Goals from Rodrygo and Vinícius either side of a Hans Vanaken effort put Real Madrid ahead away at Club Brugge, with Luka Modric popping up late on to polish off a 3-1 win. This match didn’t mean anything in the sense that Los Blancos were guaranteed to finish second no matter what, but Real Madrid did take the three points and they did raise several questions and provide some answers.
1. How seriously would Zidane take this match?
“I don’t like friendlies, but this isn’t a friendly. This is a Champions League match and Real Madrid’s pride is on the line.” That’s what Zinedine Zidane said before this fixture and he showed that he really was taking this match seriously with his line-up. Compared to Barcelona’s rotated line-up from the previous night, Los Blancos’ was stronger and with less rotation. Of the 14 players used in this match by Zidane, seven of them are in the top 14 for minutes this season. In other words, half of his most regular starters also played this dead rubber from the off. Zidane really did want to win and to bring in that €2.7m victory prize money for the club.
2. Would Rodrygo keep up his goal-a-game Champions League form?
Yes, he sure did. Rodrygo came into this one with three Champions League appearances under his belt and three goals, all of them of course scored on that special night against Galatasaray. Fans wondered whether he would be able to net again as he was given an opportunity from the start and the 18-year-old gave the people what they wanted with a really brilliant volley, one that I think is being underestimated. He now has four goals from four Champions League games in his young career, at a rate of one every 68 minutes.
3. How would Real Madrid cope with Emmanuel Denis and Percy Tau this time?
Club Brugge caused Real Madrid more problems in the 2-2 draw earlier in the season than almost any other team the Spanish side have faced this season. The Club Brugge forwards Emmanuel Denis and Percy Tau were a handful in that game at the Bernabéu and it was the same again early on in this one. Tau, though, could have done better when his close-range shot was saved by Alphonse Areola and he was hooked after an hour. This time, at least, Real Madrid seemed to pass the test posed by the Belgian side’s attacking duo.
1. What’s going on with Nacho?
There were always going to be question marks and criticism of Zidane’s line-up. People will criticise him for playing Rodrygo and Vinícius and people would have criticised him if he hadn’t. People will criticise him for not playing Gareth Bale and people would have criticised him if he had. But the selection decision that most caught my attention was the non-use of Nacho. This game was calling out for the 29-year-old to be used, whether at centre-back or left-back. The fact that he wasn’t is a concern. He is believed to be fit again after his knee injury, but it’s not a good sign that Zidane didn’t feel confident about playing him in such a match with nothing at stake. It’s just 225 total minutes for Nacho this season and none now since October 1st.
2. What to make of the Casemiro situation?
It has been well-documented by now that Casemiro is one booking away from a suspension in LaLiga, while he is also Real Madrid’s most-used player this season. So his participation for the full 90 minutes raises some questions. If he wasn’t rested for this one, will he have the energy to play away at Valencia and then away at Barcelona? Or, did the fact that he played on Wednesday night mean that Zidane is planning to rest him away at Valencia on the weekend, avoiding the possibility of him collecting the yellow card that would rule him out the Clásico? Reading Zidane’s Casemiro tea leaves has become almost impossible, so we’ll just have to wait and see.
3. Who’s next?
It was known before this week that Real Madrid would be finishing second in their group, but now we know all of the other teams in the last 16 draw. So, we know that Real Madrid can face any one of Juventus, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, RB Leipzig or Manchester City. Mathematically speaking, given all the rules of the draw, the most likely opponents for Real Madrid are Liverpool or Manchester City and RB Leipzig is the least likely. But we’ll have to wait until Monday to find out. Then, as Luka Modric said on Wednesday night: “It doesn’t really matter who we draw as there are no easy matches in the Champions League.”