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 (whoscored.com'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.

Tactical Analysis: Juventus 2-2 Real Madrid

Juventus and Real Madrid played to a 2-2 draw in Turin this evening in Champions League Group B action.

Both sides had phases of dominance- Juventus controlled the tempo in the first half, earning slightly more possession and creating the much more dangerous scoring opportunities. In the second half Madrid controlled the play.

Both sides opted for 4-3-3 formations (whoscored.com refers to Juve’s formation as a 4-1-4-1 in the graphic below- I’d call it 4-3-3). Xabi Alonso played in front of the back four for Carlo Ancelotti’s side having returned to the Real Madrid lineup Saturday after a lengthy groin injury. Khedira and Modric played the two shuttling roles. Sergio Ramos was given a rare start at right back ahead of Arbeloa with Pepe and Varane playing the center half spots. Iker Casillas was given the start in goal.

The only changes Antonio Conte made to the side that were beaten 2-1 by Real Madrid in match week three were to the left side of his defense. Bonucci replaced the red carded Chiellini at left center back while Asamoah was preferred to Ogbona at left back.

 First Half
 Juventus were dangerous down the left wing in the first half. Ronaldo started the game on the right flank but stayed high up the pitch with Benzema when Juventus were in possession. Xabi Alonso, Modric and Khedira kept a tight, narrow defensive shape in the middle and Bale dropped in to defend Juventus’s right flank. With Ronaldo keeping an advanced central position on defense, Juventus were left with space on the left touchline to drift into.

Tevez would drop into this space, forcing Ramos to move into a wide area to close him down and creating a gap between Ramos and his center back Varane. Pogba, who was excellent for Juventus in the first half, continually sprinted in behind Khedira and Real’s midfield line and into the gap between Ramos and Varane. Juventus’s opener came when Juve quickly switched the point of attack from right to left and took advantage of Pogba’s lung-bursting runs into that gap. Llorente received the ball in the middle and played it wide to Tevez. Ramos was forced to close him down towards the touchline. Pogba sprinted in behind the Real Madrid midfield and received a dangerous pass in the penalty area. In his effort to recover Varane dives in and commits a penalty. The screen shot below shows Llorente’s pass in flight to Tevez down the left channel. Notice Ramos being forced to close Tevez down in a wide position and Pogba bursting forward into the open space.

Pogba’s ability to find space behind Khedira to sprint into with the ball was dangerous throughout the half. On 28 minutes he was able to collect a crossfield pass from Vidal behind Khedira inside Juventus’s half. He drove forward toward Ramos who was left to defend Pogba and Tevez 1 v. 2 and slotted the ball wide to Tevez. With time and space, the Argentinian was able to stand up a beautiful ball to the back post for Marchisio who was denied by a world class save from Casillas.

Much of Juve’s dominance in the first half also had to do with the ease with which Pirlo was receiving the ball. Neither Khedira nor Modric stepped forward from their midfield line to press him and Benezema and Ronaldo didn’t drop in to deny passes into him. As a result, Pirlo was able to dictate the tempo and pick out dangerous penetrating passes forward. Pirlo completed 89 passes in the match- more than any other player.

Offensively in the first half, Real Madrid were at their most dangerous on the break. When they recovered possession, they looked to play quick outlet passes to Benzema checking back into midfield. Khedira did well on a number of occasions to quickly break forward and provide Benzema with an option to lay the ball off too. They would then look for Bale and Ronaldo breaking forward in behind the Juventus back four.

 Second Half
Whereas Ronaldo started the game on the right and move around freely in the opening 45 minutes, in the second half he maintained a position wide on the left. Presumably this was because Ancelotti wanted him to exploit the space behind Juventus’s right back Caceres. Throughout the game Caceres had been playing high up the pitch to provide width in attack and therefore leaving space in behind him. In the second half Real Madrid took advantage of that space. Ronaldo’s leveler was the result of a poor back pass from Caceres and not any tactical change. However, Real’s second was indeed a result of the tactical decision to have Ronaldo move into the space behind the right back. With Marcelo receiving the ball on the left wing, Ronaldo made a diagonal run into the left channel behind Caceres. He was spotted by Marcelo, collecting the ball on the flank and finding Bale making a run to the edge of the penalty area. Bale still had plenty to do and his finish was excellent but goal was the result of Real bypassing the Juve midfield by finding Ronaldo free in the left channel.

The big tactical weakness Ronaldo creates for Real Madrid when he’s employed on the left is his reluctance to track the opposition fullback. For Juventus’s equalizer, Caceres was able to receive the ball on the wing with Ronaldo nowhere near him. He had the time to have a look in the box and pick out a cross and found Llorente with a delicious outswinging cross. Varane probably deserves the bulk of the blame for the goal- his defending on Llorente was poor- but Cacares was given too much time and space and the wing to play the ball in. 

The 2-2 scoreline was probably a fair result though Iker Casillas was the busier of the two keepers. Real Madrid still don't look an entirely fluid side. In a 4-3-3 without a #10, their front three and midfield three at times looks disjointed. 

