Welcome to the second part of this Match Analysis special, against Real Madrid in the 2025 Champions League Final. I’ll try to quickly recap on the pre-match analysis whilst also telling you the things I’ve altered from my usual tactical setup.
– hard pressing on Civet (Civet was targetted in the media before the game and is already known as Real Madrid’s most error prone player).
– Martinez (LAM) pushed out wide onto wrong foot to make the most of his poor crossing (he’ll want to come inside as he’ll be set as an Inside Forward but hopefully Malfleury, my RB, can push him outside).
– Malfleury set to bomb down wing – very attacking – Cuevas switched from LDM to RDM to cover incoming Inside Forward threat (this was because Miguel Castro, Real Madrid’s LB, has very rarely pushed forward from LB in the past).
– Neto told to ‘hug touchline’ to put pressure on opposition LB.
– made Emir Sen (LB) more defensive to deal with attacking threat of Arthur Huet (Real Madrid RAM).
– got Daniel Santa Cruz (B2B mid) to close down Michael Peters (dangerman in the centre of Real Madrid’s midfield – think a more technical Yaya Toure).
– shorter passing and lower intensity (it’s been a long hard season and all that) and we’re the much better passing side.
– make Cuevas anchor man rather than defensive midfielder in order to cover Malfleury’s runs.
This is how the teams setup:
Madrid setup with Lopez in CAM but that was to be expected. It was a shame because I’d have preferred the more striker-like Manuel Martin but we can’t win them all. Apart from that, there’s no odd selections.
And it all started so well (see video above). Perhaps Civet’s reluctance to step forward and take on Juninho was due to his bashing in the media beforehand. Or perhaps it was just an excellent run from Juninho to cut inside (despite his hug touchline instruction), but it was a fantastic goal so early on. Sometimes things just go right.
After ten minutes I realised Juninho was getting quite a bit of luck down the left-hand side so I made him my target man, with ball to feet. He was often taking on the replacement Real Madrid right-back and winning, with runs down the wing as well as cutting inside (see: video).
Madrid were also getting dragged into a 4-4-2 at this point. Whilst I wanted Martin to start for just this reason, Lopez was still getting dragged into a striker-esque position which is exactly what I wanted. In my last 50 games, I’d only conceded 3 goals to a 4-4-2.
Then after 25 minutes we scored from a corner. Excellent. Nothing tactical about that but I knew we were going to be a threat from corners (my DM being a converted CB certainly helps). However, before I can even change the strategy to Standard from Control, Madrid counter and score from the kick-off. Gutted. But we’re still leading 2-1 and on top of the game.
After 27 minutes, Lopez begins to drop off and helps win Madrid the possession battle. With Cuevas in the anchor man role he was dropping off too deep and often acting like a third central defender. Not ideal. He’s swapped to the Defensive Midfielder role and begins to provide another option as well as remaining defensive stability and playing to his strengths.
This change pays dividends. Madrid begin to alter their approach to an even more aggressive style of pressing in order to chase the game. However, Cuevas is now operating as a Defensive Midfielder rather than an Anchor Man and finds himself in a large amount of space at times. Madrid press high but we’re able to pass it round them with ease due to good technical ability from Ridiger Sadiku and Daniel Santa Cruz and excellent positioning from Cuevas. Change successful.
We have to wait until just before half-time until anything tactically interesting happens. And it was potentially a game changer. Hard-hitting French defender does what he does best and injures Real Madrid’s key man, Michael Peters. The change they make was unexpected even if the Spanish side were attempting to chase the game. They bring on Manuel Martin (yes, the guy I thought was too attacking for CAM) to play in central midfield despite his non-existent experience there. Martin’s 5 tackling replaces Peters’ 18. Simple change there: exploit the middle please, chaps. And it works. Over the coming tens of minutes we have domination in the centre of midfield.
This is compounded by Neto dropping back from RCAM. In my pre-match report I suggested Miguel Castro was unlikely to push forward for Real Madrid, from left-back. But he proved me wrong. An example of why looking over past games is likely to be more helpful than assist figures. Neto was then set to IF – S, and dropped into a four-man central midfield diamond as shown above. This created free space for Ridiger Sadiku in the hole, an area he would dominate in the absence of a proper ball-winner for the opposition.
Another change comes after about 73 minutes, when Daniel Santa Cruz is bit tired, so a change of centre-midfielders was necessary. On the bench I had Assis and Amara Kouroumakan. As you can see, Assis is an excellent playmaker but not really what I’m looking for, in this situation. He’d exploit the weakness of Manuel Martin but he’d also probably be exploited by Martin himself. Kouroumakan is far more likely to help sure the game up, and a change from Control to Standard also helps this.
Into the nervous eighties and Sadiku is pushing up front, which is a fairly major annoyance. Perhaps its his inexperience (it’s his first Champions League final, at only 19 years of age), or perhaps it’s fatigue. Either way, it’s imperative the CAM is getting involved in the midfield battle at this stage. So I bring Sadiku off and bring Assis on. I then shift the layout of the midfield to two DMs (Cuevas in his normal role, and Kouroumakan as a slightly deeper DLP). Assis will continue to play as an Advanced Playmaker, but again from slightly deeper.
The minutes push and into the ninieth minute I change to a Counter strategy as well as acknowledging Miguel Castro’s now surging runs. Neto is then stuck out on the right wing despite not being able to play there at all. At times like that, you just need him to stick with the man and Castro’s Opposition Instructions are changed to closing down – always, and tight marking – always. Neto does his job and the game closes out, with a 2-1 win and Wolves lifting the title. Delighted.