Real Madrid lose away from home to Espanyol, courtesy of a Gerard Moreno goal in the 93rd minute. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, tactical review, and post-game podcast.
One thing we’re 100% sure of: we can never be sure of what is going through Zidane’s head. Tonight’s match against Espanyol followed a trend. It was the fourth match in a string of games where Real Madrid played shorthanded, and, for Mateo Kovacic, a fourth start in as many matches with as many different schemes surrounding him.
Tonight, Kovacic lined-up alongside Marcos Llorente in a 4-2-3-1. Both of them looked good individually, to be sure -- especially Kovacic who’s ball-carrying ability was in array all night. Of the two central midfielders — both of whom played deep generally — Llorente was hedged to the right and rarely entered the final third, while Kovacic was mostly on the left, and carried the ball up the pitch regularly. But apart from Mateo’s bombing runs with the ball, there wasn’t much offensive curation from a team that looked unimaginative.
It’s hard to believe, but a team with Isco, Asensio, Vazquez and Bale created virtually nothing. Gareth Bale started as the spearhead and was isolated continually (this experiment of Bale as a CF needs to stop immediately), and when he received the ball, he pinned himself to the left flank and was crossing it over and over again without any real targets in the area. This is all the while Asensio and Isco drifted to the right with no real positional structure in the offensive scheme. I almost thought I was seeing things (I’m a bit under the weather, and the way Real Madrid were attacking looked a bit surreal), but then I checked the heat maps and everything was confirmed, and the lack of defined roles seemed to be a reason why Real Madrid only slung three key passes until Benzema came on and things shifted slightly.
Throughout, Espanyol had little of the ball but threatened more than Zidane’s men. Gerard Moreno had plenty of chances to score (and was unfortunate not to, given his goal was wrongly disallowed for offside when Llorente had actually kept him on) and he was denied by Keylor Navas several times. And, at nearly the stroke of the final whistle, he finally scored — left embarrassingly open in the area to meet a cross. Something something if you give a man enough chances, etc.
This was an underwhelming performance from both Zidane schematically, and also the players. Despite being well out of the title race, it’s frustrating dropping points, given we should be breathing down Atletico’s neck.
Weird one, at any rate. It was disappointing and uneventful. We’ll break this down more in the coming hours.