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Real Madrid’s imbalance and attacking brilliance in El Clasico shows why they are Champions League favorites

As Real Madrid have climbed up the table in La Liga and booked a spot in the Champions League semifinals, one question has quietly followed them just about the entire season: They can’t keep getting away with this, can they?

Despite their dominance all season, Real Madrid have always seemed a little bit imbalanced during the biggest games, bending and on the verge of breaking. That was the case on Sunday in the latest edition of El Clasico, when they went down twice to Barcelona and let the visitors dictate the tempo while having little to no answer for teen sensation Lamine Yamal. Things were similar on Wednesday, when all they seemed to do was absorb pressure as Manchester City took 33 shots to their nine in the Champions League quarterfinals.

And yet, on both occasions, it was Real Madrid who came out on top. At the end of a season-defining week, they came out as the oddsmakers favorites to win the Champions League after a penalty shootout win over City and took an 11-point lead atop La Liga after a 3-2 win over Barcelona. It seems that they can — and will — continue to get away with it, thanks in large part to an offensive unit that bails them out of trouble time and time again.

This week alone was a microcosm of Real Madrid’s season, in that it forced them to showcase their range. Their ability to stave off City’s attack, as well as the fact that they lead La Liga with just 22 goals conceded this season, demonstrates their defensive abilities. Even on days when the backline plays a large role, though, Real Madrid’s star-studded attack feels like the focal point of the team’s strategy — and the results speak for themselves.

Against City, it felt like the reason they could keep the reigning Champions League winners at bay was because they could kickstart their attack at the drop of a hat. That’s ultimately why they started a front line featuring Jude Bellingham, Vinicuius Junior and Rodrygo even though they prioritized their defensive strengths, and ultimately took the lead after just 12 minutes. The trio took advantage when play broke their way ever so slightly, giving them the go-ahead goal that gave them just enough of a foundation to stay alive — and win — the tie.

The game state was different against Barcelona, who were able to outmaneuver Real Madrid’s defense to take the lead twice. Eduardo Camavinga seemed to have trouble dealing with Yamal, while goalkeeper Andriy Lunin mismanaged the situation ahead of Fermin Lopez’s goal. That’s when the attack delivered in expected fashion — Vinicius Junior notched a goal and assist, while Bellingham scored the game-winner in the 91st minute.

Though Barcelona marginally out-possessed Real Madrid and the teams both took 14 shots, La Liga’s leaders ultimately outdid the opposition because of their offense. They took eight shots on target to Barcelona’s six, outdoing them 2.41 to 1.33 in terms of expected goals.

There are questions about whether or not it is a sustainable strategy, since Real Madrid have outperformed their expected goals by about seven goals in La Liga and three in the Champions League. That said, Real Madrid seem to be leaning into the attack-first mentality with the expected arrival of Kylian Mbappe for next season.

It appears that the feeling of imbalance might be Real Madrid’s signature look for the foreseeable future, but perhaps that’s by design. An all-star team like the one they are trying to build is going to be a showcase for attacking talent and though it may not be the most practical strategy for success, Real Madrid might be out there to prove they can find an equally as effective way to the top — and a more flashy approach to get there, since they are one of a few clubs that can actually manage it.

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