Welcome to the Real Deal Report, your spot for incisive Real Madrid analysis.
On this edition Sid looks at a variety of narratives, subplots and angles using Mehedi’s visuals and open source data.
After a shaky start, Antonio Rüdiger has found his footing as a key cog in Real Madrid’s defense. His role differs markedly from his time at Chelsea, where he had a highly defined, structured role at left center back.
At Chelsea, Rüdiger could rely on ingrained tactical automatisms and patterns. Tuchel setup his team in a way where Rudiger was a key protagonist on the ball. He was a high volume passer at Chelsea - among the highest of any center back in the world.
Carlo’s Real Madrid asks him to read situations and make decisions more spontaneously, and doesn’t have mechanisms in play for Rudiger to ping the ball forward. At Madrid, he has been asked to play on the left and the right, though only on the right since Eder Militao’s injury. While initially uncomfortable, looking confused on the ball at points in the 22-23 season, the German center back has grown into the fluid approach.
The system change is evident in his passing numbers - Rüdiger is averaging over twice fewer progressive passes and carries compared in his Chelsea days.
He frequently played long balls from the back under Tuchel, averaging over 7 per 90 minutes. That long-range distribution has decreased at Madrid, where he’s playing mostly short passes and has less of a central role in buildup.
Rüdiger’s progressive passes at Chelsea are visibly more repetitive than the ones at Real Madrid:
Rüdiger tackles less frequently now, staying deeper as Madrid’s safety rather than aggressively stepping out wide to cut off box entries like at Chelsea. However, he still recovers a similar number of loose balls and wins a similar number of aerial duels.
The move from a rigid 5-man defense to a loose 4-man backline was an adjustment. But Rüdiger is translating his talents effectively now with an extended stretch on the right. Though deployed differently than at Chelsea, the German has shown his quality and versatility, and has been Real Madrid’s best center back this season. With Militao and Rüdiger, the right center back position at Real Madrid should be locked down for the next half decade.
Letting go of Varane’s top flight experience for Rüdiger’s hunger may have been an underrated win for the team. Rüdiger has won a Champions League, but has less mileage, and still has a legacy to carve out in the sport. Varane’s legacy was sealed with the threepeat and further solidified with his 19/20 season, even though it ended poorly.
Along with replacing Ramos with Alaba for free, I can’t help but see this as one of the most shrewd, smooth transitions away from a generational center back duo in a long long time.
Also, it’s notable that statistically, Raphael Varane was fit and available far more often at Real Madrid.
Varane’s games missed due to injury (via transfermarkt):
2015/16: 9 (Wasn’t a starter)
2016/17: 27 (Only fully displaced Pepe late in the season)
2017/18: 7 (Peak season 1)
2019/20: Zero (Peak season 2, key part of best Real Madrid’s best La Liga defense ever)
At Manchester United:
23/24: Only 4 games missed so far
Recent reports suggest Varane may have fallen out with Ten Hag. They may be exaggerating but I doubt they’re completely off the mark. Ten Hag started Johnny Evans and Victor Lindelof over Varane in recent weeks. I don’t care what his tactical justification is, but decisions like that suggest he is completely lost, and is unlikely to be the right man to take them forward.
Imagine being a Manchester United fan, watching Evans bench your Champions League winning center back.
Varane is United's best defender, and any game model that puts a player like Evans ahead of him on the team sheet needs redesigning.— Guillaume (@guillaumevdwege) November 24, 2023
As does management that falls out with high-profile players every few months
The entire United situation is just messy. When they first left I was looking forward to seeing how Casemiro and Varane would rejuvenate a sleeping giant. I was convinced the increased wages and new challenge would bring something out of them. Outside the Antony signing, Ten Hag seemed to largely be on the right track. I didn’t think benching Ronaldo was some egregious mistake considering his age and United being amidst a literal rebuild. After they beat Barcelona, I drank the United kool-aid:
Casemiro and Varane getting the best of both worlds: Champions League glory with Real Madrid, and timely neuroplasticity boosts thanks to changing environments after a long time in one place.— Sid (@TacticalFouling) January 28, 2023
Changing setting/location is a great way to freshen up and recalibrate the mind.
