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Three answers and three questions from the Athletic Club draw

A frustrating 2019 ended in frustrating fashion as Real Madrid were held to a goalless draw against Athletic Club. What answers did we get? And what questions do we have going into 2020? 

Real Madrid CF v Athletic Club - La Liga

For the second match in a row, Real Madrid dominated the game yet ended up with a 0-0 draw. Even though there weren’t any goals against Athletic Club, there was a lot of action packed into this one and some of the key questions are tackled here.

Three answers

1. Who would win Raúl García and Williams vs Ramos and Militão?

There was a heavyweight showdown at the Bernabéu on Sunday night. Raúl García and Iñaki Williams form one of the most unique attacking partnerships in all of LaLiga, with the former’s muscle and the latter’s pace. Tasked with dealing with them in this match were Sergio Ramos and Éder Militão and the Real Madrid duo came out on top. Ramos was particularly strong defensively, winning his aerial duels and making a couple of solid sliding challenges. Then, when Militão had to go off, it was actually from a challenge against Kenan Kodro. Nacho came on and helped Los Blancos to their sixth clean sheet in their past nine LaLiga matches.

2. How would Valverde do in the Casemiro role?

Casemiro was finally suspended, so Real Madrid had to face the problem of trying to replace an irreplaceable player. Fede Valverde was the man chosen to play the Casemiro role and he did a good job. The Uruguayan is not a holding midfielder, even if that narrative has been spun by some for some weird reason, and he doesn’t like a operating in a fixed position on the pitch, but he did so in this one and he executed his defensive duties well. Going forward, he also contributed something, driving forward with the ball at his feet whenever he spotted a rare 10 metres of space. The only problem with Valverde filling in for Casemiro was that Real Madrid didn’t have Valverde in the areas he has usually been occupying in recent weeks. In the end, Real Madrid didn’t miss Casemiro. They missed Valverde.

3. How weird would the badge-less Real Madrid shirt look?

With Liverpool’s Club World Cup victory over Flamengo, Real Madrid’s 1,098-day reign as world champions came to an end on Saturday night, so this was the first match in three years without the world champions badge on the shirt. How weird would it look? Well, it probably made the shirt look better actually, more like a classic football shirt. Of course, Real Madrid will be determined to win that honour back as soon as possible. That’s a task for 2020.

Three questions

1. For how long will the Real Madrid fans be angry at VAR?

There was a Bale-esque whistle before tonight’s match, but it wasn’t for Gareth Bale. This time the ire of the Bernabéu crowd was directed towards Spain’s referees and towards VAR. The reaction to the Raphaël Varane non-calls in El Clásico has been significant in the local media and a frustration with the officiating had been fostering. At the start of every LaLiga match, the stadium announcer explains how VAR works and when and how it will be used, but you could hardly hear him before this game as the whistling was so loud. How long will this last? Will this become a thing before each match? The crowd’s frustration with Athletic Club’s timewasting in the second half and the lack of punishment for it won’t have helped.

2. What did Jović do to offend the football gods?

Luka Jović may be the most unlucky man in football right now. Never mind the fact that he has just joined a club where their aging starting centre-forward has turned back the clock to the point where he is the most undroppable player. Even when Jović does get on the pitch, he has such bad luck. He had just one goal to his name, but has scored three others that were all ruled out for offside – against Osasuna, Leganés and Valencia. Then, in this match, he was so unlucky to see a header bounce back off the post. So the question: what did Jović do to deserve this bad footballing luck?

3. When does Hazard come back?

Real Madrid miss Eden Hazard. Rodrygo and Vinícius do so many things well, but they naturally lack the experience and killer instinct of the 28-year-old Belgian. Hazard may only have one Real Madrid goal to his name this season, less than the two of Vinícius or six of Rodrygo, but he’s so important to the team’s overall attacking play. Hazard is much more decisive in the final third, always aware of his surroundings and able to supply Karim Benzema in a way that nobody else has done since the Belgian’s injury. They need him back. He is still a doubt for the first league game of 2020 against Getafe on January 4th. Will he make it?

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