Real Madrid travelled to the south of Spain to take on 20th place Malaga. The Boquerones are almost certain to be relegated having picked up only four wins over the course of the season to date recording a league worst 22 losses in the process.
Zidane’s men on the other hand had an opportunity to supplant Valencia in third place after the latter lost to Barcelona. The coach elected to rest seven of the starters from the second leg against Juventus on Wednesday.
The team formation appeared to be a 4-2-3-1 on paper but periodically morphed into a 4-1-4-1 as Casemiro sat just in front of the defense.
Malaga’s low block and Real Madrid possession structure
The match started a little slowly and settled into the expected dynamic where the home team sat back in a loose low block while Real Madrid attempted to break them down. The hosts had attempted to build some attacking momentum as they tried to move the ball down central channels but this didn’t work. As a result, they receded and concentrated on possession recovery and defensive containment with little to no pressing. Their best chances in the game were due to glaring individual errors: Casemiro’s giveaway and Vallejo’s mistake.
Real Madrid combatted Malaga’s defensive structure with steady buildup significantly aided by Isco and Kovacic – who would retreat into their half to support play progression. Similarly, Casemiro, although not as active as the other two midfielders, acted as a central hub to help with switches of play and combinations as the visitors worked the ball up the field.
Right wing overloads and Isco’s vision
When they entered Malaga’s half, Real Madrid’s offensive scheme consisted of right wing overloads and deliveries from that area. Isco (who freely roamed along with Kovacic constantly moving to different areas of the field to provide options) worked extremely well with Carvajal and Vazquez to create space and time on the right wing.
Malaga were susceptible to this strategy and didn’t adjust to the overloads leaving Rostagnol and Rolan outnumbered. This led to a number of good chances for Real Madrid including Kovacic’s header which necessitated an amazing save.
In addition to supporting the wings, Isco was a creative spark throughout the game and displayed great vision and verticality. The midfielder took advantage of Malaga’s poor defensive spacing to find attackers in good areas with excellent passes.
This was one of Isco’s finest games in that regard. His decision-making and identification of runs and forwards was exemplary.
Unfortunately, Real couldn’t capitalize on many of these passes but the chance creation was evidence of the efficacy of Isco’s creativity. The diminutive maestro added the cherry to the cake with a freekick goal to give Real the lead.
Real Madrid utilize width and counters to seal the game
Real Madrid continued to stretch play in the second half as they targeted the wings with Carvajal, Vazquez, and Asensio seeing a lot of the ball. Malaga’s failure to compensate with zonal adjustments or responsive coverage allowed the attacking fullbacks and wingers to constantly get in behind the defensive line.
As the half wore on, Malaga in a faint bid to equalize and as a natural consequence of their opponents decreasing overall intensity gained more possession and committed many players forward. This led to Real Madrid focusing on transition based offense – supported by a light pressing scheme.
Benzema supremely enabled this counter-attacking with his great positioning, speed, and passing managing to nab an assist for the second goal scored by Casemiro and almost assisting Ramos as well on another play. The energy of substitutes Ceballos and Mayoral was helpful for this approach.
An Isco-inspired performance allowed Real Madrid to go home with full points. They exploited Malaga’s poor defensive organization with wing overloads in the first half before putting the game to bed with excellent counter-attacking in the second. Malaga offered very little threat and their best chances came as a result of clear defensive mistakes.
The stats favored Real Madrid and showed they had the edge in key metrics such as shots and expected goals. Zidane and the team will be happy to have been able to rest important players and still get the win that puts them in third place.