Karim Benzema; the unsung hero of modern day Real Madrid.

-Pgs.

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As it is with all great stories, there are some characters who simply do not get the amount of credit they warrant. Always overshadowed by their more glamorous compatriots, these characters, and their contribution to the narrative, take a back seat in re-tellings of the stories, and become little more than side characters as time and ignorance fade people’s memories. And, more often than not, these characters do not deserve such a massive injustice to befall them, rather, they deserve to be given the same plaudits as their counterparts, but due to some reason, or a plethora of reasons, they do not.

In the epic that is modern day Real Madrid, the side character who has been sidelined, alongside his contributions, is Karim Benzema. Often derided for some misses, and a shaky scoring record, Karim Benzema, in the eyes of many, has been nothing but a stowaway in the the Real Madrid team. Always thought of as a player who more or less is carried by his teammates, Benzema has been given a reputation that he has done nothing to deserve. Those who have followed Real Madrid regularly since the moment Benzema arrived at the club will know that he has been an integral part of all the successes from that point onward.

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If you were to take any one of the original galactico’s, and compare their legacy to Benzema’s legacy at the club, no-one would come close to Benzema. The only way to argue that one of the original galactico’s has a better legacy at the club, and in football as a whole, would be by including all that Zidane has achieved as a manager and as a player for France in your argument. Other than that, Benzema is far and away in terms of success and legacy than all of them. A winner of four champions league trophies, a scorer in a final and multiple semi finals, two league titles, amongst many others trophies, the fourth all time top scorer in the Champions league, and in the top ten of all time highest scorers for Madrid, Benzema is a bigger legend for the club than any one of the original galactico’s, yet he is not even celebrated as even as half as much as all the others are.

The reasons for such a lack of recognition are simple; the nature of the player, and the repeated publishing of ignorant analyses and jokes about the player. Karim Benzema is a victim of his own selflessness and the inability of the majority of people to think critically about what they see and read.

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As a player, Benzema is probably one of the most unselfish to ever play the game. When playing with Cristiano Ronaldo, there is no way a player will ever be the main man at their team, but the extent to which Benzema went to to help Ronaldo be the best Ronaldo he could be was incredible. In the initial phases of their stay at Madrid, Benzema operated as a sort of link man in the counter-attacking system implemented by Mourinho. Holding up play and bringing others into the game, Benzema allowed Ronaldo and others to use their pace to end teams on the counter. Later on, when the team became a bit more possession oriented and Ronaldo became more and more of a striker, Benzema again sacrificed his game for the benefit of others. He started operating more and more as a false 9, drifting into the space on the left that Ronaldo vacated to help link play with the likes of Marcelo and Isco to create chances for Ronaldo in the box. When the BBC came to the fore, Benzema acted as a link man once again, but this time to the two wingers either side of him, connecting play and creating for them. He often dropped deep to help circulate play, occupied whatever space was vacated by his wingers, even if it meant leaving the box, and did whatever was necessary to help the likes of Bale and Ronaldo thrive, even if it meant sacrificing his own game. There is no better way to describe Benzema than how he described himself; “a nine with the soul of a ten”.

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All the while, he still maintained a goal ratio of around 20 a season, and still remained one of the top assist providers for the team.

However, all of this still hasn’t gotten him the reputation he deserves; as one of the best players in modern football and one of the most unique players ever. Mainly due to highly biased and ignorant analyses regarding what he does as a player, and the constant hammering of these opinions on social media, coupled with the rounds some his misses make on the internet, Benzema is seen as a striker with poor finishing who doesn’t deserve the success he has. But one thing people fail to think is, why hasn’t he been displaced by any one of the numerous strikers who have played at Real Madrid during his stay at the club? Or, why has the club not opted to sign a replacement? Why has a club with unlimited resources and quite possibly the strongest pull in football not opted to sign a replacement for such a poor player? The inability of people to entertain such questions has lead to the cultivation of the idea that Benzema is at best a good player, when in actuality, he is one of the very best to play football in this era.

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There are very few strikers, if any, who do all of the things Benzema does, and at the level he does. What Benzema is, is a hybrid of a striker and a number 10. One of the best dribblers of all top strikers, Benzema can operate in the tightest of spaces, can attack down the wing and can operate in spaces in and around the box. His link up play is also one of the best around, while he also manages to do what is generally expected from a number 9. With over a 180 goals for the club, he has one of the best scoring records around. Even in Real Madrid’s worst season this century, he managed to score 21 in the league, a tally bettered only by the top scorers of the top 5 leagues in Europe and 30 in all competitions.

Those who have watched him regularly know that there was no player who was a better fit for the Madrid teams he played in. Madridistas all around know what he is capable of doing, and has done for the club. The archetypal modern striker, Benzema deserves to be pulled out of the shadow and start being appreciated for what he is; an all time great, for Real Madrid, and for football as a whole.

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The embodiment of club and culture; the parallels between Zidane and Pep Guardiola.

-Pgs

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Anybody who has a passing interest in football knows who Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola are. Two titans of the game, one as one of the best players ever and one of the most successful coaches of the most successful team of all time, and the other as an excellent player and arguably the greatest tactician of all time. Besides this incredible success in football, and a severe lack of hair follicles, these two men share another trait; both are embodiments of the institutions that they have become most attributed with, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid C.F.

To fully grasp how two men could be the physical representations of the spirits of two of the biggest sporting institutions in the world, one needs to trace the history of the clubs and the men. The footballing version of the USSR vs USA, the Madrid vs Barca is the most enthralling rivalry in the history of the sport. The two biggest clubs in Spain, two of the most successful teams in the world, and the two teams that had the pleasure of experiencing the peaks of the two greatest players of all time. Real Madrid vs Barcelona is a match up like no other.

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So how are these two men the manifestations of these gargantuan clubs? Even more so than the two men in the picture above? To answer that, one has to pick up apart the cultures of the clubs individually, and the part that they play in the history of their clubs.

