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

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Real Madrid show off their much improved offensive tactics in the win against Rayo Vallecano.

Real Madrid CF v Rayo Vallecano de Madrid - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Real Madrid displayed one of their most dynamic and controlled performances under Solari against Rayo Vallecano. Los Blancos showed the measure and edge that has seemed lacking to date under the tutelage of the Argentine manager. The line-up was fairly consistent with recent selections in La Liga.

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Marcelo’s return meant Carvajal was shifted back to his regular right back post after filling in for the Brazilian against Huesca while Kroos rejoined the midfield in the place of Ceballos. Additionally, Asensio was inserted in the front line to account for Bale’s absence who was dealing with a slight injury concern he picked up in midweek. The rest of the team was unchanged from the last league game.

Real Madrid’s movement and positioning creates danger

The first half was one of Real Madrid’s finer demonstrations of attacking play since Solari took charge of the team. The positional dynamism of the forwards significantly contributed to the free flowing and effectiveness of the home side’s offense. Asensio and Vazquez’s judgement of when to spread wide to optimize spacing versus shifting inside to support Benzema and play construction was excellent. Furthermore, the two wingers were great outlets in transition being able to adeptly detect and take advantage of opportunities to receive throughballs – particularly in the context of Rayo Vallecano’s suspect (and at times riskily high) defensive line.

Asensio and Vazquez’s movements and dynamism were key to Real Madrid’s attacking performance.

Another key feature of Real Madrid’s reinvigorated attacking capacity was Benzema. It was nothing new but the Frenchman’s role in supporting and facilitating progressive sequences is undeniable. His renowned link-up ability and tendency to drop deep provided a tactical balance to Asensio and Vazquez’s free roaming and goal-minded positioning. Benzema’s presence in the central attacking zone provided relief and impetus for his team as he enormously aided both wings.

Benzema was an offensive fulcrum and was a vital link in moving the ball up the field.
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In addition, the fullbacks and midfield were much more positive minded in the match. They didn’t hesitate to play the ball vertically whenever they had the chance to. This aligned with the previously noted positional dexterity of the forwards which meant that there were always open men in front of them to pass to during transition (and even in controlled buildup). It all came together in Real Madrid’s goal as Modric recovered the ball and immediately played it forward to Benzema who had dropped back on the left wing. The French forward identified Vazquez in acres of space on the opposite side and made a switch of play. The former continued his run while Vazquez took advantage of Vallecano’s retreating line to smartly play the striker in behind the defense.

Defensive anticipation and Asensio’s questionable decision-making

Real Madrid’s defense was fantastic in holding Rayo Vallecano on multiple fronts. They defended set pieces in a compact shape and with clear marking assignments only being caught off guard in large part due to Emiliano Velázquez’s impressive leaping and heading ability. More importantly, Real Madrid’s centerbacks were proactive in winning the ball back (and ensuring the team worked this way as a whole) which allowed the hosts to quickly launch attacks in transition.

However, on two occasions, Asensio found himself at the end of two such sequences and subpar execution and decision-making stopped them from leading to more successful outcomes. The young Spaniard failed to act quickly or decisively enough in the 45th minute, just before half, as well as the 62nd minute.

Asensio’s decision-making came into question throughout the match.

Both of these scenes were incredibly promising and needed to at least result in a high quality shooting chance but both of them were somewhat wasted by Asensio. He had good and clear options to feed teammates and wasn’t able to do so.

Real Madrid almost made to pay for not turning their lively attacking into more goals

The hosts continued to test Rayo Vallecano’s defense with different attacking mechanisms including long-balls, incisive combinations, direct dribbling (especially after Vincius’ entrance), and transition verticality. However, were they let down time and again by poor finishing and execution of final moves.

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They were almost made to rue their poor conversion as Vallecano came very close to equalizing at the death from a set piece. Courtois was called into action when a last ditch looping cross into the box was not properly dealt with and culminated in two shots from close proximity within the box. Fortunately, the keeper was equal to the occasion and able to save both efforts. Solari and the team will be thrilled one of their better performances returned full points. More pertinently, seeing the team play with such expansiveness is very encouraging.