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Benzema ft. Rodrygo - Anatomy of the Winning Goal against Elche

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A beautiful sequence in the dying minutes at the Alfredo Di Stéfano Stadium kept Real Madrid in the title race.

Real Madrid v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Karim Benzema’s euphoria inducing goal to win the match against Elche was the culmination of a brilliant sequence of play. The importance of the late winner only added to the beauty of the moment. It started, as do much of Real Madrid’s possession, with Kroos initiating the play after Nacho passed the ball to him from the defensive end. At this point, Real Madrid were desperately chasing a goal and had flooded Elche’s half with bodies which pinned the visitors back.

One critical feature to note is the spacing / positioning as the fluid shape the team formed when in possession facilitated vertical progression. There were passing options in half spaces as well as diagonal lanes. This had proven to be quite productive as prior to Benzema’s goal, the team generated a number of high quality chances including Casemiro and Nacho’s shots from favourable central locations near the edge of the box.

Hazard’s cutting pass eliminates two Elche players

Kroos ended up choosing the lateral pass to Varane who relayed the ball to Hazard (dropping back). The Belgian’s touch and class are undeniable and there are some glimpses of his skill and intelligence that shine through simple actions. Once Hazard received the ball, he turned around, hesitated slightly inviting pressure before playing a sharp cutting pass to Kroos which eliminated two Elche players.

It’s little moments such as these that really highlight Hazard’s impact on tempo and pace of play. He has an intuitive feel for the game and is able to organically facilitate movement in the offensive third through these actions that can “unlock” spaces that give his teammates some vital and welcome breathing room.

Right side dominance and bias

In past seasons, the left side took on a sort of mythical aura for Real Madrid due to the game altering and influential entities that were Ronaldo, Marcelo and Kroos (along with Benzema and Isco’s tendencies to shift left). It was such a pronounced feature of the club’s tactical identity that matches were sometimes won or lost in that area of the field.

Years later and amid a current transition plagued with endless injuries, the right side was the dominant and favoured flank against Elche — especially when the team was frantically looking for a second goal. A big reason for this is Vazquez’s surperior comfort and participation compared to Mendy as well as Modric’s renewed dynamism. Such was the intensity of Real Madrid’s right side overload that they regained possession seconds after Vazquez was dispossessed after the ball made its way to him. They cycled possession on that flank with Vazquez receiving another pass once more out wide.

Vazquez crosses — Benzema and Rodrygo’s magic follows

Although crossing in general has been a symptom of tactical stagnation offensively for the team dating for several seasons now, the genuine capacity of Real Madrid in this arena is quite impressive.

Some can claim it is a numbers game and due to the sheer volume of crosses employed, the team is bound to have more positive outcomes but Zidane’s men appear to have a legitimate edge. In this play, Rodryo moves away from the defender which helps create separation and disorientation. This is relatively minor and potentially entirely coincidental and unplanned — but still proves crucial in the Brazilian winning the ball.

From this point on, although there are still signs of tactical seeds such as interplay and numerical presence, the real takeway is the brilliance and composure of Benzema and Rodrygo. The Brazilian’s headed pass back to the striker, Benzema’s deliberation on the ball and irreverent lifted pass, Rodrygo’s sumptuous shoulder touch all leading up to the commanding weak foot half volley could only be characterized as art in motion.