Real Madrid – Valencia: Madrid Grind Down Valencia (3-0)

In a performance indicative of their dominant style of play, Real Madrid struggled to engineer the final breakthrough against a stubborn defensive block. However, preserving to grind down Valencia’s defense, Real Madrid’s decisive margin of victory sets the tone ahead of a crucial matchday in the two-horse race for the LaLiga title.

Tactical analysis by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

Real Madrid marked their return to domestic football with a 3-1 victory over Eibar, sealing the three points through a clinical first half display. Having seen Barcelona defeat Leganes on Tuesday evening, the hosts aimed to restore the two-point gap behind their rivals by claiming another victory in this fixture. 

Valencia, however, have endured a challenging season following Marcelino’s acrimonious dismissal in September. One win from their last six LaLiga games has left the visitors in eighth place, heightening the significance of a positive result to maintain close contact with the top six in the race for continental football.

Zinedine Zidane lined up Real Madrid in a 4-3-3 formation, bringing in Ferland Mendy for Marcelo at left back and Federico Valverde for Rodrygo.

Albert Celades meanwhile deployed the guests in a 4-4-2 formation, making four alterations to the previous starting eleven against Levante. Eliaquim Mangala partnered Hugo Guillamón at center-back, while Daniel Wass came in for Alessandro Florenzi at right back. In midfield, Geoffrey Kondogbia joined stalwart Dani Parejo, and Ferran Torres replaced Gonçalo Guedes. 

Real Madrid develop stranglehold on the game

The home side immediately settled into their typical strategy in possession under Zidane’s stewardship, aiming to create safe breakthroughs and ball progressions through stable, deep ball circulation. The loosely arranged structure perhaps best resembled a 4-3-3 system, although the positional freedoms Zidane affords to his players makes this description somewhat redundant.

On the left side of Real Madrid’s offensive structure, Toni Kroos stationed himself deep in the left halfspace,   If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces 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 the 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. where he was instrumental in organizing attacks, allowing Mendy to advance higher up the wing. Dani Carvajal began attacks deeper, combining with Valverde and Modrić to progress the ball. Karim Benzema offered support on both flanks, drifting wide to provide a passing option. The hosts forced Valencia backwards through their collective press resistance as well as the constant use of switches to shift the focus of the attack from one flank to the other. 

Real Madrid’s offensive structure in the first half.

Furthermore, Real Madrid’s offensive structure facilitated strong counterpressing After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. in the event of turnovers. Since Real Madrid’s midfielders typically occupied positions outside of Valencia’s defensive block, the hosts often possessed a defensive overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. in attack. Hence, the side maintained stability in defensive transitions, especially against an opponent like Valencia, who were unable to counterattack against the sheer numbers present in deeper positions. 

Real Madrid’s preference to attack on the left flank further stabilized transitions because right winger Ferran Torres was the primary transitional threat for the visitors. Limiting this threat, the hosts had an excellent platform to create a cycle of dominance in the opening phase of the game.

Valencia stifled by flexible Madrid defense

Moreover, Real Madrid reinforced their superiority in this encounter through their defensive organization. When Valencia tried to play out from the back, the hosts pressed with a 4-4-2 diamond shape. Eden Hazard joined Benzema upfront to press the center-backs, with Modrić advancing into the opposition six space ahead of the midfield to mark Kondogbia.

However, Real Madrid’s aggressive, man-oriented pressure was very versatile. Once Parejo started to offer an alternative option into central midfield, both wide midfielders displayed a lot of flexibility. On the left, Kroos would mark the central midfielder, anticipating diagonal balls towards Daniel Wass. If the right back received the ball, Kroos then shifted intensely towards the wing, and Modrić marked Parejo; meanwhile, Casemiro and Valverde alternated between offering cover to the midfield and loosely marking Kondogbia. 

In addition, Valverde and Carvajal displayed a strong understanding of one another’s defensive duties. If the ball was on the left side of Valencia’s buildup, the right midfielder immediately oriented himself towards the guests’ left back José Gayà, occasionally dropping back to create an asymmetric back five. Carvajal meanwhile marked Carlos Soler in the halfspace; however, if Valverde was covering in central areas, the right back took responsibility for Gayà, allowing Real Madrid to maintain direct access to their opponents across the pitch.

Real Madrid’s movements in their 4-4-2 diamond press.

In situations where Valencia threatened to expose the lack of compactness arising from a heavily man-oriented press, the center-backs had license to defend space quite aggressively. Dominating duels across the field, Real Madrid stifled Valencia’s buildup through this mixture of aggression and intelligence in their press.

Limp final ball hinders attacking promise

Despite Real Madrid’s first half dominance, Valencia came closest to scoring as Courtois tipped a shot from Rodrigo onto the post, and Maxi Gómez saw his strike chalked off as offside. The hosts’ attack was too predictable in the final third. The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal.

Real Madrid’s stable ball-retention pushed Torres deeper to cover Mendy, causing Valencia’s compact defensive shape to lose access to the ball. In an attempt to regain this access by shifting quickly towards the ball, the guests sometimes opened passing lanes to the left back. However, these attacks finished with crosses, where a lack of presence in the box led to a lack of end product. 

Likewise, attacks stagnated on the right. A gap emerged in the backline between Mangala and Gayà, since the far sided defenders remained in the box to defend crosses, but the lack of depth in the right halfspace prevented the hosts from exploiting this space.

Same old, but Madrid find a breakthrough

Following halftime, Real Madrid continued to pile on the pressure. Hazard seemed to have more positional freedom, drifting towards the right to find promising scenarios for crosses by making diagonal runs behind Gayà. However, the game followed a similar pattern to the first half, as a lack of incision or variability persisted in the final third. 

Eventually, Real Madrid were rewarded for their dominance. Madrid’s defensive overload forced a counterattack towards substitute Kevin Gameiro on the right wing, where Sergio Ramos robbed the ball. Another advantage of the defensive overload for the hosts became apparent as Hazard, still in a high position, could dribble at the disjoint defensive line, combined with Modrić, and assisted Benzema for the first goal of the game in the 61st minute.

Valencia bereft of a response

In response to this deficit, the guests consolidated possession of the ball to create goal scoring opportunities. Real Madrid set up in a 4-3-2-1 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. with Hazard and Modrić marking the double pivot, while the remaining midfielders covered their teammates to protect the space between the lines. Valencia failed to consolidate a genuine threat in these situations, as the distance between the double pivot and the four attackers weakened any connections to progress the ball forwards.

Failing to create a shot, the guests crumbled once Zidane rejuvenated the side. Marco Asensio, who has been absent all season with a knee injury, placed a volley from Mendy’s cross into the net to score with his first touch. Rightly receiving plaudits, Asensio was again instrumental in the final goal of the game, setting up Benzema’s exquisite volley to seal a convincing victory with five minutes to go.

Frustrated, substitute Lee Kang-in compounded his side’s woes in the 89th minute, as several wild hacks at Ramos led to his dismissal. Valencia finished the game down to ten men; the collapse was complete.


Although Real Madrid lacked ideas in the final third, they excelled at spoiling Valencia’s counterattacks to nullify any offensive threat, grinding their way to a positive result. Zidane’s side now turn their attention to their clash with Real Sociedad, which will be critical in maintaining pace with Barcelona for the LaLiga title.

Valencia’s faltering form continues, as the team is now winless in three games and remain stuck in eighth place. Persisting weaknesses in the offensive structure limited Valencia’s hopes of a comeback and have left Celades with much to contemplate ahead of their fixture against Osasuna on the weekend.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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