Real Madrid faced Real Valladolid in the first home game of their La Liga title defence. As their home ground – Santiago Bernabéu is under renovation; the match was played at Estadio Alfredo Di Stéfano. 

Valladolid were winless in their first three league matches. They drew at home to Celta and Sociedad and lost at Betis by 2-0. Meanwhile, Madrid drew their opening match against Sociedad by 0-0 and defeated Betis by 3-2.

Coming into this match – even though the hosts won by 1-0, they struggled to create in the attacking third. They also needed some brilliant saves from Thibaut Courtois to keep their clean sheet intact. This tactical analysis will explore Real Madrid‘s scrappy win – an altogether familiar sight since Zinedine Zidane’s return to the Madrid hot-seat.

Lineups

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

Both teams were playing their second match in four days. Hence, either manager was forced to make a few changes to keep the squad fresh for the gruelling season ahead. Zidane retained the 4-4-2 diamond from the win against Betis. Isco came in to replace Martin Ødegaard with Luka Jović and Karim Benzema playing ahead of him. With Toni Kroos injured, Luka Modrić came in to replace him to partner Fede Valverde and Casemiro in the midfield. The backline also saw a significant change. Both full-backs were rotated as Marcelo, and Álvaro Odriozola made their first appearances of the season.

Meanwhile, Sergio González gave Shon Weissman his first start in La Liga in place of Sergi Guardiola. Weissman led the attack in a 4-2-3-1 setup as Fabián Orellana played behind him with Óscar Plano and Waldo Rubio occupying the wide areas. Míchel and Fede San Emeterio were positioned in a double pivot in the midfield. Like their opponents, Valladolid also saw changes in both full-back positions. Raúl García and Pablo Hervías were deployed to the left and right of their centre-backs, respectively.

Valladolid exploiting Madrid’s defensive holes

The midfield diamond implemented by Madrid meant that the full-backs were tasked with providing the width while attacking. The inclusion of Marcelo meant that Madrid’s left-wing would be the focal point of their attack. It was also their weakest area defensively. 

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

As we can see from the above illustrations, both of Madrid’s full-backs were high up the pitch. The first sequence of play led to their first shot on target with Marcelo heavily involved in the buildup to it. Most of Madrid’s attacks came through their left-flank – 21 of their 50 attacks in the match.

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

As Madrid’s full-backs pushed high up the pitch, the space left behind by them was Valladoild’s best opportunity to create scoring chances. Most of their best scoring chances came when they exploited these spaces. Valladolid had 39 attacking actions, and 32 of those came through the flanks. Madrid’s left flank was their weakest in defence. This was because Marcelo failed to track back during turnovers. Not surprisingly, 80% of Valladolid’s dangerous attacks came through Madrid’s left flank. 

We can see Madrid’s full-backs being caught upfield in all four of the above situations. Valladolid then attacks through the subsequent space in the wider areas. This forces both Varane and Ramos to cover their respective flanks. Valladolid then tried to attack the spaces vacated by the centre-back. Their best chances to score came through such attacks in transitions. Valladolid’s wastefulness in the final third combined with Courtois’ splendid form in front of goal preserved Madrid’s clean sheet.

Madrid’s faltering attack

Madrid struggled to create chances during the drab 0-0 draw at Sociedad in their season opener. Hence, for the match against Betis, Zidane changed the shape into a 4-4-2 diamond. Despite the positive signs during their 3-2 win over Betis, the diamond was more of a liability than an asset in this match. The following section will provide an analysis of Madrid’s offensive struggles in the match.

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

Benzema is the leader of Madrid’s attack. Despite Jović’s support in occupying Valladoild’s defenders, Benzema failed to impose himself in the contest. Here we can see Benzema moving into half-space with Isco moving into the area vacated by him. Despite the freedom to roam, he had just one completed forward pass and two successful passes to the final third. He also had only three attempts on goal with only one being on target.

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

Isco came into the match to replace Ødegaard in the attacking-midfielder role and had the freedom to roam. Isco dropped deep to help in ball progression, combined with both full-backs in the wider areas and also occupied the space between the Valladolid’s defence and midfield. As we can see in the above illustrations, Isco occupies a variety of positions during Madrid’s attacking phase.

Despite the tactical freedom, Isco did not give any key pass and also had no attempts on goal. He won only one offensive duel and completed just ten forward passes, four progressive passes, and one through pass in the match. Isco’s failure to influence proceeding greatly hampered Madrid’s offensive output in the match.  

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

Even though Madrid lacked dynamism in the final third, they managed to create a few scoring opportunities. They had an expected goal (xG) of 1.66 with Jović getting on the end of the best of them. He had the best opportunities to score and had an xG of 0.62 but managed to get only one shot on target from three attempts. Both of the above situations illustrate two of Jović’s best opportunities in front of goal. But he failed to test the goalkeeper in either situation as both shots were wide of the target. 

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

Valladolid are renown for their resolute defence and had the seventh-best defence in the division last season. As they packed their defensive third and starved Madrid of space to attack, Madrid resorted to crossing from either wing. Since Jović and Benzema aren’t the best when it comes to aerial ability, they seldom won these aerial duels. Madrid attempted 18 crosses with both full-backs accounting for half of those but only had a success rate of 17%. Also, none of their crosses resulted in a shot at Valladolid’s goal.

Switch to 4-3-3 and goal

Realising the ineffectiveness of their offence, Zidane changed the tactics at the 58th minute to bring in Vinícius Júnior, Dani Carvajal and Marco Asensio for Jović, Isco and Odriozola. Hence, a change in their shape to a 4-3-3 with Asensio and Vinicius deployed in the wings.

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

The above image shows the buildup to the only goal in the match. Asensio’s presence in the left-wing occupies the attention of the Valladolid’s wide man, and Vinícius moves into the free space. After a scramble inside the box involving Benzema, Valverde and Valladolid defenders, the ball lands into Vinicius’s feet. He then slots it into the goal, past the helpless goalkeeper.

La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics La Liga 2020/21: Real Madrid vs Real Valladolid - tactical analysis tactics

Zidane’s substitution changed the complexion of the match completely. Madrid’s offence started troubling Valladolid due to the incisiveness and pace of their fresh wingers. As we can see in the above situations, both wingers helped in stretching Valladolid’s defensive line, thereby creating space to attack both in build-up play and in transitions.

Seven of their 15 shots in the match came during this period with three of them on target and one hitting the post. Carvajal’s arrival improved their defensive performance as well with Valladolid managing only two shots from open play since and only one being on target.

Conclusion

Real Madrid failed to impress in their first home match of the season. They struggled in both ends of the pitch and were saved by Courtois’ brilliance and a moment of luck for the goal. Meanwhile, Valladolid were very impressive against the champions and will have a lot of positives to take away from the match. But they have to be more clinical in the attacking third to convert such performances into points.

Even though Zidane’s substitutions changed the outcome of this match, Madrid faithful won’t be satisfied with the result. They will be demanding more from their manager and players, especially after Barcelona‘s and Sevilla’s flying start to the season.

Madrid will be on the road for their next match as they face a strong Levante side. Meanwhile, Valladolid will be looking for their first win of the season as they host a struggling Eibar side.