By Jordan Villagra.
Going into their Champions League match against Borussia Monchengladbach last week, Real Madrid were hoping to avoid a fourth straight loss in the competition — something which has never happened in their history.
They had lost to Shakhtar in their first group game of the new season, on the back of losing both legs of their last 16 tie with Manchester City as they were knocked out of the 2019/20 competition.
That history would remain unchanged, though, as Zinedine Zidane’s side pulled off a thrilling comeback in the last 15 minutes against Gladbach, with Casemiro’s late equalizer helping them earn their first point in this season’s group stage.
“What I’m interested in is the reaction and it’s really tough to get yourselves back in the game at 2-0 down in the Champions League and that’s what we did.
“I’m relaxed after seeing the team perform like that and we’re going to do something special, I’m sure,” Zidane said after the game.
Although Zidane and Co. were able to escape Borussia Park with a point, they are still at risk of not advancing from Group B.
The game was filled with a lot of the same issues from the Shakhtar game, but also provided an insight into what is lacking in their attack and how their squad can possibly improve heading into their match with Inter Milan next week.
Under Zidane this season, Real Madrid have played around with their starting line-up due to injuries (Eden Hazard, Dani Carvajal, and Martin Odegaard) and consistency issues.
These issues have persisted and have meant Zidane has not yet been able to establish a definitive starting eleven. More importantly, he has not been able to fill the Cristiano Ronaldo-sized void that’s been there since his departure in 2018.
Real started out on Tuesday night in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with the only real change from their weekend victory against Barcelona coming at right-back, where Lucas Vazquez replaced Nacho.
In the first half, Real looked better defensively with captain Sergio Ramos back at the helm after missing the first group stage match due to injury.
Ramos was able to provide more stability at the back and was able to support Raphael Varane with cover, which Éder Militão struggled with against Shakthar.
With Vazquez playing as a more attacking right-back, similar to Carvajal, Real Madrid looked to take advantage of Gladbach’s left flank, which Inter Milan had previously shown up as an area that could be exploited.
Real were able to retain a good portion of possession and were able to get a few shots on target to get their rhythm going in the game, but as the game went on they seemed to bump into the same issues they had against Shakthar.
They weren’t able to get anything going creatively from their midfield and their front line, other than Karim Benzema, seemed lethargic at times.
Their inability to capitalize on opportunities allowed Gladbach to slowly lay the groundwork for their own attack and find weaknesses in Real’s defence.
Gladbach were steadfast in waiting for their opportunities to pounce, and made it difficult for Real to contain their counter-attacks through the middle and left-flank.
“We lacked a cutting edge,” said Zidane. “We didn’t score first, but that’s the way it went. We gave the ball away, they’re strong on the counter, and in the first move, they put one in the top corner. That’s football for you, these things happen,”
Real went in at half-time 1-0 down to a Marcus Thuram goal, but After the break, Marco Asensio and Vinicius Jr. looked to make something happen for Real.
The latter struggled to get anything going for his team, completing only 71% of his passes and having no shots on target. He was soon replaced by Eden Hazard, with Asensio later replaced by Rodrygo.
Hazard, being a superior dribbler and passer to Vinicius, brought more of a creative threat from the left and was able to draw attention away from Benzema and Asensio, but it was Luka Modric who would prove to be the most influential player off the bench.
Coming on in the 70th minute for Toni Kroos, he brought the creative spark Real needed to get the goals flowing.
He completed 93% of his passes, playing a role in both goals that helped secure Los Merengues with a crucial point in Group B.
Eden Hazard has been included in Real Madrid’s #UCL squad to face Gladbach on Tuesday.
He hasn’t featured in a single game this season due to injury. pic.twitter.com/mB8BM0pwRC
— B/R Football (@brfootball) October 25, 2020
Gladbach are tougher than they are given credit for. The Bundesliga side did well to frustrate Real’s defence with their build-up play, and stopped Madrid from scoring right up until the dramatic final few minutes when Benzema and Casemiro rescued a point for the visitors.
They will be right there in the end with Real, looking to advance out of the group, and with a good young core, may just do that.
Real did well in possession and were better defensively compared to their previous showing, minus the mistakes that lead to Gladbach’s goals.
On the attacking front, Vinicius, although a great talent, currently lacks that killer instinct from the left, and sometimes does too much with the ball instead of choosing the simple option.
With that said, Hazard is the preferred option on the left-wing for Real, obviously given his price tag and talent. However, he has shown that he is not the same type of goal scorer or impact player Ronaldo was and this is what has really hurt Real’s attack since 2018.
In midfield, they usually rotate between Casemiro, Fede Valverde, Modric, Kroos and, more recently, Odegaard, but whatever rotation that Zidane puts on the field, it is clear that Modric or Odegaard (once healthy) is needed behind the front line to provide the creativity.
With Modric’s role being reduced to an impact player off the bench, it would most likely be Odegaard who gets the nod in the lineup once he returns from injury.
With a tough game next week against a good defensive side in Inter Milan, it will be interesting to see how Zidane plays around with the starting eleven, given the squad will likely be back to full strength.