La Liga Week 7: Madrid in Crisis?

VITORIA GASTEIZ, SPAIN - OCTOBER 6: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid during the La Liga Santander match between Deportivo Alaves v Real Madrid at the Estadio de Mendizorroza on October 6, 2018 in Vitoria Gasteiz Spain (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

When this La Liga weekend began I figured I would only write a little bit about Real Madrid and their trip to Alaves. Maybe save a couple paragraphs near the end for it; NOPE. Real Madrid ruined my plans when they went to Alaves and lost for the first time in 87 years. Now after losing three out of their last four and failing to score in over SIX HOURS; Are Real Madrid in crisis?

La Liga Weekend Wrap; Madrid in Crisis?

Julen Lopetegui’s start as the manager of Real Madrid had gone great. They started their La Liga campaign scoring goals, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema each bagging a few. In the three games before the first international break the team scored 10 goals; and in the seven games since they have score just 5. They failed to score on the road in Moscow, in Seville and now at Alaves, not to mention the home 0-0 in the Derby last weekend.

So why haven’t they been scoring; it’s too easy to just blame it on Isco. Isco’s appendectomy came right after the Espanyol game and they haven’t scored since. While his absence has been felt, there is another issue, and it comes with Lopetegui himself. So far this season, Lopetegui has employed a very heavy possession game along with a high press.

In fact so far this Madrid team has looked more like Barcelona then Barcelona. However this team might look more like Tata Martino’s Barca than they would like. The high press is a great idea if you have the athletes in midfield to use it. While Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro are great at many things, athleticism is not among any of their qualities. And with this being such a veteran team, they can’t always use the energy required for a high press to work.

The Possession

When they get beat in midfield it create opportunities for teams running at their back line, which has never been great in those situations; even under Zidane. However what they were great at under Zidane was the transition attack; no team in the world turned defense into a goal faster. But with Lopetegui’s possession, that aspect of their game has been taken away. There are no great counter attacking goals to be had when your always in possession.

Constantly Saturday afternoon against Alaves, Madrid’s attacks would peeter out in the final third. The biggest issue with transition into a transition style is having loads of possession without being able to make the final passes. It takes time to be able to accurately read the one touch situations necessitated by the lack of space in the final third. You would think after all this time together this squad would have that level of connection. But as these last 6 hours have shown, they still have some work to do.

Atletico Madrid vs Real Betis

Two teams with extremely contrasting styles met in Madrid on Sunday and almost played out the 0-0 draw we all expected. Betis, despite all their possession, have been a disaster scoring this season; they’ve only scored 5 goals all season, and only allowing 4. Meanwhile Atletico have only allowed 4 all season as well so nobody was really should’ve been expecting goals.

Nor did we get any goals, well until the 75’ minute. Substitute Angel Correa broke the deadlock with a lovely placed finished into the bottom left corner. Pau Lopez almost got there but was unable to stop it, Atletico took a crucial lead. But more importantly Atletico took all three points and the lead in the La Liga headed into the weekend’s main event.

Valencia vs Barcelona

When the game began between Barcelona and Valencia there had already been another change at the top. Sevilla had taken the La Liga lead after their 2-1 win against Celta Vigo. So you would think that when Barcelona took the opening kick off they would be ready for Valencia. But Valencia was clearly more ready for Barca.

Valencia got off to the perfect start when they won the games opening corner after a minute. The corner was swung in by Dani Parejo, it was a wicked delivery that took the slightest of touches off Thomas Vermaelen. That touch put off Pique who headed it into the path of Valencia centerback Eziquiel Garay who smashed into the back of the net, they had the lead through 2 minutes.

But we all knew it would not last; I even wrote that phrase in last weeks edition. After about twenty minutes Messi popped up with the ball just above the box. He nutmegged Kondogbia, played a 1-2 off Suarez and smashed it into the bottom corner. No chances for Neto as Messi ran off to the cameras to say hello to his kids.

From there the game settled into the lull we would expect it to be. Barcelona controlled the ball, moved Valencia from side to side and try to create chances. Valencia sat deep, defended and waited for the chances on the counter attack. Both sides had their chances but ultimately the points were left to be split.

The Table

Because those points were split the table is an absolute mess going into the break. Sevilla sit top on 16 points, followed by Atletico Madrid and Barcelona who have 15 points. That’s followed by a three way tie for fourth between Real Madrid, Espanyol and Alaves all on 14 points. An outstanding start to a league that no one should think is predictable and uncompetitive…

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