Real Madrid succumbed to their sixth loss of the season against Real Sociedad at the Santiago Bernabeu. This marked the first time since 2004 they lost at home to the Basque outfit. Solari’s men now sit a mammoth ten points behind Barcelona in the league placing a sizeable dent in the former’s La Liga aspirations for this season.
Real Sociedad BEAT Real Madrid 2-0 at the Bernabeu...— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) January 6, 2019
It's their first victory there since 2004 pic.twitter.com/ro9tMpqlRe
Real Madrid were bested as a result of a number of factors that culminated in a disappointing day. An early penalty, questionable refereeing, and poor chance creation played significant roles in the defeat. Interestingly, the match had actually begun auspiciously due to the buzz and excitement of Vincius’s surprise selection in the starting XI. The rest of the team was unchanged from the draw against Villarreal.
Early Real Sociedad penalty influences dynamic of the match
The match had barely started when Mikel Merino cleverly broke into the box and was recklessly brought down by Casemiro. The referee whistled for a penalty and William Jose stepped up and converted from the spot. Conceding a goal so early put Real Madrid on the back foot as it allowed Real Sociedad to play more conservatively and with less risk. Los Blancos struggled to impose themselves offensively and couldn’t manufacture high probability chances. Their attacking scheme consisted of significant wing play and crossing. Vinicius and Vazquez were active in dropping deep to facilitate progression into the side channels while creating lanes for midfielders and fullbacks to feed them into space.
For the most part, this strategy was unsuccessful due to the visitors’ packed defense and the home side’s lack of intricacy. Vazquez and Vinicius would often be left to their own devices in isolation situations which led to lower quality deliveries as they needed to bypass a defender first. In addition, as aforementioned, Real Sociedad defended the crosses relatively comfortably — they did so in numbers which enabled good box coverage.
Vinicius’ pace and dynamism shines amidst offensive lethargy
Vinicius was without doubt Real Madrid’s X factor. The young Brazilan has been touted in madridista circles as the potential key to a more conductive and vibrant offense due to his notable flair. Beyond simply the eye test and the aesthetic quality of his style of play, there are a number of tactical advantages he brings to the table which were on full display on Sunday.
The first is his movement and pace which create access into dangerous zones. The timing and anticipation of Vinicius’s runs provided a clear outlet to passers in the final third. In addition, his elite pace meant he could start his runs from the defender’s blind spot and make up for the defender’s “head start.”
Vincius also showed intelligence and awareness by moving into central offensive zones to provide support in advancing sequences. The best example (among several) was in the 24th minute when he smartly back-heeled a return pass to Lucas Vazquez who played a 1-2. Vinicius’ intentional delay and execution of the release left the latter in a great position.
12 - Against Real Sociedad, Vinícius Júnior became the first Real Madrid player to attempt 12+ dribbles in his first La Liga start since Robinho vs Celta de Vigo in September 2005 (also 12). Hope. pic.twitter.com/ViEvX9HH44— OptaJose (@OptaJose) January 7, 2019
Lastly, Vinicius continued to show his great dribbling and explosiveness which at this point is nothing particularly new. He was the only player on the field that managed to test the defense by cutting into the box and finding openings for shots.
Real Madrid’s Press and Sociedad’s counter-attacking
Other themes of the encounter included Real Madrid’s high press which subsided as the game wore on. In the first half, they applied active pressure in their opponent’s half which helped effectively disrupt Real Sociedad’s buildup play and possession control.
However, this in addition to their advanced positional structure left them vulnerable to counter-attacks which would ultimately be their undoing. The risk was mitigated by the need to push forward and the counter-balance in offensive productivity in the first half but became nearly untenable once Vazquez was sent off. At that stage, it essentially turned into a sort of game of Russian Roulette as Real Madrid gave up dangerous chance after chance in their desperate pursuit of an equalizer. Their fortune expired in the 83rd minute when Munoz finished off an efficient transition attack to make it 2-0.
Conceding a penalty at the start of the game in addition to Real Madrid’s low-probability crossing model doomed the hosts to a 2-0 loss. Despite an effective high press and Vinicius’ dynamism, Los Blancos couldn’t manufacture great chances consistently which was further compounded by Vazquez’s red card to seal their fate.
According to the stats, Real Madrid were better than their blank scoreboard as they generated a respectable xG score but they were not better than Real Sociedad as the latter had a higher value. Furthermore, Real Sociedad sat back and adopted a counter-attacking approach meaning that the hosts accumulated their chances as a result of match conditions and not as a reflective of high quality opportunities if looked at independently.