The 2023/24 season is well and truly underway now as most of the major men’s leagues have kicked off, and we at Soccerment will be keeping a close eye on weekly proceedings. Through our new Decoding The Weekend column, we will highlight and analyse some of the biggest and most interesting matches every week, using data and insights from our analytics platform, xvalue.ai.
This week, we have picked out three games from the fresh 2023/24 season that caught our eye.
🇪🇸 La Liga: Athletic Club 0-2 Real Madrid
There was a fair bit of intrigue around Real Madrid in pre-season, as word spread of their new 4-4-2-diamond formation. All eyes were on their season opener against Athletic Club to see if they would indeed be using it, and the answer proved to be affirmative.
Ahead of the back-four, Real Madrid lined up with Aurélien Tchouaméni as the deepest midfielder, with Federico Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga on either side of him and summer signing Jude Bellingham at the tip of the diamond. Further up, Rodrygo led the attack alongside Vinícius Júnior.
As ever, Real were quite fluid in possession. Particularly in midfield, the two number eights often drifted out wide to free up the full-backs to get forward, while Bellingham had full freedom to drop deep to receive the ball or push forward and thoroughly impressed in this all-action role. His presence up front proved quite useful, as it enabled Rodrygo and Vinícius to take up more familiar slightly wide positions.
Real Madrid’s goals were not the most beautiful – Rodrygo’s opener was created by a sliding tackle to win the ball in the box, while Bellingham scored with a mistimed volley from a corner that luckily bounced and looped in. Regardless, they got the job done here fairly comfortably and look set to be a fun team to watch this season.
- Possession: 45.9% – 54.1%
- xThreat: 0.5 – 0.5
- Field Tilt: 54.6% – 45.4%
- xGOT: 0.2 – 1.8
Takeaway: Real Madrid’s clinical finishing made the difference in a fairly even game.
🏴 Premier League: Brentford 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur
Over in the Premier League, Ange Postecoglu made his much-awaited debut in charge of Tottenham Hotspur.
After the water supply problems at the Brentford Community Stadium were fixed, we were made to witness some of the most inverted full-backs humankind has ever seen. While it has become fairly common for one full-back to operate alongside a midfielder in the centre of the pitch, Tottenham asked both to do so.
This extreme narrowness in possession enabled them to progress through the middle quite well and dominate possession, so they kept around 70% of the ball. The trade-off, however, was that they were quite susceptible to counterattacks down the wings, and Brentford looked to exploit this.
After conceding the opener to Cristian Romero’s header after a free-kick, the Bees bounced back with Bryan Mbeumo’s penalty, which was won after Rico Henry advanced down the left and played a crossfield pass towards the right of the box. The English wing-back then registered an assist for Yoane Wissa’s goal, but Tottenham equalised before half-time through an Emerson strike from the edge of the box.
There were no goals in the second half but the match remained just as exciting, ending with the spoils shared between the two capital clubs.
- Field Tilt: 21.6% – 71.4%
- xG: 2.21 – 1.24
- xG per shot: 0.13 – 0.07
- xPoints: 2.14 – 0.65
Takeaway: Tottenham dominated possession and territory but Brentford created the better chances on the break.
🇫🇷 Ligue 1: Paris Saint-Germain 0-0 FC Lorient
Luis Enrique arrived in Ligue 1 just as everyone expected him to: with a thousand passes and no goals. That is no exaggeration, as his PSG side attempted a Ligue 1 record 1,001 passes in their season opener against Lorient, and yet struggled to create meaningful chances.
For those not of a Parisian persuasion, their match statistics (on the left side of the below image) make for rather comical reading. PSG had a whopping 78% possession and 90% field tilt, yet they could only attempt 20 shots worth 1.7 xG altogether and were even more disappointing with their finishing, registering just 0.7 xGOT (Expected Goals On Target).
Clearly, PSG’s main issue was a shocking lack of urgency and invention in the final third, perhaps as a product of the absence of the MNM trio. Lionel Messi is already in Miami, Neymar has now officially signed for Al Hilal and Kylian Mbappé was frozen out of the squad amid a contract dispute.
After yet another transfer saga, the Frenchman looks set to stay in the capital this season. On the back of this shocking performance, PSG seem to have caved as he has been reinstated to the first team squad. His task will now be to add some dynamism to what was a terribly static front line against Lorient’s low block.
- Possession: 78.0% – 22.0%
- Field Tilt: 90.0% – 10.0%
- xG: 1.47 – 0.10
- xGOT: 0.7 – 0.0
Takeaway: PSG utterly dominated the match in terms of possession and territory yet struggled to pose a major goal-threat.
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About the Author: Neel Shelat
Neel Shelat is a self-styled missionary of the religion of football. With an unwavering passion for the game, he spreads the word about football from all corners of the world through in-depth features, profiles, analyses, and podcasts. Over the span of three years, Neel has established himself as a prominent freelance journalist and analyst. His insightful contributions have graced platforms like Al Jazeera, Forbes Sports, among many others. If you wish to stay updated with his latest insights and thoughts, you can follow him on Twitter at @ShelatNeel.
This series of articles is a collaborative effort between Neel Shelat, Soccerment Research, and the xvalue Team.