Real Madrid have become a tactical dinosaur. Those big, gigantic lizards that walked the earth before being driven to extinction by an asteroid. Their alleged failure to evolve invited nature to cement their obsolescence. Mourinho’s Real Madrid have tactically become very easy to counter. Fast, powerful, terrifying and most importantly predictable.
Mourinho has managed Real Madrid in 130 games. Xabi Alonso has played in 117 of them. In another words, Real Madrid have played with a double pivot in at least 115 games. Statistically speaking, if you were a betting man, you would win 90% of your bets if you were to claim that Real Madrid would play with a single striker.
Real Madrid’s galaxy of world class players
Real Madrid have a whole host of world class players. In fact there is not a single player in the first squad who will not find a regular spot in any of the other top 10 clubs in any country.
The advantage of having world class players is that they tend be less one dimensional than the really good ones. For example, Rooney can play out wide, in the hole and as a striker. Ramos can play right back, center back, or as a central defensive midfielder. Ozil can play in the hole or out wide on both flanks. Of course they will not be as effective as they would be in their natural positions. But even then they can and do make life a misery for the opposition. On those grounds, it is amazing that Real Madrid have not tried mixing things up more.
Mourinho’s comfort zone
Real Madrid have the finest man motivator in Jose Mourinho. He has got the best out of Marcelo, Ozil, Khedira and Benzema. Yet as ardent Real Madrid observers will tell you, Mourinho has been far too terrified to step out out of his comfort zone.
It doesn’t require too much tinkering to get the opposition manager to second guess his choices. As Sun Tzu so subtly put it “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”
However, nowadays most managers can rattle off the tactical setup of Real Madrid in their sleep. Primarily because there is only one tactic to prepare for: 4-2-3-1.
Let’s think outside the box and examine some of the possible tactical variations the current Real Madrid squad could use.
Most of these tactics do not involve the usage of Alonso, one of the Real Madrid’s stellar players in last few years.
|Real Madrid Player||Characteristics|
|Ronaldo||Cuts inside, Drifts in from the left to act as a striker|
|Benzema||Drops deep to link up, Drifts out to left, Not as good off the ball movement as Higuain, Deadly technique|
|Higuain||Drifts in from right, tremendous off the ball movement, suspect finishing|
|Ozil||Central play-maker, can play on both wings, preferably on the left|
|Di Maria||Inverted winger for Real, plays on the left for Argentina|
|Modric||Central midfielder, attacking play-maker; suspect defensively|
|Kaka||Trequartista; Decent play-maker; tends to drift out on the left.|
|Khedira||Box to Box as well as a pure defensive midfielder|
Both Benzema and Higuain have proved that they can play with each other in this Real Madrid team. Here as shown when Benzema drops deep, Ronaldo can drift in from the left. Ozil or Kaka move slightly wide while Modric comes in from the deep. This will actually create quite a bit of confusion in the enemy ranks as all three players Ronaldo, Benzema and Ozil can rotate seamlessly or stay where they are.
This makes man marking and doubling very difficult. Possible teams to use this tactic against: Lower rung teams which sit back and defend; defensively not much work is needed. For e.g. Celta Vigo, Deportivo etc. Or when chasing a game against more accomplished teams.
Kaka may not have the pace to operate in the hole alone. However, as a trequartista his role will be to occupy the space in the box as Higuan or Benzema move slightly towards the right in the opposition box.
With Ronaldo coming in from the left it means Real Madrid will have 3 men in the box, with Khedira acting like a box to box player as well as shoring up defenses. Possible teams to use against: Mid rung teams which may pose the occasional attacking threat. For e.g. Getafe, Espanyol or even Osasuna.
When Real Madrid faces a 5 man defense that makes it difficult for them to find space in the box or even between the midfield and defensive lines, this will come in handy. There is plenty of space in the middle; the opposition, after all, sits completely in the third half. Because of the inevitable congestion, keeping too many in the box is likely to be counter productive.
Instead of sitting back to draw the other team out to score, Madrid could abandon strikers all together and rely on the movement of Kaka, Modric and Ronaldo.
Here Marcelo can play a vital role. He is the provider from the left, while Di Maria cuts in and takes long shots. Others can drift or shoot from long. This way, Madrid pretty much line up with a 3 man defense and a holding midfielder.
Possible teams to use against: Lower rung teams which sit back and defend, against whom defensively not much work is needed. For e.g. Celta Vigo, Deportivo etc.
Tactic 4 & 5 (Ronaldo and Di Maria turn provider for Real Madrid)
Ronaldo is one of the greatest players to have graced the game and sometimes teams try to close Ronaldo at all costs to stop Real Madrid. Di Maria and Ronaldo can swap wings to turn providers instead of scorers. Also Higuain and Ronaldo can interchange to break down man-marking.
Ozil can drop deeper and allow Modric to come forward or this tactic can go the way of tactic 1 when needed.
Ronaldo’s and Di Maria’s crossing abilities are enviable and as shown in his United days, Ronaldo can play on either wing. Real Madrid can make use of this versatility to exploit enemy weaknesses.
Possible teams to use against: Against teams like Valencia, Ajax, Dortmund. These teams have the quality to stop Ronaldo as well as ability to score. Or when chasing a game against any team. Or when one wants to put on a show for the fans.
Tactic 6 (Ronaldo the provider + drifts in from right for Real Madrid)
If Alonso is played, Essien can fill in at RB/CDM. Thus an auxiliary 3 man defense for Real Madrid with the aim of keeping the ball at the halfway line. Essien drops in the RB position when team loses the ball.
Ronaldo again turns provider or drifts in from right. If a particular wing back is weaker than the other, this can give the other coach a nightmare. Possible teams to use against: Not team level specific, but dependent on the quality of the opposing wingback.
Of course, it goes without saying that no plan survives contact. Mourinho could very well scoff at these plans as being the rantings of an armchair analyst. Yet, even he’d be hard-pressed to deny that Real Madrid have become a tactical dinosaur.
Real Madrid are far too dependent on Alonso and Khedira. Modric can add several tactical dimensions and yet he chooses not to. He need not be a tinkerman. But he can surely be a bit more adventurous.
Can these be implemented? Only the Real Madrid coach can say for sure. But if doesn’t even try, then we’ll never know. Until one fine day, Real Madrid wakes up to find its become extinct – a forgotten behemoth that paid the ultimate price for not keeping with the times.