Zidane opted to start this game without any pure wingers. He’s done this before this season, and it’s had mixed results. The scheme of five central midfielders suffocated Valencia with possession and counter-pressing; but it suffered against a more aggressive defensive team in Atletico.
In the first half of tonight’s game, it was beautiful for stretches. Granada defended well to start, doing well to cut off passing lanes in a medium block. But they ultimately broke on one sequence (and then another, and multiple more), starting with Ferland Mendy’s moment of genius that is better observed than put into words:
Real Madrid played with a certain bounce after that goal — right up until half-time. The cohort of Isco, Modric, Kroos, Casemiro and Valverde played narrow defensively (which had its pros and cons, making for a disjointed press but good transition offense), and all five midfielders — in conjunction to Karim Benzema dropping deep — were able to keep tidy possession. In the first half, Real Madrid always had an outlet available offensively. The passing was crisp, everyone got their touches, helped each other escape Granada’s press on the left side, and blitzed Granada in transition.
Real Madrid’s second goal was beautiful, and ironically stemmed from a defensive break down where the midfield was bypassed easily. But Casemiro’s intervention ultimately saved the play, and Granada were in no position to defend Real’s counter, full of beautiful touches and movement from Modric and Isco:
Real Madrid got into half-time with a comfortable 2 – 0 lead. But everything that ensued in the following 45 minutes was vexatious. The team’s defense broke down, and control of the ball slipped away. Granada pulled one back after a Casemiro giveaway led to a break the other way. A through-ball behind Varane to Darwin Machis could not be stopped by Dani Carvajal who wasn’t in a position to cover:
Granada kept pushing, and were denied by saves from Courtois, and on one occasion, a goal-line clearance from Sergio Ramos. Ultimately, Zidane’s men pulled through, and fended off an uncomfortable finish.
We’ll break this down in more detail on tonight’s post-game podcast.