Real Madrid travelled to Valencia to take on 12th place Levante ahead of the clasico filled week that awaits them. The team was looking to recover from the unexpected loss to Girona last match day. Solari, accordingly, fielded a very strong line-up with all the favored starters that were available. Ramos — not in the roster — was serving a one game suspension as a result of receiving a red card last week.
Nacho was selected to deputize for the captain while Vinicius, Reguilon, Modric, and Carvajal returned to the starting XI. The team was structured in the standard 4-3-3 which was the same setup they had adopted earlier in the season when they lost to Levante at the Bernabeu.
Real Madrid’s uneven start and offensive tactics
Real Madrid started the game a little nervously finding difficulty to build momentum and establish rhythm. They struggled to successfully navigate the home side’s initial resilient low block. Solari’s men utilized both wing based attacking play and progression through central channels in offense. However, neither tactic produced consistent chance creation or shot generation. The first glimpse of Real Madrid’s lateral focus was a beautiful play in the 10th minute. A strategic switch of play by Casemiro was followed by intricate combinations between Carvajal, Vazquez, and Modric leading to the latter being freed to deliver a great cross into the box.
Modric, Carvajal, and Vazquez showed adept movement and passing to maneuver past the Levante defenders and create space for the Croatian.
Vazquez drove inward into the box after laying it off to Carvajal and was just inches away from getting a touch to Modric’s cross. Despite the effectiveness of the play, this was one of the few fluent wing sequences throughout the whole game.
The other avenue through which Los Blancos attacked was central zones. Modric (and forwards occasionally) often edged into the cherished zone 14 territory. This enabled them to thread passes to Vinicius/Benzema and give them the opportunity to take defenders on individually.
This strategy smartly exploited gaps that would emerge between Levante’s defensive and midfield lines due to the latter’s sporadic press and structural instability in the recovery phase. However, poor passing and 1v1 matchups let the team down in terms of capitalizing on these openings.
Levante’s aerial threat and targeting of half-spaces
A number of Levante’s best chances (and perhaps the best opportunities in the game up to that point) arrived via set pieces and crosses where the Valencia based club used numbers in the box to trouble their guests. The reason this worked was Levante’s coordinated near/far post runs and Real Madrid’s sloppy marking.
Another key feature of Levante’s offense was the strong runs made by their forwards (Morales and Salvador). The two specifically targeted the space between defenders in search of long balls (and/or ground passes) looking to cut in through the centerbacks’ blind side.
These runs disoriented Real Madrid’s defense and Nacho in particular seemed to lose focus as he failed to track attackers in two critical moments. The first led to a one-on-one that resulted in a shot against the post while the second was Levante’s equalizer early in the second half.
Two penalty calls rescue Real Madrid’s blunt counters
Despite having the chance to counter thanks to Levante’s adventurous and positive approach for major periods of the game, Los Merengues’ final pass and/or move frequently let them down.
In one example, Kroos intercepts the ball and releases Modric who breaks away finding himself in a favourable 3 v 3 situation with plenty of time and space but mishits his pass to Vinicius.
In another example, Vinicius initiates and fantastically carries out a counter-attack playing off Benzema to move the ball up the pitch but plays the pass to Vazquez a little too short. The Brazilian was the main counterattacking outlet and almost converted after being released by Vazquez in the 71st minute.
That being said, Real Madrid were able to leave Valencia with a win after receiving two penalty calls. The first for a handball in the box and the second after Casemiro was taken down by Doukoure. All in all, this wasn’t a smooth affair for Real Madrid and many will point to fortune as the primary cause for their victory. That would be slightly misleading as they weren’t completely dominated even if they were on the back foot generally speaking. Their xG score would have been almost on par with Levante’s even if the penalties were excluded.