Barcelona are synonymous with one ideology. The radicals of the sport, operating under an overarching umbrella of one ideology, one ideology that guides their playing style from the starting 11 to the under-9’s. First exposed to the world by the enigmatic duo of Cruyff and Michels, Barcelona adopted total football as their own. Soon, they became moulded by it, changing the very face of the club, and the face of the sport as a whole. This ethos of playing beautifully and winning by doing so has become the very crux of the Barcelona story. From the Cruyff led side of the 70’s, to the Pep Guardiola led team of the late 2000’s. So where does Pep Guardiola fit into all this?

As a player, Pep is considered to be an excellent one, albeit not one of the best to ever play the game. Climbing through the ranks of the famed La Masia academy, that aims to instill the ideology of the club into its students from the youngest age possible, Pep broke into the first team. The La Masia aspect of his DNA is also very important, and we’ll come back to that soon. What would’ve been a largely normal career was changed by the influence of one man; Johan Cruyff. Made a vital cog of Cruyff’s dream team of the early 90’s, Pep received his footballing education from one of the greatest minds the footballing world had ever seen. Winning multiple league titles on the bounce and one UCL under the tutelage of Cruyff, Pep Guardiola learned what would later become his niche as a coach. The Cruyff-ian philosophy, or so to say, had been instilled in Pep.

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On the other sphere of the El Clasico rivalry, a few years down the line, a magical combination was about to happen. Possibly the best player in the world at that time, the player who lead his nation to a World cup and Euros triumph, the player who Sir Alex Ferguson boldly claimed was all he needed alongside 10 pieces of wood to win the UCL, was about to join the most successful team in the world. Zinedine Yazid Zidane, in what was at the time the most expensive transfer in history, had joined Real Madrid. The second signing of the infamous Galacticos era, Zidane was the centerpiece of Florentino Perez’s dream of a team containing all the best players in the world. Zidane, who cannot be described as anything other than a mercurial genius, was a perfect fit for the club, and it’s ethos. Football’s answer to the Bolshoi ballet, as said by Michel Platini, Zidane wasn’t a player who would provide bucket loads of goals or assists, but he was the player who could alter any game in one swift act of inexplicable genius.

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A player like this was perfect for a club like Real Madrid. A club who were not dogmatic about anything other than the fact that they had to win. To win everything. Whereas Barcelona were unequivocal in their belief that winning has to be done in a certain way, and preferably with their own youth products, all Real Madrid care about is to win attractively. Attractively is a very vague term, as it can mean picking apart your opponents like Barcelona, or by obliterating them on the counter or by bombarding them with a deluge of shots till one or more go in. They did not care whether the players were homegrown or not as well. Although the fans have always displayed a liking towards homegrown players, they have also always knackered for marquee signings, the big names, the ones who bring with them the glitz and the glamour. And in the early 2000’s, there were very few who were as glamorous as the Frenchman. Very few will argue that there is a club that embraces the larger than life nature of the sport more than Real Madrid, and Zidane, even though he does not have such a personality, aligned in a way akin to a syzygy.

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As players, both ticked the boxes for their clubs, but their connection to the clubs go deeper than just players. As coaches, both have experienced even more success than they had as players, and more importantly, both have continued with their clubs way of thinking.

Pep Guardiola’s stint as coach was fraught with success. Playing a brand of possession oriented football, Pep Guardiola created what is arguably the greatest team to ever play. Moreover, the core of that team, Messi, Xavi, Pedro, Puyol, Iniesta, Busquets, Pique and Valdes were all homegrown. Pep, a member of the dream team of the early nineties, had usurped the achievements of his master, and did so in a way that Barcelona fans craved. Pep brought to Barcelona the culmination of a love affair that started over three decades ago, winning a treble, three league titles and a Champions League.

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On the other side of the El Clasico divide, 4 years after Pep’s departure, Zinedine Zidane was appointed at the helm of Real Madrid. In the following 2.5 years, he managed to do what no manager had ever done before, win the Champions league, retain it, and retain it again. While doing that, he also managed to snag a league title. And he did this in a way that no club other than Real Madrid could even dream of pulling off. With the greatest squad of all time, that had the likes of James Rodriguez, Gareth Bale, Pepe, Kovacic on the bench, and a playing style that followed the motto “we have better players than you, and that’s how we’ll beat you”, Zidane created the second best European dynasty of all time, after the 50’s Madrid team of course. Superstar players, a gung ho approach to attacking, a never say die attitude fostered by Zidane, Ramos and Ronaldo, and an air of arrogance that comes with no club other than Real, Zidane breathed life into the Real Madrid dream. The greatest Galactico of the first era showed why Real Madrid are Real Madrid. A man indoctrinated with club values during his stint as a player, he brought those same values to the fore when he was made manager 15 years after his signing.

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As players and managers, both men have encapsulated what their clubs were. Be it through a dogmatic approach to football, or through a cavalier way focused solely on winning. The idealist and the the superstar, as players and coaches. The very spirits of their club given a physical form.

Until now, these two bald greats have not met as coaches. However, since Zidane has returned to the helm of Real Madrid, and Pep Guardiola is showing no signs of taking a hiatus, it probably won’t be long before these two meet. With the tactical brilliance of one and the inexplicable ability of other to win games through the most simplistic of methods, there is no telling who will come out on top. The only thing that is sure is that the match will be incredible.

Real Madrid vs Bayern Munich 16/17 Champions league QF second leg tactical analysis.

-Pgs

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Quite possibly the most entertaining game that I have ever watched, the second leg between the reigning UCL champions Real Madrid and Bayern Munich in the Santiago Bernebeu was a match like no other. Real, who came into the match with a 2-1 aggregate lead after a Ronaldo brace in the Allianz arena, were trying to reach their sixth consecutive semi-final, and retain their crown.

On the night, Madrid lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond, with Navas in goal, Ramos and Nacho as the center backs, Carvajal and Marcelo as the fullbacks, Casemiro as the DM, Modric and Kroos in central midfield, Isco as a roaming attacking midfielder and a front two of Ronaldo and Benzema.

Bayern on the other hand lined up in a 4-3-3 with Neuer in goal, a center back pairing of Hummels and Boateng, Lahm and Alaba as the fullbacks, Xabi Alonso as the lone pivot, with Vidal and Thiago ahead of him. The front three was made up of Robben, Ribery and Lewandowski.

