Real Madrid thought everything was going so swimmingly, having overcome three major obstacles in a week with a tough run of fixtures. Then they fell at the final hurdle in a defeat at home to relegation battlers Girona in La Liga.
Casemiro opened the scoring in the first half with a well-executed header, but Sergio Ramos would concede a second-half penalty for a blatant handball, allowing Cristhian Stuani to equalise. Portu then added the winner later in the second half with a diving header, whilst Ramos would see a second yellow in the final stages to rub salt into the wounds of a 1-2 defeat.
Our tactical analysis will use statistics to identify what key points Real Madrid’s Santiago Solari can take from the game.
Real Madrid are worse off with Marcelo in the team
Another opportunity for Real Madrid’s Brazilian full-back, another game where Marcelo ends the day as the villain. The defender was recalled as Sergio Reguilon was rested given the demanding schedule, but Marcelo yet again failed to take his chance. The first half was an improvement, getting forward threateningly without being compromised at the back, but Girona’s tactical switch at half-time, allowing him more freedom down the left, saw Portu slip in behind to exploit his lack of discipline time and time again.
The clearest example was in the winning goal, where Marcelo arrived late to the backline having ventured upfield and then stood still. He was caught out as Portu pulled off his man and ran in behind at full pelt. It left Marcelo looking foolish again, as did winning only one duel in the full 90 minutes. As his poor form continues, it begins to look like less of a blip and more of a long-term decline for one of the staples of Real Madrid’s recent success.
With a goal conceded every 49.6 minutes that Marcelo has been on the field, more than twice as frequently when compared to the same rate for Reguilon, it is a concern. The full-back continues to make the same basic mistakes of being caught way out of position and too high up the field. Against Barcelona, it was not a game-changer. This time out though, questions could justifiably be asked as to whether Girona could have turned the game around had it been the more disciplined Reguilon on the left of defence.
A worrying change at the break
Real Madrid looked to be cruising as they arrived at half-time, helped by Casemiro’s header. Solari’s team were dominant on the ball, with as high as 71% possession. After the break, that all changed. In part that was down to the way that Real Madrid inexplicably took their foot off the gas. After a tough run of fixtures against Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Ajax, the hosts seemed to be running out of gas and decided to hold back and ease off to save their depleting energy reserves.
However, doing so had a huge impact on their play. Not only was it a significant fall in possession, down to 48% immediately after the break (a 23% shift), but Real Madrid also made 111 fewer passes in the second half compared to the first. Their play became disjointed and disorganised as basic errors were made. The defence often reverted to lazy long balls rather than looking to continue the fine build-up play which had got the game under control in the first period.
A worthy mention must also go to Eusebio, Girona’s coach, for his double substitution at half-time. It was a brave move for an away team without a win in 13 and only 1-0 down at the Bernabeu, with Aleix Garcia and Choco Lozano replacing Pedro Porro and Pere Pons. That move allowed Girona to consolidate in midfield and offered more pace down the flanks. The change also worked well as a trap. With Porro no longer pinning back Marcelo, the Brazilian was allowed to get forward – an error which Portu gleefully exploited with more freedom to roam.
Two talents under-performing
When Real Madrid were looking to find a replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, the two main names to be discussed were Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio. On Saturday, both played major roles, with Asensio given his first start of the year and Bale introduced as a substitute to turn the game around. Between them, they went on to have 0.96 xG with four clear cut chances, yet none of them were converted.
For the Spaniard, there were glimpses of his quality. He showed bursts of pace, including two progressive runs, dropped the shoulder and set up his teammates, but his decision making let him down. One chance on 20 minutes showed it more clearly than any other.
Breaking on the counter down the wing, he looked to drift inside on the ball and was given options: take on his man, cross the ball to Karim Benzema, play the ball inside to Dani Ceballos or cut inside himself. He took up the latter and instantly found himself in a dead end, surrounded by seven defenders before firing a tame shot straight at goalkeeper Bono.
Bale’s contribution was even less. With a golden one-on-one opportunity as the ball fell to him centrally 12 yards out, he hesitated in his run as Bono rushed out and could only flick the ball up into his hands. It was his only touch in the box and he completed just six passes in 30 minutes, looking an isolated figure. It’s clear time is running out for the Welshman in the Spanish capital, but there are no signs he is close to turning things around.
Goals from all over
If there was a positive to take from Real Madrid’s latest outing it came from set pieces, where Los Blancos were clinical. From all eight of their corners, a shot was taken and one of them even led to the goal from Casemiro, his third in five La Liga games. He showed real instinct to find his way between two Girona defenders on the edge of the box as he anticipated Toni Kroos’ cross, then got onto the end of the delivery with a composed header beyond Bono.
With the front line not firing on all cylinders, and even more concerningly as Karim Benzema’s fine form fades, it is vital that Solari finds way to get goals from other parts of the team. Casemiro has never been so prolific and there are goals coming from elsewhere too with Luka Modric having scored important goals, such as against Sevilla. Finding these alternate sources is essential to making up for the absence of Ronaldo and the lack of a consistently prolific goalscorer.
Casemiro’s recent run of goals puts him fourth in Real Madrid’s top goalscorers list. While it may be a concern that three of the club’s five top goalscorers include a holding midfielder, a central defender (Sergio Ramos) and a left-back (Marcelo), it does show how the goals are being shared around. More will be expected of the likes of Vinicius and Mariano, who have just five goals between them in all competitions, but this distribution of goals provides an insurance policy.
Real Madrid were brought back down to earth with a bump. Solari was out-engineered by Eusebio’s smart half-time change, but it is hard to imagine that the switch alone would have been enough to have turned the tie on its head. A tired Real Madrid side, even with so many changes, couldn’t keep up the pace and allowed Girona back into the game. Now nine points off leaders Barcelona, any hopes of a La Liga title race revival now lie purely upon victory in March’s Clasico.
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