Real Madrid were heading into what seemed like a season defining match so early in the league campaign. The failure to fully capitalize on Barcelona and Atletico’s domestic struggles were dramatically exacerbated by a soul crushing loss against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League. Zidane and the team were under immense pressure from the press as the media began weaving a negative narrative that was hard to ignore.
The manager, showing faith in his troops and proving not too shaken by the cloud hanging over the club essentially fielded the same starting eleven from the previous game. The only change was Ramos returning to partner Varane in place of Militao. Hazard got his second consecutive start while James continued to occupy the advanced midfield role.
Tense dynamic emerges as both sides impress defensively
Sevilla were entering the match having shut out every team that visited the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium this season. They had only conceded one goal (away) in four matches and boasted impressive defensive statistics. It was evident from the opening phase of the match that the Andalusian club were a very well organized team – maintaining a disciplined tightly choreographed defensive scheme from the onset. They pressed with intentionality seamlessly transitioning from offensive bursts to defensive recovery.
Real Madrid matched their opponents in this regard as they displayed a coherent compact structure without the ball. Los Blancos selectively pressed with Benzema being supported by Hazard, Bale and James. Once Sevilla breached the first line, the three midfielders would quickly retreat into position forming a midfield wall with Casemiro at the heart. As a result of both teams’ staunch and functional defensive performances, neither side could build significant rhythm with the ball as possession ebbed and flowed between progressions through transition (supported by counter-pressing) and crossing. Real Madrid did this more effectively almost going ahead courtesy of two great chances for Hazard and Carvajal.
Hazard feeling the effects of the tactical “shackles”
The adverse effect of Real Madrid’s hugely impressive defensive performance was stunting James, and particularly Hazard, going forward. Every player in the Real Madrid shirt was required to be actively engaged and involved off the ball with Hazard and James needing to drop deep to support Real Madrid’s spacing. This limited the team’s presence in offensive zones during buildup.
The Belgian has typically thrived in a free role where he didn’t need to participate too intently when his team didn’t have the ball. His productivity in the offensive third more than compensated for the lack of defensive support and Chelsea evolved and grew into a structure that accommodated this. Despite playing behind an incredibly reliable and strong defender such as Mendy in the last two games, no exceptions have been made for Hazard defensively.
The Belgian was forced time and again to track back deep into his half to close gaps. As a result, he didn’t receive balls in dangerous positions enough and was forced into carrying the ball himself to break lines. What made this worse is Mendy’s lack of comfort and fluidity on the ball. The left back was unable to instigate and combine with Hazard in any constructive way.
Right side active spurt creates Benzema winner
Perhaps as a natural response to the favoured left side running slightly out of steam, Real Madrid structurally reoriented to the right as James moved into wider more advanced areas on that flank while Carvajal increased the frequency and cogency of his overlaps. There were a few direct examples of this adjustment as Carvajal and James almost found men in the box with attempted deliveries.
However, it would ultimately be the fundamental key to Zidane’s game plan that gave his team the win. Continuing to be hypervigilant in their spatial coordination off the ball, Real Madrid counterpressed and regained possession from Jordan after briefly losing it. Carvajal played a smart one two with Bale before perfectly finding Benzema (who had beautifully evaded the defenders) in the box. This was Carvajal’s second assist to Benzema in as many league games and the French striker’s movements for both goals were undeniably crucial.
Real Madrid excellently managed the rest of the match smartly addressing Sevilla’s wide overloads and half space entries with continued defensive compactness. In fact, if not for some poor handling of other chances that fell their way, Real Madrid actually came closer to scoring. The referee would soon blow the whistle to conclude one of the club’s biggest victories under Zidane’s second managerial stint.