Film Focus: Analysing Real Madrid's New Galactico Era in the European Super Cup

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Film Focus: Analysing Real Madrid's New Galactico Era in the European Super Cup
Alastair Grant

Real Madrid debuted their modern-era Galactico setup in Cardiff on Tuesday, thrashing Sevilla 2-0 to lift the European Super Cup.

It was the first opportunity to see James Rodriguez and Toni Kroos in a los Blancos shirt after both starred at the FIFA World Cup 2014, and also the first chance we had to see just how Carlo Ancelotti was thinking of using his new attacking stars.

Let's take a tactical look at how the match played out.

 

Starting XIs and Formations

@stighefootball
Real Madrid/Sevilla XIs.

Real Madrid began in a free-flowing 4-4-2 despite all the pre-match chatter of switching to a 4-2-3-1. Trust Ancelotti to troll the world by signing two No. 10s and playing without any!

Sevilla started off with a deep-set 4-2-3-1, playing Daniel Carrico and Grzegorz Krychowiak in front of the defence and Carlos Bacca up front.

 

Same Old Sevilla

Before the spectacle, we asked if Sevilla would change their skin a little now diagonal pass-master Ivan Rakitic had departed the club. The answer, to be frank, is no.

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One of many hopeful punts into the channel for Vitolo and Bacca.

It became abundantly clear early on that los Rojiblancos were determined to force passes into the channels—splitting the Real Madrid team strategically—in order to play in their runners on the counter.

The accuracy of the balls weren't of paramount importance, but the early release allowed them to catch Madrid either a) in half as a team (space between defence and midfield) or b) split vertically with gaps between full-back and centre-back.

It was a ploy to match their athleticism against Madrid's inevitable, attacking openness, isolating the likes of Pepe high up and taking them on one vs. one.

About 25 percent of the time it gained serious ground, but a lack of quality and precision in the final third left Sevilla scoreless.

 

Madrid's 4-4-2

Real Madrid's approach to coping with such attacking riches all at once was very interesting; Carlo Ancelotti has clearly been hard at work trying to find a way to fit them all in without disrupting the balance of the side.

That's a tough ask because last season's 4-3-3 was perfect, but early impressions of this new-look side were: Easy on the eye, dominant after a stodgy opening spell and translatable into competitive league matches too.

The basic shape was 4-4-2, though you need to be thinking more Manchester City 4-4-2 than Atletico Madrid in this case.

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Real Madrid's flat 4-4-2 shell.

James Rodriguez started in a slightly narrow left-wing position, Gareth Bale was much flatter than last season on the right and Kroos/Luka Modric formed a midfield two. 

That left Cristiano Ronaldo up front with Karim Benzema, though it's important to stress the numeric labelling of this system—whichever way you put it—will be too crude for accuracy.

Only when dropping into a defensive shell did it truly appear as two banks of four, and we rarely saw that as Sevilla tried so hard to spring counterattacks when los Blancos had six players high up.

 

Fluidity

It's unclear, as yet, whether Ancelotti's decision to play with a free-flowing 4-4-2 is because that's his new basic setup, or because Sevilla play such a notoriously cagey game in front of their own defence.

Whatever the long-term plan, the short-term reality is it worked a treat here; Real Madrid played with no No. 10s, but always tried to push a man in the No. 10 space (the area in which a No. 10 would operate) to cause problems.

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Watch Bale's run, then Ronaldo's.

Starting with no one in there but moving players in—be it Ronaldo from high up, James from the left or Bale from the right—forced Krychowiak and Carrico to stumble out and play higher up. The former, in particular, had a good game, but los Blancos spent the 90 minutes successfully extracting the duo from their comfort zone and springing runners into space behind them.

The combination work of Ronaldo drifting outside with James opened up a two vs. two on the left and the crossing quality was very strong. Bale and Ronaldo switched throughout, Benzema dropped off and to the right while Fabio Coentrao joined the fun too.

 

Kroos Glues it Together

Kroos floated around in the middle, anchoring the formation by finding the middle point whenever players were drifting.

Ancelotti described Kroos' tactical understanding and positional skills before the game as "very good" to Real Madrid's official website, and he's clearly been handed the task of making sure the formation isn't lopsided.

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Kroos drops in after watching a fluid Madrid move skew the formation, stabilising it.

If there's an overload on the left, Kroos drops and keeps an eye on the right to make sure the full-back isn't creeping up unopposed; if Modric has ventured forward, he sits even deeper; if he forays forward, he won't over-commit and hand the ball off too late to get back.

All he did was to confirm what we already knew: He's an exceptionally clever player.

 

Final Word

It was the most expensive team in the history of the game, and it'll get €10 million pricier if Keylor Navas manages to displace Iker Casillas at any point this season.

They looked rusty for 20 minutes and James, while tactically on-point, looked like a man who'd played an arduous World Cup and hadn't quite recovered.

This Real Madrid outfit are a scary prospect, built on domination in the final third and free movement. Will it come unstuck? Time will tell, but this attacking approach against Barcelona's new trio should make for epic, epic Clasicos.

 

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