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Real Madrid 3-0 Borussia Dortmund: Tactical Analysis | Modric flourishes in his deep role

Real Madrid came into this game as favorites even though things didn’t go their way in the same tie a year back. This was partly due to change of manager for Madrid and partly due to the injury problems Dortmund are facing. The most missed absentee here was Lewandowski who was out through suspension as he had put four past Madrid when they met in Germany last year.

Madrid started with a very flexible 4-3-3 shape with full backs pushing on and B-B-C given license to roam and swap places. The most interesting thing was the positioning of Isco. He was expected to start in a much higher role, behind the striker but instead was a straight swap for Di Maria who missed due to injury. He flourished in the deep role and deservedly got  goal.

As for Dortmund, they were between a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3. Aubameyang started in place of Lewnadowski and Mkhitaryan partnered him. In possession they were very fluid with Marco Reus coming inside from the right and Grosskreutz more disciplined on the left. Without the ball they were a 4-4-2 with Kehl and Sahin as the two deep midfielders.

Real Madrid 3-0 Borussia Dortmund

Line Ups

Real Madrid 3-0 Borussia Dortmund Line Ups

Real Madrid 3-0 Borussia Dortmund Line Ups

Real Madrid: Casillas, Carvajal, Coentrao, Ramos, Pepe, Alonso, Modric, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo, Bale

Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller, Piszczek, Drum, Hummels, Sokratis, Kehl, Sahin, Grosskreutz, Reus, Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan

That early goal

An early goal set the tone for Madrid. They looked to build on it further rather than slowing down and waiting for things to happen, keeping a high intensity in their game.

There was nothing much in the early goal really. The centre-backs of Madrid weren’t really pressed when in possession and the likes of Modric and and Xabi Alonso were paid much more attention to. Quite unlike Dortmund who usually press high. Not surprisingly the ball which led to that attack came from Pepe who played it to Benzema . He  had taken up an intelligent position between the fullback and centre-back. Carvajal was played through who laid it off to Bale and the Welshman made no mistake. Here Gorbkreutzs could have done a better job on Carvajal. Interestingly the position vacated by Benzema was filled in by Bale. Usually it is Ronaldo who comes inside and finishes such type of moves but Bale is proving to be as important an asset in the attacking third.

Modric flourishes in a deeper role

This player is the same player who struggled under Jose Mourinho but is flourishing under Carlo Ancelotti, mainly because the latter likes to have the ball with his team whereas the former was all too happy to let opponents control the ball. With the form and performance of Modric this season Madrid have been even more difficult to play against as earlier, there was only Alonso who could zip those passes in to the forwards or look for the fullbacks. But now Modric too is able to adequately do the same, timing his balls to perfection.

MORE READING | Borussia Dortmund 2-0 Real Madrid: Tactical Analysis (Second Leg)

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Interview with Real Madrid TV presenter and commentator

As Klopp had suggested earlier (last season) that if you stop Xabi from having the ball,you stop Madrid. Well that doesn’t hold true this season with the presence of Modric and this tactic of Klopp certainly didn’t work today. What he gives more than Alonso is his ability to go past a player and then open up angles to pass which he couldn’t see before. No, he doesn’t have the pace to constantly taking on players, but he has the close control to take touch around his direct man and play an accurate pass.

Luka Modric's heat-map vs Borussia Dortmund

Luka Modric’s heat-map vs Borussia Dortmund

In this game he took up a right sided deep role and was often deeper than Carvajal. But he was able to dictate the tempo of the game from here and also performed a good job defensively. He was often under the supervision of Grosskreutz who rushed from his position to pressure him but was intelligent enough to get into spaces way from him.

Dortmund space between the lines

There was an interesting shape that Dortmund employed defensively. The four midfielders in their 4-4-2ish shape were rarely found in one line, trying to prevent balls through them but instead formed a ‘Z’ like shape where the midfielders on the side of the ball went out to press and the others stayed. So quick shifts from side to side caused them to push up which left spaces between the lines which was exploited by BBC. But this looked like a deliberate tactic as the defensive line of Dortmund was not very high, it was in and around the 18 yard line which is unusual to see in teams where the front four push high up without the ball. Maybe they did this because they were excessively cautious against Ronaldo and Bale’s runs in behind with their pace. Also by placing their midfielders deep, they didn’t want to get pushed back and defend on the edge of their box.

Also Grosskreutz went too early to close down Modric and Reus was high on the other side which caused Sahin to get dragged out wide to cover leaving Kehl alone.

Sahin tackles vs Real Madrid

Sahin tackles vs Real Madrid

Nuri Sahin clearly was struggling defensively against Real Madrid’s attack, failing to adequately deal with the home sides’ dominance there.

