Xabi Alonso pivotal as Real Madrid outpass and outpress Lyon

Real Madrid’s 4-0 defeat of Lyon on Tuesday night in the Bernabeu came as little surprise. What did catch attention however was the extent to which Madrid dominated possession and the little time the Ligue 1 visitors were afforded on the ball. At the heart of the performance was Xabi Alonso, whose slick passing and aggressive pressing set the tone for a comprehensive victory.

As they had done in previous Champions League clashes between the sides, Lyon were expected to offer Madrid a stiffer test than they had so far faced against Dinamo Zagreb and Ajax. Jose Mourinho anticipated “a deep, defensive Lyon, with very little space between the lines, little space between the back four and the goal.” On that basis, he outlined that “it was important to select a technically proficient player profile: agile, quick on the ball, playing in combinations and trying to penetrate into space.”

Crucial to Mourinho’s gameplan was the importance of retaining possession. What distinguished Tuesday’s performance against their other games this season was Madrid’s dominance of the ball: 63% possession against a season average in the Champions League of 52%. Nobody typified this more than Alonso who made 119 passes during the tie, only losing the ball six times.

On the rare occasions when possession was lost, Madrid were tightly set up to hunt down the opposition. In doing so they won the ball back 69 times against Lyon’s 49. This was particularly evident in the centre of the park, where the pairing of Alonso and Sami Khedira (latterly replaced by Fabio Coentrao) dispossessed their French opponents 16 times. In contrast, the Lyonnais duo of Kim Kallstrom and Guieda Fofana won the ball just nine times: a total which Alonso matched on his own.

Lyon Coach Remi Garde admitted that he “feared that this could happen with Real Madrid dominating possession, forcing us to defend. We found it difficult to get hold of the ball and physically we were a bit off the pace. I thought we could create chances on the counter attack but I was surprised at how hard they worked to win the ball back.”

It is well recognised that the success of Barcelona’s system is not only down to their unique ability to keep the ball, but the vigour with which they chase it back. While Mourinho’s sides have always been effective at dispossessing the opposition, rarely has it been combined with a system which dominates possession to the extent of Tuesday’s match. It will be interesting to see whether this becomes a feature of Madrid’s play during the season ahead.

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