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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk

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What went wrong and what did we learn?

Real Madrid v Shakhtar Donetsk: Group B - UEFA Champions League Photo by Helios de la Rubia/Real Madrid via Getty Images

It’s back-to-back defeats for Real Madrid and there is a lot to discuss. So, here goes. It’s three questions that this Shakhtar Donetsk defeat answered and three more that this shock result has created.

Three answers

1. What level would this Shakhtar Donetsk team be at?

There was uncertainty over whether or not this game should even be played, given the fact that Shakhtar Donetsk had 10 first-team squad members out due to COVID-19. Of course, the game did go ahead, but there were doubts over just how competitive this side would be. Would they even come close to the kinds of performances shown on their way to the Europa League semi-finals towards the end of last season? Or would this team be too weakened to stand a chance? Well, we quickly found out that this Shakhtar Donetsk team is still very competitive. Not only did they have great individual performances from the likes of Tetê, Solomon and Viktor Korniienko, but they were a unit. This thrown-together side looked like they’d been playing together for years. Congratulations to them.

2. How much rotation would there be?

Zinedine Zidane rotated against Cádiz and, with El Clásico coming up, it was expected that there would be more rotation against Shakhtar Donetsk. We just didn’t know how much. Barcelona rested just a couple of starters in their Tuesday night game as they left out Sergio Busquets and Antoine Griezmann. Zidane, meanwhile, made three non-injury rotation decisions as he left out Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Vinícius. They all came on for the second half and massively improved the play, but it wasn’t enough.

3. How would Varane do in his first Champions League match since Manchester?

This was the first Champions League match for Raphaël Varane since his two mistakes in the 2-1 loss away at Manchester City. So, there was a lot of pre-match talk about how he’d do. To be honest, he’d already proven that he wasn’t going to be affected by those Etihad mistakes in his first few LaLiga games of the campaign. But, this was his first match without Sergio Ramos by his side since the Manchester City defeat and it was going to be interesting to see how he did. Forget the own goal he scored, Varane just didn’t marshal the back line in the same way Ramos does. As excellent as Varane is as a centre-back, he still hasn’t proven that he can fill the leadership void that Ramos sometimes leaves through absence now and that he’ll one day leave permanently.

Three questions

1. Was the offside call at the end the correct one?

Even if Real Madrid had come back to draw 3-3, there’d still have been a need for an inquest. But, they did almost salvage a point. However, Fede Valverde’s deflected effort was ruled out for offside because Vinícius was judged to have been interfering with the young goalkeeper Anatoliy Trubin’s line of vision. The referee went to the VAR monitor to have a look because this was a subjective offside decision, as he had to determine whether Vini was in the way or not. The official decided that this was the case, but was it the correct call? I think there can’t be any complaints. Vinícius is seen trying to step out the way and it clearly distracts the goalkeeper, who thinks the Brazilian is going for a flick.

2. Why are Real Madrid so poor without Ramos?

With this defeat, Real Madrid’s terrible Champions League record without Sergio Ramos continued. They’ve now lost seven of the past eight matches they’ve played in this competition without their captain, whether he has been missing due to rest, suspension or – in this case – injury. Los Blancos have now lost to Juventus, CSKA Moscow twice, Ajax, PSG, Manchester City and Shakhtar Donetsk without him, only managing to beat Club Brugge in the past three seasons without the centre-back. It’s a major concern, especially considering how likely Ramos is to miss at least one knockout game of any given Champions League campaign with suspension. The question, though, is why? Why is the dropoff so great? Life without Ramos really shouldn’t be this bad.

3. Will this be another year without winning the group?

In three of the past four Champions League seasons, Real Madrid have finished second in their group as they finished behind Borussia Dortmund in 2016/17, Tottenham in 2017/18 and PSG in 2019/20, only winning their group in 2018/19. Even though Real Madrid went on to win the whole thing in the first two of those years, it’s far from ideal to be finishing second. You’re so much more likely to get a last 16 tie like Manchester City, as happened last year. With a similarly poor start to this year’s Champions League season, there’s got to be concern. Given that this is actually a really tough and competitive group, there can be no guarantees.