Real Madrid: Four things to improve against Barcelona
Real Madrid's recent resurgence has been halted by defeat to Girona and an unconvincing win at Levante - and now they face Barcelona twice: in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday, and in LaLiga on Saturday.
Tighten up at the back
Girona ended up having a whale of a time at the Bernabéu a week ago, taking full advantage of a generous Real Madrid backline to play their game, turn the scoreboard on its head, and leave with three points that owed much to their ability to repeatedly get the better of Álvaro Odriozola and Marcelo at full-back. Eusébio Sacristán's men were afforded too many attempts on goal by Los Blancos, and also matched their hosts for possession in the second half: 51%-49%.
Madrid also allowed Levante to give them a rough ride on Sunday. Even without making such an impact on the possession count, a side who sit 13th in LaLiga had a total of 11 shots on the way to making sure the European champions were once more denied a clean sheet. And another stat that'll need to be sorted out: in the past month, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos and Nacho Fernández have all been sent off - individual indiscretions that take their toll on the collective.
Win back control of midfield
Real Madrid's midfield isn't in tip-top nick, either. Having enjoyed an upturn in form that had played a big role in Los Merengues' resurgence, the trio of Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the engine room behind the side's three straight Champions League titles, have lost momentum once again.
There was a palpable looseness to the midfield at the Ciutat de València: no fouls committed, just 14 more successful passes than Levante, the same average number of interceptions as their counterparts, and 29 fewer ball recoveries. That something wasn't right was made plain by Santiago Solari's in-game management: at 1-1, he took off Kroos, who was visibily annoyed with the decision as he left the field.
Against Girona, meanwhile, a midfield featuring Dani Ceballos instead of Modric made fewer interceptions than their opponents (2-5), won fewer aerial duels (15-20), completed just 11 more passes (148-137) and regained possession on fewer occasions (12-24).
Rediscover shooting boots
Despite playing with much less fluidity in their recent sluggish displays, Madrid have managed to keep on creating chances in attack. Having had 17.5 shots a game during their magnificent pre-Girona run of seven victories and a draw, Solari's men actually raised that average to 19 in the last two matches. However, the chief difference is in their conversion rate: from 2.75 goals a game to just 1.5.
Make better use of squad depth
Against Girona, none of the players brought off the bench were able to make the difference: Vinicius gave it his best shot, but the fact remains that he was introduced with his side 1-0 up, only for the match to end 2-1 to the Catalans. Meanwhile, Gareth Bale couldn't get going, and Mariano Díaz wasn't able to come to the rescue, either.
Against Levante, it was a similar story: Federico Valverde failed to add steel to the midfield, Bale scored from the spot but otherwise participated little, and, in the short time he got, Marco Asensio never looked like repeating the match-winning impact he had against Ajax in Amsterdam.
With the variety and potential that Solari has at his disposal (after all, recent games have seen the Argentine regularly find no use for the likes of Marcelo, Ceballos, Isco and forgotten man Brahim Díaz), the effect of the substitutions he makes could well prove crucial in the upcoming Clásicos.
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