Real Madrid – Real Sociedad: Madrid’s Improved Second Half Pressing Ensures Victory In A Game Lacking Many High-Quality Chances (3-1)
Real Sociedad pressured Sergio Ramos into an early mistake and looked good in the opening stages of the match. Real Madrid hit back with a set-piece in the first half, before Zidane improved his side’s pressing and Madrid scored two unanswered goals.
Tactical analysis and match report by Om Arvind.
Despite Gareth Bale’s controversial “Wales. Golf. Madrid. In that order” joke stirring up a maelstrom of ill-will and scathing reports from the Spanish press, the dominant narrative heading into Real Madrid’s match against Real Sociedad surrounded Martin Ødegaard. The Norwegian has endured immense pressure ever since he went on a heavily publicized tour of Europe’s greatest clubs and picked Real Madrid. He was only sixteen years old at the time, but was immediately deemed a flop after enduring what many perceived to be a tough first season at Castilla.
He was bombarded with false reports about his salary, made up stories about a diva persona that irritated his teammates, and was blamed whenever Castilla lost regardless of the context. But, to those who paid close attention to him, Ødegaard was doing just fine and showed promise at Castilla before continuing his steady development on loan in the Eredivisie. This was not reflected in the basic goals and assists statistics because of the questionable quality of his teammates – something that was revealed by looking at the underlying numbers – and many forgot about him until he returned to LaLiga in the 2019/20 season.
At Real Sociedad, Ødegaard stunned the casual fan and his detractors with his dazzling creativity and vision, world class close control, and underrated work-rate. Going into the match at the Bernabéu, he had racked up two goals and three assists in the league while averaging close to three key passes per ninety minutes.
Hence, the welcome buzz around Ødegaard led many to bill the game against his parent club as a job interview of sorts. Though it is unlikely that Madrid would significantly change their opinion of him based on this one game, it provided an opportunity for Madridistas to see him up close and represented a symbolic completion of his journey from raw wonderkid to proven talent.
Obviously aware of the threat that Ødegaard posed, Zinedine Zidane likely selected Fede Valverde over Toni Kroos in left central midfield in order to counter the Norwegian’s threat. That gave a chance for Luka Modrić to get back into the lineup alongside mainstay Casemiro, who shielded a back four of Ferland Mendy, Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane, and Dani Carvajal.
La Real manager Imanol Alguacil stuck with his usual 4-3-3 formation, though he benched Adnan Januzaj in favor of the more physical and direct Christian Portu – likely in anticipation of having to play a stronger opponent. The continued absence of Asier Illarramendi meant that Igor Zubeldia kept his place as the single pivot, Teams vary in the number of midfielders they place in defensive positions during buildup. In systems like a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2, usually a single midfielder plays closer to the defense, for protection, but also for buildup play in the center of the pitch. The player is called the ‘single pivot’, to contrast with the ‘double pivot’ in systems like a 4-2-3-1. behind Ødegaard in right central midfield and Mikel Merino on the other side.
Real Sociedad control the opening stages with aggressive defense
Real Sociedad are one of the rare sides that match their preference for possession with a passive defensive game plan. Typically, possession-heavy teams, such as Manchester City or PSG, like to press extensively in order to win the ball back quickly and, thus, ensure that they have as much control over the ball as possible.
By contrast, La Real rank last in LaLiga in aggressive actions per game and generally prefer settling into a medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. of sorts. Against Real Madrid, their attitude was different, and Real Sociedad looked to press high up the pitch.
Real Sociedad’s 4-4-2 high press versus Real Madrid’s buildup.
Ødegaard often triggered the proactive scheme by rushing out of midfield onto Sergio Ramos, which caused Zubeldia and Merino to shift over and form a 4-4-2 shape. It created instant results; in the second minute, Ramos played a terrible backpass to Courtois under pressure from Ødegaard. Striker Willian José intercepted it and scored easily to make it 1-0.
