El Centrocampista

Underdogs finally succumb as Real Madrid dominate in Nicosia: Tactical Analysis


A match in which Real Madrid dominated for the entire duration yet had to wait until the 74th minute for their first goal. Statistically, there will probably never be a more one sided Champions League quarter final with the Spanish side having 70% possession compared to Apoel’s 30% and 20 shots at goal compared to Apoel’s zero.

The pattern of the game was not surprising. Apoel have averaged fewer shots and less possession than their opponents in each of the group phase games onwards his season. A highly organised and disciplined approach has enabled Apoel to progress despite their lack of individual talent.

Line Ups

Both sides lined up in 4-2-3-1 formations. Apoel were minus the suspended Manduca with the more defensive Alexandrou replacing him, while Jose Mourinho made four changes from Real Madrid’s weekend win over Real Sociedad. Pepe, Coentrao and Ozil all started along with Nuri Sahin who replaced the suspended Xabi Alonso.

First Half

The pattern of the game was visible from the opening minutes. Madrid dominating possession and Apoel dropping off and pressing once The Spanish side entered their half of the pitch.

The central area of the pitch was very congested with Apoel deploying an extremely narrow back four and reliant upon their wingers tracking back to cover the space vacated by the full backs.

Madrid were slow in possession and the movement from the front players was limited. With their opponents playing in front of them Apoel, although having little possession, were posed few problems.

When Madrid did move the ball quickly, usually with a swift interchange of passes, coupled with darting runs forward, they created opportunities from wide. This was most notable in the 32nd minute when a quick pass released Sahin and his low cross was knocked over by Benzema, and in the 43rd minute when Higuain released Ozil on the right, only to see his cross hit wide by Ronaldo. On both occasions Madrid got behind the home side’s defence and had space to attack.

With both Apoel midfielders dropping deep, there was space in front of them and Ozil began to move deeper and wider, finding space and linking play.

Also, when Madrid attacked on the left, Apoel shifted across including their central midfielders and there was abundant space on the Madrid right but there was little cross field passing to exploit this.

Second Half

The visitors began the second half with a higher tempo and the full backs pushing higher, but the movement and passing still needed to be sharper against an opponent who was increasingly camped along their own 18 yard line.

On the few occasions when Apoel did break forward, they were reliant upon Ailton retaining possession until support arrived. In the 55th minute, Apoel pressed Madrid deep into their own half subsequently leading to a Madrid chance as Apoel became stretched and afforded the Spanish league leaders space to move into and attack.

The key moment of the game arrived in the 62nd minute with a double substitution by Madrid. Higuain and Coentrao replaced by Kaka and Marcelo. The entire Apoel team were now occupying a 20 yard strip within their own half and both wingers operating as auxiliary full backs. Jovanovic made a surprising move in 67th minute with the forward Solari replacing the defensive midfielder Helio.

In the 74th minute, Kaka and Marcelo combined on the left and when Marcelo cut infield, no Apoel player followed Kaka to the left wing. Apoel had two players ahead of the ball at this point, Ailton and Solari. Would Helio have tracked Kaka? Kaka had time to cross and find Benzema for the opening goal.

As Apoel tired, Madrid again found space on the left wing and Marcelo cut back for Kaka to score. The final Real Madrid goal arrived in the 89th minute when they scored on the counter attack.


Against a deep lying defence, quicker movement and passing was needed. Did Real Madrid miss Xabi Alonso? His range of passing and his ability to switch play with first time passes would certainly have stretched Apoel far more, particularly with cross field passing.

The introduction of Kaka and Marcelo was crucial. Both looked to play quicker passing and commit Apoel defenders. Combined with the removal of Helio, this gave Madrid more space in the centre.

Overall, a comfortable victory but one in which Mourinho’s side probably made things harder for themselves than it needed to be.

One Comment

  1. halamadrid

    28 March, 2012 at 22:11

    Good read. I haven’t seen a more one sided game for a long time but Madrid got there in the end. I agree they made it harder than it had to be as well.

    3 away goals and a clean sheet though so couldn’t have asked for more in the end!

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