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Stat-Pack: Looking At Real Madrid’s Ball Security, Ball Recovery, & Ball Progression Numbers

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Casemiro might lose the ball a lot, but no one wins it back more than him.

Approaching the midway point of the season, I was curious about the way Real Madrid’s statistical profile was shaping up. However, instead of going through a tedious, comprehensive rundown of every single number related to the team, I picked out four categories of stats that convey how each player is doing protecting, recovering, and progressing the ball. All data is taken from Wyscout and covers La Liga and the UEFA Champions League in the 2019/20 season.

Ball Security

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Two things to always consider when looking at data are sample size (the reason I excluded Brahim Díaz, entirely) and context. Luka Jović, for example, has only played 396 minutes in the stated competitions — ninety, of which, came in a game where Isco-Casemiro was the double-pivot. Consequently, the spread of Jović’s playing time has been sporadic and he has, thus, generally lacked the necessary rhythm to get himself going.

That probably helps explain why Jović’s possession losses in his own half are almost double his average since 2015/16. Nevertheless, the total amount of times he gives up the ball isn’t that much higher than his career 10.89 possession losses p90. That realization jives with the eye-test, indicating that Jović’s technique isn’t always the cleanest.

Lucas Vázquez also hasn’t played that often this season and, though he can be guilty of excess sloppiness, that is probably why his overall number is so inflated when compared to the rest of his Real Madrid career (he has never averaged more than 12.28 possession losses p90 before this season).

There is less noise in Casemiro’s figures given that he can’t seem to get a rest, and it isn’t a big shock to see that he is the only central midfielder who loses the ball in his own half so much. On the other end, the usual suspects — Karim Benzema, Toni Kroos, and Sergio Ramos — retain the ball really well, while the risk-takers (mainly attackers) dominate the high-left quadrant.

Other notable takeaways:

  • Éder Militão’s numbers are probably affected by his sample size, but Varane has less of an excuse and it’s concerning to see him where he is.
  • Isco may have been great vs. Paris Saint-Germain, but subsequent performances have seen him become guilty of numerous cheap giveaways. He still has that world class ability but is still getting back into the groove of things.

Defensive Recoveries

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If Casemiro is guilty of giving up possession more than his counterparts, no one hustles back to recover the ball more. Fede Valverde also looks pretty good in this graph and his focus on winning duels in the opposition half indicates his importance for Zinedine Zidane’s press and counterpress.

Aside from Marcelo and Odriozola, Real Madrid’s defenders fall on the positive side of the chart. The center-backs do most of their defending deep — although Ramos is mighty close to entering the upper right quadrant, signifying his aggressive nature — and Nacho, Dani Carvajal, and Ferland Mendy possess a mixed stylistic output virtue of their pressing duties.

Other notable takeaways:

  • Kroos’ position indicates he does more defensive work — even if it isn’t gargantuan — than he gets credit for.
  • I was a little startled to see Luka Modrić so low, but I can’t say the same for Madrid’s offense.

Ball Progression — Passing

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Like Casemiro, Kroos is a god at what he does best. Not only does nobody come close to the Cyborg’s raw totals, but no one completes their passes at a higher rate, either. To be the best in both volume and efficiency is a rare thing and signifies elite status in that respective skill.

The rest of the best are predictably made up of deeper players who are tasked with moving the ball into the opposition area. Ramos and Marcelo are two of the best ever passers from their positions and Modrić, Valverde, James Rodríguez, and Carvajal look respectable, too. Casemiro, along with Isco, is the only midfielder in the bottom right quadrant. This is just who Casemiro is while Isco’s location can likely be explained by rustiness (his output and accuracy are well below his averages from 2015/16-2018/19).

Real Madrid’s most skilled ball progressors in attack pepper the top left. Álvaro Odriozola and Nacho are present, as well, though their low volume limits the value of their actions given how many more touches they receive compared to Eden Hazard, Benzema, and Vinícius Júnior.

Other notable takeaways:

  • Raphaël Varane’s position, is once again, quite concerning.
  • Both Militão and Mendy are below where you’d expect them to be when accounting for their passing skill, but sample size has to be factored into the equation.

Ball Progression — Dribbling

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Running with the ball is another way to get your team upfield and it’s unsurprising to see Hazard leading the pack despite him being off-form for most of this season. Vinícius isn’t far behind, demonstrating the special talent he possesses, with the other solid contributors being Odriozola, Rodrygo, Bale, Carvajal, and Valverde.

As time passes, you’d expect Isco to move up the list, but everyone else looks like they’re right about where you’d anticipate them to be.

Key Takeaways

The Sloppy Ball Players:

  • Casemiro
  • Jović
  • Lucas
  • Varane

Notable Ball Retrievers:

  • Casemiro
  • Valverde
  • Carvajal
  • Ramos

The Best Ball Progressors (Passing)

  • Kroos
  • Ramos
  • Marcelo

The Best Ball Progressors (Dribbling)

  • Hazard
  • Vinícius