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Next Match: Tuesday, UCL, vs. Shaktar in Kiev
What specifically do we need to see?
In one of Kiyan’s previous columns, “Concerns From The Loss Against Espanyol, And Things That Need To Improve,” the subject is raised of what it is going to look like when Real Madrid begins to normalize after the red-hot start by Benzema and Vinicius. Well, it looked like the losses to Sheriff and to Espanyol, which was our worst fear in observing during previous matches that the team does not look well-organized yet in defending against standard passes and moves by opponents.
The skepticism voiced on the Managing Madrid Podcast over the past couple weeks was mostly about the concern on what the normalization looks like, once we eventually see it. The team’s defense has stunk; while the offense rocketed through the ceiling. If the offense regressed, would the defense improve to balance it out? One would think so, given that disjointed defensive positioning and synergy can only improve (it really can’t get worse than what we’ve seen thus far), and once the team builds familiarity with the scheme and surrounding cast, there is only one way to go: up.
There seems to be consensus from supporters that Real Madrid has to begin to look as though the defense is sorting out and operating smoothly. Undoubtedly that will be helped by getting some consecutive games of a healthy Dani Carvajal and David Alaba. The experiments with putting players who aren’t signed to be Real Madrid level right backs did not adequately provide the stability and mutual understanding a back-line requires. Moving on from Ramos and Varane was going to leave an experience gap, and it is logical that the club has to forge a new collective understanding in the back.
But the defense has not improved even incrementally. There hasn’t been a single baby step taken. Real Madrid have the 10th worst xGA in Spain — even the defensive sieve in Barcelona commanded by a confused Gerard Pique is about three goals better. The team ranks 11th in successful pressure percentage (28.5%) and 11th in passes per defensive action (9.26).
The other significant problem is that since La Liga match week one teams have been knifing through midfield. The goals have occurred through unpressured passes to open players in the middle of the pitch, leading to unsavable shots by unmarked players in the box. This is not a personnel issue in the main. There are high caliber, experienced players in midfield for Real Madrid who can use their football intelligence to thwart progression, as well as some young players who are capable of using their athleticism to deny space and to shut down the passing lanes. Rather, it is a matter of synchronization and organization of the midfield line (with help from the other seven) working as a unit to deny space to play through. We need to see the entire team getting into a compact shape quicker instead of trying to win the ball back high, which has been resulting in a lot of chasing. Better pressing in groups when out of possession — not chasing individually — is key for Real Madrid.
As Kiyan reads it, the identity that Carlo Ancelotti envisions for Los Blancos is centered around the high press:
Those numbers are fine for a team in a mid or low block — but not for Real Madrid, a team that identifies itself as a high-pressing team that holds a high line. If Ancelotti wants to implement this blueprint (and by all means, I’ve been vocal that this is the way to go if you’re to create better opportunities in the final third), the team needs to a reach a level by spring time (ideally mid-season) where they’re collectively sweeping up the ball in the opposition’s half regularly, and generating a ton of chances from the press.
As the team is currently ‘executing’ that identity, two things happen consistently: 1) One or two passes bypass the midfield; and 2) Step-up gambles from the defenders dancing on the high line go terribly wrong. That’s, um, a bad place to be in. Gambles work if you: A) Get them right; or B) Have coverage that eliminate the risk. Spoiler: Real Madrid don’t have either down. (To be fair, Militao has had a few good interceptions this season stepping up at just the right time.)
I would agree entirely. It’s not that anybody — OK, apart from Jose Mourinho — yearns to see Real Madrid maintain a compact shape for the rest of the season and defend effectively. This would be unwise because it’s not in these players’ DNA, or more importantly within the fans’ range of tolerance, to enjoy a good defensive outing on Sunday. The team’s identity as a high-pressing, high risk / high reward sort of attacking team must — in order for it to exist at all — as a team plan have a foundation in a sound defensive structure.
Before Real Madrid can begin to bomb forward smartly and take risks to win the ball high the structural foundations need to be hammered out. Perhaps having so much success early covered over these elements. Not having Ramos around to knock heads is a thing. We must see the team identify how it wants to set up in order to stop the basic passes that cut right through our half into the final third. Shaktar’s passers in the middle cannot have a good game and move the ball easily through Real Madrid, making all of our players chase the ball around for 90 minutes.
Friday training was on
Real Madrid Info reports that the morning session started with a 40-minute workout in the gym. Ancelotti’s men then moved outside to the grass:
The players then moved on to work on moving the ball, pressing and possession, and focused on tactical elements. pic.twitter.com/Eok96zrhVg— Real Madrid Info ³⁴ (@RMadridInfo) October 15, 2021
They then played a series of energetic games on reduced-size pitches. pic.twitter.com/MqXAMXAaEE— Real Madrid Info ³⁴ (@RMadridInfo) October 15, 2021
Haaland as a number 9 continued
Ligue 1 managers get behind Benzema for Ballon d’Or
Also Jocelyn Gouvernnec [Lille coach]: “Benzema is an exceptional player, he’s on a Ballon d’Or level. He deserves the Ballon d’Or and I would be very happy if he wins it this year. But I’m not the one voting.”