This is how Madrid has achieved the best defense in its history without its most important players | Soccer | Sports

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Real Madrid plays without its best goalkeeper and without its two best centre-backs (sometimes without any), and yet it has never defended better. The 1-0 against Sevilla on Sunday, another clean sheet, left the goals they have conceded in the first 26 games of the League at 16, the lowest number in their history at this stage of the championship, according to Opta, on pace to close his best defensive campaign. He has conceded an average of 0.62 goals per game. Below, there is only the 0.60 with which he closed the 1964/65 season, a shorter championship, of only 30 days, when 18 goals were scored against him.

That old mark from six decades ago was achieved by Madrid under the direction of Miguel Muñoz, the coach of the club with the most victories in the League, 257. Now the feat is around Carlo Ancelotti, the second with the most victories, 127. After the twelfth clean sheet of the season, the 4-0 against Girona, who did not shoot once on goal, the Italian explained the paradox of this extreme solidity in the most complex conditions, with Courtois, Militão and Alaba injured for months: “The emergency “The collective defensive commitment of the team has increased,” he said. The coach has always maintained that good defense depends more on will than on talent.

Madrid presses this season an average of 147 times per game, 20 more than in the Italian’s first season. In the past eight years, he had never pushed so hard, according to records StatsBomb. Upon returning to the Bernabéu in 2021/22, Ancelotti’s intention was to defend high up, but he quickly realized that his players were more comfortable waiting. Now, it has not only been commitment in the face of adversity that has allowed him to advance positions. Also the generational change.

Bellingham’s physical display surpasses that of Benzema, as does Camavinga’s that of Modric, who is increasingly less common in the eleven. Furthermore, Hazard, Bale and Asensio have been replaced by players with greater dedication. Brahim and Bellingham are the second and third players with the most defensive actions per game, with 23 and 20. Last year Benzema made 10 per game.

Beyond the physical change, the absence of the Frenchman also invited the defense to tighten due to the loss of gunpowder. Without a natural nine to take over, the natural thing would have been for Madrid to score less, although Bellingham’s explosion has allowed them to maintain the scoring pace.

Intensity is a common patch upon loss of fire. When Zidane, who learned with Ancelotti as a coach and as a player, returned to the team after leaving the same summer as Cristiano, he had the second best defensive season in the club’s history: he won the 2019/20 League, the first without the Portuguese, conceding only 0.66 goals per game.

Madrid not only presses more frequently, but they do so higher up. For the first time in the last eight seasons, he does it more times in the opponent’s field than in his own: 52% in rival territory, seven points more than the 45% he reached in the first season with the Italian. The team defends further from its goal than ever in the last five years: the average distance at which it carries out its defensive actions is 46.75 meters, almost three and a half meters more than the 43.36 in 2021/22 .

The good moment of Camavinga, Tchouameni and Valverde, further back than in previous seasons, protects the team from more advanced positions and allows fewer arrivals near the goalkeeper. Madrid allows only 1.50 passes per game in its area, one less than two seasons ago. In the five major European leagues, only Juventus has a better lock in that compromised area (1.46). If you look at touches in the area, Madrid is also the second in Europe that allows the least (14.6 per game), only behind Arsenal (14.5), according to fbref.com.

Around there is Antonio Rüdiger, who has occupied the leadership space left by the injuries of Alaba and Militão, and the drop in performance of Nacho. All these factors lead to the opponents barely registering 1.65 clean shots per game, without defenses between the attacker and the goalkeeper, the second best mark in the League behind that of Real Sociedad (1.46), according to StatsBomb . In Ancelotti’s first season the team was 13th: it allowed 2.13.

Already in the last stretch of resistance, Ancelotti has encountered another unexpected revelation. When Courtois was injured, the club signed Kepa Arrizabalaga, on loan from Chelsea, due to the little faith he had in Lunin. In this context of precariousness and manifest mistrust, the Ukrainian is emerging with a formidable performance. He is the second goalkeeper in Europe who saves the most, 83% of the shots he receives, only behind the 84% of Di Gregorio, from Monza. And he is the eighth who avoids the most goals, 0.2 per game, according to the StatsBomb model, just over three times what Courtois avoided last season (0.06). That point of inspiration from Lunin, along with the contribution of many footballers committed to the emergency, explains why a Madrid without its goalkeeper and without its two starting centre-backs is executing the best defense in its history.

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