Real Madrid had the opportunity to distance themselves from rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid on Saturday evening after both had dropped points earlier in the day. But, in what has become typical Real Madrid fashion, the opportunity was squandered. Zidane rolled out a traditional 4-3-3, placing Luka Modric back in the midfield while replacing the high octane Fede Valverde. Rodrygo was given the starting birth once again on the right wing while Ferland Mendy was selected over Marcelo. The bigger tactical story-line involved the changes that Real Betis manager, Rubi, made to combat Madrid’s offensive weapons. Rubi rolled out a 5-3-2 formation with Marc Barta playing as a defensive midfielder in addition to the back five. Needless to say, the Beticos were looking to sit deep and soak up Real Madrid’s pressure before finding a way through on the counter via their technicians Fekir and Canales.
Real Madrid’s Pressing vs Sergio Canales Movement + Ball Retention
Rubi’s formation looked to plug as many gaps as possible to deny Madrid space within 25 to 30 yards of goal. Zidane clearly had intentions to press Betis when they were on the ball and because Real Betis were so far back once they won possession, Rubi’s men struggled to get out of their half within the opening 15 minutes. Sergio Ramos continually pushed the Madrid backline higher to suffocate the green and white and limit the space they had to try and play out from the back. For the first 15 minutes or so, the press was organized and it was probably the most effective press Madrid had executed all season.
But after the opening quarter of the match, Betis started to feel there way into the game. Sergio Canales was instrumental to disrupting Real Madrid’s game plan. The former Real Madrid player had total freedom to roam and was simply everywhere. He continually dropped deep to pick up the ball off his center-backs and found the holes in Madrid’s tiring press. His vision and ball retention skills meant what once was looking like an organized press from Real Madrid was soon broken with a simple pass from Betis’ #10.
Zidane’s men could handle pressing in a man-marker situation, but as soon as Canales placed a wrinkle in the tactical set-up and roamed as he pleased, Madrid failed to pass their mark on. A press operates best when the players executing occupy a specific zone and space on the pitch, rather than trying to press specific players; or in other words man-mark.
Hazard - Vital to Madrid Between the Lines
The opening 45 minutes were Eden Hazard’s best in a Real Madrid shirt. He was the “X-Factor” and unfortunately had a goal rightly disallowed thanks to VAR. The final third was congested due to the amount of bodies Betis utilized to defend their goal. With Madrid attempting to execute a high press if possession was lost, Ramos and the defense were hedging up the field rather than dropping to create room for their midfield and offensive lines. Thus there was very little space for the Real Madrid attacker’s to combine and most players just found themselves static up against the back five. One Madrid player was intelligent enough and technically gifted enough to recognize that the only way to break Betis down was to find the ball between their midfield and defensive lines. Despite that space being unreasonably small, Hazard found a way to pick up ball, turn, and create goal scoring opportunities. Ultimately, the team failed to find the Belgian enough in the first 45 and his influence waned in the second half.
Vinicius Unpredictability and Direct Running
Prior to Vinicius JR entering the match, Real Madrid had two guilt-edge opportunities to try and take the lead. One, a volley from Sergio Ramos within 12 yards from goal which was smashed right at Joel Robles abdomen. The second, involved Ferland Mendy driving through 1 v 1 with Robles and the left-back scuffed his shot wide. Both were among Madrid’s highest xG opportunities and they should have converted.
In the 65th minute, Vinicius JR entered for Rodrygo on the right wing. Despite looking not 100% comforatble in that position, his verticality and direct running caused problems for the Betis backline. His impact was immediate, but unfortunately his decision making in the final third remains rough around the edges. What one could argue was Madrid’s best or at least second best goal scoring opportunity fell to Vinicius within the six yard box. The winger tried to side-foot the ball into the back of the net, but instead found Robles, who once again made a big save to keep Betis alive.
This was a game Madrid should have won, and 8 times out of 10, would have won. The positive was the amount of good goal-scoring opportunities that were created, which was given credence by way of Madrid’s 2.82 xG. Betis were barely a threat, and only mustered an xG of 0.44. Where Madrid needed to improve was after the opening 15 minutes when their press began to look more fragile and disorganized given the deeper movements of Sergio Canales who picked up the ball off his backline, evaded the press, and broke lines with his passing and vision. Eden Hazard was the Madrid’s X-Factor and actively looked to play between Betis’s tightly compact lines. His influence waned in the second half and it may be partly due to fitness levels and partly due to Betis mitigating his space. Sergio Ramos had a golden opportunity, Ferland Mendy had his own, and Vinicius JR as well. The team lacked a ruthless nature in front of goal and came away with just a single point because of their inability to convert chances.