This entire past week, from Matchday 2 to 3, the discourse surrounding Real Madrid was all about Luka Jovic. Why didn’t he play against Real Sociedad? Can he and Benzema coexist? Zidane was short in the pre-game presser, and our podcasts — slow news days, to be sure — focused on the subject heavily.
Zidane is not one to care about surrounding dialogue. He does not feel pressure to alter his decision-making, so seeing Benzema and Jovic together in today’s line-up was probably on his own will and fruition, but it was surprising nonetheless.
Today’s team was a deviation from last weekend. Zidane himself stated that what we saw against La Real is not going to be the norm. What we saw today against Betis may or many not be replicated again. As we mentioned last week, these first few games may take an experimental shape. Something might stick, or not. Zidane omitted wingers today in favour of four central midefielders — Casemiro, Kroos, and Modric in one line, with Odegaard leading a diamond.
It was interesting to see Odegaard’s positioning in today’s scheme. He played the Isco role, but slightly different. Odegaard’s positioning is more rigid than the Spaniard’s. He occupies central positions most often, and keeps himself between the lines — sitting pretty in Zone 14. Defensively, he has not had many defensive duties in these past two games.
And that’s where the diamond becomes vulnerable defensively. Neither Isco nor Odegaard do much tracking in this scheme (though they do press well), and the transition defense can get chaotic. Betis had chances with numbers in transition, and with Sergio Ramos making gambles in the first half, the team’s shape broke on a couple sequences. On William Carvalho’s go-ahead goal for Betis in the first half, Odegaard’s positioning in transition off the ball was clearly an issue:
The team headed into half-time down 2 - 1. While the lineup on paper looked good, there were three clear issues:
- The team did not have a sense of control on the ball despite having four central midfielders
- The team did not press high despite being designed to do so, which led to Betis breaking lines
- Real Madrid’s defense kept a high line, which, if you don’t have the ball, nor are you winning the ball high up the pitch, is a problem.
Zidane’s answer at half-time was to bring on Isco for Odegaard: A like-for-like sub with one slight difference: Isco hedged to the left while Odegaard was more central. The transition defense remained in issue.
I’ll summarize some other key points quickly before the post-game pressers start:
- Real Betis were not better than Real Madrid defensively, and this became a back-and-forth, frenetic game where both teams had space in transition, with neither team really taking control of the midfield.
- Real Madrid’s equalizer came in the 48th minute, where Fede Valverde’s quick diagonal ball to Dani Carvajal was followed by a ball into the box by Real Madrid’s right-back which was deflected into goal by Emerson.
- Emerson’s night got worse when, defending a Jovic breakaway, the Brazilian committed a foul on Real Madrid’s striker and earned a red card. Grr.
- Real Madrid’s winning goal came, of course, through a Sergio Ramos panenka penalty.
- On Jovic, he had few touches, as expected, but did have subtle and important sequences. On both open play goals, his presence in the box occupied the attention of Real Betis’s defenders, creating space for Benzema and Fede Valverde respectively. Obviously, his run that led to Emerson’s red card was a huge moment for the team.
- Zidane changed Jovic for Borja Mayoral. It was interesting that he kept the scheme a constant all the way through, rather than bringing on Vinicius or Rodrygo to take advantage of the Betis high line.
- Strong performances from Mendy and Benzema. Ramos had a great second half after a shaky first half. Modric, who came on for an injured Kroos in the first half, looked sluggish.
We’ll break this down in much more detail on tonight’s post-game podcast.