In this week’s match analysis, we will analyze the clash between the titans of Madrid.... Real and Atletico. Many had written off Real's chances of winning anything of note this season, but a key win in Europe which enabled them to qualify into the knock out stages of the Champions League sent alarm bells ringing in Spain... Zidanes men were not to be written off so easily.
Real Madrid started in their tried and tested 4-3-3 that we have seen for years. The only shift in formation would be when out of possession, as it turned into a 4-1-4-1. Kroos and Modric were given freedom to roam wherever they liked. No major changes were afott, with the only notable omission being the injured Eden Hazard.
Atletico Madrid started in a 3-5-2 formation, with Koke dropping into defense so that Mario Hermoso could push up the field. Atletico Madrid were without forward Diego Costa and defender José Giménez..
Right from the start Real Madrid demonstrated their defensive discipline when out of possession. Both sides had their fair share of the ball, with Real Madrid holding possession for 56.5% of the time, so both sides needed to defend. Below we see Real Madrid deploy a 4-1-4-1 mid-block to stop Atletico Madrid from making progressive passes into the center of the field. Benzema presses Savic, so Trippier cannot return the ball to him. Junior presses Trippier, so Trippier either must pass it backwards or into the congested midfield space. Koke is outnumbered in three to one in midfield, so João Félix drops deeper to help. This is made useless by Casemiro who was tasked with man-marking him.
Real Madrid did not press aimlessly, in fact, they rarely left their shape when off the ball. Below we see how Real Madrid counter Atletico Madrid’s attempt at building an attack from the back. Felipe is on the ball. His forward passing options are Koke and Herrera, but both are being pressed by Benzema and Modric. His sideways passing option, left full-back, Mario Hermoso, is open, but as soon as Real Madrid see that Felipe has committed to keeping possession on the left side of the pitch, the team commits to the left, starting with Lucas Vázquez.
Atletico Madrid struggled to counter Real Madrid’s defensive set up. They were often forced to play long passes over the top of midfield, or create an attack from the wide areas. Below we see just that. Felipe is on the ball once again. His forward passing options are Herrera and Félix are marked by Kroos and Casemiro, with Benzema and Vázquez shielding the Atletico midfield. This forces Felipe to play a long pass to Kieran Trippier, the only Atletico Madrid player who has space to play in. However, as we noticed in the previous segment, once Atletico Madrid have committed to one side of play, Real Madrid will press them starting with that side’s wide player. In this example, it would be Junior leading the press.
Atletico Madrid did try to exploit right full-back Daniel Carvajal, as he was often running up and down the right flank. Atletico tasked Yannick Carrasco and Félix with doubling up on Carvajal, so that if a long, over the top, pass came through on the right flank, it would overwhelm the right full-back as he often left space in behind him.
It wasn’t until the second half that Atletico began to coordinate well. With the introduction of Thomas Lemar, this meant that Atletico could drop Félix and Lemar deeper, with Suarez the freedom to go where he wanted. Below, Savic plays a ball across to Trippier, and immediately eyes the space by the corner flag to create the base of a diamond. Kroos covers Llorente, Modric covers Coke, and Junior moves to cover Trippier. However, Trippier will have time to receive the ball and pass because Ferland Mendy is not fast enough to pressure Trippier into making a mistake. This allowed Atletico to exploit space left behind the Real Madrid midfield, specifically, the space occupied by Renan Lodi below.
Casemiro was at the base of the Real Madrid midfield for the whole game, often dropping between his center-backs and carrying possession up the field himself. When he did this, Atletico Madrid would press higher up the pitch, leaving space in behind them for full-backs Mendy and Carvajal to sit in and receive a pass. However, the Atletico Madrid defenders rarely left their own half, meaning that they would almost always leave a huge gap between the midfield and defensive line, prime for exploitation by the Real Madrid players.
Atletico did adopt a man marking system after conceding (to Casemiro!) as we see below. Llorente covers Kroos, Herrerea covers Modric, Hermoso covers Vázquez and Suárez covers Ramos. However, Carrasco is too far from Carvajal, who often played like a right-winger, and Koke is too far from Casemiro. Félix leads the press but can’t cover Carvajal and Casemiro at the same time. Varane saw this and found a pass to Casemiro several times throughout the match, playing through the Atletico press and midfield.
Not pictured below is Casemiro. He is nowhere to be seen. Casemiro sits at the halfway line, while Modric and Mendy move into the midfield half-spaces, with Kroos taking up Mendy’s wide spot. Junior, Benzema and Vázquez play in between the midfield and defensive lines. Missing is Carvajal, who joins the attack soon. Casemiro can recycle possession if his teammates can’t make forward passes, or break up play if his team loses the ball after committing so many numbers forward. Casemiro allows Real Madrid do what they have always done best, attack.
At 35-years-old, Modric is still one of Real Madrid’s most valuable players. Below we see Modric slot in between his center-backs. Varane has taken up the right full-back position. Casemiro and Kroos can be seen dropping deeper, bringing their man-markers Koke and Herrera with them. Mendy is out wide, not far from Llorente. Not seen is Carvajal who has pushed up to the halfway line. Real Madrid have players wide, creating space, and a seven to five player advantage in the build up, ensuring that transition from the defensive third to the attacking third is smooth. .
When Modric wasn’t acting as a deep-lying playmaker, he could be seen operating as a second striker. Modric stayed in between the midfield and defensive lines, and only dropped deeper once he saw space. Below, Vázquez drags Lemar out wide and Koke comes to help Atletico win possession before Vázquez can pass it to the approaching Carvajal. This movement leaves more space between the lines for Modric to run into and receive the ball. More space means more time, and Modric is the last person you want to give time to.
With Real Madrid starting the La Liga season so poorly, beating their local rivals will surely be the boost of morale they desperately needed. Atletico, strangely enough, did not defend as well as we have seen in the past. Conceding from a corner and an own goal is uncharacteristic of this side, and with La Liga more competitive than it’s ever been, they can’t afford to be defending so poorly.