Football finally resumed following the seemingly eternal international break that saw numerous Real Madrid players feature for their national teams. Real Madrid, still a mammoth fifteen points behind Barcelona but trailing Atletico by a more manageable four points as of last match day, were looking to put pressure on their city rivals. Furthermore, Los Blancos only sat a point ahead of fourth placed Valencia and needed to maintain their advantage.
Zidane’s mind appeared to be on the Juventus game on Tuesday as he rested several key players such as Ronaldo, Marcelo, and Kroos. Others were sidelined due to slight injuries including Ramos, Carvajal, and Isco.
The manager selected Varane and Vallejo in central defense flanked by Nacho and Theo Hernandez. The midfield comprised a Modric-Casemiro double pivot with Vazquez and Asensio out wide. Bale and Benzema led the team in attack.
Real Madrid cut through Las Palmas with vertical balls
Both teams started the game with a clear intent to take the initiative. This was reflected by the high pressing on display on either end of the field. This dynamic was more favorable for the away side as their 4-5-1 defensive shape (which saw Casemiro sit back while Asensio and Modric pressured from high positions) enabled them to transition quickly into offense – strongly supported by Benzema off and on the ball. Real created great chances as a result of this strategy (Benzema and Asensio were at the end of two of the best ones) and came close to scoring.
Despite adopting an effective transition based offense, Real Madrid’s primary offensive tactic was to utilize the high positioning and pace of their forwards (especially Bale) to test the home team’s liberal high line.
Casemiro and Modric would deliberately look to play him in behind the defense whenever the opportunity presented itself. After creating a number of dangerous chances, their passing finally paid off when Bale expertly latched onto a sumptuous Modric pass, easily escaped his defender, and finished with aplomb.
On the defensive end, Real Madrid were very solid due to the 4-5-1 shape mentioned above. Vazquez and Bale were extremely disciplined and worked well with the fullbacks to close off access to the wings. This forced Las Palmas to try to navigate the less inviting central channels. This in turn required that they rely on individual skill (Halilovic was the main instigator) which could only manufacture low probability shots.
The visitors consolidate their advantage with possession
After going up 1-0, Real Madrid made a few adjustments to their structure and system to steady the play and control the tempo of the game. The midfielders dropped a little deeper to support patient buildup and ball circulation. Modric was especially instrumental in this scheme and was at the heart of everything. The central defenders also deserve credit for their composure and decision-making. Varane and Vallejo were cool in possession and nearly always picked out the optimal passes for constructive play progression.
As a natural consequence of the schematic adjustment, the fullbacks’ offensive participation increased significantly and Hernandez and Achraf (who replaced Nacho due to what appeared to be an injury) were much more involved in the final third.
In fact, it was Hakimi’s run in the 36th minute to collect Navas’ ball that earned the foul for the freekick that led to the penalty call for Real’s second goal of the match.
Benzema, captain for the day, duly converted from the spot to commemorate his 400th appearance for the club.
Second penalty and third goal seal the win for Real
The second half was just getting going when Las Palmas conceded another penalty. Benzema, who is one of the best at attacking from the wings, played a fantastic pass into the box to Bale from the wing. To elaborate on the French man’s capability in this regard, his decision-making and considerateness on the wings specifically is almost second to none. Benzema will rarely blindly cross the ball – instead he always examines available options and tries to deliver direct passes (even in the smallest spaces).
Bale converted the penalty and seemed to have put the game to bed. Predictably, the rest of the match played out with Las Palmas pushing up aggressively while leaving themselves exposed at the back. Zidane’s men had plenty of opportunities to punish them but couldn’t score. The hosts were mostly stifled and apart from a few favourable bounces and mistakes couldn’t get around Real Madrid’s staunch defense. Llorente and Kovacic replaced Casemiro and Modric in the second half to give the latter two some rest.
Real Madrid leveraged Bale’s speed and high offensive positioning to target Las Palmas’ defensive line which gave them the lead. Los Blancos smartly managed the rest of the game and won two penalties in addition to exerting significant pressure and defending well.
The stats agreed with the eye test and reflect just how emphatic Real’s win was. Now, the focus shifts entirely to the rematch of last year’s Champions League final. Real Madrid will hope to secure a positive result in Turin on Tuesday.