The 2022-23 season is resuming after an untimely World Cup break in the middle of the season. The storyline so far under Carlo Ancelotti has contained exciting football with young gems leading the way.
The start to the season was almost flawless, with Madrid going on a 16 game unbeaten streak that included 14 wins and two draw. Real Madrid are currently averaging 2.36 goals per 90 in the league so far, making them one of the most potent goalscoring teams across Europe. There is all to play for as Real Madrid prepare for the second half of the season.
In this article we will look at the numbers behind the league season so far and analyze some top performing playersdo.
Numbers behind Los Blancos
Real Madrid currently sit in second place behind arch rivals Barcelona. Their tally of 37 points is two less than Xavi’s side. In terms of raw and underlying attacking metrics, Ancelotti’s men are averaging 1.9 non-penalty expected goals per 90 so far, which puts them in fourth position behind only Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG across the top five leagues.
In terms of defensive numbers, Real Madrid look less impressive, having kept just two clean sheets and conceding 14 goals so far. The underlying metrics are in line with the numbers as Los Blancos have showcased a tendency to be leaky at the back with Thibaut Courtois unable to replicate his superhero powers from the previous season.
Ancelotti’s side creates a major chunk of their offensive threat from the left flank. As we can note in the heatmap above, which showcases the zones where Madrid is creating the highest expected threat (xT) from, the zones near the left touchline and the left half-spaces is where Madrid is the most active.
This is in line with the fact that Real Madrid’s most dangerous on-ball players occupy zones closer to the left flank where Vinicius Jr, Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema all like to operate and create lots of dangerous opportunities.
Vini, Vidi, Vici
Vinicius Jr has shattered our expectations of him and has established himself as one of the most threatening wingers in the world. The electrifying Brazilian is a nightmare to come up against and is currently the joint top scorer in La Liga for Real Madrid — alongside Fede Valverde — with six goals. He is following strongly from his double-double of goals and assists last season, when he scored 17 and assisted another 10 in La Liga.
The 22-year-old Brazilian is excellent at progressing the ball into dangerous areas via his carries, often initiating them from close to the left touchline. He has recorded the most number of progressive carries in La Liga so far with 77 so far.
Looking at his carry map, one can easily observe a few things.
- A lot of these progressive carries originate from the left touchline, where Vini usually offers himself as a progressive outlet. No player in the squad has received more progressive passes than Vinicius (109). He not only stretches the defence laterally but is also a threat in behind with his direct penetrative runs to latch on to the through-balls.
- These carries often end up inside the opposition penalty box, helping Real Madrid be that much more incisive and threatening. These carries often draw and engage multiple defenders. His burst of acceleration alongside his skillful nature on the ball allow him to generate separation with his marker on a regular basis.
Another major aspect of his game is his ability to take on defenders. Vini is extremely skilled on the ball and regularly manages to engage multiple defenders with his dribbles. Teams have started to double team him or commit fouls to stop him, which is one of the reasons he completes only one in three dribbles. The value that those dribbles add is that they engage the defenders thus forcing them to commit actions or fouls in and around the box, which allows Real Madrid to further create threat from dead-ball situations.
It’s also his combination play that is at the heart of a lot of Madrid’s attack. The synergy he has with Kroos and Benzema, allow Real Madrid multiple options to break down opposition defences.
Vini’s development has gone better than anyone could have imagined. He is now a genuine superstar who is already a pillar in Real Madrid’s offensive scheme. His decision making has improved and so has his performance in front of goal. One can say that Vini arrived, Vini grew and Vini conquered!
Toni Kroos is easily one of the finest controllers football has ever seen. The German is putting together an all-time season this year. He has gone up a notch in terms of his influence on the game with his spotless passing ability. The 32-year-old has rarely put a foot wrong this season and has been outstanding on the ball.
With his magisterial passing, Kroos has recorded the most number of progressive passes in the team with 56, which is 21 more than second-placed Luka Modric. The German maestro is averaging almost 100 passes per 90 in the league this season while maintaining an accuracy of 88%. His range in passing and his ability to control and distribute the ball is world class making him capable of turning provider from deeper positions on the pitch.