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One very important thing to note is that this match was one with one of the worst refereeing performances by referee Viktor Kassai and his assistants. In fact, the refereeing was so poor, Real were given two offside goals, Bayern given one offside goal, Arturo Vidal was not sent off for two challenges that warranted a straight red, but for one that should have been a yellow, while the penalty Robben won was also via one of his usual hysterical dives. All in all, only two of the six goals that were scored should’ve stood, and the match should never have gone to extra time.

Another thing to note is that although it was Ronaldo who scored a hat-trick, the standout performance of the match was of his chief partner in crime; Marcelo. With quite possibly the greatest fullback performance in the history of the UCL, Marcelo tore Bayern to shreds. On the night, he completed 9, yes 9 dribbles, sent in 13 crosses, while also making two on the line clearances, one incredible assist, and one piece of skill that made Robben fall down to his knees as if he were praying.RealMadridVBayernMunich18April17_large

Trailing the match with two away goals, Bayern started to attack from the get go, and their game plan was clear. They attempted to exploit the glaring weakness of Zidane’s diamond; the lack of personnel on the wings. The only two wide players in the formation were the fullbacks. Due to this, Bayern could overload the wings and easily create chance after chance from the wings.

In the middle of the park, the talent levels were almost obscene. Very few midfields can match Xabi Alonso and Thiago on a technical level, but the Madrid midfield three of Kroos, Isco and Modric were more than up to the task. The combative presence of Vidal for Bayern and Casemiro for Real was also intriguing, as they provided a sort of grit that their counterparts did not.

Bayerns attacks off the wing very nearly bore fruit in the first ten minutes, with Ribery and Alaba doubling up on Carvajal and sending in a cross that was met my Thiago and would’ve been a sure goal had it not been for a sliding block by Marcelo. A few minutes later, with Marcelo having gone on one of his marauding runs, Lewandowski was free on the left wing, but was dealt with well by Ramos.

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Alongside attacking via the wings, another characteristic of Bayern’s play was their pressing. They attempted to stem the flow to Madrid’s attacking players through a high press that was led by Lewandowski and Thaigo. The prime target for their pressing was Casemiro, as he was the least technically sound player of Madrid’s midfield 4. Vidal often harried Casemiro as soon as he got the ball, while Lewandowski let the Madrid center backs have as little time as possible on the ball.

However, this pressing wasn’t as effective as Bayern had hoped it would be. A defining characteristic of Zidane’s Madrid was their ease at beating even the most structured of presses. This was down to mainly three reasons; the individual talent of Isco, Modric and Kroos, the fluidity of their play and the movement of Benzema and Marcelo to aid them.

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Kroos, Modric and Isco’s unflappability in midfield was remarkable as they constantly beat Bayern’s press with a series of passing combinations or dribbles. Bayern’s midfield found it increasingly difficult to mark them was they very rarely stayed in the same zones. Kroos was more inclined to stay in the left half-space and Modric on the right, but they could and often times did switch areas or overload one side. Isco was also a roaming presence, popping up wherever there was the ball to present himself as a passing option. Their movement broke the Bayern pressing structure and rendered any attempts at man-marking void. Moreover, Marcelo’s constant forays into attack helped Madrid dominate the ball on the left wing as Isco, Kroos, Marcelo combined with Benzema to hold the ball.

Despite this, Bayern still had slightly more of the ball, which was due to Madrid’s lack of pressing. Madrid were content to soak up pressure and try to destroy Bayern in transition. A key to this was Ramos, who was tasked with putting a stop to all Bayern crosses as his usual partner in defence; Varane, was out with injury and Nacho is weak in the air. Thankfully, Ramos was immense on the night heading out everything. He won 3 aerial duels in the box in the first 20 minutes alone.

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To defend against Bayern’s constant attacks down the wings, Madrid reverted to a flat  4-4-2 while defending, with Isco helping out Marcelo on the left wing and Modric helping out Carvajal on the right, with Casemiro and Kroos screening the center backs.

Despite playing in such a narrow formation, Madrid’s main avenue of attack was also down the wings, the left wing in particular. Marcelo absolutely dominated that flank, with his overlapping runs and dribbles causing mayhem for Lahm and Robben. He often had Isco or Benzema for help, but was a massive threat on his own. I have never seen Lahm be as utterly dominated by an opposing fullback as he was vs Marcelo that night.

Another common sight was the typical switch of play. With Madrid overloading the left side, Bayern were naturally drawn to that side, leaving the right wing vulnerable. The play was switched to the right, to Carvajal a number of times, in order to create better attacking opportunities.

The second half started in the same vein, and Robben nearly scored via an Alaba cross, had it not been for another goal saving clearance by Marcelo.

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Both of Marcelo’s goal saving blocks/clearances.

Both teams had numerous attacks, with Madrid nearly scoring via a Ramos shot which was cleared spectacularly off the line by Vidal. The first goal however, took till the 53rd minute to come, when a trademark dive by Robben earned Bayern a penalty, which was put away by Lewandowski.

The Madrid reply came in the 73rd minute, when Ronaldo headed in a Casemiro ball over the top of Bayern’s defense. This was one of the two goals that should have stood.

Four minutes later, Lewandowski received the ball in an offside position and his attempt to pass it back to Muller was accidentally turned in by Ramos. The scoreline needed to force the game to extra time was achieved.

The game eased up a bit after that, with both teams visibly tired. Madrid attacked a bit more than Bayern. Madrid also made two offensive changes, with Asensio and Vazquez replacing Benzema and Isco, which made Madrid revert to a 4-3-3. This was done for two reasons; to negate Bayern’s threat down the wings, and to increase Madrid’s offensive threat down the wings.

The 83rd minute was one of importance, as Vidal finally got the red card he deserved that match, albeit over 60 minutes late.

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Extra time was a different story altogether. A man down and tired, Bayern were run rampant by Madrid, especially Marcelo, as they conceded three goals in extra time. Moreover, they should have received a penalty as well for a foul on Casemiro.

Due to fatigue and being a man down, Bayern started leaving huge spaces in between the lines. These gaps were exploited over and over again by Madrid, with two of the Madrid goals coming as a direct result of this. Marcelo simply burst through the middle of the pitch, beating three players while doing and laid it on a plate for Ronaldo, while Asensio beat a weary Hummels twice before scoring.

