By Stevie Grieve
In the Champions League encounter between Schalke and Real Madrid, Schalke played the their usual deep 5-3-2 formation adopted by Roberto Di Matteo since he took charge earlier in the season. They normally play quite passive and only engage to press in numbers, specifically in 3v1s in the channel or when there is a good chance of a regain and particularly 2v1 against the touchline.
Schalke blocking Real Madrid’s channel attacking zone
As Kroos, Isco on the ball, Ronaldo and Marcelo are in the same strip of field. Schalke are able to control any forward passes, so Isco elects to dribble with no outball to retain and move the block.
Isco advances with the ball
As Isco has no wide pass as Marcelo and Ronaldo are both in the channel, Isco decides to run forward to break through himself. Schalke deliberately block anything diagonal from channel-centre and force the ball wide where they can defend comfortably as they know that either Real Madrid will try to force a way through via a dribble (again) or simply pass back and re-circulate the ball.
Now as Isco will likely lose the ball in a 3v1, he back-heel’s a pass to Marcelo who has rotated wide again, which is what Schalke wanted with 6 players within 15m of Marcelo and maintaining compactness on the near side of the field. Madrid are forced to pass back and start again.
Dealing with circulation
As Schalke have blocked the vertical route through the channel with good compactness, they leave themselves vulnerable to a quick switch of play. As the ball is switched, they quickly try to force a long pass into an area where they can win a header then recover a loose ball from getting players into the 2nd ball zone from the long pass.[wpsharely id="2988"][/wpsharely]
As Boateng presses Pepe, the ball is played long with the wide CM in the channel able to press on either side. As the ball is played long, he can recover any loose ball in his zone with support arriving.
As the long pass is made, Schalke have 5 within the recovery area of the 2nd ball, where the 1st, 2nd and 3rd ball are all won inside the channel, with a clear overload and prioritization of this strip of field giving them clear compactness and an ability to regain loose balls in transition where Real Madrid are very dangerous from given the pace and penetration they use as a 1st act upon a regain.