Tactical analysis Galatasaray Real Madrid 0-1 Champions League

Galatasaray – Real Madrid: Real Madrid Edges Chaotic Encounter Between Two Struggling Sides (0-1)

In a game labelled as do-or-die for Zinedine Zidane after only one point in the first two games in the Champions League Group A, Real Madrid managed to escape Istanbul with all three points thanks to an early Toni Kroos goal. The game offered plenty of chances for both sides, but a severe lack of quality, cohesion and off-the-ball structure reflected the overall problems of the two sides.

Tactical analysis and match report by Cem Soylu.

Welcome to Hell – the famous phrase that Galatasaray welcomes European opposition to Istanbul, with reference to the fiery atmosphere in their home ground. It remains a hell in the domestic league with a forty-game unbeaten run at home, but it is far from it in Europe with only one win out of their last eight. Galatasaray and Real Madrid, both giants in their respective countries, are going through a similar phase – managed by club legends in Fatih Terim and Zinedine Zidane, and going through a serious slump, much to the frustration of their impatient fans who are used to nothing but glory.

Real Madrid came off a largely disappointing 1-0 loss away at Mallorca, which significantly increased the pressure on Zidane. With El Clasico postponed, the entire focus turned to this encounter considering Real Madrid only has one point so far in Group A. Galatasaray struggled in their 3-2 win at home against Sivasspor as they rose to sixth spot in the Turkish Super League, and also came into this game with only one point, grabbed away against Club Brugge.

Zidane made six changes to the side he used against Mallorca, fielding his team in a 4-3-3 formation with Eden Hazard coming back into the side on the left. Rodrygo was handed his Champions League full debut on the right, while Federico Valverde joined Toni Kroos in front of Casemiro in a midfield trio. Fatih Terim preferred a 3-5-2 setup, a formation he only used against Paris Saint-Germain before this season. 

It is noteworthy that Club Brugge also used a 3-5-2 shape in Bernabeu few weeks ago, when they almost came away with a win. Radamel Falcao’s injury meant Florin Andone joined Ryan Babel up front. The midfield trio had the familiar faces of Steven Nzonzi, Jean Michaël Seri and Younès Belhanda.

3-5-2 against 4-3-3

Fresh in our memory from the Manchester United – Liverpool encounter of the weekend, Galatasaray’s pressing against Real Madrid created similar dynamics on the pitch. How offensive a 3-5-2 system can get is often determined by whether the wingbacks are pressing the opposition fullbacks. Here, Galatasaray chose to press Marcelo and Dani Carvajal through their wingbacks and also press man-to-man in midfield with Seri often moving up to press Casemiro. 

This created a three-versus-three at the back between their center-backs and the trio of Hazard – Benzema – Rodrygo. Hazard’s high positioning in the defensive phase, Rodrygo’s sheer pace to sprint forward and Benzema’s top class link-up ability also meant Galatasaray were in trouble as soon as they lost the ball.

Galatasaray dominate the opening stage

Galatasaray enjoyed a decent amount of possession in the opening stages. They had plenty of players committed to buildup play with Nzonzi playing deep in and around the three centre-backs, and Seri also buzzing around looking to receive. Real Madrid pushed Valverde and at times Kroos to join Benzema in disrupting Galatasaray’s buildup play, but Real Madrid overall lacked compactness, allowing plenty of space to play through.

Real Madrid’s defensive problems were on their left side that consisted of Hazard, Kroos and Marcelo, all defensively vulnerable players. Hazard was often disinterested in Mariano, positioning himself towards the center next to Luyindama for transitions. This allowed the out ball for Galatasaray towards their right wing-back, which often meant Marcelo got drawn into Mariano, creating a huge gap between him and Sergio Ramos. Galatasaray’s lack of cohesive attacking play meant they could only exploit this a few times, but it was an obvious deficiency, and the first one ended up as a clear-cut chance for Andone.

First clear cut chance of the game.

10th minute – First clear cut chance of the game. Babel links up play with Varane drawn onto him, plays in Nzonzi. Belhanda sneaks behind Kroos between the lines, receives from Nzonzi, and slips Andone in behind Ramos for a one-on-one. Notice the large gap between Marcelo and Ramos. In this case it is a positioning mistake by Marcelo rather than an issue caused by Hazard, yet Marcelo is drawn onto Mariano to make the mistake, which shows the overall tactical situation.

