Real Madrid – Atlético Madrid: Real Miss Isco And Marcelo In A Cagey Madrileño Derbi (0-0)
Real Madrid started this game having not won a single Madrid derby at home in LaLiga since 2012. A trend that lived on after the ninety minutes came and went. Thus, despite some good adjustments from Real manager Julen Lopetegui in the second half, Atlético Madrid’s rock-solid defense fended off Dani Ceballos and co. and held the scoreline at 0-0.
Lopetegui was forced to make changes to the side that lost 3-0 to Sevilla on Wednesday. Nacho, who was replaced by Dani Carvajal at right back, shifted over to the other side of defense to cover for the injured Marcelo. Additionally, a sudden contraction of appendicitis ruled out Isco for the game, leaving Lopetegui with a thin bench. Other than that, Madrid’s usual front three of Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale, and midfield of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modrić all got their expected starts.
Atlético Madrid manager Diego Simeone, having rotated against Huesca and unhampered by injuries to everyone except center-back Stefan Savić, was free to field arguably his strongest eleven versus his most hated enemy. The familiar duo of Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa started up top ahead of a Koke-Rodri-Saúl Ñiguez-Thomas Lemar midfield, with Saúl and Rodri returning to the lineup. The experienced Juanfran was the only other change from midweek, as he slotted in ahead of Carlos Isaac Muñoz at right-back.
Real Madrid’s attack vs. Atlético Madrid’s defense
Real Madrid lack aggression and penetration in the first half
FC Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Athletic Club earlier in the day provided Real Madrid with another chance to get a lead over their rivals in the league table. Considering this, one could have been forgiven for expecting Real Madrid to take the game to Atlético and seek to play with a high level of intensity. Instead, Lopetegui decided to be more cautious in the first half and refused to press high or press immediately after losing the ball.
This decision may have been influenced by Real’s disastrous three-goal loss to Sevilla, where Madrid’s pressing was poor and they were cut apart on the break. If that was the case, Lopetegui made the wrong decision, as it did not allow Real to control the game as much as they would’ve liked.
Such a problem was accentuated by Real’s lack of penetration on the day, leading to a lot of horizontal passing spells that were followed by losses of possession. Part of this was down to Atlético Madrid’s own defensive quality.
Not keen on pressing himself, Simeone ordered his soldiers to a form up in a 4-4-2 inside their own half. Koke, Rodri, Saúl, and Lemar worked very hard to cut off passing lanes to Real’s front three, and became very compact when Madrid tried to attack from the wings. This was supplemented by tight marking on anyone that managed to receive the ball behind the midfield block, thereby creating a suffocating atmosphere for interplay.
As a result, Madrid only created shots thanks to set-pieces and a mistake by Oblak when he ricocheted the ball off Asensio’s foot and back into his gloves.
However, as good as their opponents were, Real Madrid did not do themselves any favors. While Asensio, Benzema, and Bale were all quite fluid in their movements and showed for the ball often, they were always covered adequately. Lopetegui’s men needed supporting runs from another midfielder or for someone to provoke Atléti players out of position to create spaces in the pockets.
Luka Modrić, usually the midfielder tasked with this duty, often sat in line with Kroos and Casemiro, which was far too deep. The few times Modrić moved between the lines and looked to instigate attacking combinations, Real were able to create good crossing opportunities and dangerous moments in the final third.
But, as mentioned before, this did not happen with enough frequency and Real’s final third possessions broke down too easily. Atléti capitalized on this twice in the 17th minute and 36th minute. First Griezmann, and then Diego Costa, sprinted onto through balls down the left channel and missed two good one-on-one opportunities.
Atlético Madrid show flashes of good possession play
Real Madrid’s unwillingness to counterpress Atlético created certain periods of the game where Simeone could show off his tactics in possession. If a counter-attack failed and his team still had the ball, they circulated the ball backwards and reset their attack.
As can be seen in the graphic above, Atlético attacked with their fullbacks pushed up the pitch and with a double-pivot in midfield of Saúl and Rodri. In order to try to stifle the opposition’s ball circulation, Kroos and Modrić man-marked the aforementioned duo.
To deal with this, both Lemar and Griezmann operated more as attacking midfielders rather than as a traditional winger or striker. The former drifted in from the right-hand side to occupy the right half space behind Kroos, while the latter either overloaded Lemar’s side or moved into the left halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the half spaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. behind Modrić. Quick ball movements to the wings created the space for vertical passes into Lemar and Griezmann, who both quickly laid off possession to supporting runners from out wide.
But aside from a Griezmann bicycle kick, a blocked header from Correa, and a couple of long shots, Atlético’s neat-looking possession play did not create much as they only had the ball 34% of the time.
Lopetegui brings on Ceballos for Bale, Real’s counterpress intensifies
Atlético’s cute tactics on the ball also did not result in much thanks to Lopetegui’s changes at half-time, which allowed Real Madrid to assert more dominance over the game in the final third. The Real manager surprisingly brought on Dani Ceballos to replace the injured Gareth Bale. Something that sums up the differences in philosophy between Lopetegui and his predecessor Zinedine Zidane – who would have undoubtedly gone for the industrious Lucas Vázquez as a sub.
Ceballos operated on the left-wing and brought a level of creativity and initiative with his play that Real was sorely lacking in the first half. Attempting to replicate what Isco may have brought had he been fit, Ceballos drove at Atlético players to create disorganization and attempted to link-up with the free-moving Benzema and Asensio.
While Ceballos managed to create three chances for teammates and had some clever piece of play that eventually created a shot for Carvajal in the 77th minute, he could have been more impactful had Karim and Marco been on form.
Both players had awful games, giving the ball away eleven times between them – only counting dispossessions and bad touches. Benzema was the biggest culprit of this and Asensio, though slightly more careful in possession, showed poor decision-making in transition situations.
They redeemed themselves somewhat without the ball by helping Lopetegui bring back the counterpress in the second half. Every time their team lost possession, Asensio and Benzema, along with the likes of Ceballos, Modrić, Kroos, Carvajal, and Nacho, swarmed around Atlético’s players to force turnovers or long balls.
Ironically, the most consequential Atléti giveaway did not come due to Real’s counterpressing. It arrived when Atlético built out from the back with time and space, and Juanfran played a poor pass that Kroos and Nacho worked together to win. The resulting dominoes saw Asensio burst free with a brilliant one-on-one opportunity that goalkeeper Jan Oblak saved.
As time began to run out, and Lopetegui’s ploys failed to result in end-product, the former Spain coach brought on Lucas Vázquez for Luka Modrić and moved Ceballos back into midfield in the 82nd minute. Three minutes later, Lopetegui made his last move and replaced Karim Benzema with young sensation Vinicíus Junior.
Unfortunately for him and Madridistas around the world, it was not enough, and the game ended in a 0-0 draw.
Real Madrid really missed Isco and Marcelo. They are two of the best dribblers and final third creators on the team and crucial figures when it comes to breaking down deep blocks. Lopetegui could have set up his team more aggressively in the first half, but, at the end of the day, key injuries hurt Real more than anything else.
It is easy to look at this Atlético Madrid display as a solid defensive performance and nothing else. But their possession play, though sparse, is worth taking note of. It is now up to Simeone to ensure that Atléti can pull these types of sequences off on a regular basis against teams that will concede possession and look to defend.