A much-rotated Real Madrid squad returned to La Liga against a well-drilled Leganes team. Asier Garitano may very well be one of the most underrated managers in world football. The small club from the outskirts of Madrid has meager resources to work off of, but have managed to assemble a tactically astute and resilient team. Leganes have caused Zidane and his men problems on more than one occasion this season, famously knocking Madrid out of the Copa Del Rey in January. With the most important match of the season next Tuesday, Zidane took no chances with injuries and rolled out an eleven that included the likes of Dani Ceballos, Theo, Vallejo, Achraf, Borja Mayoral, Marcos Llorente, and even Casemiro at center back. After a decent performance in the first half with goals from Gareth Bale and Borja Mayoral, the second half left a lot to be desired. Madrid began to tire and when man-of-the match Mateo Kovacic left the game, Leganes grew in confidence. Garitano’s men targeted Madrid’s left flank as Dani Ceballos drifted towards the center of the field and Theo struggled with the overload. Ceballos performance was top class, and his movement and involvement was there for all to see, but defensively he and Theo were out of sync. Both young fullbacks, Theo and Hakimi, struggled to deal with the pace and power of El Zhar and Amrabat. Leganes were unlucky not to come away with at least a draw given their performance, their xG told a similar story.
Dani Ceballos Hybrid Role
The former Betico, Dani Ceballos, was stationed on the left flank of a four-man midfield. A position that is not unfamiliar to him, as Ceballos’ has played that role to perfection many times with Betis.
All game long, Dani drifted from the left to the center of the field to get on the ball and connect with his teammates. Kovacic and Ceballos in particular connected well and gave fans a glimpse into a potential future partnership. Ceballos work-rate is insatiable and his involvement was clear-94 touches on the night and 75 passes, far and away the most for the team.
This was one of Dani’s best performances in a white shirt. The tactical set up and the freedom he retained from the left flank gave him amble touches and the opportunity to heavily influence Madrid’s build up play. Though, like with Isco, his freedom and ability to drift away from the left flank often left Theo vulnerable. The young fullback struggled to deal with El Zhar and the overlap from Zaldua.
Leganes Drive Down the Wings
The goal exploited both young fullbacks. Theo was left isolated 2 v 1 with El Zhar physically out pacing the youngster and putting in a low driven cross. Hakimi failed to recognize the danger and left his mark, Brasanac, wide open to tap in an easy goal. It was a clear lapse in concentration. Achraf had the support of Gareth Bale down the right flank. The Welshman had another great two-way performance and put in a number of tackles to thwart Leganes down the right. With Ceballos roaming, Theo was often left on his own and failed to deal with the overload.
A heavily rotated squad did enough to finish the job, but the second half was far from pretty. The boys in white began to tire and with Mateo Kovacic’s exit from the match, Madrid lost their engine. Dani Ceballos put in a strong performance and drifted well from the left midfield position, stamping his influence on the match with the most touches (94), and passes (75), on the night. Though, Dani’s freedom left Theo Hernandez to fend for himself on the wing. El Zhar and Zalduo took advantage of the overload and Theo struggled to lock down the left flank. Madrid were put under the cosh in the second half, but weathered the storm and saw out a 2-1 victory. Bayern Munich arrive on Tuesday with places up for grabs—can Kovacic, Bale, or Benzema work their way back in the lineup?