Now I’m just glad we dodged a bullet or two. Ten Hag’s issues have been long documented elsewhere, so I just want to take this opportunity to apologize for being wrong about him. He needs a sabbatical.
Comparing Tchouameni and Casemiro
Swapping Casemiro for Tchouameni was a huge win from a squad building standpoint.
There is no natural replacement for Aurelien Tchouameni at Real Madrid.
After winning el clasico, the news he’d be out 2 months hurt all Madridistas. Eduardo Camavinga was brought up as a viable stop-gap solution, then he got hurt too.
Let’s revisit his impact at Real Madrid and how he compares to the legendary Casemiro.
Their touches came in similar zones:
While Casemiro was a club legend and phenomenal defender, pivotal to 4 Champions Leagues, he struggled on the ball.
Tchouameni is not a crazy dribbler, but comfortably averages over 1 progressive carry per game, 1.2-1.4, whereas Casemiro was typically below 1 per game.
Casemiro was around 85% completion on medium range passes, 20-25 per game.
Tchouameni is closer to 28-30 per game at 90% completion.
Casemiro’s best season in this regard was 20/21 at almost 90% completion but seems to be an outlier and has declined since.
Purely in terms of defensive actions, Casemiro completed more tackles and clearances, recovered more loose balls, and averaged double the blocks.
However, one could argue the difference is easily made up with Tchouameni’s on ball quality.
Casemiro is around 22-27 short passes per game at 85-90% completion. Typically closer to 85%. Tchouameni in comparison comfortably completes 30+ short passes per game at 95% completion.
Casemiro’s 78.8% long ball completion in 21/22 (7.96 on 10 attempts per game) was an outlier compared to 62% in 22/23, 68% in 20/21, and 56.7% this season so far.
Tchouameni only attempts 4-5 long balls per game, but hovers around 80% completion.
Just far more composed.
Casemiro and Tchouameni at Madrid: ~ 0.09 xG90 each.
Casemiro at United: 0.14 xG90 22-23, 0.25 xG90 23-24.
Casemiro is at a relative high in progressive receptions and attempting more progressive passes at Man United this season, indicative of an outsized role in buildup and excessive offensive responsibilities. We Madridistas know all too well that Casemiro’s usage needs to be bumped down in buildup to optimize the team.
The one area where Casemiro truly stands out as better is in his volume of defensive actions, he was a superior pure tackler, but mathematically this is offset by Tchouameni giving away 5-6 fewer “live ball turnovers” per game because of his superior composure on the ball.
Overall, Tchouameni and Casemiro both attempt in the ball park of 60-70 passes per game.
Casemiro’s best season since 2020 was at 85% completion, but he hovers closer to the 80% mark in most situations, especially when he’s not alongside Kroos and Modric.
Tchouameni however has been above 90% in both his seasons at Real Madrid, showing that he offers superior ball security. He looks just far more composed on the ball and commits fewer errant passes in buildup irrespective of his midfield partners.
As a result, this offsets any reduction in defensive output he offers compared to Casemiro.
Rival Watch: Gavi ACL is a huge blow for Barcelona
Gavi’s ACL tear may have been one of the single worst things that could’ve happened to Barcelona’s project for both this season and the future.
Even with Gundogan, Pedri, Fermin and De Jong around, Gavi had played himself into being the centerpiece of Barcelona’s midfield because of his tenacity without the ball and availability.
In fact, ever since Pedri was burned through by the same setup a couple years ago, Gavi has been *the* mainstay in Barca’s midfield for 2 full seasons now. Gavi had played 92% of all matches for Barcelona since his debut.
This season, with Oriol Romeu struggling to fill the shoes of Sergio Busquets, and Barcelona crying out for a deeper midfield presence with Pedri and De Jong hurt, Gavi reached a different level.
Initially the Spaniard was utilized as a “high 8” in the half-spaces; he would receive back-to-goal and progress play through close control and tidy passing. Not the most creative presence, but full of industry, always open to receive, and capable of driving a positional game, even if incapable of truly slowing down the game and controlling it.
