Real Madrid were decimated with muscle injuries and positive COVID-19 tests heading into this one. They walked into Estadio Ceramica wounded, missing two of their captains, and specifically, their best defender and best goalscorer.
With what Zinedine Zidane had left, the line-up picked itself, though there were two positions with variance. Eden Hazard would take one attacking slot. There were two left, that would ultimately go to Mariano Diaz and Lucas Vazquez. Vazquez provided width in transition and defensive coverage; while Mariano was a key target. Both combined for the opening goal in the second minute:
⚪️ WHAT A START for @realmadrid!!— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) November 21, 2020
Mariano Diaz has his first of the season and Madrid lead @Eng_Villarreal #VillarrealRealMadrid
- beIN SPORTS
- beIN SPORTS CONNECT: https://t.co/LRYa03w6yI pic.twitter.com/T804S89LX4
Zidane’s midfield trio of Martin Odegaard, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric worked cohesively in the team’s build-up. Kroos played several dagger-balls in the first half, and was the key dictator in midfield. He and Modric would often tuck into a double-pivot, while Odegaard would pop up as an outlet to help progress the ball before moving into space. Though that midfield is designed to press and control, the team wasn’t aggressive in its press, and was happy to pick its spots. They opted for less possession and emphasized quick diagonal switches.
Unai Emery in some ways mirrored Zidane’s shape, and Villarreal were happy to go back and forth with Real. But one thing they failed to do was take advantage of the space behind Real Madrid’s midfield. Real’s press was loose, disjointed at times, and vertically vulnerable. Manu Trigueros made several runs, undetected, into the box, which Villarreal didn’t pick out. Eden Hazard played narrow, without much tracking, as his role was to be the outlet on the counter.
Villarreal woke up in the second half, though. Perhaps that was expected, given they had nearly a full squad available, and Real Madrid’s roster was gutted. Emery’s men started to find space in transition. Real Madrid’s legs went out the window. When Zidane brought on fresh ones in Isco and Vinicius Jr for Hazard and Odegaard, the team just couldn’t get control of the ball. Villarreal dialled up their press and forced giveaways. Parejo missed two good chances in this game — one of them in the second half amid a wave of attacks. Both Nacho and Varane were put to the sword over and over again, forced to come up with big defensive interventions.
Emery also made two game-altering subs. Samu Chukweze and Pervis Esutpińan entered the game and immediately injected flair and line-breaking. Samu’s run into the half-space earned Villarreal a penalty:
Real Madrid had an absolutely brutal second half, and escaped with a draw. We’ll break this down much more in the coming hours. Tonight’s post-game show will show up on the free rss feed.