Real Madrid’s instant reaction to going down was not overly impressive. They found ways to progress by playing passes down the line or through switches A pass from one side to the other. to their advanced fullbacks, but their final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. play broke down too frequently. Much of this had to do with a lack of adequate connections once play went wide, especially on the right. Rodrygo Goes preferred to stay closer to the touchline, making it difficult for Carvajal to play back into the center. Though Eden Hazard offered better spacing, it was not enough to diversify Madrid’s approach away from deep crosses.
Once Real Sociedad won the ball back and got a chance to build out from the back, they showed impressive quality in possession.
Real Sociedad’s typical structure when building from the left against Real Madrid’s high press.
Real Madrid tried to stop this with a 4-3-3 high press, but it was generally unsuccessful. La Real did a brilliant job of drawing Modrić towards their left flank with a pass to the fullback, before playing down the touchline and rotating possession to the free man in the center before the Croatian could recover. Ødegaard would shift over to provide access to the far side and spring attacks in semi-transition. Nevertheless, poor touches from Portu, José, and Oyarzabal, along with good defending from Ramos, Casemiro, and Varane, prevented any real chances from materializing from these situations.
Real Madrid handle Real Sociedad’s press better and get back into the game
As the first half progressed to the halfway stage, Madrid became more comfortable dissecting La Real’s press. Instead of instantly going to the fullbacks, the home side often played the ball into the free Casemiro, who had plenty of time and space to look up and find a pass.
Real Sociedad, who lack the pressing experience to make up for numerical inferiority in the first phase, struggled to handle this. At one point, Ødegaard could be seen shifting onto Casemiro while asking Portu to step up onto Ramos. This adjusted structure did not last and La Real’s aggressive stance slowly faded away into their more classic medium block.
Increased possession allowed Madrid to more regularly apply pressure in the final third and they eventually won a free kick in the 37th minute following a switch pass from Valverde. Modrić capitalized by delivering a gorgeous cross that Karim Benzema coolly converted with his shoulder/chest.
Real Madrid’s pressing improves in the second half and tilts the game in their favor
Zidane is by no means a tactical mastermind, but he has periodically shown a knack for making in-game adjustments that turn things around for his side. Versus La Real, he changed Real Madrid’s pressing structure at half-time, asking the ball-relevant central midfielder to step up onto the center-back while the winger guarded the fullback.
It was not a drastic change but it still made a significant difference. For one, it allowed the central midfielders and wingers to do defensive work in areas where they are more accustomed to doing it – the central midfielders in central locations and the wingers in wide locations. Additionally, with Madrid’s winger already camped out on the flanks, the pass to the fullback could immediately be pressured, making the ball down the touchline more difficult. Finally, since the player stepping up onto the center-back was a central midfielder, the instinct was to automatically retreat once the first line of pressure was bypassed, thereby reducing the amount of time that La Real had a free man in midfield.
The tweak in Madrid’s pressing was enough to change the game. In the opening minutes of the second half, Modrić’s pressing created a Real Sociedad turnover, which ultimately led to Valverde getting the ball outside the box. The Argentinian took a big swing and watched as his effort took a wild deflection and nestled into the back of the net.
From that point onwards, Real Sociedad’s offensive threat in regular possession play diminished significantly and Madrid controlled proceedings. Real Madrid’s uninspired attacking strategy continued unabated, but they picked up the killer goal in the 74th minute when substitute Gareth Bale did brilliant work to break the opponent’s press. He received a long pass near the touchline, controlled it, released Valverde down the right channel, burst forward to complete the one-two, and put in a cross that Benzema headed back towards the center. Modrić lunged into the box and converted on the half volley.
Real Madrid took up a more conservative stance and allowed Real Sociedad more of the ball following the goal, but La Real were unable to create good enough chances despite a respectable number of opportunities.
Real Madrid did not blow their opponents out of the water, but they passed an important test with decent grades. They showed their classic adaptability in possession and Zidane proved that his tactical flexibility remains a factor to be reckoned with even if it does not show up in every match.
Apart from the first twenty minutes or so, Real Sociedad struggled. They did not look particularly comfortable in their pressing game and were far too wasteful in transition situations. They were also unable to get Ødegaard on the ball enough due to Madrid’s general monopoly over possession, which hurt La Real’s ability to make an impact on the offensive end.
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