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Immediate Reaction: Red Bull Salzburg 0 - 1 Real Madrid

Hazard scores a golazo; Zidane tries a 3-5-2.

RB Salzburg v Real Madrid - Pre-Season Friendly Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images

Red Bull Salzburg lose to Real Madrid 0 - 1 (Hazard). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, and tactical review.

The 3-5-2 under Zinedine Zidane has not looked encouraging in the past. In the limited sample size we’ve seen, Casemiro has been deployed back there as a ‘libero’, and the team’s shape crumbled. But the 3-5-2 in a vacuum is a sound and structured scheme if the moving parts are cohesive and in the right place. Today, Zidane tried it with three ball-playing center-backs in Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, and Eder Militao — with Marcelo and Dani Carvajal providing width.

It wasn’t without its defensive holes. Despite Real Madrid playing a really good first half, Salzburg had a lot of chances they couldn’t capitalize on. They pounced on giveaways and wonky positioning, and in the second half in particular where Real Madrid looked lost in midfield, Salzburg’s decision-making and efficiency in the final third just wasn’t there.

But here’s what the 3-5-2 did provide (in what was an improved defensive performance overall): numbers defending in transition, and finally some proper cover for Marcelo. Marcelo looked free. That’s not something we can say often about him. Watch him on any sequence where Real Madrid had the ball and he was high up the pitch — finding comfort that Militao was there to mop up any attack that Salzburg had on that side.

What Zidane would’ve really wanted to see from this formation, apart from some proper cover in transition, was more press-resistancy. We didn’t see it right away, as Salzburg’s efficient press stopped Real Madrid from progressing out of their backline early on, but once Kroos and Isco started dropping as outlets, the game opened up a bit, and Real Madrid invited Salzburg’s press to get opportunities in transition. Kroos and Marcelo in particular looked sharp, and more akin to their press-resistant selves from two seasons ago. Isco’s passing was off in the first half, but both Hazard and Benzema were dangerous on the counter attack, combining more than once.

Real Madrid went up 1 - 0 through a sequence between those two:

The second half was a bit all over the place. Salzburg played a high line which was never truly exploited, and anytime Real Madrid did get into goalscoring positions, Vinicius Jr and Luka Jovic couldn’t take their chances. Jovic did look sharp, though, and Vinicius’s dribbling remains effective — but the latter was forcing shots in between several defenders on low-probability chances. On the defensive end, the team conceded chances but didn’t go punished.

We’ll break this down more in the coming hours.

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