Real Madrid – Real Sociedad: Perfect Preparatory Session Paves The Way For Recovery? (4-1)
Leaving half an eye on their comeback challenge in midweek, Real Madrid looked to assert the initiative they possess at home. The scoreline makes for ideal reading, but Carlo Ancelotti’s new intent caught the eye as an insight into what might hold the key to their success on Wednesday.
Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.
Success is seldom absent at the Santiago Bernabéu. Notwithstanding Real Madrid’s aging roster, the next week could define the reception of Carlo Ancelotti’s second spell in the dugout. Seizing the high ground due to the frailties of Spain’s top tier clubs, a five point lead at the summit of LaLiga beckons the return of the league crown. Nevertheless, fading energy in the new year has reified itself in cup defeats at home and Europe. Security at the summit, free from the clutches of Sevilla, was a necessity.
Will Real Sociedad finally take a seat among the European elite? Bowing out of the Europa League last month, they keep setting their sight on the Champions League. Alas, the course of their campaign is always the same: fifth spot has been the ceiling of a club whose sterling starts peter out all too often. Indeed, sitting in seventh place, that fate threatens to befall the Basques. But only two points adrift of third placed Real Betis, a win at the league leaders reinvigorates their bid for the top four.
Ancelotti set up his men in their usual 4-3-3 formation. A week of rest off the back of a 1-0 victory over Rayo Vallecano had afforded them time to recuperate, letting the manager pick a strong outfit. David Alaba stepped in for Nacho at the heart of the back four, while Casemiro stayed at the base of the midfield. To his left, a muscular injury kept out Toni Kroos, whose spot in the starting eleven went to Eduardo Camavinga. Rodrygo then replaced Marco Asensio on the right of the front three.
Real Sociedad manager Imanol Alguacil went for a 4-2-3-1 system. He also brought four new men into the fold. Asier Illarramendi, back at his former club, operated in the middle of the park next to Mikel Merino, Joseba Zaldúa featured as the right wing-back, and Igor Zubeldia bulked up the defense. Alexander Sørloth also dropped to the bench, making way for Alexander Isak upfront.
Snatch and sit
The visitors scored first for all of Madrid’s initial enterprise. Dani Carvajal aptly blocked a cross from Mikel Oyarzabal on the break but soon cast himself from the role of the hero into that of the villain. Stamping on the foot of David Silva, he gave away a penalty in the 10th minute. Oyarzabal stepped forward from twelve yards, burying the ball beyond goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to claim the lead.
The Basque side deferred control of the play, sitting off in a lower block. In a 4-4-2 formation, Silva stood next to Isak in the first line of the defense. From here, they adapted to the wing focus of Real Madrid. If the home team broke towards the edge of the box, one member of the double pivot often dropped into the back four. A fullback could then apply more pressure, offering cover on the flanks.
15th minute: offensive sequence from Real Madrid. The two central midfielders overload the left side of the offensive structure, where Vinícius picks up the ball. He dribbles inward, letting Mendy overlap him to his outside, combining with Modrić, who then forwards the play to Benzema. Note Mikel Merino’s deeper position between the central defenders, picking up the free runner Camavinga.
Continuity and change
So, Ancelotti’s men camped in Real Sociedad’s half, relying on familiar means to try and promptly break down this deep block. From their 4-3-3 offensive structure, positional freedoms were evident.
Camavinga and Modrić swapped sides time and again, Ferland Mendy made several underlaps in the left halfspace, and Karim Benzema roamed from his central role to create wider overloads. In many ways, Madrid are the same side they were under Zinedine Zidane. Vinícius’ dribbling and the craft of Benzema were the most fruitful avenue to get to goal, but chances of note were few and far between.
But what drew attention was their intent to press high up the pitch. Foregoing the passive approach that has defined much of their defensive work this season, Ancelotti employed a much higher block. Sociedad’s buildup play pulled apart a fragile setup in the opening phase of the game, but a more daring strategy paid off as time wore on. Proactive means did not have a way back into this duel.
Ancelotti: "We played really well from the first minute. The plan was to press high & make it tough for Real Sociedad to play out from the back. It was physically demanding but we did a good job. If we play like that we've got a better chance of getting something on Wednesday"— Real Madrid Info ³⁴ (@RMadridInfo) March 6, 2022
Madrilenian magic makes a return
Indeed, Real Madrid’s black magic turned out to become an invaluable trump card. In the 40th minute, Camavinga picked up the ball just under thirty yards from goal. It was no matter for the precocious French midfielder. He released a ferocious strike with his left boot, beating Álex Remiro between the posts to draw the hosts level. A seismic shift in momentum was nearly instantaneous.
19 year old Camavinga showing his worth in gold— Luka (@ftlukaaa) March 6, 2022
From the ensuing restart, Sociedad proceeded to turn over the play. Pacheco, for the umpteenth time, was a guilty party. His hesitant pass into Illarramendi prompted Camavinga to steal the ball. Modrić then set away Benzema, whose shot hit the back of the net. His shot would have stood if not VAR, but while he waited in the wings for the next opportunity to strike, another midfielder stole the limelight.
A short corner routine from the right flank presented Modrić with the ball near the edge of the penalty area. The Croat shimmied away gracefully from Silva before hammering a shot with his weaker left foot beyond Remiro. A second glorious goal had swiftly completed the comeback, putting Madrid in
Leftward linkage leads the way
Alguacil made a double substitution straight after half time. Right winger Naïs Djouahra entered the fray, replacing Jon Pacheco. Sticking to a back four, he then moved Zaldúa into the right back slot.
Ancelotti did not radically alter his men’s system but adjustments emerged. Modrić dropped more actively into the first line of the buildup structure, prompting Casemiro to move forward to clear room for his teammate. Conversely, Camavinga stayed higher to his left. A prominent link with Vinícius and Mendy, still pulling inward to the halfspace, set the tone for Madrid’s forays into the final third. This wing eventually was decisive in the 69th minute, teeing up Benzema from a counterattack.
An emphatic volley from the striker ought to have sealed the three points, but VAR’s offside ruling struck again— albeit less dubiously than in the first half. But the striker’s rousing display did get the goal it deserved in the end. Aritz Elustondo fouled Vinícius on the edge of the box, conceding a penalty. His teammate duly converted in the 76th minute to hand the home team a two goal lead. The scoring spree came to a close when Marco Asensio added a fourth thanks to Carvajal’s cutback.
Compounding their suffering, an injury then forced off Djouahra in the 84th minute. Alguacil had already exhausted all five of his substitute options from the bench, leaving his men to soldier to the final whistle a man down in a 4-4-1 block. The evening, on the other hand, could hardly have gone much better in the end for Ancelotti, whose focus could now freely wander towards midweek matters.
The nature of the turnaround stunned Real Sociedad, who will wonder what could have been if not for the pair of quickfire goals. Yet, they did not exhibit their usual quality on the ball to truly challenge the league leaders, failing to create a shot other than the penalty. An immediate return to winning ways is paramount against Alavés should they wish to sustain their slimmer bid for the top four.
Madrid’s eight point gap ahead of Sevilla is ideal, but a Round of 16 exit from the Champions League will not appeal to Ancelotti. The first leg at PSG brought together two similar outfits. Not committing many numbers into key offensive areas, a pair of highly talented front threes were vital to cracking the enemy’s bulwark. So, what gave the Parisians the dominance was their initiative. Perhaps this is what Ancelotti meant in his interview as the key to possible success. A cautious approach might not have cost Madrid a spot in the last eight, but Ancelotti cannot let his men bow out without a fight at home.
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