Left foot or right foot, one can rely on Kroos to put his team in an advantageous position with his passing. His vision to spot passing lanes matches his execution to pull off these passes. The weight and timing on the balls is perfect more often than not and his ability from dead-ball situations adds another tool in his repertoire to cause opposition teams problems.
Kroos ranks only behind Vinicius Junior in terms of total threat created for Real Madrid in La Liga this season and the difference is marginal. While Vinicius relies on his carrying as the major source of threat creation, Kroos is a passing savant. The German sniper is able to play line breaking passes and switch play with ease on a frequent basis.
The German looks revitalized on the defensive end of things as well, consistently helping mop up the ball alongside Aurelien Tchouameni with his prescient movements to break down opposition plays.
Tchou Tchou train
Aurelien Tchouameni’s transition into the team was fast tracked with Casemiro’s departure. The iconic Kroos-Modric-Casemiro trident is no longer at Madrid but the Frenchman has barely let Madridistas dwell on the past by showcasing his abilities and the promise of a future best in his position.
In this visualization of his defensive actions this season in La Liga, there are some interesting takeaways. The Frenchman adds a screening presence with a good volume of his defensive actions occurring right outside the edge of the penalty box in the defensive 40% of the pitch. He provides good defensive coverage across the width of the pitch and adds further value with his ability to defend the penalty box, as can be noted with the cluster of actions inside the area.
A major area of improvement that Tchouameni has brought to the side is his passing from that position. The 22 year-old is able to initiate attacks from deeper positions with his vertical passing. He is blessed with a vision to spot passing lanes that can help break opposition lines in the final third.
Rodrygo has emerged as Real Madrid’s hidden ace in the past year or so. The Brazilian has been deployed across the front line and has shown different aspects of his game, also providing for different dynamics with teammates to break down opposition defences.
There are different merits to Rodrygo operating in different positions. Playing from the left allows the Brazilian to cut inside and take defenders on the dribble while operating from the central zones make him a bigger goal threat while giving him the freedom to link play. Playing on the right wing with Fede Valverde in the lineup alongside him allows Rodrygo to move in centrally with Fede providing coverage on the flank, which also allows Benzema to drop to his preferred left half spaces while maintaining a central presence to occupy the backline.
One of the clearest examples of this in-game was seen against Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League during the first leg. Looking at their territory map from the game, Rodrygo started on the right wing with Fede in the midfield, and the Brazilian occupied a lot of the central zones while Fede provided the width.
Overall when looking at the league season’s territory map based on their open-play touches, we can further see this dynamic in action with Fede covering a lot of the spaces on the right as Rodrygo operates centrally. The 21-year-old has already matched his goal and assist tally from the previous season with four goals and four assists in 12 appearances so far
Too Fast, Too Fede
Fede Valverde is enjoying his most successful season in terms of his statistical production at Real Madrid. The Uruguayan international has scored six times and assisted two goals in his 14 league appearances so far. His increased output is down to him being more adventurous on the ball now. He is averaging a higher volume of shots than ever before, with 2.5 shots per 90 this season compared to 1.67 in the previous one.
His influence and importance in the team has grown significantly this season, as can be seen in his minutes played so far. He has played 88% of the total possible league minutes so far, much higher compared to his 53.6% in the 2021-22 season. Valverde’s ability to fulfill multiple roles on the pitch has made him an indispensable part of the team. He can be seen covering the entire right flank, playing multiple roles throughout a game with his incredible work-rate.
His emergence as a real option on the right flank has been one of the main storylines. His presence as a winger adds not just defensive cover but he also adds value with his lung bursting runs with the ball. Fede Valverde’s ability to gobble up empty space in front of him with the ball at his feet is absolutely incredible. The Uruguayan records the longest carries on average in the team with 14.6m per carry in La Liga. He is consistently driving the ball forwards.