Andone had yet another great opportunity from a set-piece a minute later, which completely turned on the Istanbul crowd. A minute after that, another long through ball into the space between Ramos and Marcelo found Babel inside the box for a clear-cut chance, but the Dutch forward could not control the ball. 

Galatasaray was dominating in this early stage, finding the gaps to move the ball around the Real Madrid block that was easy to play through, committing plenty of players forward. However, Galatasaray is far from a well-drilled side especially under this particular 3-5-2 setup that they were playing only for the second time this season, and they possessed plenty of individuals that are guilty of losing the ball in dangerous positions, Seri in particular.

A game defined by turnovers

Galatasaray got their first warning in the very first minute of the game after a misplaced pass by Marcão led to Hazard receiving in a dangerous position in the box, and this trend continued throughout the game, playing into Real Madrid’s hands in an overall off night for the Spanish giants. 

In the thirteenth minute, Seri lost the ball in midfield, which led to a decent chance for Rodrygo. In the seventeenth minute, once again Seri misplaced his back pass to Donk, which led to Real Madrid’s opener.

Real Madrid pressure Galatasaray’s buildup play

18th min – Real Madrid pressure Galatasaray’s buildup play following a throw-in. Nzonzi passes to Seri, who can comfortably play to Donk to recycle possession, but misplaces the direction of his pass towards the path of Hazard. Hazard combines with Benzema and sets up Kroos for the opener. A good example of the sort of trouble Galatasaray constantly created for themselves.

Real Madrid were extremely underwhelming in possession play and created next to nothing when they faced the Galatasaray block. However, Galatasaray’s turnovers led to many good chances for them in transitions and they could have put the game away numerous times. One key tactical aspect in all of this was Benzema’s cover shadow When a player is positioning himself between the opponent that has possession of the ball and another opponent, he is blocking the passing lane. When applied the right way, his ‘shadow’ is effectively taking the opponent in his back out of the game, because the pass can not be played. to Ryan Donk. 

Donk, who played as a sweeper but essentially is a defensive midfielder who is adept on the ball and has a good passing range, was prevented from comfortably receiving the ball during buildup play and was immediately pressed when he received, which then forced Galatasaray side center-backs to pass into more congested areas. The passmap clearly shows Donk was bypassed during the buildup phase – this is not very common when looking at a passmap of a three-men defense that has a majority share of the possession.

Galatasaray switches to a back four

Galatasaray started the second half with a switch to a 4-3-3 formation when Sofiane Feghouli replaced Ryan Donk to move on to the right flank, with Babel moving left. This did not help Galatasaray. Feghouli often drifted inside between the lines as he always does for Galatasaray and as a result, Marcelo, who spent the entire first half very uncomfortable having to deal with Mariano, now had oceans of space when Real Madrid were in possession with not much to worry about. Real Madrid definitely looked more comfortable in possession compared to the first half.

The game’s unstructured and chaotic nature continued, with both sides attacking without any sort of cohesion and Real Madrid getting the best chances yet again through transition after Galatasaray turnovers. Hazard missed an open goal in the best chance Real Madrid created all game following a brilliant pass from Benzema. Real Madrid eventually saw the game out after Galatasaray missed two decent chances through set-pieces.


If the jury is really out for Zinedine Zidane, then the underlying performance here was worrying. Real Madrid, even in the last Champions League winning season, were lacking an overall footballing identity and Zidane is struggling to create one with the remnants of that team. 

Against a very out-of-form Galatasaray side who gifted them loads of chances and is far from the hardest team to build up against, Real Madrid struggled to progress the ball from the back and made really poor decisions on the ball that resulted in a very scrappy game – only Benzema and Valverde looked good. Considering the quality of chances they created, Galatasaray could have easily grabbed at least a point here.

On the other hand, despite Terim finding a formula to at least gain respectable results against two giants like PSG and Real Madrid, nothing really clicked with the newly formed squad yet for Galatasaray. Considering the risk-taking nature of the center-backs both with and without the ball, Falcao’s clear preference of a strike partnership and signs of encouraging spells of play in which they put very superior opposition on the back foot, the 3-5-2 formation might be the way forward for Galatasaray in the league as well, starting away at Besiktas this weekend.

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