The Frenchmen were the main protagonists as Real Madrid defeated Espanyol 2-0, with Raphaël Varane and Karim Benzema getting the goals and Ferland Mendy picking up a late red card. The game threw up a few interesting questions, while we learned some answers too.
1. How would Real Madrid deal with the Pablo Machín system?
Pablo Machín has had some success against Real Madrid before. Of his four previous meetings with Los Blancos, he had won two (a 2-1 with Girona and a 3-0 with Sevilla) and lost two (a 6-3 with Girona and a 2-0 with Sevilla). So, it was going to be interesting to see if his system would cause Real Madrid problems again. And it did. His unique 3-4-2-1 formation frustrated Real Madrid in the first half as Benzema was always marked and there were always multiple players out wide to try to deal with Rodrygo and Vinícius. The interchangeability of the Espanyol attackers caused problems for Sergio Ramos and Varane as they often didn’t know whether to stay with their man or leave him be. All of this made it a difficult first half for Real Madrid in open play, but they were eventually able to secure the breakthrough after the breakdown of a set piece and, from there, it was simpler.
2. Would Brahim be given any minutes?
Brahim Díaz made it into this weekend’s squad list, just his third appearance this season in a Real Madrid squad. On those two previous occasions, though, he made it onto the pitch, earning nine minutes at Real Mallorca and nine minutes at Eibar. Would he be given a run-out again? Yes, he would. It was supposed to be another nine-minute stint on the pitch, but Mendy’s red card while Brahim was standing on the sidelines waiting meant that Zinedine Zidane had to rethink his plans and organise for Éder Militão to come on as well. Once Brahim did get on for the final six minutes, he wasn’t able to do too much in attack as he was forced to help Militão in defence. It’s a shame, as he’s a player you just love to watch.
3. Why the green kits?
Despite this being a home game for Real Madrid, Los Blancos weren’t so Blancos. They were wearing their lime green kit for this one, a gesture of support for the COP25 climate summit that is being held in Madrid right now. It looked a little strange, but it wasn’t the first time Real Madrid wore a different colour for a home game as they’re previously worn blue in a 1951 match against River Plate, purple in a 1961 match against River Plate and blue in a 1967 match against Ajax
1. When will we see Rodrygo and Vinícius together again?
With so many absences in the wide attacking positions, Zidane opted for Rodrygo and Vinícius to flank Benzema. Neither player was at their sparkling best. Rodrygo was quiet, while Vinícius had some really nice moments and some special twists and turns, but he was also wasteful on occasion and could have been sent off for a second yellow card towards the end of the first half. So, will we see these two players start together again? Before this game, they’d coincided on the pitch for Real Madrid for just 18 minutes (15 at Real Mallorca and three at Galatasaray), in addition to a couple of matches together for the Brazil Under-20s. It’s clear that Zidane would rather play one or the other. Injuries and the fact the game is meaningless means they could play together again in Brugge in midweek, but I don’t expect them to be used together much more this season once the likes of Gareth Bale, Lucas Vázquez and Eden Hazard return from the medical room.
2. Will Real Madrid have the most scorers?
With Varane scoring in this game, Real Madrid now have 15 different players who have scored at least once this season. Those players are Benzema, Ramos, Rodrygo, Toni Kroos, Casemiro, Fede Valverde, Luka Modric, Bale, Luka Jovic, Dani Carvajal, Hazard, Vinícius, Lucas Vázquez, James Rodríguez and Varane. That’s more than any other team in LaLiga, with Barcelona the closest on 14 different goalscorers. Real Madrid were joint-top in this category last season along with Atlético Madrid and Levante with 16 different players who’d put the ball in the back of the net. Will they surpass 16 this season? And will they stay top of this ranking?
3. Will Marcelo be back in time for Mestalla?
Mendy’s red card has left Real Madrid with a left-back problem for next weekend’s match away at Valencia. With Mendy suspended and with Marcelo on the injury list, Zidane will be worried. There is a chance that Marcelo could be recovered in time, although Zidane is known for being cautious in this regard and is unlikely to rush the Brazilian back when there is a Clásico just days later. So, we could see Militão at left-back again against Valencia, as we did for the final minutes of this Espanyol game.