Real Madrid officially kicked off their 2019-20 season with their first pre-season match. Los Blancos were up against Bayern Munich in the 2019 edition of the International Champions Cup. Their opponents were participating in their second match of the tournament having lost the previous game to Arsenal.
Both teams fielded very strong starting line-ups (the German’s team most notable omission being Lewandowski). Zidane opted for the classic back four that have headlined Real Madrid’s defense in the last half decade with Marcelo, Ramos, Varane, and Carvajal. In midfield, Kroos and Modric expectedly filled two of the three positions with Isco being given the nod to complete the trio. Jovic started on the bench as Hazard and Asensio flanked Benzema in attack.
A tale of two midfields
On paper, Real Madrid were structured in a 4-3-3 but it became quickly apparent that Isco operated in a slightly more advanced role than his midfield partners. Kroos was the deepest of the three but he effectively formed a base with Modric to combat Bayern’s hyper regulated midfield. Whether a reflection of the Bavarian team playing in their second game versus Real Madrid’s first or something else, Bayern looked tactically sharper which came across quite vividly in their midfield organization and play. Thiago (his usual influential self), Sanches, and Tolisso combined very well and excellently supported the defenders in building from the back and navigating Real Madrid’s diminishing press. Casemiro’s absence and Real Madrid’s narrow midfield were other contributing factors to the dynamic.
With the ball, Real Madrid’s ball circulation appeared (in comparison) more labored and less polished. Vertical approaches were mostly comprised of hopeful long balls. The genesis of Bayern’s first goal showed this contrast in energy to a degree as Bayern exerted significant pressure leading to Modric losing possession in Real’s half. The Germans then utilized swift calculated wing rotations and movement to free up Alaba who whipped in an enticing low cross that Tolisso eventually scored after an initial blocked shot.
Hazard’s touch and precision clear to see
A good portion of Real Madrid fans no doubt tuned in to get a glimpse of Hazard – the star summer 2019 signing. The Belgian did not disappoint and showed exactly what the millions of Euros paid for his transfer brought to the Spanish capital. There is almost a surgical precision to the Belgian’s touch. It’s a marvel to see him work when in possession of the ball. His ability to effortlessly retain it restored a stronghold to Real Madrid’s left wing missing for much of last season. It created momentary relief which allowed for extra time for his teammates to execute supporting actions (such as overlapping runs, or moving into ideal receiving positions in the box).
The second major aspect of Hazard’s tactical utility is the quality of his passing. His decision-making in playmaking situations is incredibly efficient. From wing positions, he doesn’t look for the easy low probability cross as a first option, instead he will use his guile to give him time to identify and pounce on more optimal lanes. Some examples were the direct passes straight into Benzema’s path he played at the 21st and 33rd minutes. Those kinds of balls felt like fresh air after witnessing the recent grueling months of Real Madrid’s stunted creativity-starved offense.
Zidane makes wholesale changes for the second half
Zidane brought on a completely new set of players for the second half with names like Navas, Jovic, and Vinicius entering the fray.
Bayern’s changes were more staggered. As a result, their play was less impacted by the introduction of new players whereas there was a stark shift in Real Madrid’s tempo. The youth in the second half team injected more energy but there was less overall control (and quality) which allowed Bayern to dominate proceedings to a greater extent. Coman, whose speed and chemistry with Alaba, had threatened through width in the first half continued to test the defense.
Real Madrid played in an even more reactive mode looking to catch Bayern on the break such as in the 62nd minute when Kubo played a delightful ball for Vinicius to latch onto. Save for other sequences where the Spanish team put together some coherent passages, Bayern continued to dictate proceedings and doubled their lead thanks to Lewandowski (showing his full class with the goal). The Bavarians added a third shortly after as Los Blancos relented under pressure and gave up the ball near their box. Real Madrid would go on to score a consolation goal through a brilliant Rodrygo freekick after Ulreich took him down when through on goal.