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Overall, the game wasn’t a tactical masterclass by either side, but more of a game with subtle tactical tweaks and an intriguing midfield battle. Madrid went on to dispatch Atletico in the semis and thrash Juventus in the final to become the first ever team to retain the UCL, while Bayern reached the semi-finals of the next year’s edition of the UCL, only to be beaten by Madrid again, who would secure a third straight UCL win under Zidane.

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Inter Milan vs Barcelona 2009/10 UCL semi-final first leg tactical analysis.

-Pgs

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If there ever was a complete antithesis for Pep Guardiola’s possession based style of football, then it would be Jose Mourinho. The complete polar opposite to Pep Guardiola in terms of footballing philosophy. While one advocates for playing the game as beautiful as possible, for suffocating his opponents through sheer possession alone, the other is fine with playing 90% of a game without the ball, and still coming away with the win. These two titans of the game, undoubtedly two of the greatest managers of all time, came head to head in the semi-finals of the 09/10 Uefa Champions League. Jose Mourinho’s reigning Serie A champions came up against Pep Guardiola’s reigning treble winners, the winners of the last year’s edition of the UCL. The match up was one of epic proportions, arguably the best club side of all time, up against arguably the best defensive coach of all time.

Jose Mourinho’s Inter lined up in a 4-3-1-2 of sorts, with Milito and Eto’o leading the line, Sneijder in the hole behind them, a midfield three of Cambiasso, Pandev and Motta, with a back line of Maicon as the RB, Lucio and Samuel as the CB’s and the legendary Zanetti as the LB, with Julio Caesar in goal.

Pep’s Barcelona lined up in their iconic 4-3-3 with Valdes manning the goal, a back four of Alves, Pique, Puyol and Maxwell. The midfield was lacking a key cog though, with Iniesta out due to a muscle injury, and Seydou Keita took his place. The other two midfielders were Xavi and Busquets. Up front, Messi played as a false-9 with Pedro and Zlatan either side of him.

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From the off, Inter Milan’s game plan seemed to be clear. Despite lining up in a 4-3-1-2, they reverted to a 4-2-3-1 when defending. Milito stayed up front as the sole striker, while Eto’o moved to the right wing, and Pandev to the left. Inter employed two very specific pressing traps from the start. As long as Valdes or the center backs had the ball in Barcelona’s defensive third, they did not press. However, whenever the ball was received by a fullback, the winger of the same side and the closest midfielder pressed the fullback. The other pressing trap they used was they did not press high up centrally, but whenever Barcelona were within 40 yards of the Inter goal, they raised their pressing intensity.

Sneijder was also given a specific task; to mark Xavi in the center of the pitch. On multiple occasions, Sneijder moved away from the play to follow Xavi.

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On the attacking front, Inter aimed to either find Sneijder as an outlet immediately after winning the ball back, or tried to find Eto’o or Milito running in behind the defense with a long ball. As a consequence, Inter were caught offside 4 times in just the opening half hour.

For the first 18 minutes or so, Inter Milan completely nullified Barcelona’s threat. The only time in which Barcelona seemed to start a genuine attack was when Messi dribbled past 3 players, but was brought down by Samuel on the edge of the box. However, a free kick was not given. Inter Milan however managed to create some chances, with Lucio getting on the end of a free kick and heading wide, while Milito had a golden opportunity to score when a saved Eto’o shot fell right to him in the box, but he sent an absolutely horrible shot so wide that it was picked up by Maxwell near the corner flag.

However, in the 19th minute, in Barcelona’s first real attack, they scored. Xavi, Messi and Maxwell kept a hold of the ball through a series of nice passes on the left wing. When the fullback was dragged inside because of Keita moving inside, Maxwell made a run in behind and was found by Xavi. Beating Cambiasso for pace and running to the byline, Maxwell cut the ball back for Pedro to score from near the penalty spot.

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Despite the goal, Inter Milan did not change their methods, and continued employing the same counter-attacking tactics. In the 26th minute, Inter won the ball back high as a result of their wide pressing and Milito had another great opportunity to score, but sent his shot just wide.

In the 29th minute, a long ball found Eto’o on the right wing. He sent in a cross that was held up by Milito in the center of the box, and then played into the path of Sneijder, who was completely unmarked and scored.

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After the equalizer, Barcelona stepped up a bit, with Messi and Dani Alves coming into their own. Alves made a number of overlapping runs, but they were tracked well my Pandev. Messi on the other hand gave Inter all sorts of trouble with his constant roaming and dribbling, with Inter having to resort to fouling him to stop him. However, despite Messi’s movement, Inter managed to maintain their shape, and were not threatened for the most part.

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The second half started differently as Inter started pressing much higher. Retaining the same 4-2-3-1 shape, Inter began pressing high up in the opposing half, and came close to scoring immediately from the start when a good team move culminated in Milito playing a cross that Pandev just missed.

Two minutes later, Motta won the ball back from Messi in the Inter half, and Zanetti passed it to Pandev, who then proceeded to calmly burst past 3 Barcelona players and carried the ball into the Barcelona half and played a through ball into the box, which Milito collected and played into the on rushing Maicon, who scored. In classic counter attacking fashion, Jose Mourinho’s team had taken the lead.

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Inter kept up with the high press, and became much more physical in their approach, constantly giving away fouls. For both teams, their talismanic Argentines caused their opponents the most trouble, Milito with his constant runs in behind the Barca defense, and Messi with his dribbling. However, Milito’s supporting cast, especially Pandev and Sneijder were on top form, with Pandev acting as a two way force, contributing in attack and defense on the left hand side, while Messi’s supporting cast were no where to be seen, with Ibrahimovic being completely nullified throughout the game.

Mourinho made the first change of the game, bringing on Stankovic for Pandev. After the change, Inter resorted to a 4-1-4-1 while defending, with Cambiasso operating between the defensive line and midfield, and Sneijder moving to the left wing.

In the sixtieth minute, after a wave of Inter attacks, Barcelona attempted to counter, but Motta won the ball back expertly with a slide tackle, and played the ball wide to Maicon who sent in a cross. Sneijder botched his header, sending it straight to the ground, but the ball looped forward and Milito tapped in from close range. Inter 3-1 Barcelona.

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After the goal, Barca brought on Abidal for Zlatan, with Maxwell slotting into the vacated left wing position.

Inter eased off on their pressing a bit after the goal, and were content with defending compactly in their own half. Barcelona held most of the ball for the remaining 30 minutes, but failed to create any real chances besides one pedro shot from inside the box, which was blocked by Samuel. Inter also failed to create much of an attacking threat as Milito was taken off for Balotelli, and Eto’o failed to make the type of runs Milito had been making, after he took up Milito’s spot.

Balotelli did produce a moment of magic in the 76th minute, intercepting a pass and flicking the ball over Abidal, then flicking it over Xavi with his heel.

As the match wore on, Inter were pushed further and further back into their own half, and ended up creating a 4 man wall around the box, with a 3 man midfield right in front of the box. Only Eto’o and Sneijder remained near the half way line as Inter camped around their box. Messi was kept in check by Cambiasso, while all other Barcelona threats were nullified by sheer number.

Inter managed to see off the game with no further goals for either side. In the end, Jose Mourinho’s defensive football won the game, and eventually the tie, as he completely nullified Barcelona’s attacking threat with a number of smart pre-planned methods and in-game changes. Milito and Cambiasso were far and away the best players on the pitch, with Milito scoring one and assisting two, while Cambiasso expertly screened his defense. Despite being labelled as an advocate of “ugly” football, Mourinho’s team played anything but ugly. With fast breaking counter attacks and ingenious pressing traps, Mourinho’s Inter defeated the great Barcelona, and would later go on to win the tournament. The special one had prevailed.383D8DF400000578-3898024-image-a-19_1478101307545

The day JDP was destroyed; Bayern Munich vs Barcelona 4-0 tactical analysis.

-Pgs

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The day Bayern Munich obliterated Barcelona 4-0 at the Allianz was one that will never be forgotten. Not only because of the scoreline, but because of the dominance of the Germans on that day. That match is up there with some of the most iconic UCL matches ever, because it was the match in which the Juego de posicion (JDP), or game of position in English, was outclassed (calling JDP tiki-taka is highly insulting therefore I choose to not do it).

Bayern Munich, led by Jupp Heynckes, the man who had ended Real Madrid’s 32 year UCL drought in 1998, lined up in their usual 4-2-3-1 with Neur at goal, Alaba and Lahm at LB and RB respectively, Boateng and Dante in the center of defense, Schweinsteiger and Martinez as a double pivot, Muller as an AM, Ribery and Robben as the wingers and Mario Gomez as the sole striker.

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Barcelona on the other hand lined up in their famed 4-3-3 with Valdes in goal, Alba and Alves as the fullbacks, Pique and Marc Bartra as the center backs due to injuries to Puyol and Mascherano, the famed trio of Xavi-iniesta-Busquets in midfield, Sanchez and Pedro on the wings and Messi, just recently back from injury as a false-9.

The match started off as everyone expected it to; with Barcelona dominating the ball and Bayern defending. However, unlike other games, the majority of Barcelona’s possession was in their own half.  Bayern morphed into a flat 4-5-1, and employed a zonal-man-to-man marking system, in which players marked their opponents based on their zone. Bayern allowed Pique and Bartra to have the ball, as long as they had no outlets. Ribery and Robben stayed close to Alves and Alba, while Busquets was marked by Muller. Xavi and Iniesta were immediately closed down by Marinez and Schweinsteiger whenever they received the ball in the Bayern half. Whenever one of Xavi or Iniesta dropped deep to receive the ball, Muller took over from their respective markers while Busquets was dealt with by Gomez. Bayern had a clear plan to stop Busquets from being able to find Iniesta, Xavi or Messi in dangerous areas. For the first 15 minutes or so, Barca had around 70% possession, but had no chances at all. They very rarely reached the final third.

However, something very interesting was Bayern’s pressing methods. They did not employ a high-press, they allowed Barcelona to have possession, as long as it was in their half. The only time Bayern pressed intensely was when Barcelona progressed the ball near the Bayern box. Otherwise, Bayern maintained their structure and simply marked Xavi and Iniesta out of the game.

Pique and Bartra constantly recycled play, but the front three of Messi, Sanchez and Pedro were completely isolated. Whenever Xavi and Iniesta tried to create space through quick passing sequences, Martinez and Schweinsteiger closed them down and won the ball back. Bayern even employed some underhand tactics to stop Barca as whenever Martinez or Schweinsteiger missed a tackle, they would pull down or trip Xavi and Iniesta, which stopped any momentum from being developed.  If Xavi or Iniesta moved wider to create space, they would be marked by Robben or Ribery. This left the Barcelona fullbacks free, but since they had no outlets, allowing them to have possession did not do any harm to Bayern.

Bayern also seemed to have a whole separate plan to stop Messi. Messi, who was severly isolated, received the ball on very few occasions in the first half, and whenever he did, he would be swarmed immediately by the Bayern players closest to him. Ribery even tracked back over 40 yards to tackle Messi. In the first 45 minutes, Messi completed only one dribble, which was near the halfway line, and was fouled immediately after he had beaten one Bayern player.

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Barcelona had only one big chance in the first half, when Pedro managed to get inside Alaba and sent in a low cross that would’ve reached Messi in the six yard box, had Dante not cleared it.

With Bayern blocking off every possible outlet in the middle, Pique and Bartra were forced to go long, but the short trio of Sanchez, Pedro and Messi and absolutely no chance of beating the likes of Alaba, Boateng and Dante in the air.

On the attacking front, Bayern primarily used two methods; counter attacking via the wings by using the exceptional speed of Robben and Ribery, or by using their aerial superiority. Every time Bayen won the ball, Muller would move to the half space near the area in which it was won. One of the Bayern defenders or midfielders would play it to Muller who would play it forward to either Robben or Ribery and they would sprint forward with it. Muller held up the ball exceptionally well and waited until the wingers started running to play the ball. Even though Barca had the legendary Dani Alves and Alba on the flanks, Robben and Ribery repeatedly got the better of them.

Up until the first two goals, Pique had put in an exceptional performance.  Every single Bayern corner and cross was cleared by Pique. Bartra was abysmal on the night. He couldn’t aid Alves against Ribery nor could he stop the crosses from reaching Muller and Gomez. Pique had to do everything.

However, Bayern eventually made their aerial superiority count when a corner was cleared by Pique, but was put back in by Robben, who played it to Muller. Muller sent in a cross, and Dante towered over Alves and nodded it down for Muller to head home. 25 minutes, 1-0.

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In the 48th minute, the same thing was repeated as Alves was towered over yet again, this time by Muller, who nodded it down for Gomez, who scored from 4 yards. Cue Seven Nation army.

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After the second goal, Barcelona changed their tactics a lot, with Iniesta and Xavi dropping deep and Messi moving to the right wing. Barcelona tried to unleash wave after wave of attacks on the Bavarians, but were unable to. Iniesta and Messi constantly tried to dribble past players, but both were either double-marked or fouled.

Heynckes’ instructions for Bayern to not press high or intensely for as long as possible proved to be an absolute masterstroke. Barcelona increased their intensity, but Bayern were able to match it, despite having being the defending team for the majority of the match. The Bayern players made their physical superiority count as they used the full bulk of their frames to push the Barca players off  the ball, while they increased the intensity of their press in their own half. Bayern employed pressing traps in which they would outnumber Pedro and Sanchez in the middle, isolating Messi. With Xavi and Iniesta operating near the halfway line, Bayern fell back into a 4-4-2 with Muller and Gomez up top. This structure forced Barca to try and go long, which posed no problem for Bayern, and even if Barca managed to break through, Bayern would outnumber the Barca players as almost all the Bayern players were in their own half.

Barcelona switched things up again, with Iniesta moving to the left half space and Alaba overlapping, while Pedro and Sanchez moved centrally. However, Robben, Lahm and Muller kept them in check, and even when they were able to cross, Bayern cleared everything.

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In the seventy second minute, Ribery won the ball from Messi in his own half and started a counter. He played it centrally to Schweinsteiger who played it wide to Robben. Robben did a step over and beat Alba in the box. However when Alba tried to tackle Robben a second time, Muller got in his way and fouled him. This allowed Robben to slightly shift and place a shot beyond Valdes. Cue Seven Nation Army.

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Barcelona lost all momentum after the third goal. They did have an excellent chance just two minutes after the goal, when a Xavi free kick found bartra in acres of space inside the Bayern box, but due to him having to volley on the turn, he sent his shot out for a throw in.

Bayern started to have more possession after that and less than 10 minutes later, Ribery found Alaba on the overlap, who sent in a low cross that was met by Muller. Seven Nation Army was played for a fourth time that night.

The scoreline shocked the world. Everyone knew about it, from the Queen of England to the hounds of hell (see what I did there).  Bayern had humbled one of the greatest teams the world had ever seen. They had nullified Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, and had attacked the weakness of that Barca side as much as possible. Mourinho had previously beaten the legendary Barcelona team, but never with such a scoreline, and of course he had a certain Cristiano Ronaldo to help him most of the time. Bayern made it clear who were the best team in the world. They went on to win a treble that season.

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AC Milan vs Real Madrid 1988/89 semi-final second leg tactical analysis.

-Pgs.

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The 1988/89 Ac Milan team, led by the great Arrigo Sacchi is considered to be one of the greatest club teams of all time. Due to this, I decided to write this tactical analysis about one of their most iconic matches ever; their 5-0 humbling of my favourite team, Real Madrid in the 1988/89 European cup semi-final second leg.

First of all, some context is needed. That Milan team were the reigning Serie-A champions and had the mercurial dutch trio of Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard alongside the likes of Maldini, Baresi, Ancelotti and Donadoni, while the Real Madrid team they faced were the greatest Real Madrid team to never win a Uefa Champions league/European cup; the Quinta del Buitre. That Real Madrid team was the one that had managed to win five league titles on the bounce, lead by the famed homegrown quintet of Emilio Butragueño, Sanchís, Rafael Martín Vázquez and Míchel, supported by the likes of Bernd Schuster and Hugo Sanchez.

On that night, Ac Milan started with an eleven of Galli, Tassotti, Maldini, Colombo, Costacurta, Baresi, Donadoni, Rijkaard, Van Basten, Gullit and Ancelotti.

Real Madrid on the other hand started with an eleven of Buyo, Chendo, Gordillo, Michel, Sanchis, Llorente, Burtagueno, Schuster, Sanchez, Gallego and Vazquez.

From the off, Milan’s game plan was clear to see. They pressed high in a manner akin to current teams such as Manchester City or Liverpool. Everytime Madrid played the ball back to their keeper Buyo, the whole Milan team moved forward in unison, creating an incredibly high line. More often than not, the last man; Baresi was at the half way line. This forced Buyo to go long every time he had the ball, and his pass was either intercepted by a Milan player or it went out of play.

Whenever Real Madrid did manage to get the ball into the midfield, Milan crowded them out in a very unorthodox fashion. The 4-4-2 the lined up in morphed into an almost 2-8 formation with Maldini stationing himself very high and wide and the front two, Van Basten and Gullit dropping in deep. Gullit performed somewhat similar to a no.10, dropping deep centrally while Van Basten dropped deep as well, but moved towards the left wing alot, which helped Milan have almost 8 midfielders and no strikers. This incredible overcrowding of the midfield helped Milan win back the ball time and time again as at times almost three Milan players pressed 1 Madrid player. After Milan won the ball back, they would keep a hold of it, playing simple passes, but due to their sheer numerical superiority, Madrid found it very hard to win it back.

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One common aspect of Milan’s play was that they used the superiority on the left hand side with Van Basten, Ancelotti and Maldini to keep a hold of the ball. This forced the Madrid players to move on to that side, leaving the right wing open. Almost every time this happened, Milan played a long ball to the right wing, giving Colombo acres of space to run into. However, the only time in the first fifteen minutes or so Milan genuinely looked threatening was when they switched play through a quick series of passes in which they played the ball centrally and then wide until a pass by Donadoni found Colombo in acres of space near the Madrid box, but due to a poor touch by Colombo, the ball went out of play.

In the seventeenth minute, Baresi tried to find Tassotti on the right wing with a long ball, which was intercepted and headed out. Through the following throw in, Gullit attempted to beat a couple of Madrid players but lost the ball near the halfway line. However, due to the 3 v 1 pressing scheme Milan used, Tassotti won the ball back immediately and fed it to Gullit. Gullit, who was still under pressure, beat one man and played it centrally to Ancelotti. Ancelotti then proceded to calmly beat two Real Madrid players and launched an absolute howitzer of a shot that beat the keeper and dipped into the goal from 25 yards out.

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This picture was right before the Ancelotti goal. You can see how the moment a Real Madrid player is about to receive a loose ball, three Milan players hone in on him. Tassotti won the ball back in this incident and gave it to Gullit.

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Around six minutes later, with the same pressing methods, Milan won a series of three corners. The third corner was played short to Tassotti, who put in an absolute peach of a cross that Rijkaard duly headed in. 2-0. 24 minutes.

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In the first 25 minutes, one thing that stood out was Real Madrid’s attacking, or lack-thereof. Every time Real managed to beat the midfield press, Milan reverted to a 6-3-1 formation and did something I had never seen before. The back 6 lined up incredibly flat and moved up in a unison, towards the player who had the ball, as long as the player wasn’t wide. If the Madrid player was wide, then he would be pressed by 2 Milan players, but if he was centrally located, the whole back line moved towards him. This lead to the entire area behind them being offside. In the first 25 minutes, Madrid were caught offside three times due to this, and whenever the player with the ball tried to hold on to it to wait for a runner, he was harried by the Milan players and lost the ball.

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In this picture, it can be seen how Milan absolutely hounded and surrounded any Madrid player on the ball. Maldini, the left back moved inside while the center backs closed in on him. The midfielders also surrounded the Madrid attackers, creating a 2 v 6 situation.

After the second goal, Milan eased up on their pressing, but still faced little to no trouble, due to their overloading of their half. One very striking aspect of Milan’s play was that every time they won the ball, the first player they would give it too was Ancelotti, who seemed responsible for all their transitions. He either held on to the ball until the attackers could make runs or drove on with the ball himself in a manner similar to the box to box midfielders of today. Ancelotti also was a very good dribbler and constantly beat Madrid players, something that I had not expected of him. Moreover, Ancelotti often received the ball in the left half space or left wing, which was very odd. Something even more odd was Maldini’s tendency to move centrally into Ancelotti’s area. Today, we see alot of fullbacks moving centrally, especially in Guardiola’s teams, but what Maldini took it to an extreme. He often ran straight through the middle of the pitch, like an attacker making a run during a counter attack.

For a ten minute spell, Real Madrid actually dominated and attempted to attack via the wings. They even created one very good chance for Vazquez via a Gordillo cross that Vazquez really shouldve scored. However, on the brink of half time, Ancelotti intercepted the ball near the half way line and played it to Donadoni, who played it to Gullit near the edge of the box. Gullit played it back to Donadoni near the by-line, and made a run into the middle. Donadoni shifted his fullback and sent in a cross that Gullit scored. 3-0.

The fourth goal soon followed. Maldini played a pass forward that Van Basten dropped deep into the left half space and played it back to Donadoni. Ancelotti and Rijkaard then created a square with Donadoni and Maldini, outnumbering the Madrid midfield. Rijkaard received the ball and sent a long pass into the Madrid box that Gullit headed down for Van Basten, who had by then moved to the right hand side, and then finished into the top corner.

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After the goal, Real Madrid still tried to attack Milan, attacking via the wings, but Milan’s tactical superiority halted any possible Madrid attack. Milan kept hold of the ball for long periods of time by simply outnumbering Madrid. Unlike today’s teams, who use triangles to hold on to the ball, Milan formed squares in the pitch, with an almost childish disregard for positional discipline. Van Basten, who is so often called the spearhead of that team, dropped deeper than his midfielders to receive the ball. Gullit, Van Basten’s strike partner roamed the pitch, moving to whichever area had the ball. And whenever Madrid’s defenders followed the two into midfield, one of Milan’s midfielders or fullbacks, usually Maldini on the left and Colombo on the right made a run into the channel. The incredible technical ability of the Milan players also helped them a lot with regards to maintaining possession. It seemed as though every single player was confident enough to dribble out of a tight space, and over the course of the match, every single player besides the keeper had dribbled past an opponent at least once. Every player was comfortable in holding on to the ball, something rare even in today’s teams.

Moreover, Baresi, who is famed for being a rough and tough defender of old played in a way that puts even the best of today’s breed of center backs to shame. He constantly found wide outlets, especially Colombo or Tassotti on the right with his long balls, surged forward whenever possible while helping recycle possession.

Gullit had to go off in the 55th minute due to a knee injury and was replaced by Paolo Virdis. Soon after, Milan won a corner, that was played short to Donadoni, who took it to the edge of the box and unleashed a low rasping drive that snuck in at the near post. 5-0.

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After the fifth goal, the match really died down. Milan no longer pressed high up with the same intensity and Madrid lost all hope of getting back into the match. Besides a few long shots, both teams didn’t have any big chances after the 60 minute mark.The last 30 minutes or so were completely dominated by Milan, who kept hold of the ball but didn’t do much with it.

Never had I ever seen a team completely shut down another team so effectively. Milan very rarely tackled or fouled, yet they constantly won the ball back by making Madrid lose it by simply harrying them. Besides one dubious penalty call, Madrid never made any real foray into the Milan box, while Milan constantly found outlets in dangerous areas.

The positional fluidity of the Milan players was also incredible. All the methods that Pep uses today were clear to see in that Milan team. Fullbacks were inverted and stationed themselves in the central areas, the strikers operated as pseudo-wingers and midfielders, the central midfielders attacked through the wings while the center backs operated extremely high up the pitch. For large periods of the game, Milan played with 2 defenders and no attackers, and other times they had fullbacks and midfielders attacking through the wings. The Milan team had well and truly outclassed Real Madrid that night.

Some final tidbits about the match:

  1. The match was played at a considerably slower tempo than today’s matches. Most likely due to the nature of players then.
  2. Every single Milan player was confident on the ball.
  3. Ancelotti deserves a whole lot more credit for his time as a player as he constantly won the ball and instigated transitions. He played like a defensive midfielder, controller and a box to box midfielder.
  4. Baresi was much more similar to a modern defender than I had thought. His passing range was incredible while his forward surges were similar to those of Ramos and Pique. Image result for arrigo sacchi

Real Madrid under Zidane and the success of a team of individuals.

-Pgs

zidane real madridको लागि तस्बिर परिणाम

The phrase “the success of a team of individuals” may sound stupid, but give it context, especially in terms of football, it makes much more sense. A team is more than the sum of its parts, its the unification of a number of different players to implement a tactical philosophy. In most cases, the players are moulded to fit into the plans of the manager. For example, Jurgen Klopp has primarily bought players with great athletic ability such as Virgil Van dijk, Mohammad Salah, Naby Keita etc to fit into his philosophy of pressing high and attacking at speed. Pep Guardiola has bought players with tremendous technical ability to fit into his ideology of never losing the ball at Manchester City. The aforementioned players were bought to serve a purpose; to better implement the tactics of their coaches and increase the performance level of the team overall.

However, one of the most successful teams of the modern era, or any era, Zidane’s back to back to back Champions league winning Real Madrid are an exception to this process of changing the personnel to fit into the system. By contrast, Zidane switched the system to fit the personnel. Real Madrid didn’t have a clear tactical identity like Man City or Barcelona do. Real Madrid were stacked with incredible players to the brim. The could, as Felipe Luis put it in his post match conference after the 16/17 UCL final, “play in every way possible”. And they did.  Unlike Pep’s all conquering Barcelona or Klopp’s Dortmund or any of Mourinho’s teams, the way Real Madrid played differed according to the situation. In the 15/16 season, Real Madrid played almost always in a 4-3-3 with the BBC up top, in the 16/17 campaign, they started with the 4-3-3 then moved to a 4-3-1-2 with Isco replacing Bale and operating in the hole. In the 17/18 campaign, Real Madrid played in a 4-3-3, the 4-3-1-2 and even a flat 4-4-2 with Asensio and Vazquez starting as the wingers either side of a double pivot made up of any two of Madrid’s midfielders.

Asensio and vazquezको लागि तस्बिर परिणाम

There were some constants in all these formations. The main constant was the reliance on individual brilliance to score and defend. Real Madrid were outclassed by their opponents on countless occasions yet still managed to beat them because of the sheer quality at their disposal. Their tactical set-ups were either non-existent or risky to the point of sheer stupidity. In the 4-3-1-2, Real Madrid played with no natural wingers. This placed an immense burden on the full backs to close down the wing while providing width in attack. They still managed to do so because of who the full backs were. Carvajal is an incredible athlete who constantly overlapped while very rarely forgoing his defensive duties. Modric, especially when Carvajal was injured or rotated, played as an auxiliary RB, often carrying out the role better than most RBs while also conducting his play-making duties. This was only possible because of Modric’s incredible engine and intelligence. On the other flank, Marcelo did what Marcelo does best; dominate the whole flank. One very underrated and unique ability of Marcelo is that he, unlike other fullbacks, actually dribbles. Fullbacks more often than not overlap when the defending fullback is occupied. This provides them with the space to cross. Marcelo on the other hand repeatedly beats his markers, ergo occupying the full backs by himself while also creating opportunities to cross. He usually completes 2 dribbles a game, much higher than the 0.8 of the average fullback. Against Bayern in the 4-2 win in the 16/17 season, he produced arguably the best fullback performance ever. Completing over 9 dribbles and sending in a number of crosses, he terrorized the left flank all by himself. His assist to Ronaldo for Ronaldo’s third goal was more akin to the play of a box to box midfielder than a fullback. Bursting through the middle, he beat a number of Bayern players before squaring the ball to Ronaldo.

marcelo champions leagueको लागि तस्बिर परिणाम

With such attacking full backs, any teams defense would be caught shorthanded. And Real Madrid were caught by teams on multiple occasions. If Real Madrid had any two center backs, even some of the best in the world, besides Ramos and Varane, they would’ve gotten thrashed every weak. The space provided to the opposition attackers was immense, but Ramos and Varane, with the help of Casemiro managed to stop wave after wave of attacks. Their intelligence, physical attributes (especially Varanes frankly ridiculous pace) and aerial ability made this possible. No other defenders could cover the amount of area Ramos and Varane did. Johan Cruyff once said that defending is all about space. The less the amount of space there is to cover, the easier it is to do so. So the fact that Ramos and Varane constantly covered for their fullbacks while also covering their own zones is a testament to their level of talent.

Further up front, the intelligent movement of Benzema allowed Ronaldo to play to his full potential, even when he slowed down due to age. Benzema and Isco helped the midfielders and fullbacks in creating numerical superiority in the wide spaces, which presented them with countless opportunities to cross. And when you have someone like Ronaldo in the box, those crosses are bound to go in.

Ramos headerको लागि तस्बिर परिणाम

Another one of Real Madrid’s weapons was the ability of Ramos to score from set-pieces through sheer will power alone. This was most evident in the 16/17 season when he scored late winners or equalizers on more occasions than most players do in their careers. Whenever Madrid seemed to be down and out, Ramos scored.  A disjointed and disorganized Real Madrid side grabbing a late win through the power of sheer will alone was not an uncommon sight in Zidane’s 2.5 years in charge.

The ability of players like Asensio, Ronaldo, James and Bale to score golazos on a regular basis also helped. When players can score from over 25 yards out, it helps in breaking down opponents.

It has to be understood that the almost every super successful team has become so due to the ability of incredible players producing moments of magic while perfectly enacting their managers vision on the pitch. Zidane’s Madrid were based on the belief that Real Madrid are the greatest team in the world and have the best players in the world, not a specific tactical framework that glued together all the players. Real Madrid had an abundance of supreme talent, all with varying abilities that few other players possessed. When such a group of players were put together and given the license to do whatever they wanted to win, that was exactly what they did.