Playing the Real Madrid way : Secrets behind the Spanish giants’ success over the years

Real Madrid have continued to be one of the best teams in the history of European football.


Fast, Direct, Attacking Football. That’s the philosophy that Real Madrid have always played with and continue to follow.

Real Madrid have the simple objective of scoring as many goals as possible. They are never satisfied with the scoreline and always look to score more and more, which is why the most talents and ambitious players are attracted to the club. Although its not a rule, but the faster a goal is scored and the fewer the passes it requires, the better it is.

We have seen in the past that Real Madrid are the kings of the counter attack. They have sometimes turned defense into attack and scored their goal in less than 10 seconds, with as few as 3 passes.

In comparison to the other clubs that are these days focusing more on possession and passing (tiki-taka), Madrid are like a knock of the old order. The players are well suited to this style of play, as the forwards are always pacy and the midfielders have the ability to play the long through balls and make the early pass. Madrid do not believe in keeping the possession for too long, without moving it forward. To the casual viewer it may look unappealing and less tactical as compared to the game play of Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but that has always been the way The Whites have played and the reason they are admired by so many around the world.

From the days of Di Stefano and Puskas, Madrid have always played fast, counter-attacking football, not giving their opponents a minute’s rest when on offense. They like to push the ball forward, at great pace, either going straight down the middle or using the wings at deadly speed. The midfielders are given the license to play the early through ball and if not available, then dribble it forward towards the opposing net quickly.

Moving the play up field very, very quickly has always been their forte which is why they also end up playing high scoring matches. Because they always like to play forward, the defense has also been in the past been accused of moving to far up field. Players like Roberto Carlos, Michael Salgado in the past and now Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal and Danilo are often found playing closer to the opposition penalty box as compared to their own.

This is not how most teams expect their defensive full backs to play, as their primary job is to defend the opposing wingers. However, at Madrid the full backs have always been very important to their attacks when compared with some of the other teams in Europe. Marcelo probably plays as a left winger as much as a left back in most games, which is why sometimes a more defensive minded player like Coentrao or Arbeloa was used in big games, but more on that later.

The direct style doesn’t mean hopeless long balls are knocked into the box and the team relies on headers to get their goals. Madrid use ground passes, passes out wide, lob through balls and short, fast tiki-taka style of passing whenever the situation demands. They do not have a characteristic style of play like Barcelona or Bayern for that matter, they do however combine the qualities of their systems which suit them best to fit their style.

These days, it can be frequently seen how Ronaldo, Bale use their speed to run at opponents or make runs behind them, in the hope that Modric or Kroos will find the right pass, and they do so at the first opportunity available, which is usually very soon after the ball is won back. Even Ramos and Pepe have been seen in the last two seasons, sending balls to the strikers from defense, just to destabilize their opponents and to catch them of guard.

Of course, most teams have picked up on this and they try and slow the pace down and put pressure on the Madrid players from very early on. They try and make sure they don’t have enough time to make their runs or play their pass, and have enough defenders at the back to nullify the counter attacks, but as I wrote in a previous article, the quality of the players is such that it is hard to keep them down.

If the running and gunning game can not be played, Madrid are equally comfortable keeping possession and finding the gaps and creating spaces for themselves in between even the tightest of defences. They are good at shooting from the outside and from crosses. They are very dangerous from set pieces and have one of the highest number of headed goals every season.

Madrid have also added the one-two pass and link up plays in the final third to sometimes find their goals. Although their most potent weapons remain the fast counter attacks and goals from crosses/set pieces, the approach has shifted towards a more well rounded system of play, as more and more teams have started to shut down their defenses against them and look to play on the counter themselves.

With better organization and defense, it is hard to break down teams these days, which is why the pace of the game has generally slowed down. but it has led to more tactical and equally entertaining matches. Madrid themselves have shored up their famously porous defense in recent seasons, and now rely on the policy of a “great defense leads to great offense” more than ever in their history. Hopefully in the future, we will see a return to more open football, but till then let’s just enjoy the ride.

Photo by voyages provence