There was a sense of control that Real Madrid imposed on today’s first half against Valladolid that was refreshing to see. By slotting in James Rodriguez as the team’s ‘10’ in a 4-2-3-1, Zidane gave his teams multiple outlets to build attacks. James was primarily on the right, but was popping up in both half-spaces, and with him in that role; Isco, Kroos, and Benzema had multiple passing lanes to choose from. The attack had a dynamism to it, with quick passes zipping vertically, and plenty of cross-field switches to the wingers and full-backs making it difficult for Valladolid to defend. Bale and James generated a combined eight shots at half-time, and created well for each other. Toni Kroos had four key passes in the first half, and didn’t misplace a single one of his 53 passes.
In attack, Valladolid mustered little as Real were winning the ball high up the pitch, and anytime the got past the half-way line, Sergio Ramos snuffed their ball progression with a step-in challenge or interception.
Still, there were no goals to show for. While nearly everyone played well, and James looked really sharp and comfortable on the ball, the ball wasn’t going into the net. In a scheme like this, Zidane could’ve gotten more production had he slotted in Luka Jovic from the beginning to meet the quality of chances Real were creating. Jovic, in theory, meshes well ahead of multiple creative midfielders and good width to meeting crosses.
Valladolid contained Real Madrid though, with a bit of luck. Their saving grace may have been how well they packed the flanks. They doubled-up on the wing and threw at least two defenders any time Bale (and in the second half, also Vinicius) had the ball. Still, even in the face of those barricades, Bale did really well to cut in and shoot, beat his man, or quickly switch it.
In the second half, Real Madrid continued their dominance of possession (north of 70% throughout the game). When James came off for Vinicius, Isco took the mantle of the free-roaming role in midfield, which enabled Real to keep their flair while controlling the ball. It wasn’t until Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 — taking Isco out for Jovic — where Valladolid grew into the game. Ironically, Jovic nearly scored immediately after he came on — hitting the crossbar with a header — but Real Madrid lost some of their creative spark, Bale virtually disappeared moving to the left wing, and Valladolid crept up their line a bit.
They nearly scored when Vinicius gave the ball away from the back, and un unmarked Valladolid attacker nearly connected at the far post.
But then, a moment of brilliance from Benzema broke the deadlock:
But Valladolid had a chance to equalize shortly after Benzema’s goal; and while Real Madrid did have more transition opportunities to go up by two, they conceded a sloppy goal the other way. Kroos lost possession, and Guardiola snuck in behind Varane on a through-ball.
This was an annoying two points to drop, given that the game should’ve been put to bed early, and the dominance in the flow of play shifted when Zidane made his second sub. We’ll break this down more in the coming hours.