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Strong defensive performance key to title race

Real Madrid’s backline holds LaLiga’s second best defensive record and the connection is crucial.

FC Barcelona v Real Madrid - La Liga Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A storm was brewing amongst Real Madrid fans when Thibaut Courtois came to the Santiago Bernabeu to replace Keylor Navas. The Costa Rican goalkeeper had been the man between the sticks during Real’s infamous UEFA Champions League haul and seeing him depart to PSG naturally lead to the question (and comparison) of Courtois’ talents.

However over the last 16 months, Courtois and the defensive line have developed a very strong relationship and the connection will be key to the title race for the 2019/20 season.

Almost halfway through the season, Zinedine Zidane’s team has constructed themselves as the second best defence in LaLiga conceding only 12 goals in 18 games (tied with Athletic Bilbao). Atletico Madrid holds the best record with 11.

Celta Vigo, Valladolid, Villarreal, Levante, Granada, RCD Mallorca, Real Sociedad, Alaves, Espanyol and Valencia are the only teams to beat Courtois.

However, it’s important to have the credit shared amongst everyone with defensive duties at the club and not just the goalkeeper.

Out of the 26 players on the team, 10 of them operate in some sort of defensive position including the goalkeepers. Depending on where you stand, Casemiro could be added as an eleventh.

With almost half of the squad responsible for covering the back line, games quickly become an important test with lots of pressure - especially with the limited goal scoring opportunities up front.

As a result, Zidane must rely on his men to limit the influence their opposition has on the game and so far, they’ve been able to make him proud.

The club allows an average of 8.4 shots, completes 15.5 tackles and 10 interceptions per game.

Individually speaking, Sergio Ramos has without a doubt been one of the strongest players in the back line in addition to being a leader for the team as a whole.

Ramos has played the most minutes in La Liga for the team (1,590) and averages 1.4 tackles, 1.5 interceptions, 3.2 clearances and 0.2 blocks per game. Besides Courtois in the sticks, Ramos’ consistent performances and leadership helps the backline achieve such heights.

Other veteran players such as Casemiro, Dani Carvajal and Raphael Varane are also crucial to Madrid’s impressive goal differential.

The Brazilian has an average of 3.8 tackles per game (highest in the team), 2.2 interceptions, 1.6 clearances and 0.3 blocks.

Carvajal Varane follow close behind with good numbers as well. Marcelo and Nacho haven’t played as much but perform well when given the opportunity.

Even the young defenders at the club are gaining momentum on the pitch. Eder Militao, Alvaro Odriozola and Ferland Mendy are all developing at a quick pace and can seamlessly be played in replace of the veterans.

While fans and critics have their sights set on Real’s offensive struggles, it is important to give credit where it is due. The record is impressive.

Now, moving forward the relationship between the players at the back and the goalkeeper will be even more important as the club continues to challenge Barcelona for the title.

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