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In-Depth Analysis of Real Madrid’s Offense so far this season

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Delving into Hazard’s vital importance to the team, Benzema’s top dog status in offense, and midfield goalscoring productivity.

Real Madrid CF v Real Sociedad - La Liga Photo by A. Ware/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Real Madrid have scored 71 goals in 34 matches this season to date. That’s good for an average of two goals a game. This average is maintained even when looking at just the league and Champions League (58 goals in 29 games) — which helps eliminate some possible noise. This is relatively low compared to the ratio for those two competitions from previous seasons (2.8 in 2016-17 and 2.5 in 2017-18) except for the general 2018-19 outlier of 1.7 goals per game. Last season provided a crystal clear view into the offensive issues the team experienced following Ronaldo’s departure. The Portuguese’s transfer to Juventus exposed and exacerbated several issues with the roster composition and tactical design.

These issues have continued well into this season although the introduction of Hazard and Rodrygo into the team provides a workable solution. However, since the Belgian went down, the team has reverted to its stunted and sluggish attacking displays. The impact of Real Madrid’s new left wing talisman has been enormous. In the CL and league matches Real Madrid have participated in since his injury in the Paris Saint-Germain contest at the Bernabeu, the team have scored just 19 goals in 11 games (1.7 goals per game) compared to 2.2 goals per game prior to that which jumps up to an even more impressive 2.4 goals per game if filtered for just the matches Hazard played in.

The thickness of the line represents the volume (number of goals and shots) while the intensity of the color shows how many minutes Hazard played.

The above chart clearly shows that the Belgian was instrumental in Real Madrid’s best offensive stretch during the season (for league and CL) from the Club Brugge match on October 1st up until the PSG game in late November. Once Hazard gained more fitness, sharpened his play, and further integrated into the set-up — the team’s productivity in the final third blossomed incredibly. During this period, the team averaged an amazing 2.7 goals (!) per game.

Benzema leads the offense but needs help

The emergence of Karim Benzema as the team’s most productive forward in the post-Ronaldo world has been a welcome sight. There were early thoughts that the French striker could end up competing with Bale for the role of offensive lead but those discussions have essentially been put to bed by Benzema’s remarkable scoring run last season. This has continued into this season where he is still clearly head and shoulders above any other player when it comes to game to game individual goals and assists contribution.

Bar labels show minutes played and opposition faced for the specific match.

Benzema has scored or assisted 43% of Real Madrid’s 58 goals in the league and CL to date. He has been fairly consistent as well — contributing in 15 of 29 games — in this regard only going two games in a row at most without scoring/assisting until his recent dry spell of five games (starting with the el clasico) which he ended by notching the winner against Atletico. Looking closely at the numbers, Benzema can’t be accused of stat padding as he shows a fairly even distribution of goals against both weak and strong teams.

The problem arises when attention turns to the other forwards. None are coming close to supplying goals and assists with the level of regularity that Benzema has. While it’s fair to note that the others haven’t received the same opportunities (i.e. minutes) as the no. 9, they’re still lagging behind when it comes to minutes adjusted contribution.

Overall, while the team can exist in the current dynamic, others will need to improve their individual productivity in order for Real Madrid to reach its ceiling and achieve success in the two main competitions this season.

Contributions from Midfielders

One of the main unfolding narratives behind the team’s ascendancy in the league this season has been the seeming improved goalscoring contribution from midfield. The eye test suggests that Kroos, Modric, Casemiro and co have been chipping in offensively at a better rate than usual. The notable addition of Valverde into the core rotation of the midfield has also buoyed the feeling of increased end product in this regard. Casemiro’s brace to secure the win against Sevilla stands as one of the key examples of this observation.

Captured all CL and league games played between the start of the season and February 12th for each season.

The above table provides evidence for the case that the midfielders are indeed scoring and assisting more than they did last season. However, this isn’t completely unprecedented as they attained similar numbers — for the considered period — in 2017-18.

Looking at the individual players, there appears to be a desirable spread of midfield attacking output across the season (in terms of overall game-to-game frequency and goals/assists against teams of varying strengths).

While Casemiro has played the most minutes (missing only two games), Kroos and Modric lead the way with eight goals/assists each. The Brazilian closely follows with seven while Valverde has six. Isco trails the rest of the midfielders significantly with only one goal in over 900 minutes. The Spaniard who had a stellar display against Osasuna, where he registered his solitary strike (in the CL and league), has overall been symptomatic of the sterile offensive play that has plagued Los Blancos at times. The numbers almost mirror his lack of vertical drive and impetus during games.

The Path Forward - Hazard’s Return and the Secondary Unit

Hazard’s recovery has been great news for Real Madrid. Despite his paltry three goals/assists this season, he is easily the key cog in the system. The Belgian’s intelligence on the ball is a an incredible game-changing factor and will hopefully restore some dazzle and spark to the team. This in addition to Benzema’s anticipated continued form and midfielders’ productivity will bolster the striking department.

Another variable that will come into play is the secondary unit that will be expected to provide necessary depth and variety that Zidane can employ selectively to mitigate dips in form and limitations in player profiles. Vazquez and Jovic have combined for four goals/assists in the last four league games and if this is a sign of things to come (along with Vinicius’ recent lively performances and James’ fitness), Real Madrid fans should be excited about its offensive prospects for the remainder of the season.