“4-3-3 is the way.” Those were Carlo Ancelotti’s words in yesterday’s pre-game press conference, where the Real Madrid manager seemed confident that reverting to a two-winger system was the team’s best bet moving forward.
What Ancelotti didn’t reveal beyond that was the tactical set-up he envisioned to go along with that formation, and we got a glimpse of that in tonight’s complete destruction of Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine.
Ancelotti opted not to press much, asking his team to play narrow and compact, soaking pressure, cutting off passing lanes, and playing more conservative defensively. It worked — maybe partly because Shakhtar manager de Zerbi (likely) prepared his team to play through a disjointed press. Either way, Ancelotti’s men rotated well, and the midfield three — Kroos, Modric, Casemiro — were happy to sit in a deeper line during build-up to ensure the team doesn’t suffer dangerous transition attacks.
Another point yet to be mentioned, and maybe the most key: Ferland Mendy returned to the starting line-up after a five-month hiatus, and immediately looked foot-perfect, completely elevating the team’s defensive ceiling. Mendy came over thrice in the first half centrally with interventions. He put Tete, Maycon, and Dodo in his pocket. His understanding with Alaba was great. It got to a point in the second half where Shakhtar completely avoided his flank when they could.
That’s just some of the defensive points from this game. The most encouraging part of this performance was that the team didn’t sacrifice its offense as a result of their solidified defensive shape. Real Madrid were getting plenty of good shooting opportunities from outside the box. Admittedly, they didn’t create many clear-cut golden opportunities in the first half, but there was enough brewing that you could see how a goal could arise.
The deadlock eventually broke in the 37th minute when Serhiy Kryvstov defelectd a Lucas Vazquez cross into his own net.
At half-time with the team up a goal, Real Madrid were in a comfortable state, especially knowing Shakhtar would have to be more daring to chase the game.
It turns out Shakhtar didn’t threaten much, and they continued their (to me very strange, as noted in a Tweet blow), quirk of letting Real Madrid players carry the ball up the field unchallenged.
I don't understand why Shakhtar are playing this way defensively. They're only marking off-ball runs but not in a way that actually closes passing lanes or makes the ball-carrier uncomfortable. We have been bamboozled by de Zerbi's photoshop propaganda— Kiyan Sobhani (@KiyanSo) October 19, 2021
That leads this entire article to the climax, the part where I need to squeeze in as much as magic as I can before hitting publish at the final whistle.
The Vinicius show, among other beautiful things.
Vinicius JR perfected his finishing, the world ain’t ready man pic.twitter.com/lT6rXwsXl5— Sami (@Sami_is_Vibin) October 19, 2021
Vinicius danced his way to this stunner— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 19, 2021
(via @CBSSportsGolazo) pic.twitter.com/Kd05dypXwe
Another vinicius assist for rodrygo, motm secured for the starboy #UCLpic.twitter.com/unxtqV0FXz— Rōçky (@somalitao) October 19, 2021
The Benzema goal to make it 5 came in a bit too late for me to include here.
Join us on Zoom tonight for the post-game podcast, 6pm EST. You get to see live video breakdown and you won’t regret. Link to join is here.
In case you’re interested, here are some of my half-time notes: