Real Madrid bounced back from their first loss under Solari with an edgy win in the Champions League against Roma. The next match on the schedule was Valencia at the Santiago Bernabeu. This would be an opportunity to get back on track in the league and work towards assembling a consistent run of results.
Llorente’s performance in Italy during the week earned him another starting spot against Valencia. He was joined by Modric and Ceballos as Kroos and Casemiro were sidelined. Reguilon assumed the left back position due to Marcelo also being rested as a precaution. The rest of the line-up was unchanged from the previous game.
Defensively sound Real Madrid get the lead
Real Madrid without Kroos operates differently due to some core aspects of the German’s profile that have a fundamental impact on the team. The first of these and perhaps the most prominent is Kroos’ capacity to organize and coordinate play with his passing. His instinctive pass selection allows the team to steady the play when necessary and build comfort in possession through regulated distribution.
Without Kroos, on-the-ball play was a little choppy and mechanical, it lacked the typical smoothness that is evident when he is on the field. Neither Llorente or Ceballos have proven to possess this skillset. And while Modric has in different schemes and under specific conditions acted as the midfield passing platform, his redefined role this season (a continuation of an adaptation that began last season) has seen him play with more directness and a higher offensive focus.
On the other hand, without Kroos, the team appeared more solid defensively. Firstly because of a basic point. Ceballos and Llorente’s work rate surpass Kroos’ – generally speaking. The two Spaniards’ energy in recovery and willingness to track back reinforced defensive coverage limiting Valencia to very few real opportunities. One particular area where this could be noted was Real’s high intensity recovery play such as Ceballos’ tackle around the 23rd minute.
Far post crosses and Modric’s role
Offensively, Real Madrid still looked somewhat stunted and chance creation wasn’t free flowing. Their tactics centered around deliveries into the box from the wings. There seemed to be a particular intent to cross to the far post. This worked well due to Bale providing support to Benzema increasing numerical presence and the number of reference points for defenders.
The other key component of the attacking system was Modric pushing forward in between the lines to offer direct access to advanced zones. This didn’t happen too much but there were scenes that made it clear what the idea was. Ceballos alternated with Modric to do this but the latter was far more active in this regard.
Reguilon and Ramos struggle in chaotic second half
Real Madrid’s defensive resilience was seriously tested in the second half. Ramos who had been excellent in reading play and leading the extremely effective recovery play had difficulties managing the half space with Reguilon. Valencia’s forwards made excellent runs starting from the outside of the leftback cutting into the halfspace to meet a number of dangerous balls that left them in great scoring positions. This happened two or three times and didn’t have worse consequences thanks to Courtois’ great saves and Valencia’s subpar finishing.
However, true to form for many Real Madrid games this season, Valencia’s growing attacking appetite made them take more risks which the home team began to take advantage of. The entrance of Valverde in particular was significant in this context as his imposing defensive capacity allowed Real Madrid to win the ball in Valencia’s half and turn defense into attack quickly.
Carvajal, man of the match for the night, ended up being the difference maker thanks to his lung bursting run in the leadup to Vazquez’s goal. The right back is almost indispensable at the moment as Odriozola has yet to show that he can provide the same level of grit, intensity, technical skill, composure, and chemistry.
Real Madrid completed an amazing first half performance defensively utilizing their midfield’s energy to implement a robust recovery scheme. Offensively, while still tame, they employed a successful crossing strategy that led to the opener. The second half was less controlled due to Valencia’s exploitation of the halfspace but Real Madrid were able to seal the game on the counter.
Real Madrid will be encouraged by the stellar defensive display they showed in the first half but will be equally disheartened by their continued chance creation woes. Furthermore, defensive lapses such as the ones in the second half can have much more disastrous results. Solari will need to continue finetuning the squad but nonetheless will be happy with his sixth win in seven games.