Juventus's drop off between the first half, when they were much the better side, and the early stages of the second half was surprising. They seemed shell shocked by Ronaldo's leveler and never really regained they form they showed in the first half. Copenhagen's win over Galatasaray in Group B's other game meant the draw wasn't a bad result in the end. Juve sit a point behind Copenhagen and Galatasaray in the battle for second and will play both of those sides in the final two fixtures. 

Tactical Analysis: Real Madrid 2-1 Manchester United (3-2 ag)

Sir Alex Ferguson's controversial decisions to start Ryan Giggs and Nani at right and left midfield respectively and bench Wayne Rooney looked to be paying dividends as Manchester United went into the locker room level with Real Madrid at 0-0 and looking the more dangerous of the two sides.

Madrid had created little in the opening 45 minutes. Ronaldo was uncharacteristically quiet and United looked dangerous every time they broke forward on the counter.

Ferguson opted for a 4-4-2, employing Danny Welbeck alongside Robin Van Persie up top. It was expected Tom Cleverley would replace the injured Phil Jones and play on the right side of center midfield to provide Rafael with defensive help on Ronaldo. However, it was Carrick who was fielded more towards the right with Cleverley on the left side of central midfield. Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra lined up across the back.

Jose Mourinho's side lined up just as they had in the first leg with the exception of Higuain in for Benzema at forward.

United defended fairly deep with two banks of four. Welbeck dropped in behind Van Persie and tracked Xabi Alonso, denying him from receiving passes from Verane and Sergio Ramos. United's defensive lines of four were compact but it was still surprising that Ozil, usually fantastic at finding pockets of space in between the seams, was having so much trouble receiving the ball in behind Cleverley and Carrick.

With Welbeck denying Xabi Alonso the opportunity to get on the ball and pick out forward passes from deep in midfield, Madrid's more advanced attackers dropped deeper and deeper to get on the ball. On separate occasions Ozil, Di Maria and Higuain dropped well behind United's midfield four to get on the ball. It was a testament to Ferguson's tactics and United's organization that those three gifted attackers were collecting the ball 45 yards from goal where they are obviously far less dangerous.

On the right side of the United defense, Giggs played deep and dropped in to help Rafael on Ronaldo whenever he could. Every time Rafael advanced forward when United were in possession, either Giggs or one of the center midfielders dropped in to fill the defensive hole in an effort to deny Ronaldo the space to counter.

Offensively, United looked to counter rapidly. Once they regained possession, Welbeck would sprint past Xabi Alonso and into the channels to spring counters. They looked to create overloads in wide areas and send crosses into the box.

Second Half
Although United's opener was largely due to an individual error from Varane, it highlighted their ability to make dangerous runs in behind the Madrid midfield and advance the ball forward at pace. Rafael broke forward down the right before finding Welbeck's late surging run into the box. Eventually the ball broke for Nani whose low cross was deflected by Ramos into his own net.

Nani's 56th minute red card turned the game on its head. United were forced to switch to a 4-4-1. Welbeck went wide left and Van Persie played alone up top. Recognizing he didn't need four at the back to deal only with Van Persie, Mourinho replaced right back Arbeloa with Luka Modric and switched to a 3-4-3. Madrid therefore had a 4 v. 2 advantage in the middle of midfield. Welbeck and Giggs tucked narrow to the inside to offer help in the central areas, conceding the left channel entirely to Coentrao.

Ferguson's men continued to defend in banks of four but, crucially, they no longer had Welbeck in the middle of the pitch to defend Madrid's deepest midfielder. Modric dropped deep alongside Xabi Alonso and both were given the time and space to pick out forward passes between gaps in the United midfield four. This allowed the likes of Kaka (who had replaced the injured Di Maria in the first half), Ozil, Ronaldo and Higuain to stay in more advanced areas and create overloads with the United back four.

The introduction of Modric was a smart if not obvious substitution for Mourinho to make after gaining a man advantage. With United's midfield retreating deeper and deeper the Croatian found the space just outside the 18 to unleash a fine strike for the equalizer. For the winner, he bisected the United midfield line with a ball through to Higuain. The Argentine would play a 1-2 with Ozil before driving a low ball across the face of goal for Ronaldo to tuck home.

Knowing United needed to score two goals to win the tie, Mourinho replaced Ozil with Pepe who slid in at right back. Higuain moved out to the right when Madrid were defending and Ronaldo stayed high up the pitch at center forward, knowing he'd have the space to run at Ferdinand and Vidic with United chasing the game. Mourinho's side began to defend quite deep and failed to control possession with their man advantage. They were on the back foot for most of the final 15 minutes and were only able to maintain their goal advantage due to a handful of fine saves from Diego Lopez.

Ferguson deserves credit for United's approach in this game. They were organized, compact and countered effectively. That United would have hung on and won were it not for Nani's red card was hardly a foregone conclusion but up to that point they had been the better side.

After the game Mourinho suggested the better team had lost. While he may well have simply been buttering up a club many expect him to manage when Ferguson retires, he doubtlessly would have been disappointed with his side's inability to create many genuine chances when the game was still 11 v. 11. Still, they deserve credit for getting the job done in a hostile atmosphere at Old Trafford.