air and demonstrated the level of unpredictability and direct play that the team was sorely missing. His first major contribution was a great move to break into the box where his deflected cross/shot ended up in the net. Later on, he also played a beautiful pass for Benzema which led to the penalty towards the end of the game. The dribbling and speed Vinicius showed were important in the context of games like these as they help create chaos and disruption which is critical to breaking down low blocks.
Real Madrid’s stale tactics in the first half were far from what was needed to break down Valladolid’s sturdy low block. Los Blancos’s spacing also caused issues defensively and they could have conceded a goal or more on another day. Vincius proved to be the difference as his direct and shifty play fortuitously led to two goals.
Real Madrid bested their opponents in shots and shots on target but it should be noted that in terms of chance creation, the two sides were pretty much level in xG scores if you take away the penalty. This was a great result for Solari in his first league test but the team will need to improve and perhaps use Vinicius’ performance as the impetus to integrate him further into the team.