Real Madrid followed up one of their best performances of the season with a 0-0 draw against Real Betis on Saturday night. It was a frustrating evening for Los Blancos, who couldn’t break down a Real Betis side that always had numbers behind the ball. Here, we look at three questions that were answered and three questions that will need answering.
1. Would Real Betis pose more of a challenge than Leganés?
Real Madrid were really good on Wednesday. Yet it’s also true that Leganés were really bad. So one of the questions coming into this game was: would Saturday’s opponents provide more of a test? Although Eden Hazard’s early ruled-out-for-offside goal suggested this might be similarly comfortable, Real Betis did actually cause problems. Like Leganés, they lined up with six defenders on the pitch, but their defensive plan was much more solid and intelligent than that of the Pepineros a few days earlier. Real Betis almost seemed to be playing a centre-back diamond at the back – I guess that’s a thing now – as they had Marc Bartra slightly more advanced, Zouhair Feddal slightly deeper and Sidnei to the left and Aïssa Mandi to the right. It worked, as Real Madrid couldn’t break them down.
2. Would Luka Modrić complete the 90 minutes?
Yes. For just the second time this season, Luka Modrić completed the 90 minutes. The only other time he’d done so previously was against Club Brugge. Against Real Betis, the Croatian was given his first LaLiga Santander start since the opening weekend of the season, when he was sent off away at Celta Vigo. Since then, suspension, injury and the fact that he is 34 have limited his game time. Across his seven appearances this season, Modrić has averaged just 52 minutes per appearance. Compare that with his ‘The Best’ season of 2017/18, when he was playing 78 minutes on average per appearance. Although he did play the entire game tonight, Father Time has caught up with him and it seems like our weekly dose of Modrić has been reduced. We should savour 90-minute outings like tonight. There might not be many more of them.
3. Would Hazard have a shot?
Just two of the 13 outfielders used by Real Madrid against Leganés didn’t have a shot. It wasn’t too surprising that one of them was Dani Carvajal, but it was a bit of a shock that Eden Hazard was the other one. Although the Belgian was active and important against Leganés, he didn’t try his luck in front of goal and it was going to be interesting to see if he’d be bolder against Real Betis. He technically didn’t have a shot in this match either, but the summer signing did have the ball in the back of the net after eight minutes. It was a good finish too. However, VAR intervened to rule out the goal and then Hazard didn’t shoot again over the following 82 minutes, neither on nor off target. He once again helped make things happen in attack. Yet more is surely needed from the €100m man. He was signed to score, not just to dribble and pass.
1. How will the Carvajal-Rodrygo partnership evolve?
If Rodrygo Goes is going to be earning more and more minutes, which I hope and believe he will, it means he’ll have to learn how to work with Dani Carvajal. With Eden Hazard the left forward, Rodrygo will usually be playing on the right when he does and it’ll be essential for him to develop chemistry with the right-back on that side. We saw a bit of this in tonight’s game and, perhaps most encouragingly, we saw Carvajal teaching the 18-year-old on the job. Rodrygo has demonstrated a willingness to get involved defensively, but his inexperience means he still needs some direction in this sense. Carvajal was there to provide it, always gesticulating and advising the youngster. There is still work to be done and there was one attack in the first half that almost broke down because both players ran into each other. But I like what I’m seeing on the right flank. Will this partnership be one to savour for years to come?
2. Is Vinícius better coming off the bench?
Vinícius made quite an impact when he came on for Rodrygo, who had done similarly well. While the 19-year-old’s finishing ability remains just as frustrating, he had one of his most impactful performances in several weeks. He was full of energy and seemed liberated by the fact that there wasn’t much defending to be done at that stage of the game, when Real Betis were fully camped out in their own penalty area. Whether on the counter attack or by recycling the second ball, Vinícius looked dangerous and it’s worth considering if he might be better as a sub than as a starter right now. There could be certain matches and certain moments where Vinícius’ characteristics are perfectly suited to coming on and terrorising tiring full-backs.
3. Will Varane remain Ramos’ partner for the entire season?
The 2019/20 campaign hasn’t been the best for Raphaël Varane. The French centre-back hasn’t been his dominant self and, in this match, there were a few risky moments. Zinedine Zidane’s love for the defender is well-known, as he was key to the player’s move to Real Madrid in 2011. For now, there is no doubt that Varane is Zidane’s guy. But could that change? Could Éder Militão challenge Varane for the role of Ramos’ sidekick by the end of the campaign? This is going to be an interesting situation to keep an eye on.