As the post-game quotes came in from the Sanchez Pizjuan, one theme kept recurring: Real Madrid’s collapse in the first half, where they looked paralyzed on both ends of the field. Casemiro, Lopetegui, and Marcelo all harped about this.
“We gave the first half away,” Casemiro said. “We know that Sevilla is a very difficult rival and we gave them a full 45 minutes.”
“We were bad in the first half and Sevilla were clearly superior,” Marcelo added. “Then going three goals down — it’s difficult.”
“Our start to the game was terrible,” Lopetegui said in the post-game presser. “We weren’t at the desired level. We played better in the second half, but must accept this defeat and get ourselves back up for another important game on Saturday.”
Lopetegui also spoke about the team’s press and defensive compactness — something they wanted to emphasize in the pre-match prep. You’ll notice Real Madrid’s shape when Sevilla were building from the back was flexible. In some instances, Benzema tried to push Sevilla around horizontally, while the players behind him opted to man-mark outlets rather than press with him. Other times, the team would implement a high-press and force Vaclik into a turnover. But generally, Sevilla had numerical superiority in attack, and were able to pick out vertical outlets with ease; or in the case of the second goal, just feast on Real Madrid’s high line which didn’t counter-press well enough.
“We wanted to be more compact and press harder,” Lopetegui said. “But we didn’t do it correctly after they punished us at the start of the game. Like when we win, our next objective is the coming game. It’ll be the same now. Sevilla were superior today, and we were inferior in the first half.”
With Lopetegui’s scheme, if the counter-press isn’t clicking, things generally will collapse, and we saw this in the first half against Girona, as well as in patches against Bilbao.
“Sevilla are the deserved victors,” Lopetegui continued. “We had chances to score and turn it around, but [Luka’s] goal was disallowed, and we did not finish. Every time we lost the ball we did not press correctly. We’re sad about the defeat but this team has character to turn it around.”
It does. The core of this team has been through it all. They’ve had their backs to the wall and bounced back plenty. But, from a fan perspective, it is frustrating that those bounce-backs just haven’t happened in La Liga — and only on a continental level.
Tonight, Real Madrid just couldn’t capitalize on Barcelona dropping points. (On a side note, our boy Oscar Rodriguez scored the game-winner against the Cules; and Achraf also scored a goal on his debut with Dortmund tonight.) And that’s a trend that Real Madrid fans are used to. Tonight though, marks the first time since 2015 that both Real Madrid and Barcelona lost on the same day.
“We don’t look at what other teams do,” Lopetegui said when addressing a question about Barcelona’s loss. “The league is very long and has unexpected tough games for everyone. Tomorrow we must prepare for a very important derby.”
On Marcelo’s injury, Lopetegui said: “Marcelo seems to have a [muscle tear], but we’ll have to wait for tests tomorrow.”
“We lost three valuable points tonight and they could prove to be decisive at the end of the season, and that’s always troubling,” Marcelo said. “Defeat hurts but we have to raise our heads. My calf hurts but we’ll wait for tomorrow’s test results.”
Reporters kept egging the players on about ‘The Best’ awards, but Lopetegui, and all the players, rightfully shot down any suggestion that the awards affected tonight’s performance.
“All three of Sevilla’s goals came via our mistakes,” Courtois said. “It was a difficult and complicated game. Now we must rise from this. We don’t look for excuses. We prepared well. The Best awards gala had nothing to do with this. I was already in bed by 4:30. We’ll analyze our errors.”
Sevilla coach Pablo Machin, who’s been a huge part of Sevilla’s resurgence in the past three games, but also the man behind Girona’s demolition of Real Madrid at Montilivi last season, brushed off any excuses that Real Madrid players might be tired.
“Do not talk to me about exhaustion when we’ve been playing for two-and-a-half months already, and have had two games in one week while suffering many injuries of our own.”