Real Madrid failed to score for a second consecutive match for the first time since February 2022, following a 1-0 defeat to Paris Saint-Germain and a 0-0 draw with Villarreal, as they were held to a goalless draw by Real Betis in Seville.
The tie at the Estadio Benito Villamarín had moments of excitement, such as Karim Benzema’s free-kick which was ruled out for handball from Antonio Rüdiger to deflect the ball in.
Here are three stats that help us to understand the game.
9: Point gap in LaLiga, a difference which has never been recovered before
Never in the history of LaLiga has a team thrown away a nine point lead to lose the title. That is the advantage that Barcelona now have after 24 games played, courtesy of Real Madrid dropping four points in the last eight days while Barcelona have picked up one more thanks to their win over Valencia.
In his post-match press conference, Carlo Ancelotti recognised the difficulty of the task ahead. “It’s still not over. Nine points is a lot, but we have to fight to the end,” he reflected. With a Clásico still to be played in LaLiga at Camp Nou in just under a fortnight, it isn’t beyond the realms of impossibility, but it does seem unlikely.
Should both teams win their fixtures next weekend and Real Madrid lose that Clásico on March 19, the gap could be as wide as 12 points, with 13 games left to play. That would take quite the implosion for Barcelona not to seal the title.
What will be intriguing to see will be how this impacts Ancelotti’s selection decisions over the weeks ahead. Balancing minutes for some of the team’s veterans has been a challenge this campaign, and doing so without having LaLiga as a priority could ease some of the pressure and keep them fresh for the Champions League or the Copa del Rey semi-final second leg.
11.7%: Cross completion rate, compared to 29.9% season average
For the third game in a row, Real Madrid put in a far higher number of crosses than they have on average across the 2022/23 campaign. The season average to date is 13.21, but against Real Betis, there were 17 crosses put into the box. Of those, only two were completed.
It continues a trend. In midweek, an incredible season high of 37 crosses were put into the box that Barcelona were defending, with a completion rate again way below the season average at 18.9%. Similarly, against Atlético Madrid, there were 23 crosses, though this time with a success rate of 30.3%. For context, against Liverpool only eight crosses were attempted.
If the plan B in attack is to bombard the box with crosses, as it seems to have been across these past three games, Real Madrid and Carlo Ancelotti need to work on making it a more sustainable and logical approach. Throwing on Álvaro Rodríguez for the final three minutes and injury time, as was the case against Betis, does not seem to match up.
Alternatively, if the target is Karim Benzema, then somebody needs to let the Frenchman know. He failed to win a single aerial duel at the Villamarín, and won only one against Barcelona. The loss of that slight bit of pace which helped him to find half a yard of space to get a free header has been crucial.
6-5: Rodrygo’s dribble completion compared to Vinícius’
Returning to the starting line-up after injury, Rodrygo Goes did bring a breath of fresh air with his more direct style on the right flank of the Real Madrid attack. That’s not to say that his performance was perfect, but one area which was spot on was his dribbling. The Brazilian had a 100% dribble completion rate with six successful dribbles from six attempts.
That was in contrast with his team-mate Vinícius Junior. Vini, on the other hand, attempted 11 dribbles but completed only five. It was reflective of the styles of both players, with the former being more efficient and the latter looking for the more spectacular, but not always pulling it off.
Up against Juan Miranda, Rodrygo looked to make life difficult for the former Barcelona man and he managed it. Youssouf Sabaly, on Betis’ right hand side, did have one of his best games in a Betis shirt to keep Vinícius quiet.
Alternating between styles and focussing on creating more chances through ball progression and carries could mean that Rodrygo is the favoured option. His ability to take players on has never been questioned, but this does reinforce season-long trends with his dribble success rate some 7% higher than Vinícius’ across the course of the campaign.