Benzema powered Real Madrid to an action-packed victory at the Estadi Cornellà-El Prat in Barcelona. Real Madrid’s vein of good form in recent matches continued as they confidently, if not uneventfully, dispatched of 13th place Espanyol keeping Solari’s men from slipping further behind Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. The manager rolled out a fairly predictable starting eleven as the defense and attacking lines from the previous game remained unchanged. However, Kroos started for the first time since January 6th where he sustained an injury against Real Sociedad.
Kroos’ presence naturally gave Real Madrid a different texture due to the German’s strong influence in terms of organization and coordination of play. The team is able to hold possession with greater capacity and smoothness with him on the pitch and that was evident throughout the game.
Real Madrid’s possession and Modric’s verticality
Real Madrid displayed possession dominance against Espanyol – similar to the showing versus Sevilla but with even more assertiveness. They played patiently in build-up and didn’t force the issue unnecessarily choosing instead to recycle the ball as needed utilizing the base formed by Ramos and Varane. Modric and Kroos would retreat to support ball circulation providing passing options as well as links to the fullbacks. However, the possession did not dissolve into stale retention as a result of several strategic elements. The primary factor was Modric’s verticality. The Croatian has been rounding into form for a while and it seems that he is finally playing at his peak after a stuttered start to the season.
Modric’s direct dribbling and mobility gives Real the edge in possession as it enables them to break through lines and penetrate central zones. This was perfectly demonstrated in the lead-up to Benzema’s opening goal. Modric drove down the pitch into Espanyol’s box bypassing a disoriented defensive shape and getting into a good shooting position.
In addition to his dribbling, Modric’s eye for progressive passes is exceptional. He actively looks for and detects passing lanes that will move the play forward. These passes are crucial in maintaining attacking tempo and intensity and exploiting gaps that emerge during steady possession.
Benzema’s monstrous performance proves his tactical importance
If there was a game that one had to choose in order to provide evidence of Benzema’s ingenuity and impact then his latest match would not be a bad choice. The Frenchman brought the transition focused tactics to life by being the plug-in that he has come to characterize – to devastating effect. His ability to connect midfield and offense as well as act as a reception bay for relief clearances or premeditated long balls was essential. Especially in the context of a game where the wingers were suffocated and not afforded much space.
Benzema’s general participation when Los Blancos have the ball ensures more field coverage facilitating even and dynamic ball circulation. Furthermore, his positioning makes it easier for defenders/midfielders to pay the ball up the pitch and the Frenchman’s one-touch passing and adept reading of play further creates flow-through combinations.
The striker regularly dropped back to collect balls launched from the back. This was critical to breaking up Espanyol’s offensive pressure and occasional high press.
Furthermore, Benzema also sprung attacking sequences from those positions allowing Real Madrid to attack a backtracking defense. And finally, once in the final third, Benzema’s decision-making was excellent as he created chance after chance for his teammates with supreme passes.
Varane’s red card deflates Real Madrid but it’s too late for the hosts
Pablo Piatti burst through Varane’s blind side (an offensive mechanism that has caused Real Madrid problems this season) into the half space. Both centerbacks (Varane and Nacho) failed to communicate or track Piatti’s run well. Varane was caught slightly flat footed and brought down the Espanyol attacker while chasing him down.
Real Madrid struggled to cope with ten men and conceded a number of dangerous chances. However, they were safe thanks to the substantial lead (4-1 before red) they had accrued. Espanyol was only able to score once more before the ninety minutes expired.
Overall, Real Madrid created better chances based on shots and expected goals on the day and their most troubling moments in defense were often self-made due to lapses in concentration. Solari will be happy with another solid showing in the league but will be disappointed with Varane’s expulsion as the team attempts to further build on these good results.