El Centrocampista

Real Madrid 1-1 Valencia: Tactical Analysis

Jose Mourinho named eleven returning players from last season and aligned them in his favoured 4-2-3-1 system. In front of Iker Casillas was Arbeloa, Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Coentrao. Surprisingly, Lass got a start alongside Alonso with Di Maria, Ozil, Ronaldo and Higuain playing the attacking quartet.

Mauricio Pellegrino’s first match in charge could not have been a more difficult fixture. He lined his squad up in a 4-2-3-1 and debuted three new signings: Joao Pereira, Fernando Gago and Andres Guardado. Diego Alves started in goal behind Pereira, Ricardo Costa, Victor Ruiz and Jeremy Mathieu. The central pair was Gago and Tino Costa. The front four consisted of Feghouli, Jonas, Guardado, and Soldado.

Considering the balmy Madrid summer afternoon conditions, the match began with a fast pace. Each side was flying into challenges and pushing numbers forward to quickly open their season scoring accounts. Thus, there was no surprise the first goal came in the tenth minute. Di Maria played a lovely chipped ball in behind the defense to his countryman Gonzalo Higuain who only put Madrid ahead after being blocked by Alves on his first two attempts. With a quick goal to open the season’s account, it seemed as if Real was on their way to putting several past Valencia.

However, Los Che settled fairly well into the match a goal behind. Going forward, the visitors were looking to quickly move the ball to the attacking three (Feghouli, Jonas or Guardado). This tactic accented the battling midfielders Gago and Tino Costa well because they were not relied upon to create but to sit back and defend. The visitors looked dangerous on the counter but could not find a final ball to allow Soldado to get a shot on Casillas.

Valencia found an equalizer in the 42nd minute. Tino Costa swung in a perfect bending ball with his left foot to the penalty spot for Jonas to head into the open net. Casillas, Alonso and Pepe were left in a daze on the Bernabeu turf after not only conceding an equaliser, but also clashing heads trying to clear the inch perfect Costa cross.

Surprisingly, the teams went to the dressing rooms all square. Madrid looked dangerous when Ronaldo was running through the centre which opened up space for Ozil in between the defense’s back four and midfield. However, Cristiano had a quiet outing by his standards and was not as involved as he usually is. His signature style of dribbling into space and lashing shots from long range was rarely seen.

Eight minutes after the break, Higuain and Ozil combined down the right which opened up Di Maria to sprint through the middle and receive a pass but his shot missed the target.
Higuain fits very well into Real’s fluid front four system due to his constant movement. When he drifts wide or drops deep into midfield, the centre of the pitch opens up for Ronaldo or Di Maria to run into. Also, Ozil has more options; he can drift towards Higuain to combine or he could pick out a midfield runner with one of his signature passes.

With a half hour to go, Mourinho went to the bench to bring on Benzema for Lass and later Callejon for Di Maria. With Valencia tiring and sitting back hoping to preserve a draw, Mourinho could afford to remove a holding player for a striker. The two striker system was more of a desperate attempt to grab the winner than a strategic chess move. However, the system seemed to function fluidly. Higuain cracked the crossbar with a header from a Di Maria chip. Then Benzema started a counter with eighth minutes to go. The ball was spread to Ronaldo on the left who set up Callejon on the right but his effort was denied by Alves. With this golden chance foiled, Valencia was able to earn their road point.


Last year we learned that Los Blancos will not confuse or deceive their opposition by changing formations from match to match. Rather, Mourinho will stick to his tactics and rely on individual movement and talent to unlock defences. Additionally, he installs defensive discipline and organization into his side to make them a fully functional powerhouse. Today, we saw the finishing and overall skill a fraction off their normal brilliance and a rare defensive error from a Mourinho side. Since the season is so young not much will be gleaned from this lone ninety minutes.

Valencia should be thrilled with a point. Ruiz and Costa defended well and Alves made a few timely saves. Their tactics were similar under Pellegrino than they were last season under Unai Emery which will make the managerial switch smooth. Against an opponent of a lesser caliber, Los Che should be able to control more of the possession and craft Soldado more chances in front of goal.


Watch extended highlights of Real Madrid 1-1 Valencia


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