Super Cup defeat shows all of Real Madrid’s defensive problems

Sunday night’s defeat to arch rivals Barcelona in the Spanish Super Cup final left a dent in Real Madrid’s hopes of replicating last season’s triumphs. Carlo Ancelotti’s side were evidently lacklustre against the Catalan giants, who didn’t have to do too much except to target Los Blancos’ most specific defensive faults.

Without being the best version of themselves, Barcelona – inspired by youngsters Pedri, Gavi and Alejandro Balde – were able to dominate the European Champions in Riyadh.

And that is saying something. Fans saw a Real Madrid team, that had enjoyed several major successes in the space of just a few months last year, being outclassed and outthought by a much younger, inexperienced side playing Europa League football.

Although at the moment, the Europa League team have the Champions League holders right where they want them and here’s why:

Real Madrid’s centre-back partnership

Real Madrid

Antonio Rudiger and Eder Militao, Real Madrid. (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Antonio Rudiger and Eder Militao started in yet another Real Madrid defeat. David Alaba’s presence was the glue that kept the back-line together earlier in the season and with the Austrian out injured, Ancelotti is being forced to field his two most like-for-like central defenders together.

It’s theoretically plausible to assume that both Militao and Rudiger are top athletes, who would, on paper, work incredibly well with one another. Yet, the reality has proven to be quite the opposite.

Real Madrid signed Rudiger in the summer as a reinforcement to their defensive department, which at times last season had seemed out of depth. The German international, like Militao, is a right-footed central defender whose major strengths come from the more physical, athletic and aerial side of the game.

Like Rudiger’s mistake for Barcelona’s opener proved, he has an error in him when playing out of position. It’s the same with Militao, who seems to find himself uncomfortable playing on Alaba’s left.

Real Madrid have won 11 of the 14 games wherein David Alaba has featured alongside either of Militao and Rudiger in central defence this season, whilst winning just 3 times in 5 games when the two have played with each other instead.

The fact of the matter here is that both Militao and Rudiger are simply too similar to one another in terms of playing style. Alaba’s composure, spatial awareness and assured calmness in possession makes it easier for the right-sided defender to operate freely.

In this regard, both Rudiger and Militao can be poor in defending spaces behind them, often rushing forward at the same time, like on Barcelona’s second goal in the Spanish Super Cup final.

Alaba on the other hand keeps the structure intact, holding the defensive line high up the pitch. He might not possess the pace or the physical attributes of his fellow defenders but his ability to see space and to read situations is elite, making him positionally difficult to catch out in the same manner.

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