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Immediate Reaction: Real Sociedad 1 - 2 Real Madrid

A solid defensive performance, and a great victory to reclaim control on the league title

Real Sociedad v Real Madrid CF - La Liga Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Real Sociedad lose to Real Madrid 1 - 2 (Merino; Ramos, Benzema). Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, post-game quotes, C-Trick’s tactical column, and plenty more.

Real Madrid did not go on an offensive surge tonight at Reale Arena in San Sebastian, but when you defend as well as they have tonight (and have been overall this season), the need for offensive onslaughts is mitigated. Choose your spots, have a few line-breaking runs, and win the ball in key areas — and you’ve come away with a narrow victory.

Maybe tonight’s defensive performance became even more important when it was announced that Eden Hazard and Marco Asensio would both be on the bench, and given that Real Sociedad are good at absorbing high pressure and punishing you in transition, it forced Zidane into playing a more conservative approach. Both teams played most of their football (in the first half in particular) in their own half, and neither team threatened much. One team threatened slightly more than zero, and that was Real Madrid.

In the first half, most of the play oscillated between seeing how each team could deal with the most pressure. Both Real Madrid and Real Sociedad were tested constantly, and both did well enough to advance the ball without doing it efficient enough to see the ball all the way through into the final third. The only real chance in the first half from either side came from Fede Valverde winning the ball high up the pitch with a great bit of defensive intervention. After carrying the ball up the field, he released Benzema through in the box for a shot on goal.

Without Hazard; Benzema relied on help from Vinicius and James offensively — only receiving it from the former. Vinicius (who dominated Gorosabel in a matchup earlier in November) went at the Real Sociedad right-back often. Gorosabel did well defensively (much better this time around, anyway), but did get burned a couple times, and it was Vinicius’s line-breaking run that led to a penalty earned in the second half:

(It should be noted that Vinicius had a terrific game defensively too. Part of the reason that Real Sociedad couldn’t get going offensively was because any time they had space to exploit, Vinicius would sprint back to help Marcelo or the midfield who got caught. Portu had no chance at any offensive freedom on that flank because of it.)

On the right flank, James Rodriguez was disappointing. The excuses for him are obvious: He hasn’t played in La Liga since that nightmare in Mallorca back in October. He was bound to have some rust. But he was also poor enough to discuss on a micro level. He looked leg heavy, his passes were under-hit, and his crosses were forced. He tried to stay active, but clearly looked like he hasn’t played at a high level in several months.

The second half had some controversy, which we’ll discuss in more detail on tonight’s podcast. Real Sociedad looked like they had equalized through a Januzaj goal, but it was called off due to Mikel Merino — who didn’t touch the ball — being in an offside position interfering with Courtois’s line of vision. Moments later, Karim Benzema scored a goal, which he brought down with his shoulder before firing it in the back of the net. The goal stood, in what was essentially a two-goal swing. Both decisions required some interpretation.

Merino pulled one back in the 83rd minute, as he fired in a shot (unmarked, as Marco Asensio did not get in position to help Carvajal at the far post) past Courtois. Real Sociedad had a few threatening moments, but could not level the score.

It goes without saying, but this was a huge win — even if it was without the dramatics and fireworks that appeared in the last win against Valencia. Onwards to the 34th. Stay tuned for tonight’s post-game podcast.

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