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Just how do you beat Real Madrid? – Scouting the La Liga Champions
- Updated: 24 January, 2013
Jose Mourinho prefers lining up his side in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The system is fairly standard but has two slight variations. Ronaldo plays high up the pitch on the left. Also, Khedira operates as a box to box midfielder rather than staying in a holding role alongside Alonso.
The counter attack from Real Madrid is the side’s most devastating aspect. The key to the counter is the first pass, usually from Alonso. This ball will accelerate the play from Madrid’s own half into the opponents half instantly.
From there, the speed, fluidity of movement and lethal finishing ability make Real the most dangerous team on the break in the world. The Youtube channel RMadridHDSpain has put together volumes of counter attacking goals from Madrid. The speed at which the break is run makes it obvious that the goals begin on the training ground.
While the pace is blinding, the movement and willingness of runners to get forward usually overwhelms the defense. Runs are made diagonally to across defenders to create angles for a pass. Watch the first half from the weekend in Valencia for a fast break clinic in which the Merengues were up five in 45 minutes.
Other Elite Aspects of Play
Besides the counter, Madrid has other means to devastate a team. Sami Khedira’s mobility and willingness to get forward wreaks havoc. Just when the defense thinks they have stopped the transition, Khedira will arrive unmarked in the box, mainly since Mesut Ozil will draw multiple defenders eyes. The only problem is his poor finishing. Khedira runs from deep have been successful in the Clasico and more recently against Valencia in the league and Real Sociedad.
Furthermore, Higuain and Di Maria are very effective at closing down space and pressuring. This tactic is not used often, only in certain situations like when a player is indecisive with the ball. Mourinho likes Di Maria’s work rate, how he tracks back and helps his fullback defend.
On the other side, Ronaldo is the opposite. He saves his energy for attacking and will rarely drop off, only if he is struggling to find the ball. The Problem with Di Maria is his lack of passing accuracy in the final third. He is a pretty accurate finisher but his passing and vision in tight areas is limited.
Los Blancos are most vulnerable when they lose the ball and have numbers pushed into the attacking third. Marcelo and Coentrao are adventurous in their attacking ambitions and leave space down the right for an opponent to attack. Also, if Khedira is caught venturing forward, then all the pressure is placed onto Alonso to stifle the counter.
Alonso is extremely aggressive in chasing down the man who is trying to provide the outlet pass. He will try and prevent the player from turning towards goal and finding a forward pass. As a last resort, he is willing to commit a professional foul. If the counter can get past Alonso, a chance can be created.
If the opponent is unable to counter when Real pushes numbers forward, then they tend to target the Madrid left side since Ronaldo rarely tracks back. In Germany, against Dortmund and Bayern last year, this tactic was very effective. The German sides chose to bring the right back forward and create two v one situations.
Occasionally, they would bring two midfielders to the right, Robben and Ribery or Gotze and Reus. Dortmund was able to divert the attention of Modric and Alonso by targeting the right and open up space in the vacated center to score the winner.
If Pepe is at center back, he is overly aggressive in stepping up and vacating his position which leaves the other center back in a bind (think Man City match at the Bernabeu). Pepe is the most athletic and best one v one defender. However, his distribution is often poor or he punts it long and he tends to drift out of position.
Summer signing Luka Modric has found it challenging to break into the starting lineup. He has not unseated Khedira because he is more of a passer and lacks the mobility to arrive into the box from deep, a quality Khedira has that has mastered. When he plays in the number ten role, he tends to sit deeper in the midfield which cuts down on numbers getting forward quickly to threaten on the counter.
Since Ozil operates closer to the striker, he is a direct player, always playing the ball forward and directly creating chances.
How do you beat them?
Other than targeting the right flank and trying to launch a counter attack, beating Madrid is tough. When Malaga beat Real, Isco was effective at drifting into wide areas, pulling Alonso (who is not mobile) out of the center. Also, the key is winning the 50/50 balls in midfield which will prevent counter attack. Finally, you would rather clear the ball long than give it away in your own half.Follow @icentrocampista