Real Madrid were hoping to shake off any hangover after managing the biggest win of the season against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday. Zidane fielded a significantly rotated line-up against Real Betis as his team continued their bid to solidify a top four position.
Betis were in good form coming into the match. They won their last two games against Villarreal and Deportivo La Coruna and were looking to make it three wins in a row.
Real Madrid take the lead against daring Betis
Real Madrid started on the front foot and were propelled by Asensio’s strong influence. The young Spaniard (along with Vazquez) have done extremely well in the 4-4-2 flat configuration when it has been used in recent times. Asensio was active in the final third working well with Marcelo to create enough space to deliver balls into the box. In addition, the midfielder would also retreat to the midfield line to support build-up play and progression.
Real Madrid’s first goal underscored their offensive strategy for most of the half which was wing-focused and attempted to leverage the aforementioned left side quality and tecnique.
Marcelo’s cross was cleared but only as far as Vazquez who wasn’t quickly closed down. He passed to Ronaldo (situated near the edge of the box). The Portuguese shot and the parried ball fell to Asensio who tucked it into the net with a header.
On the defensive end, Real Madrid struggled to contain an adventurous Betis who moved the ball exceptionally well. The home side employed a recurring scheme that saw them attract attention towards central/right zones and switch play to the left often to Firpo Adames (in open space).
Part of why Betis had success with this tactic was their intelligent implementation of central overloads to pull Carvajal out of position. Furthermore, Casemiro and Kovacic’s flat positioning and vertical spacing was also exploited as the ball carrier would have enough time on the ball to pick out a good pass.
Betis score two goals on the back of dominant play
Betis fully came into the game in the middle of the first half. They had already shown signs of their adept ball circulation to force openings on the left side and did this even more consistently/effectively for the period between the 24th minute and their second goal.
They had an astounding 73% possession rate during this period and outshot the visitors 5-1. Furthermore, the accumulation of set pieces and corners during this time evidenced the amount of pressure Real Madrid were facing. One of these set pieces led to the equalizing goal.
In the meantime, Marcelo was substituted for Theo Hernandez after the Brazilian went down with an apparent injury. This didn’t alter the dynamic of the match too greatly as Betis continued to dominate play. Part of the issue was the understanding between Casemiro and Kovacic and ultimately the drop in quality compared to Kroos and Modric – this was exacerbated when Real Madrid had the ball as the former pair couldn’t support possession as effectively.
Although Casemiro and Kovacic were energetic and had great effort, their actions during ball recovery phases seemed uncoordinated as Betis enjoyed success playing through the middle and in central areas. The hosts’ second goal was an example of this as Real Madrid gravitated to the left hand side (Ramos, Casemiro, Kovacic, and Vazquez in particular) leaving Adames in acres of space.
Additionally, Nacho and Carvajal dealt with the ensuing attack poorly. It’s a 3-on-3 situation but Nacho doesn’t readjust his marking quickly enough and leaves Carvajal to face the onrushing Joaquin and evading Adames on his own. This creates a good shooting opportunity for Adames that Nacho ultimately deflects into the net after Navas gets a hand to it.
Real Madrid regain control and establish two goal lead
Real Betis threatened at the start of the second half with a good sequence that led to a great shot outside the box but Real Madrid were the dominant side from then on. This rise in momentum for Los Blancos was boosted by Ramos’ equalizer which likely prevented Betis from adopting a more rigid defensive approach. The Spaniard rose above everyone to nod the ball past Adan for Real Madrid’s second of the night.
Real Madrid had done well on attacking set pieces throughout the match with Ronaldo and Ramos getting to the end of several. In addition to Ramos’ goal, Asensio’s fluid movements also helped steady the tempo of the match as he was able to work with the midfield (Vazquez did the same to a lesser extent and only vertically) to retain possession.
After Ramos’ goal, Real Madrid instituted a transition based offense supplemented by their sporadic high press. This worked quite well as the speed and energy of the fullbacks, wingers, and forwards proved overwhelming for a tired Betis defense.
They created two great chances that could have put the game to bed if Bale had been able to put them away. Betis were not so fortunate in the 59th minute after Carvajal’s magical run down the right side of the pitch beating four men resulted in a wonderful assist for Asensio’s second goal.
Asensio’s finish was excellent. The one-time perfectly placed shot gave Real the important lead. Ronaldo added another soon after when Casemiro found him with an artfully lofted ball over the defense. The Portuguese (who had troubled the defense all night) used quick feet to side step his defender and blast it past the keeper.
Benzema comes on to ice the game after late Betis surge
Real Madrid had entered game management mode and were looking to see out the remainder of the match with a 4-2 lead. Isco replaced Bale and Asensio pushed up and joined Ronaldo in attack. The right side had seemed a little frail due to Asensio’s loose defensive positioning prior to Isco’s entry. The latter helped stabilize the defensive shape but not before Betis were able to exploit poor marking to cut the deficit in half.
An umarked Joaquin caused confusion and no one tracked Sergio Leon when the backline shifted to deal with the lateral pass to Adames. Real Madrid however were able to decisively put an end to the game with Benzema’s goal. The French forward picked up a loose pass and played a 1-2 with Vazquez. The striker subsequently curled the return ball into the net.
Real Madrid were tested by Real Betis’ excellent positional and possession play and were forced to mount a comeback to secure the away win. They utilized verticality and speed to overcome a tired Betis defense in the second half.
Ronaldo and Asensio were fantastic. Ronaldo’s offensive productivity is incredible – beyond just his goals, his general industry and attacking instincts make him a huge nuisance for defenders. He is constantly creating space, exploiting channels, generating shots/chances, and supporting team-level tactics. Asensio is an interesting mix of composure, calm, and possession oriented play with speed and vertical enhancing decision-making. A true gem who is again rising to the forefront as the team heads towards the business end of the season.