Real Madrid left the Wanda Metropolitano with full points on matchday 23 confidently defeating a stoic Atletico Madrid side. Solari’s men continued their impressive form to supplant their local rivals in the standings and continue to make up ground on Barcelona. Los Blancos’ line-up included Reguilon, Vazquez, and Vinicius who appear to be default starters with Marcelo and Bale beginning the game on the bench.
Courtois resumed in net following Navas’ exploits in midweek against Barcelona. The visitors utilized several key tactics to secure the win including a conservative shape, fast transitions, fluid possession play aided by lateral triangles, and isolation matchups.
Atletico’s press and aggressive recovery play
Atletico began the match on the front foot applying significant pressure in Real Madrid’s defensive third substantially disrupting the latter’s build-up play. Real Madrid’s struggles breaking through the first line of pressure were evident as they lacked continuity in their passing sequences and couldn’t progress into the next phase easily.
Part of the issue was simply Real Madrid settling into the match and Atletico riding the energy of their home stadium. However, beyond this, Atletico aggressively engaged players on the ball based on specific scenarios such as opposition defending players facing backwards/sideways.
The press formed part of their attacking strategy as the Rojiblancos looked to swiftly turn possession gains into offensive actions. Due to the high positioning of the forwards (Griezmann and Morata), there were always outlets available for carriers once they recovered the ball. Additionally, Griezmann and Morata occupied the central zone between Real Madrid’s midfield and defensive line creating a stress factor for Real Madrid’s ball circulation.
Further to Atletico’s forwards creating a risk element in resetting possession, the hosts also applied an enormous amount of intensity in recovery and containment. This led to rushed and pressured passes from Real Madrid wingers/midfielders to defenders. Furthermore, Atletico occasionally won the ball back in the middle of the park and would advance quickly with the most glaring example being Griezmann’s goal.
Overall, despite the noted concerns Atletico’s tactical approach posed, Real Madrid dealt with their opponents relatively well. The defensive unit was mostly compact and only fractured sporadically. Reguilon and Carvajal smartly regulated their runs based on situational dynamics to minimize exposure.
Real Madrid’s lateral triangles and isolation matchups
A key feature of Real Madrid’s build-up play under Solari is the enhanced combination play on the sides as the fullbacks, wingers, and wide midfielders often execute cogent patterns of interplay. This predominantly occurs in the form of the famous triangle.
These triangles are a symptom of a larger thematic change. While not new or unique, it is a more consistent application of the dynamic support midfielders were required to provide their teammates under Zidane. Benzema’s ability to drop back is important in drawing out the full strengths of this particular mechanism.
Benzema adds an additional link option to form triangles facilitating spacing and the movement of the ball up the pitch. Triangles are effective because the fundamental principles are sound. They naturally provide “numerical superiority” as it is difficult to cover each available angle especially if the triangle is dynamic. Furthermore, they can destabilize defensive structures by tempting defending players to “bite” for the ball abandoning their marking duties.
The other component of Real Madrid’s offense mirrored Atletico’s fast transitions. Due to Vinicius and Vazquez’s pace (particularly the former), the away team retreated in numbers to hound Atletico when the latter had the ball.
Once they won it back, they would launch it to Vinicius and allow him to go against defenders in 1v1s. This led to two of Real’s best opportunities in the first half including the penalty he won when he outpaced Gimenez before the latter brought him down in the box.
Los Blancos hold possession before Bale lands the final blow
Having gained the lead courtesy of Casemiro’s golazo and Ramos’ penalty, Real Madrid were content to hold the to the ball and displace the attacking responsibility to Atletico. As a result of this, their possession jumped from 60% in the first half to 70% in the second. Los Blancos’ ball circulation was surpreme as they were able to effortlessly play around Atletico’s pressure. Real Madrid’s lines were compact and their continued use of triangles and dynamic support meant they were able to circumvent markers/trackers. A sign of Real Madrid’s dominance in possession were the five yellow cards (including a sending off) Atleti accumulated in the second half.
Solari made the smart decision to bring on Bale with the hope of maintaining/increasing his team’s counter-attacking threat as Atletico would be forced to commit more in order to tie the game. The Welshman did not disappoint as he latched on to Modric’s beautifully threaded pass in the 74th minute to make it 3-1 and seal the win.
Real Madrid continue their fantastic run with another superb victory over one of Spain’s best teams. The team have climbed from 9th place to 2nd place (albeit only reducing the deficit compared to Barcelona by one point in that time).