Real Madrid come away with a 3-5 away win at the Benito Villamarin against Real Betis (Asensio x2, Ramos, Ronaldo, Benzema; Mandi, Nacho OG, Sergio Leon). It wasn’t easy. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, tactical review.
This was 90 minutes of pure chaos — but with all the bad wrinkled in, Real Madrid scored five goals, had peppered moments of brilliance, and got the job done.
Benito Villamarin is a special, special place. It is my second favourite stadium in Spain, and on nights like this, the atmosphere is magical. You knew Betis would bring out their A-game, and that Quique Setien was going to plan accordingly — as he did in Betis’ 0-1 win at the Bernabeu earlier this season. There was a sharp, sharp contrast in scheme from that match to this one, to be sure. In the first leg of this fixture, Setien sat in a deep block, defended valiantly, had some luck along the way, and scored late against a gung-ho Real Madrid defensive line that flooded the opposition’s half in search of a winner.
This time around, Setien went at Zidane’s shifty 4-4-2 — a formation that theoretically should be built to have a sound defensive structure. Yet, Real Madrid were overrun in midfield. None of the four midfielders could cover lines efficiently. The passing lanes were open, and the entirety of the first half, Betis could play passing triangles while working their way up the pitch — simultaneously finding outlets with ease and getting into Real Madrid’s area. There were plenty of examples of this — all coming your way in this week’s column.
In the first half, Real Madrid couldn’t click into an offensive gear. Gareth Bale was very quiet throughout. When Asensio scored, he did well to head in a rebound from a shot from an unmarked Ronaldo in the area. Outside of that, it was tough to penetrate Betis in the opening half.
As Setien teams tend to do, Betis started to loosen their tight and pragmatic scheme. Their defensive structure opened up (as did the game), and this only benefitted Asensio, Carvajal, Bale (the Welshman was quiet overall, and the 4-4-2 isolates him a bit), Vazquez, and Ronaldo to take advantage of the open space, and in particular, the lack of coverage Betis had on the flanks.
Kinks and all, Real Madrid have now picked up 13 points from their past five games, and apart from the match against Levante, have been able to close out games even without playing at their highest gear.
Bullet points from Kiyan’s notebook
- This match was defined by two things: 1) A vertically loose 4-4-2 where Real Madrid couldn’t close passing lanes or plug Zone 14, particularly in the first half; 2) Efficient play in the final third in the second half to take advantage of Betis’ open defense.
- Joaquin is one of my favourite non-Real Madrid players of all time (this has nothing to do with anything, really).
- Marcelo was taken off in the first half for Theo after the Brazilian took a hit on his leg. It looked like a routine precaution to take him off.
- Mandi completely out-jumped Casemiro on a corner for Betis’ go-ahead goal. Beast header.
- Two recurring things this season: Ramos and Casemiro giving the ball away needlessly. Saw glimpses of that tonight again. Though, they both had a couple important interventions defensively too.
- Unreal run from Carvajal for Real Madrid’s third goal. He carved through three players on the flank. Asensio’s finish was great.
- Sergio Ramos scored another set-piece header (cluch, in a moment of need, at that!). The Om Arvind curse is definitely broken.
- On Nacho’s own-goal, there’s a lot to dissect. I’m going to save it for tonight’s podcast.
- Real Betis are notorious for making late-game comebacks this season. They pulled a consolation goal back late (before Benzema ended the game in the 91st minute with Real Madrid’s fifth goal), which was entirely preventable if Theo doesn’t jog back in transition. Can’t switch off like that late against Betis, even with a two-goal lead.
As always, this is just the bare-bones. More detailed analysis coming your way in the next few hours.