Real’s Issues in Ball Circulation
Here the midfield of Madrid looks very narrow. This allows Spurs to defend the ball near halfspace and the ball side of the centre very narrowly. Trippier attacks Isco first running straight to the ball, at the end slightly bending his run to keep the wide space in his cover shadow. His starting position is also crucial. Trippier starts not from the line of the back five, but from a little bit higher position to have a better access to the ball.
It was curious how few players Real Madrid had between the lines, or in the Spurs defensive when their fullback could dribble in with the ball in the halfspace. The way to penetrate a back five is to have players step back from it, and by pulling out players from the back five opening channels for others to run into, or to pass through. With nobody in the defence line of Spurs, this was not possible, the back five could remain intact. Spurs attempted to press Madrid high, and always pushed their defence as high as possible. When pressing with a back five, by switching the ball quickly from one side to the other the attacking team can carry the ball close to the defence line on the sides and the half spaces, and play accurate balls behind to the running players.
In other moments all the Real Madrid attackers would be on the same line, with a lack of central presence. So the movements on the left side for Madrid were predictable, too high starting positions and a lack of players in the central zone resulted in the ball being kept in front of the Spurs team shape.
This lack of central presence is normal when a 442-ish shape plays against a back five. The two strikers often position themselves on the outsides of the two sidebacks, and the team attempts to break through in the space between the side backs and the wingback. But even then the positioning, the timing of the football actions of the players in connection to one another and the ball speed has to be good enough. In the situation shown next to the previous paragraph Marcelo and Benzema start from the same horizontal line. Kroos doesn’t have any passing options diagonally to his right. Also no options diagonally to his left, Marcelo is too high and the pass would get intercepted immediately. The touch Benzema takes gets too far from him, which allows Sanches to come closer and close the space. Also Marcelo is too late to step back, away from Trippier, so he would not be available for a quick pass from Benzema.
It was great to see how high Spurs pushed their defensive line, a strategic decision few teams can pull off with a back five. What Real did well was the attackers starting often from an offside position, from the blindside of the defenders, and coming back into an onside position, but already on a full speed run to going behind. Ronaldo often started from two-three meters offside. This was a nice tactical trick, as if a defender followed the run of Benzema behind the offside line, suddenly he put Ronaldo onside too, and Ronaldo could start from 2-3 meters of advantage from his nearest defender. Benzema pulled out to the wide left, or started from behind Sanchez, who in some moments struggled to keep the back five. Either dropping too late, which opened a small space in the middle of the five chain, or running behind even when he could have put Benzema offside.
The back five of Spurs was very narrow. When Trippier pressed next to the sideline, the wingback on the other side tucked in to the border of the central lane. The narrow back five of Spurs allowed them to double mark and sandwich Ronaldo and Benzema if they tried to start from the same line as the defence.
Trippier defended forward to collect a slow and too short opening after a throw-in on the right side. This was a crucial example of the roles of the wingbacks in the Spurs backline. Since the back five was very narrow – when the ball was pressed by one wingback on the sideline, the other wingback tucked inside to the border of the ball far halfspace and central space. The ball far wingback had to read when an opening diagonal pass could come, and adjust his body position, even start a little bit earlier to be able to press the moment the receiver of the pass took his first touch, or intercept.
The moment the advancing fullback receives the ball is a crucial moment in situations of dynamic advantage. If the defender can pressure the ball in the moment of the first touch, and can control this moment with his pressure – showing the receiver down a direction, or forcing him into a touch that slows him down – the whole dynamic advantage can be negated.
The aggressive pressing of the Spurs wingbacks prevented Madrid from switching the sides, and getting the fullbacks running onto the ball, and possibly using a dynamic advantage against the narrow back five.
It was key that Winks, Dier and Eriksen shifted quickly from side to side to press the ball in the advanced half spaces. After these switches to the halfspace the Real player receiving the ball often didn’t play the ball behind the defence at the first instance, but started to keep the ball with short passing combinations. This gave time for the Spurs midfield to shift and press the ball. With pressure on the ball it became easier for the Spurs defence to keep their line, as they could anticipate better when the ball behind the defence will come.
Real High Press
In the buildup phase Spurs used Kane to head balls behind the defence for Eriksen and Alli.
In the high press Real put Benzema on Sanchez and Ronaldo on Vertonghen, leaving Alderweireld open. If Real left a player free like this in the first line of the Spurs buildup, the home team brought the ball out from the back. When Lloris threw the ball out to the free Alderweireld, Trippier moved closer to the ball next to the sideline, pulling Marcelo with him. Eriksen moved wide higher up the pitch, he was left in space alone. Alli and Kane pushed up to the last line, Casemiro moved between Ramos and Nacho. With this spacing they lost the staggering in front of the defence, Eriksen was free in a large space to collect second balls.
In their middle third press defence Real lost vertical compactness. The ball near 8 attacked the sideback in possession, with the other 8 pressing the ballnear holding midfielder. However the ballnear 8 started his press from a too high position, and could press the sideback from the side, allowing a pass through the lines. Meanwhile Madrid failed to cover the player between the lines on the ball side. Marcelo moved up to Trippier, who moved very close to the ball. This opened space for Eriksen to move to, at which point Casemiro had to choose to follow Eriksen, or stay in the halfspace to prevent a pass to Alli.
After 15 minutes Isco moved to the left side, now he was pressing Alderweireld. The extreme man orientation when Dier and Winks dropped closer to the back three pulled the Madrid midfielders further away from the defenders. Casemiro found himself in a large space between the lines, Eriksen had an easy job moving away from him and receiving the ball in the halfspace.