El Madrid, the epic and the heroism of the inexplicable. Starting from black magic and with a traumatic end for the rival team, there has been no feat like the one Real Madrid achieved last year in the Champions League. There’s nothing that can figure out why. As if football suddenly went beyond reality and entered the universe of the irrational to become what André Breton defined in 1924 as surreal.
And that paranormal phenomenon, as if that were not enough, has been extrapolated to this season in the three key games that Ancelotti’s men have played: Liverpool in the Champions League and FC Barcelona and Atlético de Madrid in the League.
And what has been the common factor in those games? Fred Valverde. The antithesis of possession football. He is the prototype of the modern soccer player. The Uruguayan is strong and energetic in the game of transitions, verticality, and direct play. He is far from those who love ‘tiki-taka’. It is a demonstration that the claw and the push, also have an aesthetic side to them.
The magic of Anfield. An epic, heroic, historical comeback, and all the adjectives you want to put on it. He left Madrid with Rodrygo in an attractive eleven, carrying the attack and depopulating the midfield without Ceballos. And that’s how Jurgen Klopp’s team punished him: 2-0 in fourteen minutes. However, as usual, Vinicius Jr. put the shield on his shoulders. And of course, what happened happened. The match ended on display. Incontestable.
With the same shots on goal (9-9) and less possession than the ‘red’ team (51.6% -48.4%), Madrid dispatched a legendary game, full of confidence and greatness. A chameleon team. That is the key.
It seems that Madrid doesn’t need much to win the games, because, with three passes and two runs, they score a goal and win the game. But that virtue of those Ancelotti is not easy to acquire. The art of winning without touching the ball is the hallmark of a Real Madrid that, when needed, is also capable of touching the leather and calming down.
Expected goals are a relatively new term. It is a statistical indicator that assigns a probability that an opportunity will be a goal based on the characteristics of the play. And in that metric, Real Madrid was also inferior at Anfield (1.97-1.64). But what does it matter, right? Five goals like five suns. Vinicius and Benzema twice and Militao, the authors of a perfect storm.
The man of the big nights. Like Rodrygo, the Uruguayan grows in a way when the stage demands it. In the Liverpool match, Bajcetic was constantly trying to supply the wingers, but in a loss, Valverde searched deep for Vini. Joe Gómez arrived before, delayed the goal and fate equalized the contest. His pressure was fundamental. One more time.
The first of the keys to the return of the best Fede Valverde is that he has regained influence closer to the rival area. Furthermore, the Uruguayan is a player used to make a titanic effort. He has recovered his lost tone and Valverde’s ability to display his tireless physicality (five ball recoveries and four games won) not only served Madrid well defensively. He also shot up.
Madrid ruled from the center of the field, where some imposing Tchouaméni, Kroos, Modric and Valverde imposed hierarchy and legs. Madrid was a rock. He conceded little and got an extraordinary performance from the Barça doubts.
Barça once again took the consolation prize: possession (43.4%-56.6%). The ball was from Barça, but the white response was notable en bloc. In the final stretch, with the game already halfway on track, Xavi Hernández’s men enjoyed the best chances of the game (18 shots on goal in total, eight for Madrid).
Barça arrived. And possibly deserved more. He got closer to the vicinity of the goal defended by Lunin more than Ancelotti would have liked. And that, the ‘expected goals’ (xG) metric recognizes it: 1.14-2.16. Thanks to the 2-0 break, Madrid took the game more calmly, leaving the initiative to their rival, but without leaving any gaps behind. Carletto’s men dedicated themselves to controlling the game, playing against it.
The Uruguayan once again showed that he is an all-rounder with a unique physical display. In El Clásico he was a second winger without the ball and the third winger in the attack. He does not participate excessively in the combinative (39 good passes), but he is differential in the work without the ball (four duels won, five ball recoveries).
He was the author of the goal that broke the game and split Xavi’s men in half ten minutes from the break. A goal of those that professionals tend to call psychological and devastating.
The match at the Metropolitano was a demonstration of the authority, power, and maturity of a team that imposed its law. A solid defense, a dominant midfield, and a damaging attack. If these three requirements are met, the lack of control with the ball does not matter: Atleti took possession, 53.2%-46.8%. And he doubled the white team in shots at goal, which forced Cholo’s team to shoot from non-dangerous areas. They only added one shot on goal more than their rival. The competitiveness of Real Madrid. Simple.
Rodrygo (18′) and Valverde (36′) scored for Madrid. The curious thing comes when we verify that, in (xG), Ancelotti’s men did not register a single goal in the entire game (0.92). Meanwhile, Atleti, according to this metric, should have scored more goals (1.04) than he scored (1).
Kroos, Modric, and Tchouaméni took over the game with endless associations that made Atlético desperate and short-circuited their pressure intensity. Precise possessions, search for space, and transitions to the team’s taste… in the second half, after the changes of Camavinga, Ceballos, and Rudiger, the team fell back.
A team, as mentioned before, is chameleonic. A machine designed to win. Rarely has there been a debate of style, game, or philosophy in the White House?
Another demanding game, another Valverde exhibition. A galloping mark of the house gave rise to Madrid’s first goal and made it 0-2 after reaching the area to finish off a play by Vinicius. His defensive statistics perfectly summarize what his match against Atleti was like: six ball recoveries and seven games won.
This is how Madrid wins… against the greats: without the need to have possession of the ball, fewer shots, fewer expected goals… and always with a stellar Valverde. Because Real Madrid continues to be an endless treatise, one of those that does not stop being written; a powerful, unbreakable, and irreducible team and a wonderful miracle within an enigma within a mystery.
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