Santiago Solari’s principles at Real Madrid


There was an El Clasico in the Copa del Rey semi-final yesterday as Barcelona hosted Real Madrid at the Nou Camp. This analysis will be focusing on some Santiago Solari’s principles that were apparent in Real’s play. These few principles made Real’s style a bit different compared to Zinedine Zidane.


At the beginning of the Zidane era, Real started with a reactive style which led to the first Champions League title for the Frenchman as a manager. Then, in the next two seasons, Zidane implemented a style that was much more possession based.

One of the patterns from this possession-based style was apparent in build-up where Real aimed to overload. What does that mean?
Besides the centre-backs, the full-backs stayed deeper to help the deep circulation. Also, Casemiro provided a central option, Luka Modric dropped to right half-space, whilst Toni Kroos occupied the left. Therefore, Real were able to create a highly stable build-up and circulation where they could utilise the lots of players participating in the build-up and the duo of Modric and Kroos’ great skill-sets in controlling the ball and their press resistance.

In addition, Isco was often tasked with dropping deep to also help the build-up. Thus Real Madrid became highly resistant to pressing and only a few teams were able to cause them issues, like Bayern Munich and Juventus.

Unlike Zidane, Solari chose a different path. Against Barcelona, only Kroos and Marcos Llorente stayed deep to help the build-up, while Modric mostly occupied higher positions. However, this seems not that big a deal.

Solari Real Madrid Tactical Analysis
Despite the 4-3-3 formation, in build-up Modric occupied higher than Llorente and Kroos.

Which means Solari seems does not rely on building from deep, rather he used pressing against Barcelona. Therefore, Real mostly attacked through open play and ball recoveries which ended up with dangerous counter-attacks.

Different wing-play

Another apparent style in Real’s play was the asymmetric way they used the flanks. Under Zidane, usually, Real played through combinations in the left wing, involving Marcelo, Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo or Karim Benzema. Whilst on the right mostly Dani Carvajal paced up and down. Getting long balls into space then seeking crossing opportunities.

While yesterday Solari mostly used the right wing for the combinations and more linear play on the left wing. Furthermore, Modric’s positioning has changed since he was often occupying in higher areas than under Zidane. He moves forward in between the opposition lines to create a triangle with Lucas Vazquez and Carvajal.

Solari Real Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Triangle of Modric, Lucas and Carvajal.
Solari Real Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
While on the left no-one occupied in between the opponent’s lines. Therefore, if Benzema did not drop to help, Marcelo would end up with no choice other than long ball towards Benzema.

With Vinicius on board, he often received a pass at his feet in order to utilise his skills in dribbles thus he aimed to cut inside or seek crossing opportunities. If it will be permanent then this could reduce the involvement of Marcelo and his importance for Real Madrid.

Solari Real Madrid La Liga Tactical Analysis Statistics
Vinicius high positioning and the long balls towards him. Triangle at the right, between Modric, Lucas Carvajal. Lucas positioning deeper than Vinicius.

Final thoughts

Real Madrid could really benefit from Modric being closer to the goal. In addition, the current Ballon d’Or winner also seems to enjoy this role. While on the other side, Vinicius provides a constant threat to the opponent’s defence. With the effective press that Real used yesterday, they caused serious problems for Barcelona, this will be a deadly weapon. I am definitely looking forward to seeing these patterns continue in Real’s play and how they developing.