Sporting Gijón 2 – 3 Real Madrid: Three Takeaways from the La Liga Match

(Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
(Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
(Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images) /

Zidane’s Gamble Pays Off… Barely…

Zinedine Zidane made a huge gamble this match, leaving the entirety of the BBC, Keylor Navas, and Dani Carvajal at home. Additionally, Kroos, Modrić, and Marcelo were all left on the bench.

Just a week after Luis Enrique’s overly zealous rotation policy may have cost Barca three crucial points in the title race, Zidane decided to go all out with rotations, keeping his powder dry for the upcoming matches against Bayern and Barca.

Zidane didn’t just rotate a few players here and there, he rotated nearly everyone.  The only true member of Zidane’s once de gala that was on the pitch at the start of the match was Sergio Ramos. Nacho will likely also be a starter for the upcoming clashes, but that is only because of Madrid’s ongoing injury crisis at the back.

And for a while, it looked like that gamble was going to cost Madrid dearly, giving Barcelona the opportunity to erase Madrid’s cushion ahead of El Clásico.

Mateo Kovačić and Nacho were out of sorts for the first goal, failing to communicate who was covering the onrushing Duje Cop. Mikel Vesga’s pass was slick and unpredictable, but Nacho and Kovačić should have done more to make Cop’s life harder.

(Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)
(Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images) /

Isco proved to be a handful for Sporting, as he equalized quickly after. But by and large, Madrid’s bench forwards didn’t do a great job on the front foot. James looked a bit flat, and Vázquez put in a now characteristic performance of high-energy, high-pace football with little end product.

As the xG plot below shows, Sporting was mostly content to sit back, until they found a second goal through an outrageously unlikely header by Vesga. This goal came down to a combination of bad marking on Madrid’s part, incredible skill by Vesga to find the back corner over Kiko Casilla’s head, and freak luck that the ball arched the way it did without going over or out.

Also visible from this data: the introduction of Marcelo in the 57th minute really changed the game. Marcelo kick-started Madrid’s attack, as the Royal Whites launched a barrage of shots on Sporting’s goal for the final 30 minutes of the match.

Danilo found Morata’s head wonderfully for the second goal at the hour mark, giving Madrid plenty of time to hunt for the winner.

Isco put the icing on the cake by snatching 3 points at the death, just when it looked like Zidane’s gamble was going to blow up in his face.

The “Zidane is so lucky” crowd might say that had Isco not slotted away that extraordinarily difficult shot, Zidane would be looking like a fool right now.

I, however, would like to think that Zidane has proven there is a method to his madness. His rotation policy has meant that he has a squad of players who can interchange seamlessly. He has also shown that even if Isco doesn’t fit into his plans for an once de gala, he does trust Isco to carry the team on his back when a crucial 3 points are on the line.

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Madrid’s ultimate scoreline wasn’t just luck. Real outperformed Sporting by a full 1.05 xG. Having a well-rested, well-rotated squad, for the remainder of our April death march, and still picking up three points, I think Zidane comes out of this looking like a wicked genius whose gamble paid off big, even if it almost didn’t.