Isco and Bale – the key to victory over Atletico. Atletico v Real Madrid match analysis

This analysis was first published at soccerspecific, a coaching education platform with the mission of creating and sharing the highest quality of coaching information in order to positively impact player development around the world.

 

The last Madrid Derby at Vincente Calderon stadium didn’t finish only with a surprising result but also provided various tactical surprises. While it is difficult to judge if Zinedine Zidane made the tactical changes to his team due to numerous injuries, it is sure it worked.

Despite the extraordinary form Real has shown this season, they didn’t come to Vincente Calderon as favourites. “Finally, we play against Real as equals” stated Diego Simeone before the match. His confidence added pressure on Atletico which proved too much to handle in the end.

While Simeone had luxury of whole squad, Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane was riddled with injuries ahead of the game. Toni Kroos, Alvaro Morata, Casemiro and Pepe weren’t available while Sergio Ramos amd Benzema were still not available for full match.

Zidane didn’t have exactly the best players available before the big game. However, he knew he could go in the match with more patience than Simeone. He used this fact t his advantage and brought out very fluid side that was hard to mark even for great defending outfit as Atletico.

Real tried to keep secure in possession and not being exposed by too advancing full backs. Additionally, Kovačić was seldom playing in an advanced position essentially staying in line with centre backs for even more protection. Crucial for Real game plan was, however, Isco. Playing against such an organized defence Zidane recognized he needs a clever player in midfield who will unbalance the defence with off the ball movement.

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Isco drifting into pocets of space and finds a bag of it

Above you see Isco as he drifted deep into right half space to pick up the ball from defence. Due to his good off the ball movement he has time to turn, face the goal, and decide where to distribute the ball.

While Isco was free to move around as he saw fit, Real needed more to break the rival.

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Marcelo-Carvajal-Vazquez stretching Atletico defensive unit to create space in the middle for Isco and Bale’s horizontal runs into the center

Above you see how Real wanted to break Atletico, although, at this instance it was unsuccessful since Juanfran anticipated Bale’s movement. However, you can observe the general idea behind it.

Full backs form a wide line with two centre midfielders to keep Atletico forwards and middle line occupied. Vazquez holds the touchline in very advanced position to keep Luis Felipe engaged. This positioning on the pitch serves to stretch Atletico as far as possible diagonally while opening space in the central area for 4v2 situation. It was on Bale and Isco then to use individual skill and break the middle defensive line of Atletico.

 

Ideally, Cristiano Ronaldo should have been on the left side to make Juanfran less eager to close down Bale giving him more space to turn. This particular move was broken down by Altetico but visitors still had enough men behind the ball to cover.

Although Atletico has great defensive organization that many teams around the world try to emulate, flexibility from Real was slowly eroding their confidence.

It was difficult to follow what formation was Real playing when in possession since Bale and Isco were constantly moving horizontally trying to unsettle the middle line of Atletico defence. However, this movement and exchange of positions from these two players were the reason why Atletico failed to cope with Real in the end.

Once Real got the lead and was playing with more confidence and even less risk, flexible game plan proved even more successful.

Atletico was struggling to keep the visitors during the first half. While their pressing game up the pitch was largely fruitless, they made series of clever tactical fouls to stop the counter attacks from their rivals.

While first half Real was perhaps a better team, Atletico still had the plan going forward.

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Fernando Torres drifts to left taking his marker Varane with him. After a back pass to Koke space opens between two center backs for third man run which is used by Nunez.

Atletico creates overload on left side where Luis Felipe, Carrasco and Fernando Torres drag Carvajal and Varane to the touchline. This creates opening between two centerbacks. Since Kovačić and Isco look the ball carrier Nunez has time and space to get into the box. Unfortunately for Real, although Nunez often cut inside, situations like this were too few and far between.

With the beginning of the second half Atletico seemed more aggressive in their high pressing and reluctant to surrender. However, a mistake from Savić effectively killed the game of. By the time Simeone made changes the game was already gone. Hosts were pushing to get one back but that meant taking more risks against an opponent who already gave them trouble great movement.

In conclusion, it was Zinedine Zidane who absolutely dominated this match up. While Cristiano Ronaldo probably played the best game of the season, the key to great victory was Zidane and his decision to field Bale on the left side alongside Isco. Those two were crucial for unbalancing probably the best defensive team in last five years.

CL: Borussia v Real Madrid, read what late changes made the difference

Highly anticipated clash between Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid ended peacefully but didn’t provide football quality that was expected despite four goals scored.
Teams came on the pitch with quite different baggage. While Borussia scored 20 goals in last four matches it seemed everything is clicking in Thomas Tuchel’s side. They even won last three clashes against Spanish heavyweights on their stadium. However, BVB was missing Marc Bartra, Marco Reus and Sven Bender, all important players.

Real Madrid, on the other hand, came to Germany after two draws and severe problems were reported among the front three. If you count that two very important players like Casemiro and Marcelo are also out injured, it didn’t look good for Spaniards.

Problems with injuries and between Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale coupled with poor recent form and fact Real plays away, urged Zidane to opt for more cautious approach relying on quick counter attacks.

Borussia, on the other hand, encouraged by recent form wanted to cut Real off early.

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Everything evolves around Weigl in Borussia. However, Ginter provided a Great performance running from deep into middle third. Too bad Real was good on defence and Borussia front line didn’t have their day

Above you can see Borussia in early stage of the match. Rarely you can see a whole team so high on the pitch, and it is even more stunning to see it against Real Madrid. What strikes is that Borussia is inside quite a small space since both full backs are sitting very narrow. While it allows for quick short passing it also gives opportunity to opposition to close down quicker and with fewer players.

Everything in Tuchel’s side evolves around Weigl who is in deep lying playmaker role and truly connects the defence and attack. However, he is heavily supported by Ginter who is surging forward almost in line with Weigl.

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Although Weigl is the man that connects BVB lines, it is Ginter’s offensiveness that provides an extra player in Tuchel’s team

Above is a map of all touches on the ball that Ginter has made during the match. With 117 touches he is above all other BVB players and represents a true ball playing defender. It isn’t just touches that makes him important part of the team but his forward passing as well. His insertions deep into the middle third is also a reason why Schmeltzer is often playing a bit more centrally than a full back normally would.

However, few quick and direct passes Real managed early in the game urged Tuchel to drop defence below half way line. The match was fairly even in the opening quarter until Real scores afte quick break and Borussia gets firmly on the ball and possession.

The way teams played didn’t really change much until Real scored again. Tuchel started to move things more rapidly as Borussia was very slow in build up which allowed Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale to get back in position and assist three central midfielders who did great job forcing 30 interceptions and turnovers.

As time passed Tuchel changed Schurle for quite poor Goetze, but real change came when Pulišić and Mor came on the pitch. They were more direct and their dribbling and speed meant Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo struggled to get back and effectively help the defence. Tuchel did well with his subs as they provided an equaliser since Real couldn’t cope anymore with pressure fresh players provided.

To summarize, both teams had sound plans for their offensive game. Real was fortunate to have scored and could keep on defensive looking for their attacking players to counter while Borussia was always under pressure. In the end great speed of decision and technique from Mor and Pulišić really turned it around for the hosts to make both teams happy. Real got yet another draw but Modrić, Kroos and Rodriguez proved they could cope with highly offensive opposition even without Casemiro.