This article originally featured on totalfootballanalysis.com, our flagship analysis site covering managers, players and matches from across the globe.
Real Madrid secured a second consecutive win on Saturday as they saw off Valencia in La Liga. Los Blancos took an early lead as Dani Carvajal’s cross into the box was turned into his own net by Daniel Wass, but the visitors did pin the hosts back. It wasn’t until the closing stages when Lucas Vazquez added a second to put the game to bed and secure a 2-0 win. Here, our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Real Madrid can take from the game as they secured a vital win on home turf.
Marcos Llorente isn’t Casemiro’s alternative, he’s the replacement
After an impressive first ever Champions League start against Roma in midweek, Marcos Llorente continued to make the holding midfield role his own when selected to start at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu up against Valencia. What’s more, he played so well that you could easily be mistaken for expecting him to retain his role even when first choice Casemiro returns to action.
Making 76 passes, he had more of an influence than in Italy, and looked to start attacking moves right from the back. At one point in particular, he almost single handedly carried the ball 80 yards, picking it up on the edge of his own box, playing two neat one-twos down the right flank before bursting with pace down the wing and then cutting the ball back to Marco Asensio for a gilt edged chance that he really should have converted.
For the first time in all of his spell at the club, Llorente is getting a shot at regular first team football. He is doing more than enough to make the most of it, but maintaining this level of performance as the fixtures come thick and fast, after several years of barely featuring, will be the biggest challenge. Early signs are good, but there is still plenty of work to do.
An unheard of midfield
Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Casemiro. A midfield trio which has become a pillar of world football. Any fan of European football can name them off the tip of their tongue, yet not a single one of them was on the pitch for the final 20 minutes of the encounter on Saturday. Santiago Solari has shown that he is not afraid to make changes and put his faith in youth and that is exactly what he did, with 27-year-old Lucas Vazquez the older statesman in a five man midfield for the closing stages.
Marcos Llorente has impressed since coming into the team and was also accompanied by Federico Valverde, who barely featured under Julen Lopetegui after several years out on loan. Dani Ceballos too has been given a new lease of life under Solari. The side had more energy with this five, with more pace and fresh legs beginning to up the tempo again after a turgid start to the second half. Their pressing and movement led to the second goal, scored by Lucas Vazquez, but there were also moments when they looked disjointed.
Solari clearly intends to rotate and make changes in the weeks to come. These substitutions were just the start, particularly ahead of the meeting with Melilla in midweek, but he may want to see how it can be better executed in the future. It worked well on Saturday, but up against a higher quality midfield than a tired Valencia line-up, it could see Real Madrid come unstuck.
Gareth Bale is still misfiring
Taken off on the hour mark to whistles, only for it to later be revealed that he was taken off due to an injury, Gareth Bale is now into double figures for games without a goal in La Liga. The Welshman is way off the pace in the campaign in which everyone expected him to step up and be the team’s superstar.
However, the concerns go beyond simply his goalscoring contribution. His xG in recent weeks has been more than concerning, with his xG against Valencia reaching just 0.18, coming only a week after hitting a mere 0.11 against Eibar, two of his four lowest figures for the campaign.
By looking at his heatmap, you can see that Bale is occupied with far more defensive work than he has become accustomed to. Rather than effectively acting as a left sided forward, he has been deployed more as a winger. That has removed a pressing element from his game and also stopped him from breaking forward as much, even no longer cutting inside as much as he is on the left, rather than the right. With a much deeper concentration, Bale is letting games pass him by without being decisive in the final third.
The whistles as he was substituted were not a good sign for his long-term future at the Bernabeu. He looks exhausted. He’s contributing little. He cuts a sad figure. There really is very little to suggest that Gareth Bale is close to turning around his campaign and becoming a Real Madrid superstar again.
Fatigue is setting in
The first half was dazzling. There’s no other way to put it than to say that Real Madrid’s first half display was the best 45 minutes of their season. The only think lacking was a real clinical threat in front of goal as Los Blancos were dominating all over the park, from the backline right through to the front line pressing high. Yet, in the second half, that performance level dropped substantially. From totally in control and on top, Real Madrid found themselves under pressure and camped in their own half.
There is no better illustration than in the statistics. In the first 45, Real Madrid made 405 passes with a 92% completion rate and 60% of possession. In the second, that dropped to 278 passes, 47% possession and, perhaps most concerningly of all, an incredibly low 46.4% pass completion rate. In no other half of football over the past 12 months has that rate dropped lower than 76% and that came up against Bayern Munich in a crucial Champions League tie. The fact that the next lowest figure, 78%, came in the first half against Eibar last weekend will be even more concerning for Solari.
After an intense three years of non-stop domestic and European action, with a World Cup in the summer and an ageing squad, it’s understandable that fatigue is setting in. The winter break really can’t come soon enough for Real Madrid, but before then, Los Blancos have to secure progress in the Copa del Rey, look to cut the deficit in La Liga and then attempt to seal a first trophy of the season in the Club World Cup. Rotation over the next few weeks could be the key.
Where the first half was arguably the best we’ve seen of Real Madrid this season, the second showed that there is still work to do. Santiago Solari has done well to bring his team back from the brink following defeat to Eibar. Now, they must build up momentum and shake off fatigue ahead of the Club World Cup and the winter break.
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