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Tactical Review: Real Madrid 0* - 0 Atletico Madrid; 2020 Supercopa Final


Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid headlined the final of the 2019-20 Supercopa de Espana hosted in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The storied rivals entered the showpiece having dispatched of Valencia and Barcelona respectively and were facing off for the second time this season. The result was the same as the first encounter ending in a 0-0 draw in regulation time before going to penalties were Los Blancos were flawless in their strikes and Courtois made a huge save.

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Zidane didn’t make any changes to the starting XI he named for the match. He decided to replicate the midfield five he utilized in the semi-final hoping presumably to leverage the possession control and defensive coverage this structure offers the team. The rest of the team was as expected with Mendy retaining his spot at left back and Jovic still leading the line.

Aletico press and Real Madrid struggles in build up

Atletico implemented a fairly aggressive press to start the match successfully destabilizing Real Madrid’s build up play and forcing a number of dispossessions. Diego Simeone’s men focused on eliminating the passing lanes from the defensive line into midfield positioning men in strategic locations where they could make critical interceptions. A very good example of this was a counterpressing action in the 14th minute following an Altetico freekick.

Kroos is fully taken out of the play leaving Mendy with the options of either clearing the ball or attempting to reset the possession play via a retreating pass. He chose the latter and played Ramos. The centerback – epitomizing to a degree Real Madrid’s strong focus on control and possession in the Supercopa tournament – tried to play a risky ground pass to Modric. This was easily picked off by Joao Felix who found himself in a great shooting position but couldn’t capitalize.

Atletico continued to apply consistent pressure which caused their opposition serious difficulties. Real Madrid could barely breach Los Colchoneros’ first line of pressure. The key was Atletico’s use of two advanced players in Morata and Felix to pre-emptively cut off Ramos, Varane and the fullbacks’ access to their midfield outlets. Furthermore, Atletico’s use of mobile, physically intense, and experienced midfielders in a 4-4-2 significantly undermined Real Madrid’s intended numerical superiority.

Continued imbalance and lack of symmetry

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There were signs of the side effects of Isco’s free role against Valencia but in that match there at least seemed to be some level of discipline to maintain lateral balance as Isco would often return to the left to support Mendy and aid overall spacing. However, against Atletico, it seems the Spaniard was fully unleashed in an unrestricted role and floated all over the pitch. Modric was also less positionally restrained and didn’t have a static zonal presence further exacerbating the issue.

This led to the team favoring the right side as Modric and Isco had a tendency to gravitate to that flank more frequently. And again, just like the first match, Mendy suffered from isolation and couldn’t impact the match well due to lack of support. This was despite the left back being one of the primary successful vertical passing options — via long balls over the top to counter Atletico’s intense pressing — in transition.

Jovic wins individual battles but Real Madrid still lacking offensively

Jovic started the second half very brightly using his speed and strength to imprint his influence in the match. There were two particularly great runs.

One resulted from a counter-attack after Felix lost the ball near the edge of Real Madrid’s box.

The other was a consequence of a tactical change that naturally occurred as Real Madrid’s midfielders started utilizing vertical runs through the middle where space emerged to gain ground. This shortcircuited Atletico’s defensive organization which was based on denying any penetrative actions based around Real Madrid’s pass heavy approach for the game.

However, overall, Real Madrid’s offense was very sterile due to the personnel chosen. The team experienced the same issues they had versus Valencia where there was scarce: creativity; service to forwards; intricate play; and and one-on-man dribbling ability. The players on the field did not offer enough variability in attributes to trouble a stout Atletico Madrid defense.

The substitutes provide energy and the two teams trade shots

Zidane attempted to remedy the situation by bringing on Rodrygo, Vinicius and Mariano to close out the second half and for extra time. The substitutes almost paid immediate dividends as Rodrygo was at the centre of one of the few intricate attacking scenes Real Madrid staged during the entire match in the 67th minute. The young Brazilian swiftly moved into the right half-space and helped create connections between Jovic and Carvajal that led to the former crossing the ball to an open Valverde. Once the substitutes settled, it became an action-oriented affair with Vinicius and Rodrygo on the wings working tirelessly with Mariano to try and outmanouever Atletico’s defense. This provided an improved attacking dynamic although the team couldn’t capitalize on some of the opportunities that arose.

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Atletico for their part began to enter a fully counter-attacking mode as Real Madrid pushed for a winner. There were other instances of one-off chances against the run of play such as Trippier’s brilliant pass to Morata who had smartly exploited the gap Ramos had exposed in the defensive line. Courtois, who was immense the whole game, came up with a huge save to deny the former Madridista. They would create other good counter-attacking opportunites sparingly although the best chance and potential game winner after Carvajal poorly dealt with a clearance fell to Morata who was tactically fouled by Valverde. This turned out to be a game changing moment as the match shortly ended and went to penalties where Real Madrid bested their rivals.

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