Karim Benzema kept up his excellent form by netting a hat-trick against Athletic Club to lead Real Madrid to a 3-0 victory. The Frenchman will grab the headlines, and rightly so, but here we look at some of the other talking points from the match, from Jesús Vallejo to Gareth Bale.
1. Can Benzema score against good teams?
Yes, absolutely. There has been a stat doing the rounds in the past week detailing that only two of Benzema’s 18 LaLiga goals had come against teams in the top half of the LaLiga Santander table. He was being called a bully and it was said he can only score against minnows, but on Sunday he showed that he can also do it against an in-form team high up in the LaLiga ladder. Athletic Club started this weekend in the final Europa League spot and have excellent defenders like Yeray and Iñigo Martínez, yet Benzema netted three and took the match ball home with him.
2. How rusty will Vallejo look?
As the clock at the Bernabéu ticked past the third minute, it meant that Jesús Vallejo had played as many minutes of LaLiga football in this match as he had done in the rest of the 2018/19 season. Unused by Julen Lopetegui and given just two minutes against Real Valladolid by Santiago Solari, Vallejo has been the forgotten man at Real Madrid this season and it was going to be interesting to see how he would perform. Athletic didn’t test his left-hand side of the pitch as much as might have been expected, but the 22-year-old fairly comfortably dealt with whatever came his way. His passing look nervous, as would be expected, and he never took any risks, but he was defensively sound and will have done no harm to his summer price tag.
3. Who is faster? Raphaël Varane or Iñaki Willians?
One of the most intriguing individual battles in this game was the one between Varane, one of the fastest centre-backs in the world, and Williams, one the quickest forwards. Every time Athletic Club punted a ball forward, which was often, the two players would sprint towards it like an NFL wide receiver and cornerback. There was no clear winner and the contest ended early when Williams shifted over to Vallejo’s side in the second half, but it was impressive to watch these two elite athletes.
1. Is the Modric-Casemiro-Kroos midfield here to stay?
Zidane has promised changes at Real Madrid, not just in terms of the personnel but also in terms of the tactics. This has led to a lot of debate over the future of the midfield trio of Luka Modric, Casemiro and Toni Kroos, the midfield that led Real Madrid to three Champions League titles in a row. They started together on Sunday afternoon for just the second time in the Zidane 2.0 era (the other was the loss in Valencia) and we saw Modric and Kroos play very far forward, often ahead of Lucas Vázquez and Asensio, and they performed well. Will they survive they summer overhaul? We can only wait and see.
2. Can Asensio finish the season strongly?
It hasn’t been the best season for Asensio, but he assisted the Benzema equaliser against Eibar, he had one of his better performances of the campaign in the 1-1 draw with Leganés on Monday night and then he followed that up with another positive outing against Athletic Club. Not only did he provide another assist for Benzema with a perfect cross from the left for the second, but he also conjured up some moments of magic. From a tip-tap turn around Yeray to a dribble past most of the Basque side’s back line, Asensio had some fun out there and is finishing the season well.
3. How does the Bale fiasco end?
The Gareth Bale situation is becoming a problem. He doesn’t want to go. The club want do him to go. There’s an impasse and it has spread to the terraces of the Santiago Bernabéu. There were the usual whistles for the Welshman as he was substituted on and they even continued throughout his performance, with the forward whistled whenever he touched the ball, even as he won the corner for Los Blancos’ second. There was also applause for him from other sections of the crowd, with some supporters keen to drown out the negativity with a more positive vibe. It was all very strange and it’s hard to predict how this will end.