Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Carlo with an RPG

It wasn’t a masterclass, but Real Madrid deserved to win the Champions League because of how well they defended. Managers, like Carlo Ancelotti, that give freedom to the players in attack come off as withdrawn, but the difference comes in defense.

I watched this video of these American soldiers in a firefight in Afghanistan. The entire squadron was firing at this area ahead, hunkered down, and behind cover. Then walks up this one solider named “Jamsheed,” informally known by me as the one dude with an RPG. Without a care in the world, with rounds flying by him, he calmly walked forward in the open air, without cover, aimed his RPG at the target, and fired. Everyone cheers.

The guy with the RPG in this match was Carlo Ancelotti. Every other manager is afraid to take risks, hunkered down behind the cover of their control, automations, and drilled structures. All the other managers want control in every phase to win, but Carlo does not need control in attack. He calmly walks up and tells his players, ‘Do what you need to do.’ Then everyone is left stunned when he wins, because how can you win without “control”?

I spend a lot of time defensively, working with my team, working together. Offensively I give some information, but not too much. What can I tell them?

The Real Madrid players don’t need a ton of instructions in attack. Let them play their own game and find their own solutions. Let Vinicius, Rodrygo, Bellingham, Kroos be creative. He doesn’t put guard rails up. He is the perfect manager for a team with this much talent because there is no need to hold them back.

This approach is foreign in the modern game, but it wasn’t foreign years ago. I remember Eto’o, Pirlo, Drogba, Xavi, Iniesta, Berbatov, Messi, Tevez, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Henry, Klose, Ronaldinho, Lampard, Gerrard, David Villa, Scholes, Ronaldo, Ibrahimović, Fernando Torres, van Persie. I don’t remember the managers they played under, and their control over the game. The game was not won or lost based on the manager’s instructions, the praise went to the players first. I felt this when I watched the Netherlands play Brazil in the 1974 World Cup. If the players didn’t find the solutions, it was mainly their problem.

Figure 1.1 - Real Madrid sits off Dortmund.

The instructions come in defense. Real Madrid allowed Dortmund to occupy certain areas of the pitch when they lost the ball. There were instances where Real Madrid’s defensive organization at the back was tested, and their offside trap failed. Those chances almost resulted in goals.

Dortmund outplayed Real Madrid in the first half because Madrid kept misplacing passes and losing possession unnecessarily. If the passes were more accurate, we’d see a more succinct performance from Real Madrid, like we saw for the majority of the second half.

Figure 2.1 - Real Madrid counter-pressure forces Dortmund to play through the center of the pitch.
Figure 2.2 - Real Madrid wins the ball off the progressive pass forward.

I liked the way Real Madrid applied pressure on Dortmund, especially when the ball was in Dortmund’s own half on the left side. The pressure in moments where they had the numbers to overwhelm was well timed. That pressure tired Dortmund.

Figure 3.1 - Real Madrid double-team Dortmund the minute they attempt to advance wide into Madrid's half.
Figure 4.1 - Real Madrid double-team Dortmund in the wide area, not allowing Jadon Sancho to advance past. The two cut-back passes are covered off.

Real Madrid did not allow Dortmund to advance through the wide areas. They owned the wide areas by crowding the ball carrier and cutting off any passes out of pressure. It would take a major mistake from a player defending inside the box for one of these chances to result in a goal.

Even if Dortmund scored in the first half, I’d still come to the conclusion that Real Madrid deserved it because of how they defended. Carlo Ancelotti wins his fifth Champions League. Empowering individuals to play their own way to become the most successful individual in Champions League history. Poetic.

Match: Real Madrid 2-0 Dortmund, 1 June 2024

Back to top Share on Twitter Email this post Copy link