Leganes beat Real Madrid 1 - 0 (Braithwaite) in the second leg of the Copa del Rey round-of-16. Real Madrid advance 3 - 1 on aggregate. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.
As Real Madrid resumed action in the Copa del Rey against Leganes on Wednesday night, Solari rolled out a second consecutive unorthodox lineup. Following the well-discussed 3-5-2 at Benito Villamarin; Solari went with Marcelo and Reguilon together in Butarque — a reasonable gamble to take given the team’s offensive woes and 3 - 0 aggregate cushion.
Marcelo played the first few minutes centrally, with Isco (who finally started under Solari) sticking to the left. The two swapped positions and it quickly became apparent that Marcelo was the team’s left-winger, with Lucas Vazquez opposite of him, Reguilon behind him, Isco in front of the double-pivot of Casemiro and Fede Valverde, and Vinicius as the team’s striker.
In theory, fielding Marcelo in an advanced position makes sense. The team is struggling offensively, and Marcelo is one of the best creators in the team. Deploying him as a winger also eases concerns about the Brazilian’s positioning and individual defending as the team’s left back. Yet, in theory, a lot of things make sense until you try them. Marcelo has played a left winger sporadically in the past couple seasons, and he hasn’t looked completely comfortable. Tonight, he misplaced three passes early on, and never really was able to play his natural game. Keep in mind, also, that one of the biggest benefits of keeping traditional wing backs in their natural position is the extra dimension they bring with their overloads in addition to an already clicking offense.
For what it’s worth, Solari taking this gamble in a game like this wasn’t a huge deal, and he realized it wasn’t working by half-time, when he brought on Dani Ceballos for Reguilon — pushing Marcelo to left-back.
The dominos of that sub gave the team a bit more flow in the second half. Vinicius, who was playing as the team’s striker initially, was isolated in the first half, and finally moved to his more dangerous left-wing position where he can run at players on the flank and cut in. (We didn’t really see any significant action from him until he picked the ball up on the counter in the 28th minute to feed Isco). Vinicius immediately looked more involved at the start of the second half, but didn’t have his shooting boots despite getting in good positions.
And still, the uptick was not that noticeable — it was just a slight improvement over a humdrum first half, where Real Madrid had little going for them offensively apart from Isco having his shot blocked when through on goal, a long-distance shot from Valverde which was saved, and the odd sequence where the team had the ball in the box before getting closed down.
Defensively, it didn’t look great either. While Casemiro and Valverde zipped up vertical channels down the middle, Real Madrid struggled dealing with Leganes’s overloads on the flanks, and treaded water dealing with crosses. Reguilon, Lucas, Odriozola, and Nacho were consistently out-leapt or beaten to the ball on crosses, and the goal they conceded in the first half summarized their struggles:
Com gol de Braithwaite o Leganes vai batendo o Real Madrid por 1x0. No agregado está 3x1 para os merengues. pic.twitter.com/sklvzTvvDO— Rodrigo Moraes ⚖️ (@RMora3s) January 16, 2019
Braithwaite earned that goal, given how much trouble he gave Real Madrid over the two legs. Leganes head coach Mauricio Pellegrino, meanwhile, played his cards about as well as he could’ve with the aggregate score he was facing. He got good chances throughout the match, flooded the flanks with really dangerous runs from Kravets, Gumbau, Eraso, and Merino, and his men defended in transition well enough to limit Real Madrid’s attack.
This was tough to watch. Real Madrid didn’t have many ideas going forward, and at times you’d be scratching your head, trying to figure out why Odriozola is forcing a cross to Vinicius or Isco by themselves in the box surrounded by striped shirts. Solari’s men were outshot 11-3 in the first half, didn’t have much ball control or defensive security, and only grew into the game offensively in the second half — but were still vulnerable while nearly conceding a second.
Next up: A tough home match against Sevilla which Managing Madrid will be at the Bernabeu for, live, press row. We’ll break this game down further on tonight’s Patron podcast.