Real Madrid is approaching this Sunday's Deportivo la Coruña match with a sense of urgency that we haven't yet seen on la Castellana: Mourinho has closed off practices to the public for the last few days and players are giving press conferences saying "We're at the beginning of a long journey," (Arbeloa), or "I enjoy playing for Real Madrid" (Xabi).
This response to their lifeless performances against Levante and Auxerre smacks of urgency: Los Blancos haven't had a particularly good game for a while, and they know it. But should the Special One make drastic tactical shifts in preparation for their game against Depor? Absolutely not.
Against Levante, Madrid came out of the gate in a 4-2-3-1 formation prominently missing Sami Khedira and Ricardo Carvalho. They looked slow and out of sortstheir passes weren't going where they intended, they looked shaky in defense (well, as shaky as Mou-coached teams can look), and listless in attack. My guess? They were tired. They need time to build up a base of physical power and stamina.
But this excuse won't hold up for too long, and that's why Mou looked to switch things around for the Champions League game against Auxerre. Anticipating an easier, more open match, Los Vikingos started out in a 4-3-3 formation, with a uniquely defensive midfield trident of KhediraXabi Lass behind an attacking trident of Ronaldo Higuaín Benzema. But they got more than they bargained for in a resilient Auxerre team, and while the 4-3-3 had total control of the game, they looked totally impotent.
Elena Muñoz, a great reporter for the Spanish daily AS, wrote a fascinating column comparing Madrid's play in the 4-2-3-1 (against Ajax) to the 4-3-3 (against Auxerre): she concluded that the midfield "trivot" gives the team more possession than the midfield "pivot" of the 4-2-3-1, but fewer chances.
Here are the stats she cited in a table I made on my blog:
|RMCF v. AJAX||RMCF v. AUXERRE|
So what conclusions can we draw about Madrid's tactical ideas heading into the Depor game?
While the midfield "trident" is certainly effective at keeping the ball, it seems to sacrifice when it comes to offensive efficiency, which has always been a staple of Los Blancos' play. A midfield trident is also a staple of the Barcelona teams of Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola.
The formation is perfectly suited for a high-possession, pick-your-spots type of game, but does it line up well with Madrid's culture? Are we ready to sacrifice our quick-strike, vertical game for a more possession-oriented style of play?
I don't think so, and I say that for two reasons: first, Madrid was better against Ajax than we were against Auxerre we created about double the number of chances, and could have won 5 or 6 nothing. Second, we need to develop our own identity, not poach off of Barça's approach: our most successful teams have played with a vertical, fast-paced offense that's the Real Madrid way.
Against Depor we need to come out swinging in order to save our reputationwe have had terrible offensive efficiency this season, and need the fast-paced offense of the 4-2-3-1 to score quickly and often (or at least create some real chances!).
At the same time, I'm interested to know what other people think about this: should we stick to the 4-2-3-1 or should we switch over to the 4-3-3?