Finding the right blend between the different phases of the game without losing the defensive balance is one of the key foundations to success for any coach. This was Carlo Ancelotti’s main objective upon his arrival at Real Madrid.
After a somewhat shaky start with his side’s defensive instability, where the desire to win the ball in the most advanced areas of the pitch was creating defensive imbalances in the structural organization of the team on more than one occasion, the Italian coach has opted to adopt a more conservative stance. Ancelotti has formed a more compact defensive block by reducing the distances between players, dropping the height of the team into their own half, and thus prioritizing the defence of space.
From this behavioral modification, a constellation between Éder Militão and David Alaba has firmly emerged. Both players were deemed to be the first-choice centre backs after the significant departures of ex-captain Sergio Ramos and long-time starter Raphael Varane. However, there remained some doubts about the performance and understanding between the two, as both had not yet had the opportunity to show their capabilities of leading and carrying the weight of ‘Los Blancos’. The spotlight was shone on Alaba for having just arrived to the team and by the fact he is playing in his less than usual position, while Militão has not had a major role in the team since joining the club.
Therefore, at the MBP School of Coaches, we have analyzed through the fundamentals of the game what behaviors both players are performing to a very high level, and thereby are helping to shore up the defensive phase of Madrid.
The first aspect to highlight refers to the application of the line fundamental of ‘Maintaining the balance in the depth of the defensive line’. Both players possess speed which supports them in defending space if the opposing team chooses to attack in behind.
For that reason, the two players are bold in keeping the team compact, taking up positions far from their own penalty area. This reduces the interlinear distance of the team, allowing the collective to be able to travel together in the defensive phase.
Another fundamental that is consistently applied well by both players, and enables the team to remain compact, refers to the need of ‘recovering the defensive positions of the system when there is a backwards pass’. In this type of situation, both Militão and Alaba have the courage and ability to lead the defensive block as a whole, moving the team away from their own area and avoiding distances between lines.
Another of the most relevant behaviors of Real Madrid’s centre back pairing, which is also key in possession-dominant teams like Real Madrid, is the application of the fundamental ‘Maintaining caution of the forward while the team attacks’.
Given the non-linearity of football, it is key that players understand certain defensive concepts must be applied while their team is in possession of the ball.
The application of this fundamental by both defenders helps the team to be more effective in the defensive transition, reducing the time and space of the opposing striker, in the event that the opposition decide to play to the most advanced players after winning the ball.
Lastly, one key area to emphasize, and one that very few players in the world boast, is the individual quality to resolve situations of maximum risk. As we saw in the recent match vs Sevilla FC, Alaba intuitively anticipated the possible shot of the opposition striker by positioning himself inside the goal once the opponent had managed to beat Courtois, preventing a second goal in the process.
The close partnership between Militão and Alaba appears to be a genuine one. As we have seen in this analysis, both players are managing to bring a defensive solidity to Madrid that very few central defender pairings have been able to achieve in the past.
However, we cannot forget that we are only at the early stages of the season, and that the success of both players will be reflected in the high-stake matches that will take place at the end of the season, when the knockout phase of the Champions League arrives.
Therefore, at the MBP School of Coaches, we will continue to monitor the development of both players within the Real Madrid side and await to see if their strong performances remain consistent enough to bring multiple trophies back to the Santiago Bernabéu.