Real Madrid were set to host Leganes at the Bernabeu as they looked to make it three wins in three games to kick off the 2018-19 La Liga season. The evening began auspiciously as Navas, Ramos, and Modric showed off their shiny UEFA hardware and Julen Lopetegui finally selected what many believe will be the primary starting XI. Modric, Varane, and Courtois were inserted into the line-up and the remaining eight players were unchanged from the previous two games.
Leganes, currently sitting in 12th place with one point, made just two changes to their starters from the last game. Rosadilla and Martinez were brought into the XI. Garitano was aiming to lead his men to their first league victory.
Real Madrid deliberate switches of play gives them the lead
Real Madrid faced a compact and staunchly organized side and struggled to create clear openings as the players settled into the tempo of the match. One of the noticeable aspects of the home side’s approach was the floating tendency of their wingers while Benzema freely dropped in between the lines and into half spaces to activate dangerous zones with intricate combinations and interplay.
However, the primary mechanism Lopetegui’s men utilized to poke holes through Leganes’ shield was deliberate switches of play to the fullbacks and forwards.
This worked effectively because Leganes’s containment play was highly focused on denying access to the center of the field. Their compact shape meant that space was often conceded on the flank where the play wasn’t occurring. This was clear to see with the opening goal where Carvajal snuck in behind the defense to get to the end of Ramos’ seeking launch from a deep location.
In addition, RM’s offense also included intermittent crossing and runs behind the defense which is another viable method of dealing with solid defensive blocks. Runs behind the defense were more prevalent (compared to crossing) with Asensio having one of the best chances created with this tactic early in the game.
Wing interplay and intricate combinations allow Real to dominate
Leganes equalized following a penalty they earned after they gave the hosts a taste of their own medicine – using a switch of play to disorient the defense. The former were buoyed and the momentum shifted in their favour for the remainder of the first half. Despite showing promising flashes of excellent passing, Real Madrid still struggled to create chances and their possession mostly fell flat.
A significant reason for this was the underutilization of their fullbacks and more generally the wings in offense. This changed at the start of the second half as they began to attack the wings more aggressively (with the Marcelo-Asensio tandem shining) and with intent leading to the go ahead goal as well as the penalty call for the fourth.
After gaining the lead, Leganes’ shape loosened and Lopetegui’s system began flowing much more smoothly. Their possession-enabled intricacy correlated with advancement of play and engeneering good openings. This scheme was supported very well by Casemiro’s defensive coverage in the midfield plugging holes and mitigating his midfield partners’ liberal positioning.
Benzema’s second goal was the perfect example of the aforementioned combination football exhibited by Los Merengues and summed up the great outing the French striker was having. The remainder of the game didn’t see Leganes seriously threaten the scoreline as Real Madrid comfortably closed out the win.
Real Madrid maintained their perfect start to the league making it three wins in three games. Despite early struggles navigating an effective defensive system, they adopted a number of approaches such as switches of play, wing interplay, and intricate combinations to overwhelm their guests.
The shots and xG stats were in Los Blancos’ favour as they vastly outshot their opponents and more than doubled Leganes’ xG.