Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund: Match talk

The players of Real Madrid celebrate after scoring during the UEFA Champions League group H match between Real Madrid CF and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 6, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Raddad Jebarah/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The players of Real Madrid celebrate after scoring during the UEFA Champions League group H match between Real Madrid CF and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on December 6, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Raddad Jebarah/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

Real Madrid couldn’t dominate Borussia Dortmund, but the change of tactics did wonders last night. This was certainly an improvement over Real’s recent performances in La Liga.


Los Blancos’s were already in the last 16, so it was logical that Zinedine Zidane rested several key players. The most notable starters were Mateo Kovacic and Borja Mayoral, who started in place of Luka Modric and Karim Benzema respectively. Also, Isco was dropped to central midfield to replace Toni Kroos.

With these changes, Real’s midfield consisted of a flat line of three: Kovacic, Casemiro, and Isco. While the front line was composed of a lone striker, Mayoral, flanked by both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lucas Vasquez on the wings.

Style Of Play

Zidane opted for the old school 4-3-3. The full backs advanced forward to provide support to the wingers. In the midfield, the trio combined to form triangles and move forward. Isco’s work rate was very crucial in creating attacks in the match.

The front line was given a great deal of freedom. They exchanged positions to confuse the opposing defenders, create passing options, and provide supporting runs into the final third. This is the first time we have seen Ronaldo as a winger in some time. The Portuguese international played very well there. He may not be a super dribbler anymore, however, his positioning, movement, and passing are still as sharp as ever.

Build Up

From the back, the midfielders and defenders combined to drive the ball forward. Dortmund dropped fairly deep, especially in the early minutes of the first half and the final minutes of the second. This allowed the home team to build up the attacks without serious pressure.

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Between the boxes, Real had immense improvements in this match. The wingers provided width rather than the full backs. As a result, the latter only needed to provide support to their wingers rather than create the width themselves. In return, there were more passing options and the team was more comfortable in creating chances.

Moreover, with such setup, Los Blancos were able to exert a form of counter pressing, which choked the German team for many minutes with wave after wave of attack, seemingly without any way to get out.

The final third also saw development. However, this was mainly because of the solid build up before reaching the final third. A proper distribution of the seven players behind the front three allowed the latter to find themselves in good positions to score. The game didn’t turn into a goal fest due to some match-specific reasons like the lack of elite finishers (other than Ronaldo) and Dortmund’s impressive goalkeeper.

All in all, Real were very effective going forward. Kudos to Zidane, who did very well preparing Cristiano and Co for the match.

Defensive System

Things didn’t go as well for Zizou’s men on the defensive side of the game. Sergio Ramos was one of the main culprits in Dortmund’s first goal. Instead of immediately marking Aubameyang in the box to prevent him from scoring, he allowed the Gabonese striker to make his run and hoped he’d be caught offside.

Furthermore, on several occasions, he moved from his position to tackle or intercept in an unwarranted situation. The action itself is customary for defenders. However, it should be done only when success is guaranteed. Failure in such situations means leaving a big hole in the defense which the opponent can exploit. Luckily though, Dortmund failed to take advantage of any of these chances.

El Capitan shouldn’t be making such errors. However, when you’re a Real Madrid fan for some time, you are used to it. When Ramos messes things up in defense, he usually makes up for it by scoring headers in stoppage time.

Nacho wasn’t good in this match either. He didn’t guard the right flank well because his center back instincts made him shift numerous times to the center. Not to mention that, to a great extent, he is to blame for Dortmund’s second goal. Again, a central defender who advances forward without calculating risks will put his team in trouble.

Vasquez had a relatively good match on the right flank. His movements forward helped create several crosses, although none of them came to fruition. Also, his defending was acceptable. The Spaniard got the job done as a defender.

Theo Hernandez had an impressive game. He did almost everything right on both ends of the pitch. The French youngster proved he is a reliable backup to Marcelo. Who knows? He could be the successor of the Brazilian #12 after all.

Raphael Varane played just over a half an hour. While the Frenchman was excellent in recovering any passes to Aubameyang, his absence was immediately felt. Let’s hope his injury is nothing serious.


Even though Real Madrid didn’t need the victory, and many of their starters didn’t play, the team had an excellent game overall; at least when comparing it to earlier matches. A structured attack and a a dominating defensive fortress; this is the sort of performance that should be associated with Real Madrid.

The reason behind such a sudden improvement? Tactics. It cannot be stressed enough that changing the formation had all sorts of benefits. Every player was comfortable in their position and were effective in their role. In my opinion, Zidane should use the same formation he used last night in the coming matches; the good ole 4-3-3 proved it’s way more reliable and sustainable than the 4-4-2 diamond.

Next: Why Cristiano Ronaldo deserves to win the Ballon d’Or

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