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The Regista - Real Madrid vs Man City tactical review: Ancelotti regret as visitors felt Walker absence's tactics expert Connor Holden reviews the six-goal Champions League quarter-final thriller between Real Madrid and Manchester City and questions whether the hosts will rue not taking greater advantage of Kyle Walker's absence...

Deflections, errors and moments of genius, this game had stamps of an all time UCL classic with some of the goals scored. But coming away from the quality of some of the goals in this game, the eye catching moments for me came on that left-hand side for Real Madrid, and just how much did Manchester City miss Kyle Walker for this type of game?



City's set up in possession would see John Stones step into midfield alongside Rodri (something we are accustomed to seeing), leaving a back three of Manuel Akanji (RCB), Ruben Dias (CCB) and Josko Gvardiol (LCB).

This saw Stones as the right sided 6/8 hybrid for City in possession, and Bernardo Silva playing out on the right, sometimes drifting inside and switching with Phil Foden to try and get on the ball.

But it's the defensive fundamentals of this right-hand side that hurt City in this game, as they did not adjust their game plan to accommodate for the loss of Kyle Walker and his recovery speed as their right-sided rest defender.



Real Madrid knew the assignment in this game with the absence of Walker, was attacking the left channel quickly in behind.

Just from these passing networks and average positions, you can instantly see both Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo doubling up on that left-hand side, to attack that City right channel.

City were missing their best recovery defender in Walker, and their second best (Gvardiol) was on the opposite side of the pitch, therefore the chances were going to come in fast transition moments when Stones was inverted, Dias was at the base and Akanji was isolated in wide areas.


The attacking triangle of Rodrygo, Vinicius and Jude Bellingham was able to lead the charge for Madrid on the break, playing into that left-side bias.

Having a player like Fede Valverde on the right-side of a midfield diamond is what allows Rodrygo and Vini to take this “relationist" approach, leaving the right wing unoccupied and doubling up on the left.

Valverde can cover so much ground, he offers a threat attacking the box late from the right, but can also counter press and regain ground defensively to help Dani Carvajal on that right hand side.


This was the outcome of the Vinicius pass (first image) playing Rodrygo in behind Akanji, isolating himself out wide in a 1v1 foot race with Akanji, wide enough that Dias can't completely cover the space he wants to run into.

As previously mentioned the fact Walker wasn't available for this game gave both Vinicius and Rodrygo the upper hand attacking space in City's right defensive channel. This is why they shifted focus to this side of the pitch, combining with one another and trying to find sequences into that channel.

Their ability to combine with one another was apparent on this left side, making six key passes between them (Vinicius making four, Rodrygo making two), and this really highlights how Carlo Ancelotti pin-pointed this area of the pitch for his key men to focus.

Here is another example of that attacking triangle showing left attacking-side bias, combining and looking to attack behind Akanji.



The big question for me approaching the second-leg is whether the return of Walker to the side will prove to be the difference, forcing Madrid to change their approach.

If this is the case, this first-leg at the Bernabeu could be looked back on as their big opportunity missed to take advantage of the joy they found on that left-hand side (City's right channel).


To conclude this write-up from a thrilling game of football, I expected there to be goals in this Champions league tie, and that was delivered.

The mixture of City sustained pressure (more so in the second-half leading to their outside the box strikes from Phil Foden and Gvardiol) and Madrid's potency on the break in transition was always going to be a recipe for goals.

Let's see who makes the all important tweaks for the return fixture at the Etihad, and whether Pep or Carlo will get the last laugh, either way, I think we could be in for another belter!

Video of the day:

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Connor Holden


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