Real Madrid’s shape upfront

Benzema played a peculiar role of a supporting striker to no ‘true’ striker on paper at least. He was often found in deep positions linking up with the midfielders, creating space for Ronaldo/Bale to run into.

For the first 10 minutes Ronaldo stuck tight to his left sided role, maybe thinking that Bale and Benzema would drag the defense to the right and would leave him space to exploit. Not seeing enough of the ball and no significant chances he moved in as a central attacker and Isco was given the left side to man during the defensive phase.

Karim Benzema action areas vs Dortmund

Karim Benzema action areas vs Dortmund

Bale played a similar role to what Robben played against United. Rather than being the traditional winger and picking the ball in wide areas and cutting inside or crossing he dropped away from his marker into the space between the lines and tried to influence play from more central positions.

Ronaldo was given the freedom to roam and pick up weak links on the pitch in the first half. His action areas(above) on the pitch suggest the same

The quick press

Xabi Alonso was found pretty high up and tight to his opponents for a deep lying midfielder who usually ‘sits’ in front of their back four and screens the defense. This was very significant during the buildup to the Isco goal, where he stole the ball from Mkhitrtaryan which eventually fell for Isco. This was one aspect of Madrid’s play that they should have looked to exploit. Both Modric and Alonso were involved in the ‘quick press’ for Madrid and considering that they do not have enough space, players like Marco Reus should have looked to target them more often.

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Madrid defenders never looked to hold a line and catch them offside and instead one of the two (usually Ramos) stepped into the midfield to close down and tackle rather than hold a disciplined line. They played more of a stopper-cover combination.

Dortmund look to get back into it but Real regain control

Dortmund came out looking to score the second goal but instead it was Madrid who made the breakthrough again which came through the most influential player on the pitch (for me), Modric. An interception from Modric  following the quick press from his team  allowed him to win the ball and play Ronaldo through on the right.

If we freeze the frame in the buildup to the goal, Modric is actually the highest of the 3 midfielders which is unusual to see when you have a player like Isco who wants to play behind the striker. This shows the balance and understanding in this seasons Madrid side. Isco took very well to his deeper role and was very influential. The same happened to Coutinho when he played against Spurs. He was also required to do the defensive work on the left side (to compensate for Ronaldo) but didn’t look uncomfortable at all.

Isco take ons vs Dortmund

Isco take ons vs Dortmund

As for Dortmund they certainly looked much more dangerous in the second half  but Madrid looked comfortable defending in a structure except for some nervy moments. Dortmund changed their shape a bit with Reus being much more central than he was in the first half with Aubameyang on the left and Gorbkreutz right. Madrid were a 4-4-1-1 without the ball with Ronaldo and Benzema alternating and Isco left. As for the pressing by Madrid, well, it didn’t drop one bit. Whenever the ball was played back or they tried to build up short they stuck in their faces. We always expected Dortmund to press and narrow down, which to be honest they didn’t do quite well today. It often looked disjointed with too much space left for either Carvajal down the right or sometimes it was Modric or Benzema between the lines. But when they were pressed the long diagonals out to the flanks was always the outball which were mainly hit by Modric and Alonso.

Carvajal was very sound defensively and often sat narrow while Coentrao stayed wider. But in an attacking sense they controled the flanks all alone as Bale and Ronaldo both were inside.

Substitutions

Scheber was brought on for Piszczek who offers much more going forward.  Hofman (Scout Report here) replaced Mkhitaryan (Scout Report here), and Jojic came on for Kehl. Clearly attacking changes by Klopp, as expected.

As for Madrid Illarramendi (Scout Report here) replaced Isco (Scout Report here) to sure up the center of midfield. Ronaldo was replaced by Casemiro  due to an injury (not serious though). Morata replaced Benzema and looked promising. So, Modric went up front Morata on the left and Bale was right. The three midfielders were comfortable sitting deep and did well to keep out Dortmund in the closing stage.

There was a significant gulf of quality between the two sides on the pitch. Both teams pressed but the likes of Modric and Alonso were able to relieve pressure with their assured passing whereas Kehl and Sahin were not.

Where does this leave them?

Real Madrid clearly have the advantage going into the second leg, and will be favourites to get through. With the La Liga title out of their hands, they’ll be looking to secure La Decima. For Borussia Dortmund, the Bundesliga ended ages ago and the BVB faithful were hoping for another dream Champions League run. Barring a catastrophic collapse, the Spaniard should be through. The final score of Real Madrid 3-0 Borussia Dortmund was quite expected, given the away sides injury concerns and Real’s clear superiority.

This article was written by Siddharth Pruthi

For more Tactical Analysis of the biggest games across Europe, head this way.

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