This season, Gavi was dropping deeper than ever:
With Pedri sidelined often last season, Gavi showcased his versatility on both flanks, but his core strengths remained the same. After Pedri’s injury at the start of this season, however, he began dropping much deeper in buildup as a controller.
Gavi’s touches were less concentrated in the advanced half space regions, and he had more than ever in the pivot areas:
Statistically, we saw Gavi’s pass completion rose above 90% as he mixed penetrative passing with retaining possession.
Compared to previous seasons, Gavi was specifically attempting and completing around 3-4 more medium range passes per game, reflecting his growing composure. Rather than focusing on vertical progression with every touch, he embraced a more measured approach and took up a deeper role in possession.
As a result, his overall pass completion was up a notch as well: 90.7% compared to ~ 85% from the past couple seasons.
This was seen in el clasico when he dominated in a double pivot.
In the past, Gavi’s tenacity showed in winning balls high up the pitch. This season, he was winning more duels in deeper areas, and averaged 3.23 tackles per 90 compared to ~1.7 over the past 2 seasons.
Deceptively diminutive, Gavi before his ACL tear had essentially become a hybrid of N’Golo Kante’s defending and, say, Andres Iniesta’s ball security (not creativity, just ball security) - a ridiculous profile that would be useful to any top team. Now, the question is unfortunately whether he will ever get back to the same level after injury.
Gavi is one of the main reasons Barcelona have picked up points so routinely in La Liga for 2 seasons now despite having inconsistent performances. His tenacity and quality had brought proper consistency to a team that so often lacked reliability. Prior to the injury Barcelona’s midfield this season was stacked, now its looking unusually light.
With Pedri seemingly mired in an injury cycle for the past couple years, and Gavi out for 12+ with an ACL tear, I think it’s safe to say the Spanish National Team’s strange obsession with playing and picking Barcelona youth products the second they’re available for selection, whether they’re fit or even capable of contributing or not (cough cough Ansu Fati at the World Cup), has totally backfired.
Jude Bellingham Over the Years:
Just throwing out some brief notes on Jude’s evolution over the years.
Jude’s progressive carrying has steadily improved over the years: 1.48 in 20/21, 2.52 in 21/22, 3.25 carries last season, then at a 3.33 p90 career high this season.
Jude averaged 5 progressive passes p90 from 2020-22. Made a huge leap to 8.43 last season, down a touch to 6.5 this season (understandably as he has less of a role in buildup than at Dortmund).
He was averaging about 20-25 short passes p90, 86-89% completion at Dortmund.
Now up to 29 short passes at Madrid over 90% completion -> less turnovers and attempting fewer medium/longer passes in general. Smaller role in deeper buildup, but more of a focal point of the offense.
The fact that he’s more of a focal endpoint is seen in that Jude is up to 6.67 progressive receptions p90 at Real Madrid so far, and was closer to 4.5 progressive receptions p90 at Dortmund.
Receiving more in high, left sided areas as an isolated forward, and less often as a ball-centric midfielder driving the ball:
Defensively, Jude was at 3-4 tackles + interceptions at Dortmund per game, slightly down to 2.3 at Madrid so far but instead he’s blocking shots more than ever: slightly under 2 per game before, 2.8 per game this season. Tenacity has been the same.
Jude was at 0.13, 0.15, and 0.25 non penalty expected goals p0- in each of his last 3 seasons at Dortmund respectively.
0.46 npxG p90 this season, almost double.
While chance creation has stayed same (~ 0.15 xA p90), Jude’s touches have become more efficient and decisive. While part of this is down to a more focal role on a better team, part of this is just a 20 year old getting better at football after learning from the best.
- Slightly more conservative pass selection because his teammates take care of chance creation and risk taking to a greater degree than at Dortmund.
- Still very progressive with the ball but not as oriented towards pinging longer passes (45 passes completed at 82% completion before at Dortmund, same volume but 87% completion now).
- Receiving a bit more in higher areas, getting better at moving in front of goal, and has become a more efficient goalscoring protagonist at Real Madrid.
Going into the season, we needed Jude to be a defensive juggernaut who has the end product of a conventional forward, and so far that’s precisely what we’ve gotten.
