La Liga

Injuries aside, Zidane is still searching for balance in Real Madrid's attack

Los Blancos racked up just 0.77 xG in a contest where they never actually looked like breaking down the opposition

7:00am on Monday 21st September 2020
Euan McTear

A little later than most other La Liga sides, Real Madrid have finally commenced their 2020/21 season, but it was somewhat of a false start against Real Sociedad.

Defensively, they were as solid as they were last season and Raphael Varane was the official ‘King of the Match’ in his first game since his horror show against Manchester City. But, there were reasons to be concerned in attack.

Even as Real Madrid won the title in 2019/20, they had problems going forward. 21 different players scored at least one goal, but only Karim Benzema (21) and Sergio Ramos (11) reached double figures. No forward not named Benzema had more than three. Second-placed Barcelona scored 16 goals more than Real Madrid’s 70, while fifth-placed Villarreal only had seven fewer.

So, going into 2020/21, would much change? Personnel wise, there has only been one major summer addition and that’s the return of Martin Odegaard from his loan at Real Sociedad – incidentally, Real Madrid’s first opponent of the new season.

The Norwegian started on Sunday night against his former club and Zidane created a new formation to fit him in, with the playmaker used as the No.10 in a 4-2-3-1 formation that saw Casemiro left out.

Martin Ødegaard
AM (C), M (R) - Real Madrid - 21 yrs
Sep 20, 2020
69Minutes played
1Total shots
0Shots on target
1Touches in box
1Duels won
0Big chances
78Successfull passes %

He started well, but went de más o menos, as they say in Spain; he became less effective as the game went on.

Odegaard wasn’t the problem. The problem was how isolated Benzema was and how deep the Frenchman had to come to collect the ball. The Frenchman had 43 touches in this match and only five of them were inside the Real Sociedad penalty area. He even had 14 of his touches inside his own half - that’s how deep he was having to drop.

Zidane, though, didn’t want to send on a sidekick for his starting No. 9. He even admitted this in his post-match press conference when asked why neither Luka Jovic nor Borja Mayoral were brought on to add another centre-forward option.

“I didn’t want to change the formation,” Zidane explained. “I could have put on another centre-forward by taking one off, but I didn’t want to change the formation. I’d have had to take Benzema off, but he was playing well. By playing two centre-forwards, I’d have needed to change the scheme, yet I wanted to keep two wingers on the wings.”

To be fair to Zidane, there was good reason to have a focus on the wings. Joseba Zaldua and Nacho Monreal, Real Sociedad’s starting full-backs, were both out and they instead started Andoni Gorosabel at right-back and Aihen Muñoz at left-back.

These are two very average full-backs with many deficiencies in their game and Zidane surely hoped that Rodrygo and Vinícius could exploit this down the wings. They did to some extent, more so via Rodrygo on Real Madrid’s right. He had three successful dribbles from three attempted, while Vinícius had one from five attempts. But, it just wasn’t enough.


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Real Madrid's next match: Real Betis (A), 27 Sep

The problem isn’t maybe that Zidane channelled Real Madrid’s offensive play down the wings. It’s more of an issue that 20-year-old Marvin Park – who came on for his debut – was his only natural winger on the bench who could replace either of the Brazilian starlets in a like-for-like manner in this match.

Which brings up the question of Real Madrid’s overall attacking options. It is true that Eden Hazard, Marco Asensio, and Lucas Vazquez were all out injured for this game, but even when they’re all back and healthy, are we sure that the cupboard isn’t a little too bare in the wide forwards department?

Are we sure that Hazard can overcome his persistent ankle issues to get back to 100 percent and that Asensio will be the same after last year’s long-term knee injury? Are we sure that the not-favoured-by-the-coach trio of Jovic, Mayoral and Mariano are good enough centre-forward options to back up a will-turn-33-years-old-this-season Benzema?

Zidane can't be too confident in this depth and he likely knows this. The problem is that the coronavirus crisis really does leave Real Madrid unable to go to the market, at least not in a way that would improve what they already have.

This is week one and there is a tendency to overreact. Real Madrid fans should remain calm, because Odegaard will grow more comfortable with each game he plays, because Real Madrid will get into more of a rhythm after a couple of weeks and because some of their attacking options will soon come off the medical report.

But, Real Madrid’s depth in attack is a potential weakness, if we’re really looking for chinks in the armour.

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