Real Madrid 4-2 Villarreal: Real battered in first half, but press higher to dominate the second

January 10, 2011

The starting line-ups

Cristiano Ronaldo scored three goals and assisted another for Kaka, as Real came back from 1-0 and 2-1 down.

Jose Mourinho used his usual 4-2-3-1 system. Sami Khedira was dropped with Lassana Diarra playing instead, whilst Kaka was again on the bench.

Juan Carlos Garrido played Villarreal’s usual 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2. Nilmar is still unavailable, so Marco Ruben started upfront. Marcos Senna and Carlos Marchena were also out – Jose Catala played at the back.

Villarreal were excellent in the first half – by far the better side, and Jose Mourinho admitted after the match that the away side deserved to be leading at half-time.

Villarreal pass around Real

Garrido’s side came out with their usual attack-minded approach, taking the game to Real. The interiores moved into the middle of the pitch when in possession, flooding the centre and allowing the full-backs to get forward on the overlap. They combined this with a quick but patient passing game that helped drag Real out of position, and with Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil not looking to get involved in defensive work, Real looked stretched.

It was a failure to break up the passing of Villarreal’s two holding players that was putting Real under such pressure – Borja Valero and Bruno Soriano are the pivot around which the rest of the team functions – the wide players come in, the full-backs move forward, the strikers drift wide – but the two holding players remain in place and always offer themselves for a pass. They were given plenty of time as Real sat back, and not enough pressure upon the man in possession resulted in both of Villarreal’s goals.

Villarreal defend nervously

Without the ball, Villarreal were not as impressive. Partly this was because of their sheer attacking intent – Angel Lopez got forward a ludicrous amount considering he was facing Ronaldo, whilst the interiores coming inside meant that they were often out of position at transitions, and subsequently for Real breaks. Therefore, Marcelo was the home side’s most dangerous player throughout, motoring forward to provide overlaps for crosses into the box, and as a direct goal threat himself.

Villarreal did defend well in terms of their defensive line – they made sure they didn’t drop into the box, holding the line on the edge of the 18-yard box, and therefore catching Real offside on numerous occasions. The two goals were preventable, though – Ronaldo was first left unmarked at the far post in open play, then found room to nod in a Xabi Alonso free-kick, and it was 2-2 at half-time.

Second half

Real were far better after the break. Mourinho chose to switch Raul Albiol and Sergio Ramos, presumably to give him more pace at the back against the speed of Giuseppe Rossi and Marco Ruben. He also withdrew Diarra and introduced Khedira, who provided more energy high up the pitch in midfield.

The formations from 70 mins, when Kaka was introduced

The key to the game turning, though, was because Real were far better at closing down in the second half – they didn’t let Villarreal get into any kind of passing rhythm and were in the ascendency for the vast majority of the rest of the game.

Their dominance was so great that Garrido (despite saying beforehand that he would not influence his tactics for Real, and that Villarreal would play their natural game) chose to take off Ruben and bring on an extra centre-back, Mateo Musacchio – although he was actually played slightly ahead of the defence, to shut down Real in that zone.

Kaka comes on

Mourinho responded by introducing an extra player there – Kaka, who took the place of Albiol. This was the first time he and Ozil had played as dual trequartistas (in their brief period on the field together against Getafe last week, Ozil seemed to move to the left wing as Ronaldo went upfront) and suggests Mourinho is happy to play them together in that position in a 4-1-4-1.

From here, Real simply overpowered Villarreal, who found it impossible to move up the pitch – their short passing game was being disrupted quickly, and with Rossi upfront, long balls weren’t much of an option. Khedira covered the right-back position but shuttled between there and a central midfield role, and as Real have done at various points when struggling this season, they produced a 10-15 minute spell of astonishingly attacking football to put themselves in charge.

Ronaldo put Real in front with a goal that was simultaneously brilliant and scrappy – a clever spin and shot after the ball rebounded his way in the penalty area – and then Kaka completed the rout. Villarreal had little response – they won a couple of dangerous free-kicks but both were wasted, and the whole side looked drained of energy.

Conclusion

Mourinho explained afterwards, “A fairer scoreline at half-time would have been 3-1 to Villarreal. We made it 2-2 when we didn’t deserve it, because they had control of the game. Because of them, we didn’t do very much.

“During the break I spoke with the players. I told them that it was a false scoreline and that I wanted to change the system, and especially the way we pressurised them. And the game changed completely.”

Like so many games recently, a change to a strategy of more intense pressure was the game’s crucial tactical decision.

Real Madrid 4-2 Villarreal: Real battered in first half, but press higher to dominate the second

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