Real Madrid’s Brazilian cohort has emerged to form an devastating attack. Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo have been explosive. Vinicius has recorded 40 direct goal contributions in back-to-back seasons, recording 10 goals and 9 assists in La Liga this season while Rodrygo has contributed 14 goals in the league this season. In defence, Eder Militao, has been a colossal figure, his ability in 1v1 duel situations and his defensive coverage has been praised multiple times, with Carlo Ancelotti even calling him the best center-back in the world this season.
The Brazilians have developed synergies in more ways than one on the pitch with multiple players, with the linkup between Vini and Benzema or Rodrygo and Benzema being the most prominent. There is another tactical quirk that has emerged between a Brazilian pair that has been crucial for Real Madrid this season so far and has allowed Madrid to further unlock some of its offensive power via their tricky wingers.
Militao, beyond his defensive attributes, has been able to showcase his on-ball qualities this season, especially his range in passing. The Brazilian helps move the ball into the final third for Madrid and has bettered his numbers in that regard (4.07 passes into the final third in 2021-22 compared to 4.42 in 2022-23).
But the way in which the Brazilian impacts the attacking side of things, beyond his obvious threat on set-pieces, is via his switches using long diagonals. The 25-year-old has brilliant range that allows him to spray the ball all over the pitch and help Madrid get up the pitch instantly, further allowing them to use Vinicius as an outlet high up the pitch.
Militao has attempted 53 switch passes (passes that move the ball at least 50% of the width of the pitch and 5 meters vertically), with a success rate of 77.36%. The former Porto defender is consistently able to ping the ball long and find targets with it. This allows Madrid to switch the point of attack and target the opposition’s weak side after sucking them in across one side of the pitch (as you can notice the start point of a lot of these long diagonals is deep towards the right flank inside Madrid’s own half)
This move has allowed Real Madrid to bait opposition press and play “over” it rather than playing through it, risking turnovers in dangerous areas. It helps with Real Madrid’s quick transition based attack as it allows them to get up the pitch in one move. All but one of these switches are aimed towards the left touchline and the main beneficiary of these diagonals is Vinicius Jr.
Of his 41 successful switches, 27 have been to Vinicius Jr. The talismanic attacker is often allowed to stay high up acting as an outlet for Madrid in transition situations and he can be often located using this move. Another great way Ancelotti’s men use this pattern of play is to create isolation on the wings.
Being able to switch the point of attack forces the opposition to move laterally and allows the winger to get in a 1v1 situation with the opposition fullback, enabling them to run at the defender or open up spaces elsewhere as the team shifts its defensive block from one side to the other. It allows them to target the space in behind the aggressively positioned fullback of the opposition and quickly get up the pitch in doing so.
In Rodrygo and Vinicius, Madrid has some great take-on artists. Vinicius Jr has attempted the most take-ons in La Liga (283) with no other player having more than 200 take-on attempts, while Rodrygo ranks fourth in the list (143). Creating isolation for Vinicius against the opposition fullback allows him to unlock his box of tricks to have a go at the fullback and create havoc inside the opposition’s final third.
This is one of the key attacking patterns of play that Madrid employ and it might prove to be key playing against sides who look to press Madrid high up the pitch (Man City).
When it comes to passing metrics it’s hard to overlook Real Madrid’s passing savant and German sniper Toni Kroos. The German, who is known for his impeccable accuracy, boasts a passing accuracy of 88% on his long diagonals and ranks among the top players with most attempted switches of play with 67. The German’s range of distribution and initial positioning allows him to spray the ball on either side of the pitch and helps in undoing an opposition’s defensive block.
A switch of play as an attacking pattern is very common in football but doing so with a perfect long diagonal ball is a risky affair. The execution of it requires the perfect balance between power, technique and timing to avoid cheap turnovers. In Militao and Kroos, Madrid have a plan B to find their tricky wingers via a direct route and try to create chances with them, which will probably come handy playing against sides like Man City, Madrid’s next opponent in the UCL.