Will Real Madrid’s Finishing Sustain?
Hey @RealDealPods !— Giuseppe Cipriani (@WorldClassItaly) November 14, 2023
Was just going through some stats I found on @FootyStats_org and wanted to share.
Looks like we’re marginally outscoring our xG (by about 4%).
However, our xG conceded is nearly twice that of the actual goals we’ve conceded.
Per football reference:
- 28 goals scored from 24 expected goals of chances.
- Only 9 goals conceded from 14 xG of chances against.
Bellingham alone accounts for the finishing offensively: 13 goals from just 6.6 xG. Jude offsets Rodrygo, who even after his great week, is at 5 goals from 8.1 xG of chances.
In attack slight overperformance is possible considering quality of ball striking (Fede, Jude) but lack of a superstar 9 means a dip can happen anytime. Considering Rodrygo’s last year (plus his injury) and Joselu’s struggles with rapid combination play, and Vinicius being out till February, it is possible we fall apart in this area too.
It’s defensively where 9 goals conceded from 14 xG against feels unlikely to sustain. We’ve definitely rode our luck at different moments, but to be fair Kepa and Lunin have been pretty good as well. Looking at post-shot expected goals:
5 xG difference to account for. 3.4 xG of that difference is covered by Kepa and Lunin’s goalkeeping. Lunin made solid saves against Valencia. Can’t expect him to continue making saves at that rate, stopped 1+ xG of chances over expectation in that game alone.
Opposing forwards missing has accounted for the other 1.6xG not going in - overall I’d brace for some regression in the defensive department, especially with Tchouameni and Camavinga out.
The eye test suggests Real Madrid 23/24 often defend inefficiently in a medium-high line, relying on individual brilliance to win the ball back. No doubt there are moments when the block is amazing and airtight (I mean, how wouldn’t it be with the quality of players?). But there are many instances where they’re pressing poorly and failing to cover the right angles.
Matt Wiltse pointed this out during el clasico:
One of the most underrated aspects of Benzema’s game was his defending.— Matt (@MattW_MM) October 28, 2023
His pressing angles, ability to cut off the DM passing lane, pit-pockets from behind.
Rodrygo and Vinicius do not have this as part of their game. Barcelona can build up and play out of the back with ease.
Looking at the latest defensive figures from Mark R Stats:
1. Real Madrid concede 3rd least ‘expected threat’ in in La Liga, barely behind Girona and Barcelona.
Expected threat, or xT, quantifies the threat level at any pitch location and assesses player actions based on the change in xT they cause. The model divides the pitch into a grid (e.g., 16x12, giving 192 zones) and assigns a value to each zone based on the likelihood of scoring from there or moving the ball to another, more advantageous position. This value is calculated using past data on shooting and moving probabilities and a transition matrix that indicates likely ball movement patterns. This allows for a more nuanced understanding of player contributions to the buildup play, beyond just goals or assists, and can be used to attribute credit among players more accurately.
2. Real Madrid have the worst ‘opposition buildup percentage’ in La Liga. This measures the percentage of successfully completed passes by the opponent that occur outside of the final third of the field. Whether it’s by design or not, Madrid don’t disrupt teams that effectively outside their own third.
3. 5th fewest expected goals conceded
4. 5th highest line in the league, very similar in height to Barcelona’s
The 2nd metric here is just hilarious and on brand. This is a decent defensive unit, filled to the brim with incredible athletes capable of recovering the ball back in precarious situations, but often end up passive in the press either out of a conscious choice or often due to flaws in pressing angles.
Worth noting Real Madrid are the 4th best team in the league based on ‘field tilt’ overall, which while still a rudimentary way to measure which half the game is being played, is a useful proxy (ball possession percentage calculated for touches completed only in final thirds).
And on the bright side:
- So far we have created the most xG per match in the league (1.93, a hair above Barcelona’s 1.91)
- We lead the league in buildup percentage (percentage of successfully completed passes by the opponent that occur outside of the final third of the field)
- 2nd in ‘expected threat difference’
Not bad considering all the injuries.
Our latest episode featured Kiyan Sobhani himself as a guest: