Between Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich, Zidane’s Tactical Prowess and Weakness

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 08: Head coach Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid CF reacts as he walks to the bench prior to start the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 8, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 08: Head coach Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid CF reacts as he walks to the bench prior to start the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Club Atletico de Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 8, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images) /

Tomorrow, Real Madrid faces Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinal. Los Blancos will go to Munich after a thrilling, yet disappointing 1 – 1 draw against their local rivals, Atletico Madrid. While  on the other side, Bayern grabbed a convincing victory against local rivals Borussia Dortmund. Ahmed Genina discuss several things, from some notes on the match against Atelti, to the match in the Allianz Arena.

El Derbi Madrileño

For me, Real Madrid had one of its best performances of the year against Ateltico on Saturday. For the first time since the start of the season, Real were patient in their buildup. They were using the wings not just for crossing, but also for stretching the Atletico defense.

It was so aesthetically pleasing to see Real Madrid using their wingers and full backs for something other than crossing aimlessly. In fact, Real had created so many chances in the first half, they should’ve capitalized on one or two. One of them should’ve been a goal by the legendary Cristiano Ronaldo, only to have it denied on the goal line by a heroic save from Atletico’s defender, Stefan Savic.

What’s more, Cristiano reminded us of his good ole’ days as a winger. He didn’t just provide width as frequently as a winger should, unlike some matches when he abandons the wing in favor of roaming the center awaiting for chances to come his way, but he also tracked back on numerous occasions.

It seems that Zidane instructs Ronaldo to defend in big matches only. That is a nice way of handling Europe’s finest player of course. However, it costs Los Blancos against smaller teams. It would be better if Zidane finds a permanent way of solving Ronaldo’s defensive duties.

Even better, Toni Kroos and Luka Modric were playing really well, especially Kroos. He controlled the tempo of the play with swift, accurate passes. Atleti’s pressure on Kroos was futile on most occasions.

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What’s really intriguing however, is the counter pressing system Real Madrid employed (in the first half at least). We saw one of either Kroos or Modric pressing Atelti in their own areas once Los Blancos lost the ball, while the other fell back to cut passing lanes or stop a run from Atleti’s attackers.

Atletico, on many occasions, couldn’t create dangerous counter attacks as they were truly dominated by Real Madrid. Even their chances were mostly due to individual mistakes from the Real Madrid defenders.

Now to the disappointing part:

The Royal Whites just couldn’t keep their lead. While it has become more of a habit for Real Madrid not to keep a clean sheet these days, this was a different case though. Not only was Atleti able to constantly create danger, but Keylor Navas was in great form.

In my humble opinion, Zidane takes much of the blame for the Atletico goal for one reason: his substitutions didn’t serve his tactics. He instructed his team to fall back, and while Real Madrid may have some of the best defenders on the planet, neither the full backs nor the midfielders were defending well in the last minutes of the match.

The team just wasn’t capable of absorbing pressure that way, not with the substitutions Zidane made. Bale shouldn’t have been substituted since he wasn’t that bad. In fact Bale should have stayed, with Benzema getting subbed out.

(Photo by fotopress/Getty Images)
(Photo by fotopress/Getty Images) /

It was expected that Atleti will press high in the final minutes to get one back. This would’ve been the ultimate opportunity for Bale and Vasquez (or Morata) along with Ronaldo, to use their pace to its absolute limits. Not to mention that Benzema was also out of form.

He could’ve even subbed out Ronaldo for Alvaro Morata. It would’ve been totally understandable since the team was already ahead on the scoreline and an equally great battle awaits in Germany against Bayern Munich tomorrow. This way, Real could’ve created a midfield of five that could totally snuff out spaces in the dying minutes of the match, and Zidane’s dropping back strategy would’ve worked.

Bear in mind that the main reason Los Blancos conceded was that Casemiro was way out of position. I believe that could’ve been prevented if Real kept its three midfielders to guard the middle, while the wingers covered the sides of the pitch.

(Photo by A. Pretty/Getty Images for FC Bayern )
(Photo by A. Pretty/Getty Images for FC Bayern ) /

Mia San Mia

“Bayern have a quality when playing at home that makes teams think they are in hell.”

“This is certainly not the ideal result. But don’t be sad. On Tuesday, we and 70,000 fans will stand behind you, and Munich will be on fire.”

