After the midweek drama of their Super Cup loss to local rivals Atletico, the league campaign started in a far more smooth style for Real Madrid with a 2-0 victory over Getafe which epitomised the phrase ‘routine home win’.
It was a far from spectacular performance from Julen Lopetegui’s team, who created few chances and scored their goals thanks to sloppy defensive errors – firstly goalkeeper David Soria weakly punching straight onto the head of Dani Carvajal, and then otherwise impeccable defender Djene Dakonam losing possession to Marco Asensio in the build-up to Gareth Bale’s second.
But the most significant aspect of the home team’s performance was at the other end of the field, where Getafe were unable to create any clear chances and never even looked like doing so.
This is a new development. Throughout Zinedine Zidane’s reign, and especially last season, Real were constantly vulnerable at the back. Even when they won games they looked in danger of conceding, always giving their opposition hope that goalscoring opportunities would come their way.
Los Blancos finished last season with 44 goals conceded in La Liga – double the tally of Atletico – and only kept consecutive clean sheets on two occasions. Their Champions League campaign was also nearly derailed by defensive frailties, with Juventus and Bayern Munich both only failing to knock out the eventual champions by squandering hatfuls of chances in narrow exits at the Bernabeu.
Life under Zidane in the latter stages of the Frenchman’s time in charge was a thrilling if unpredictable roller-coaster ride, with his team regularly appearing to be teetering on the verge of disaster before invariably somehow managing to rescue themselves with daredevil attacking play.
Although that haphazard approach was enough to secure dominance in Europe, it was insufficient to mount a meaningful challenge for the league title, reflected in Madrid’s third-place finish, 17 points behind Barcelona.
With the same personnel, however, it already appears that Lopetegui is giving his team much more solid defensive foundations, instigating a more cautious approach which can be summed up with one word: control.
Zidane’s teams, even at their best, rarely had control. They didn’t want it that way. They preferred wide open and chaotically fast-paced games which would allow their individual quality to shine through – and very often, that worked.
Lopetegui, in contrast, has already managed to extract a far more diligent and disciplined performance out of his team, who enjoyed 78.1% of possession against Getafe on Sunday night – their third-highest total for a decade and more than ever achieved under Zidane.
How was it done? Firstly, it’s worth noting that both Luka Modric and Casemiro were left on the bench while Toni Kroos was installed as the deep-lying ‘pivot’ in the centre of midfield, anchoring his team with authoritative passing ability: over the course of the game, the German international completed a remarkable 119 of his 121 attempted passes.
More than the contribution of individuals, however, the greater level of control exerted by Madrid in their first league game under Lopetegui was a collective achievement. The team was tighter and more compact, denying Getafe the space to play by sticking closer together and preventing any gaps from opening up.
Even Marcelo was restrained, spending the game closer to the halfway line than his usual preferred territory of the opposition penalty area, and the flamboyant Brazilian’s reticence to over-commit himself resonated throughout the team – only five of the 793 passes completed by Madrid came inside the Getafe penalty area, with the vast majority being played a few yards either side of the halfway line.
This conservative but orderly approach was also displayed by Lopetegui in his previous job with the Spanish national team, who conceded just three goals in ten games during the World Cup qualifying campaign, suggesting that Madrid fans should prepare themselves for many more games like the uninspiring but entirely efficient job they executed against Getafe on Sunday.
Of course, it’s dangerous to make long-term conclusions on the basis of just one game, and the poor performance of Getafe should be taken into account. But from what we saw this weekend, Lopetegui is rapidly leading his team from chaos towards control – and, to challenge on the domestic front, that could prove to be exactly what they need.
The hosts bounced back from their UEFA Super Cup defeat to Atletico Madrid thanks to goals in either half from Dani Carvajal and Gareth Bale.
Speaking after the game, Asensio said: “It was very important to do well. We played a complete game and this was the way to start in the league.
“The front three seemed more fluid and free without Cristiano Ronaldo in the team.
“We have a great team and are working well.
“We’ve had to turn the page and start a new season with great enthusiasm.”
The 22-year-old added: “Transfers aren’t up to me, that’s decided by the President and the coach.
“I have no voice or vote to decide that.”
The Wales international was on the scoresheet in Real’s 2-0 victory over Getafe in new coach Julen Lopetegui’s first La Liga game at the helm on Sunday evening.
Speaking afterwards, Nacho told the club’s official website, www.realmadrid.com: “As for Bale, he does not have to follow Ronaldo’s path. He [Ronaldo] marked a time here.
“Bale is a very important player for us and has won many things here and does not have to prove anything to anyone. He has the confidence of all and surely he will do it very well.
“The crowd is with Bale and he is very happy at Real Madrid.”
Goals from Dani Carvajal – his first in LaLiga since April 2014 – and Bale either side of half-time were enough to hand Lopetegui’s men victory and go some of the way towards easing the pain of their midweek European Super Cup defeat by derby rivals Atletico.
Real never really had to hit top form to win, with Getafe failing to mount a meaningful attack until the closing stages as the hosts eased towards the finishing line.
Nacho added: “We are happy with this victory. We wanted to start well and we went for it from the beginning. The team was attentive and serious. We wanted to win and start well in front of our fans.
“We are an ambitious team and we always go for more. We controlled the game and we are very happy with the game. We must continue with this confidence.”
Midfielder Asensio admitted it had been important for Real to put the Super Cup disappointment behind them.
He said: “It was a very complete game and this is the way to go to get far in this league.
“We had to turn the page of the Super Cup. This is another competition and we are very excited about this season.
“We have played a great game and now we are thinking about the next one. We have a great team, we are working well and that was reflected on the field.”