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Tactical Review: Real Madrid 0-3 CSKA Moscow; 2018 Champions League

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Russian side serves youthful squad a historic defeat

Real Madrid v CSKA Moscow - UEFA Champions League Group G
Isco, Marcelo and Javi Sanchez during match against CSKA Moscow
Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

After solidifying their place in the Champions League round of 16, Santiago Solari’s Real Madrid played a very unconvincing match against CSKA Moscow in their last game in the 2018/19 Champions League group stage.

The Russian squad took total control at the Santiago Bernabeu thrashing the current title holders 0-3 and became only the second team in history to be Madrid both home and away in the European competition.

The last team to do so was Juventus in the 2008/09 season: 2-1 in Turin and 0-2 in Madrid.

While the match may not have meant much, Solari’s youthful side put on a very weak performance across all areas of the pitch.

But how did a once promising squad suddenly become disastrously unprepared? Let’s take a look.

Shaky Defence

The first obvious issue for Real Madrid lies along their backline. Since the beginning of the season, the defence (whether youth based or not) has conceded 31 goals across all competitions.

Against CSKA Moscow, Marcelo returned to work the flank alongside Alvaro Odriozola and Javi Sanchez and Jesus Vallejo were paired in the centre ahead of Courtois’ net.

The quartet did not make their presence known against their opponents and ended up leaving gaps along the back and giving up the three goals.

With players such as Marcelo and Odriozola who like to play so far up front, it was only Vallejo and Sanchez remaining at the back and both of them played high up rather than closer to their goal.

Heat-map for Jesus Vallejo and Javi Sanchez against CSKA Moscow
WhoScored.com

Anytime CSKA Moscow attacked, it was either 3 vs. 2 or an even 2 vs. 2 as the two wide defenders constantly found themselves struggling to get back to their positions.

This left Feyedor Chalov, Gregori Shchennikov and Arnor Sigurdsson calmly waiting around the box prepared to successfully have all their shots find their way past Courtois.

Screen shot of game bulding up to the Chalov’s opening goal. Marcelo caught running back to help Vallejo and Sanchez which left CSKA players in open spaces.
DAZNCanada

Striker Issue

With enough issues along the back, Madrid is still struggling to find a player that can step up and score goals.

The likes of Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema have yet to find consistent form for the team and the Whites have been drier than usual this season.

Against CSKA Moscow, the two attackers seemed very unaware on the pitch and were not consistent in their positioning and neither registered any shots on target.

Heat-map for Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema against CSKA Moscow.
WhoScored.com

Besides the Frenchman and the Welshman, Isco Alarcon, Vinicius Junior and Marco Asensio were the other players who tried to score a consolation goal for the hosts however, all the attempts weren’t enough.

Vinicius Junior had a good chance to open the scoring in the 28th minute but Igor Akinfeev had a good save.

Registered shots from Asensio, Isco, Vinicius and Benzema
WhoScored.com

Asensio then recorded three shots on target of his own, with his best chance coming off of his teammates saved shot but the Spaniard was denied by the corner of the goal

Real Madrid does not have a player that can confidently rise to the attacking standard that the club holds so highly and must find one as soon as possible and the January transfer deal could be a window of opportunity for the club.

Apprehensive Midfield

The one good statistic from the loss against CSKA Moscow was during Madrid’s midfield battle.

The home side maintained 69 per cent possession throughout the game with former Castilla players Marcos Llorente and Fede Valverde leading the game with passing rates of 95 per cent.

Alongside the Spaniard and Uruguayan, Asensio, Isco and Vinicius Jr. often dropped back alongside the midfield duo.

Pair this alongside the runs of Marcelo and Odriozola with the placement of Bale and Benzema and Solari has eight out of his starting XI playing amongst each other in the midfield.

Passing chart for 8/11 Real Madrid players against CSKA Moscow.
WhoScored.com

No Madrid player was taking the opportunity to move forward in hopes of decreasing the deficit and rather played the possession game.

Even with the disastrous loss, Madrid finished first in Group G and could now face Ajax, Lyon, Liverpool, Manchester United, Schalke, or Tottenham.

The hunger of the current Champions of Europe has seemed to dwindle in their favourite competition and the team needs to refocus ahead of the next round.

Real Madrid finds out their next opponents after the draw for the Round of 16 takes place on Monday, December 17th, 2018.