“I was in the stands earlier, when I got up, I looked at the Real Madrid bosses. They didn’t look like they were going home happy, because they know what awaits them in Munich.”

Those were the words Bayern’s chief executive, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, said, five days before Real Madrid’s last match with Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena. A match Los Blancos went on to win with a jaw-dropping margin of 4 – 0.

Fast forward three years, and here is Real Madrid, again going to that same stadium to face the same opponent. Will The Royal Whites be able to pull off a similar historic victory? Or does Bayern’s “hell” taste different when the one who cooks it is none other than the coach who won the coveted La Decima, Carlo Ancelotti himself?

To be honest, it doesn’t seem that hard to bag three goals in Bayern Munich, even in their own stadium. What’s truly worrying is whether the defense is capable of holding back Robert Lewandowski and the Bavarian crew behind him.

It’s a really hard situation since both Pepe and Varane are injured, and Dani Carvajal could miss as well. Nacho should really step up his game if Real are to win this tie. Also, Sergio Ramos has to avoid committing any silly mistakes like the ones he did against Atelti, and the ones he has been doing all season.

(Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images)
(Photo by Maja Hitij/Bongarts/Getty Images) /

The reason these mistakes are condoned is that he is able to score for nearly every goal conceded because of him. So if he is going to slip, he better piss off Rummenigge with one of his iconic last minute goals. Ramos has driven me to insanity to the point where sometimes I want Real Madrid to concede, just so Sergio can annoy the hell out of the opposition teams (especially when it’s Bayern, Atletico, or Barcelona more recently).

Bayern’s tactical approach is now less flawed than Guardiola’s. The pressing is now lower than it was with the Spanish coach. It was a logical change since what Guardiola could get away with in Barcelona didn’t work out in Bayern because of his defenders’ lack of adequate pace to use such tactics. Not to mention that Bayern isn’t as good as Pep’s Barca in employing the offside trap.

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  • Also, Bayern is on paper a more complete team than Real Madrid. Their full backs are more careful with their defensive duties. Their wingers track back better, and they don’t have an offensive liability in the midfield like Casemiro.

    No doubt Casemiro has improved a lot from last season. Still he isn’t on an elite level. However that’s only on paper.

    Real Madrid are still capable of overpowering the Bavarians, not just because of the quality abundance in all positions, but also because of Zidane. Indeed I do criticize the French legend a lot. However, he has proven time and time again that when the right players are fit, he knows how to deal with any opponent. To our luck almost all of our players are fit and in decent form. Although Nacho isn’t on the same level as Pepe, he is still a very fine underrated defender.

    Tactics wise, I believe Zidane has made a very nice example of how Real should keep the ball. Though still not using the team to its full capacity, Zidane has unleashed a lot of Real Madrid’s capability by using the wings to keep the opposing defenses stretched.

    He can do even more by instructing only one full back to advance at a time. Furthermore, Kroos should be given more freedom to shift into the central area between the defense and midfield of the opposition (known as zone 14) with Modric dropping even deeper and Casemiro moving the left, creating a 4-2-3-1 shape instead of the usual 4-3-3.

    It would allow Real Madrid more penetration through the center, something both the team and the fans have missed since the days of Jose Mourinho. This would give more unpredictability to the team, and allow them to strike in more diverse ways.

    As far as counter attacks, I expect very few counter attacking chances to be present in the first half, since Ancelotti, of all people, knows how much Real Madrid is reliant on them.

    In the second half, the frequency should increase only if the score line means a draw or a win for Real Madrid. Otherwise, Los Blancos might have to dig their way through the Bavarian defenses by precise, intelligent and effective possession.

    When it comes  to substitutions, Zidane’s first go to should be Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard has proven that he is a game changer whenever subbed in. As for Vasquez, he won’t be as beneficial as other substitutes except in probably one case: if Real were able to get a two or three goal margin and Zidane wants to seal the game in its final minutes.

    Between Isco and Kovacic, the former should be chosen if Bayern are parking the bus, in order to benefit from his flair. The Croatian on the other hand should be favorable if we are the score line indicates we are heading to a draw or a win.

    I think this sums up my thoughts on the previous and coming Champions League match. All I can do now is hope that Real Madrid comes out of the Allianz Arena with the best score line possible (and that Ramos pisses off Rumminegge again).