Real Madrid: How does the attack measure up to other Champions League knockout clubs?

Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Zinedine Zidane of Real Madrid (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

The Champions League knockout stages will begin next month, and Real Madrid will have a relatively easier Round of 16 opponent in Atalanta when compared to last year’s opposition, Manchester City.

Real have been Champions League flops for two years straight, but there is optimism they can turn it around this year if their starting XI can stay healthy and their defense can play to the standard set in 2019-2020.

But most Madridistas have resigned themselves to another year without a deep Champions League run, and this sobering realism stems from an acknowledgment of the club’s attacking woes. In La Liga, Real have just two wingers with multiple goals – Vinicius Junior and Lucas Vazquez – and none of them have scored more than twice in the league.

So once again, it is Pichichi candidate Karim Benzema who is carrying the attack with his eight goals. And even assists-wise, Benzema is well ahead of the pack with five, as the only other player with more than two, Rodrygo Goes, is out injured for a significant period of time.

Real Madrid might not even have a top 20 attack in European football

Real Madrid are just fourth in La Liga in goals. In fact, much has been made of the struggles Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and rivals Barcelona are going through, but La Blaugrana are actually first in the league in scoring. Even Real Sociedad is ahead of Los Blancos!

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When we extend the study to every top five league in European football, Real Madrid are in 25th. Yes, there are 24 teams that have scored more than 30 goals to this point in Europe’s top five leagues. Similarly, they are 21st in xG.

If we adjust for matches played, Real Madrid are 35th (!) in goals scored per 90 minutes. Among all the teams in the knockout stages of the Champions League, only fellow La Liga side Sevilla are worse at scoring than Los Blancos!

But there is one thing we need to bring up, which is the quality of competition. These statistics account for league matches but do not account for the strength of the league. La Liga has the most difficult defenses in European football. Hence why the league does not have a single club in the top 10 in goals per 90 minutes – Barcelona and Atleti are 14th and 16th, respectively. In the Bundesliga and Serie A, 1.51 goals are scored per 90 minutes by any individual club. But in La Liga, that number is a meager 1.17!

So we must take into account the difficulty of the league when discussing Real Madrid’s attack. On paper, Real have clear offensive issues, but we also must remember that they scored multiple goals against Inter Milan and Borussia Monchengladbach in the group stages in all four of those head-to-head matches. And they never lost any of those games. It was against Shakhtar Donetsk’s low-block, of course, in which they were held out of the scoresheet entirely.

The issues against low-blocks should very much be held against Real Madrid, yet we should also be fair and state that they won’t face those kinds of opponents in the knockout stages. At the same time, though, Manchester City showed us in the second leg of last campaign’s Round of 16 that a well-organized defense from a top club can be just as problematic for Los Merengues.

PSG, Dortmund, Liverpool, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Atalanta, Manchester City, and Bayern are all clubs with more attacking firepower and better attacking numbers than Real Madrid. But when you account for the difference in league difficulty, City and Chelsea, who are both outside the top 20 in goals scored per 90, aren’t so far ahead of Real that it is impossible for Los Blancos to go toe-to-toe with them. Those Premier League sides have more talent in the attack, but their consistency wavers.

Next. Analyzing Martin Odegaard's situation at Real Madrid. dark

Real Madrid are definitely in the bottom half among the 16 Champions League knockout sides attacking-wise. But a front three of Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, and, say, Martin Odegaardh has as much star power as most of those clubs. The question is, can Hazard stay healthy and can Odegaard or Marco Asensio step up on that right-hand side? If yes, Real’s attack is in the middle-of-the-pack at worst and good enough to compete. But if not, Los Blancos could be in for yet another early Champions League exit.