Real Madrid: A flat 4-4-2 the new go-to formation for Zinedine Zidane's side?
It was a massive win for Real Madrid over Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their round of 16 UEFA Champions League tie, a win that makes them favourites to progress to the quarter-finals.
Madrid dug deep to get the 3-1 home win, having been well led by experienced players Ronaldo, Ramos, and Marcelo. Zidane was spot on with his selections and substitutions; his intended changes had the desired effect and at no point did the Frenchman look flustered with his decisions.
Looking at the game in hindsight, it were the two forward-thinking changes from Zidane that put Madrid in the position they find themselves in this tie. In Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio, Zidane brought on two players who possess the capability to propagate counter-attacking football.
The changes meant that Zidane altered his side’s formation from a diamond shaped 4-4-2 to a flat 4-4-2. With four flat midfield players and central midfielders flanked by wingers on either side, the traditional looking Real Madrid seemed quite effective. This was however not the first time the Madrid coach had used such a formation for his squad.
The flat 4-4-2 was previously used against Real Sociedad and Sevilla in La Liga at home. Both those games resulted in Los Blancos scoring five past their opponents. A flat four in midfield means that Real might miss out on the particular screening of Casemiro but the deep-lying pivot of Modric and Kroos make more than a fist of it.
Real Madrid have struggled with regards to their transitions in defence this season with counter-pressing being a major issue. The flat 4-4-2 organizes the counter-press to some extent which has a slightly better look to it than in a 4-3-3 or in a diamond 4-4-2 formation.
Without the ball, the flat four in the midfield provide extra cover to Madrid’s full-backs, something that has eluded Los Blancos everytime Zidane has used the diamond set-up. Extra cover for the likes of Marcelo and Carvajal who like bombing up the field at every given opportunity helps in containing counter-attacks well.
Asensio and Vazquez command the wide positions perfectly. The two are willing to work tirelessly for their side’s cause. Vazquez has proved it time and again while Asensio has the hunger to succeed at the biggest of stages, tracking back at every opportunity necessary. The flat 4-4-2 certainly provides for a more stable look to the side defensively along with a solid core at the centre of the park.
With the ball, the formation has so far made the side from Madrid look aggressive. The two wide midfielders have the option of either playing inward or staying out wide, in turn providing opportunities for overlapping runs from the full-backs. This creates opportunities for possible two on one situation for the wide players.
The Kroos and Modric pivot works perfectly when it comes to maintaining possession in the middle of the pitch. The deep role, usually played by Casemiro in a 4-3-3 formation, is altered between Kroos and Modric in a flat midfield formation. It's safe to say that these two players are a lot more at ease with the ball than the Brazillian.
Casemiro’s importance off the ball is evident, however, it’s his on-the-ball flaws that make this formation tick in terms of playing it through the centre from the back.
The 4-4-2 flat formation hasn’t been used a lot by Zidane so far this season but has looked effective whenever put in place. A set-up which has facilitated a more direct approach from his side, it might well turn out to be Real Madrid’s go-to formation for the remainder of this season given the confidence and the freedom it has instilled in some of the players.