Real Madrid: Tactical Breakdown of the 3-1 win at Eibar

Real Madrid (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images) /

Real Madrid sit at the top of the table alongside Atletico with a win over Eibar.

Real Madrid are now on a five-game winning streak after beating Eibar away at the Ipurua Municipal. Five very crucial matches these were, and they have changed the narrative of Real Madrid’s season. The one against Eibar was tactically different from other games — one of the reasons why is this: Eibar is the first team out of the five that Real have faced, that had a high pressing scheme which tried to pin Los Blancos into their own half. That wasn’t the case against Sevilla, Monchengladbach, Atletico Madrid, or Athletic Bilbao.

Here, I’m not going to talk about the heroics of Luka Modric and Karim Benzema. I’m writing about things that might have gone under the radar from a tactical perspective, along with how a couple of players performed.

To escape the press, Real Madrid tried a number of things, most of which brought them success. But, there was a stretch of 20 or so minutes in the game, particularly after Real’s second goal, in which Eibar dialed up their press, and forced Real to stay in their own half. That led to a goal as well; Lucas Vazquez succumbed to the high press in Real Madrid’s half, and Kike Garcia unleashed a curler from 30 yards out and brought Eibar back into the game. Similar stuff happened for a few minutes towards the end of the second half, although it didn’t result in a goal.

Anyway, back to Real Madrid’s successes, the first 15 minutes were an absolute joy to watch — Real Madrid were pressed high, and to escape it, they used short, quick passing, and then hit Eibar on the counter. Karim Benzema and Luka Modric were crucial in making it happen, and it was just so satisfying to watch.

Sometimes, Real tried something a little different. Since Eibar’s defensive shape was narrow when pressing, Toni Kroos and Sergio Ramos saw it as opportunities to use the width of Real’s attack. Ramos played long balls to Lucas Vazquez on a number of occasions. Sometimes, Benzema or Modric would drift a little wide to provide that extra width. For the majority of the game, this was working.

After Eibar started pressing more diligently, the ball was usually in Real’s half. Zinedine Zidane saw that, and in the second half, both managers changed their approaches, one more than the other, though. Eibar’s press was not as aggressive as in the second half, probably because of fitness conservation. José Luis Mendilibar’s men didn’t press that much, which caused Real to take control again.

Toni Kroos really grew into the game as it went on, especially in the second half. He was heavily involved at the left flank/half-space in the second half. He acted as an outlet for whenever Eibar did counter-press when they lost the ball. He then either played cross-field diagonal switches to Lucas Vazquez or played through balls from deep to Rodrygo. He was present right in front of the two centre-backs at times and helped to escape press from there as well. Great game from Kroos, which was no surprise; he has been amazing this season.

Someone else who was really good yesterday was Ferland Mendy. He didn’t put a single foot wrong. He didn’t have a lot to do in the first half, but he was steady in possession. He helped a lot to break Eibar’s press at times and didn’t fumble under pressure from Eibar’s forwards. He had two great defensive interventions, one of which was when Eibar had a counter-attack on the 63rd minute following a confusing corner kick. Mendy was the last man who had a foot-race with Kike Garcia and kicked it out of play through a perfectly timed sliding challenge. Going forward, he was seen in the half-space a lot of times and played very well. He put in decent crosses, something he has been receiving criticism for, ever since his arrival at Real Madrid.

It wasn’t necessarily a perfect performance from Real. There were lapses of concentration. The instance towards the end of the game, the defense was visibly in two separate lines, which caused Bigas to break through, only for Ramos to produce a brilliant sliding tackle to block his shot, which then turned into a counter-attack, and then turned into a goal. This was almost identical to the game against Bilbao, where Courtois produced a magnificent last-minute save which turned into a counter-attack and then a goal.

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The streak continues for Real Madrid. Zinedine Zidane has all but saved his job for the season in the Real Madrid dugout. It is intriguing to notice the stark differences between this string of games, and the matches that they lost prior. Real play Granada next on Wednesday, on home soil.