Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid: The numbers behind Zidane's improving defence

Atletico Madrid used to be perceived as having the fiercest defence, but Zinedine Zidane's Real Madrid are becoming just as formidable.

Real Madrid

Sergio Ramos celebrates with Real Madrid team-mates.   -  Getty Images

Diego Simeone appeared to have perfected a defence-first approach at Atletico Madrid.

However, Zinedine Zidane's work with Real Madrid this season has seemingly been based on the same philosophy and is reaping far greater rewards.

LaLiga leader Madrid will hope to open a six-point lead over Barcelona when it entertains local rival Atletico at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday.

With the help of Opta, we look at the impressive numbers behind Los Blancos' miserly defence.

A sluggish start

It was not an ideal start for Zidane when he returned for a second stint as coach last March.

A 4-1 win over Real Valladolid was not enough for Santiago Solari to keep his job following back-to-back home defeats to Barcelona and a shock Champions League last-16 exit to Ajax.

Read: Rumour Has It: Barcelona to tempt Chelsea with late Willian bid

Zidane struggled to find consistency in the closing stages of the season and only managed five wins in his 11 LaLiga games at the helm.

During that time frame, Madrid appeared to increasingly struggle defensively. It saw its average goals conceded per game rise from 1.19 to 1.27 and they faced 0.5 more shots per game (up to 4.09 from 3.59).

Tightening up

Madrid kept just three clean sheets under Zidane last season, but it is already up to 11 in 21 LaLiga games this term. That is one more than Atletico.

Having let in 14 goals as Zidane saw out the end of the 2018-19 campaign, it has improved dramatically with just 13 put past it this term – the fewest of any teams in the top five European leagues and its best record after 21 matches since 1988.

Madrid's expected goals conceded is 19.75, meaning it has let in 6.75 fewer than anticipated, highlighting some good work from goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. The only teams in LaLiga with a better differential this season are Real Valladolid (-10.11) and Levante (-7.44), but they conceded more than Madrid at 24 and 32 respectively.

Greater defensive work has seen the number of shots Madrid is facing decrease from 9.91 per game under Zidane last term – and 10.24 across the whole campaign – to 8.48, a tally only Getafe (7.57) and Manchester City (7.63) have faced fewer than in the top five European leagues.

When only efforts that hit the target are taken into account, Madrid has been troubled by just 2.62 every 90 minutes this season – the lowest in the continent's leading divisions. Atletico faces just 2.86 per match.

Attack as a form of defence?

Madrid has seen its average possession dip slightly since Zidane took over, but it has remained at just above 58 per cent under the Frenchman.

It is seemingly reaping the rewards of playing with greater intensity higher up the pitch – it has won possession in the final third 5.38 times per game this season, an increase from 4.09 in Zidane's first 11 games in charge.

Madrid is averaging more shots than any team in LaLiga at 17.89 per game, with 6.43 of those hitting the target – another league high.