Saturday, January 25, 2014

Tactical Analysis: Real Madrid 2-0 Granada

Second half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema lifted Real Madrid to a 2-0 home win over Granada and to the top of the La Liga table for at least a day.

It took some time for Carlo Ancelotti's side to get going. Granada organized themselves well defensively and Real Madrid didn't play at a quick enough pace in the opening half to find a breakthrough. Granada offered nothing going forward however and it always felt as though the home side would find a winner.

Both sides played 4-3-3. Ancelotti made no changes to the side that beat Real Betis 5-0 in their last league outing. Angel Di Maria and Luka Modric played in front of Xabi Alonso in the middle of midfield. Gareth Bale and Ronaldo took up their usual spot on the right and left wings respectively with Benzema at striker.

Lucas Alcaraz was missing Fran Rico in midfield due to yellow card accumulation. He was replaced by Mohammed Fatau on the right side of Granda's central midfield triangle ('s lineups graphic below incorrectly shows Fatau in the center of Granada's midfield triangle- it was Iturra who played there).

Granada defended in a deep 4-1-4-1 shape. Recio and Fatau picked up Modric and Di Maria in Granada's midfield bank of four. With Real Madrid playing without a #10, Granada's holding midfielder Manuel Iturra didn't have a direct opponent to mark. He was able to sit just in front of the back four and provide defensive support when Bale and Ronaldo tucked inside from the channels or when Modric and Di Maria were able to break past their markers. Iturra was Granada's key defensive player. He had 6 tackles and 3 interceptions in the match, tops among Granada players in both categories. His tackles were in key areas just outside of his side's own penalty box.

With Granada crowding the middle of the pitch, Real Madrid tried to overload the channels in the opening half and get to the end line to cut balls back across the face of goal. Di Maria would drift toward Ronaldo on the left wing while Marcelo would make overlapping runs from his left back position, leaving Granada's right back Allan Nyom outnumbered. However the home side weren't quite able to make anything of balls hit into the box from wider areas. Benzema hit the crossbar from a Di Maria cross on the left channel but was offside. Ronaldo struck a wonderful overhead kick from a Modric cross on the right side of the penalty area but Granada goalkeeper Roberto made a world class reaction save. Despite those two decent chances, Ancelotti's side were unimpressive in the first half. The lack of space they were being afforded in the middle of the pitch was causing frustration. Each time Ronaldo dribbled inside from the left he was met quickly by Iturra before he could find the space to get at the Granada center backs. Twice the Ballon D'or winner dribbled inside only to be met by Iturra and forced into speculative shots that were well off target.

Second Half
Jese replaced Bale at right forward in a like for like halftime substitution. With Di Maria playing in left center midfield, Real Madrid's shape can be quite flexible. Di Maria is a natural wide player and can therefore slot into a position wide on the left, allowing Ronaldo to take a more central position alongside Benzema in a formation akin to 4-4-2. This is what Ancelotti's side did in the second half. Ronaldo provided another target through the middle. His movement in central zones made Real Madrid less rigid and predictable than they'd been in the first half and put La Liga's leading scorer in more dangerous positions in front of goal. The graphic below shows a comparison of Real Madrid's attacking third passes in the first and second half. In the second half they were more successfully able to offer some penetrating passes through the middle in large part because Ronaldo was giving Granada an extra body to worry about in central areas around the box. He would get Real Madrid's opener after receiving a Modric pass in a central area just inside the 18.

After Ronaldo's opener the home side were comfortable. Granada rarely got anywhere near Diego Lopez's goal. A swift 1-2 between Marcelo and Ronaldo set up Benzema for an easy tap in to put the game beyond the doubt.

Luka Modric
Modric's performance was noteworthy. His incisive passing and control in tight areas are remarkable. He completed 92% of his passes and completed 26 passes in the attacking third- level with Ronaldo for most in the game.

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