Javier Aguirre is not always recognized for his tactical nous but the Mexican coach has built a tough-to-beat Mallorca side that implemented a strategic game-plan against Madrid on Wednesday.
Real Mallorca played a 5-4-1 formation at the Bernabeu with both their midfield and defensive lines remaining extremely compact and disciplined. More than your traditional “bark the bus” tactics, Mallorca methodically moved those two lines in unison and never gave the likes of Rodrygo, Bellingham, or Vinicius room to operate. The key to limiting those aformentioned names, in particular Bellingham, was the tracking of off-ball-runs. Bellingham has scored so many goals this season by arriving as the third man into the box with opposition midfielders either trying to pass him on to a stagnant defender or chasing after him with no luck in catching up. Against Madrid, Mallorca had multiple players look to track off ball runs and the movement of their 5 defensive man - 4 midfield man block clamped down on any open space inside the box and around zone 14.
It was a herculean defensive performance for Mallorca, that limited Madrid to just 5 shots on target — one of their lowest tallys all season. Ultimately the small details made the difference, with Rudiger’s aerial ability off a set-piece giving Madrid the edge. Aguirre was proud of his men post-game and noted his plan: “As the end of the game approaches you get excited, but the plan was this: withstand their attacks, be compact, come out with speed in the transitions... we made mistakes many times in the exit ball from the back. Here you have to play a perfect game to win something, but we had a corner left over,” the Mexican coach told reporters.
Carlo Ancelotti and his team may see others start to take note of Aguirre’s tactics and try to implement grittier compact defensive lines. Wearing teams down and 1 v 1 individual quality - particularly strong dribblers - like Bellingham, Rodrygo, Vinicius, and Brahim will be crucial in unlocking a path to goal.