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Real Madrid have revved up their offense

In the last two games Real Madrid have kept a higher line and allowed fewer passes per defensive action. It’s worked, and on top of that, Camavinga is ballin’ at left-back

Real Madrid CF v Valencia CF - LaLiga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.

It’s only been a couple games since their tactical shift — and it remains to be seen how long Carlo Ancelotti sustains it — but Real Madrid have strung together some fun offensive performances while marshalling a higher line and limiting chances the other way.

In the past four games, Real Madrid have conceded just one goal while scoring seven. They’ve kept both of their past two opponents — Real Sociedad, Valencia — to under .5 xGA. The .21 xGA against Valencia was a season-best mark, and somewhat ironically, it came during a game where they played their ‘least defensive’ game of the season; holding a high line while counter-pressing and controlling the ball.

Of course, ‘least defensive’ doesn’t mean they didn’t defend — they just did it in the non-traditional way. Real’s best defensive performance of the season in the last game, comes, somewhat down to the fact that Valencia are in a dire state, with rock-bottom morale and with defanged counter-attacking impetus. But a lot had to do with what Real Madrid were doing: Defending high up the pitch and keeping the ball in the opponent’s half.

Against Valencia, Real Madrid’s defensive line heigh was 50.5 (up from their season average of 46.80), and their xTA (expected threat against) was .56 (a dramatic improvement from their season average of 1.14). Their 70.4% possession was well north of their season average of 57.4%, and Ancelotti’s men allowed just five PPDA (passes per defensive action), which is dramatically better than their season average of 11.88.

The Valencia and Real Sociedad games were similar in approach, and despite some personnel change — with the most glaring being Toni Kroos and Luka Modric starting together in the last game and not the penultimate one — Ancelotti still opted to keep the high octane counter-pressing as part of the blueprint. Of course, the frenetic energy of Dani Ceballos has been a constant.

I’d expect to see it again against Mallorca on Sunday, given that Javier Aguirre’s men have a respectable defensive record and will look to clog space in a low block.

Camavinga “surprising everyone”

Even the biggest Camavinga at left-back believers couldn’t foresee him being this good at that position. He provides Real Madrid with an additional make-shift wing-back piece, but has done it so well — especially from an attacking stance — that he’s gone from a break-in-case-of-emergency band-aid, to a real, viable option that Vinicius Jr enjoys playing with.

His positioning is pretty remarkable, he floats around the shoulder of the defensive line and acts as a ball progressor off the ball as much as he does on it:

Skeptics will point to the obvious flaw in the above sequence: How much does his knack for getting into attacking positions hurt the team on defense? He hasn’t been tested much, yet. Atletico Madrid didn’t attack him; neither did Valencia. Elustondo and Kubo got past him twice in the Real Sociedad game, and Argentina nearly scored twice by making runs in behind him during the World Cup final.

But the answer to this might be in Real Madrid’s style of play. You can get away with it much like the way you can get away with putting Toni Kroos as the six: Playing a scheme that controls possession in the opposing half, and running a sweeping counter-press. Camavinga is also good defensively in 1v1 scenarios. Aurelien Tchouameni’s return helps with defensive coverage, and Antonio Rudiger has sneakily rounded into better form.

It’s the way that Camavinga drives the ball up the field from point A to point B that makes him so impressive:

Most players who play out of position look shy, uncomfortable, and play with conservatism. They go into ‘let me just not screw this up’ mode. Not Camavinga. He carries himself with confidence and swagger — as if he’s been playing as Real Madrid’s left-back for the past five years.

“Camavinga has surprised everyone a little with the way he is playing in that position, with his attacking and defensive output,” Carlo Ancelotti said after the win over Valencia. “He plays well and comes inside and links up well with Vini, with that partnership working very well.”

When David Alaba returns, the Camavinga left-back honeymoon may end, but even if it does, it’s safe to say that he’s looked good enough in that role that he’ll play there more than once in his career. I’d wager that we’ll see it a few more times this season. With Eder Militao injured for the next stretch of games, Nacho — another reliable wing-back option — may have to fill in at center-back.

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