Real Madrid have won the first Clásico of the 2020/21 season. Here are some talking points in the form of three questions that were answered and three that this win conjured up.
1. Would Real Madrid win?
I usually like to go for more complex questions in this column than just the match result, but, given that you can never be sure of the match result in a Clásico, this was the big question going into this match. As Kiyan and I discussed in the post-match Shakhtar Donetsk podcast, this was actually a good chance for Real Madrid to get back to winning ways. The form book goes out the window in a Clásico and the two previous Real Madrid defeats had been conditioned by rotation, so this was actually a match where you felt like Real Madrid could win. And that’s exactly what happened.
2. Would Luka Modrić play?
I was really interested to see what Zidane would do with Luka Modrić in this game. In the two LaLiga Clásicos of 2020/21, the Croatian only played 21 minutes. And that’s exactly how long he played in this one, another 21 minutes off the bench. I actually thought he might start, considering how well he’d been doing so far this season, but Zidane preferred to go for a 4-3-3 with his most energetic midfield. But, once Modrić came off the bench he was able to make an impact. Apart from his goal to seal it, he was awesome in every respect.
3. How would Nacho do against Ansu Fati and Jordi Alba?
Neither of Real Madrid’s right-backs were available for this game, since Dani Carvajal and Álvaro Odriozola were both still out injured. That meant Nacho would be the one going up against an electric and in-form Ansu Fati and against a back-from-injury Jordi Alba. Well, he was at the start at least. Nacho suffered for the first 43 minutes before he went off injured, and then Lucas Vázquez came on. While there were surely groans from Madridistas around world when Lucas came on, the reality is that he actually did well. Really well, both defence and attack.
1. Was it a penalty?
Let’s get in to it. Was the tug from Clement Lenglet on Sergio Ramos enough for a spot kick? That’s the big question coming out of this game. I think the correct response is that such a shirt tug should be a penalty, but that they’re not normally called. As MARCA’s refereeing expert Juan Andújar Oliver explained when discussing the incident, “You’d have to call 40 penalties a game if you give these.” It was a penalty by the letter of the law, but they’re not normally given. As Betis’ Antonio Sanabria found out against Real Sociedad last weekend, you can have your shirt pulled so much that it rips and it still might not be given. So, it’s the lack of consistency that’s the problem, not this call on its own.
2. Was everyone too harsh on the players?
At a club like Real Madrid, two defeats in a row isn’t allowed. But, the criticism after the losses to Cádiz and Shakhtar Donetsk may have been too harsh. Zidane even talked about this in his post-match press conference. He said: “I don’t know if what was said in the past few days was fair, but what I can say is that I’m very proud of my team. It may only be three points, but we must enjoy this considering all the comments that were made about the squad in the past few days.” Perhaps there was an overreaction to the past defeats, especially since they were partly the result of the rotation Zidane employed in anticipation of this Clásico.
3. What now at right-back?
As mentioned above, Lucas Vázquez did really well when he came in on the right of defence. But, it’s still a concern that Real Madrid now have injuries to their first three right-back options of Dani Carvajal, Álvaro Odriozola and Nacho. Odriozola is closer to a recovery, but is still unlikely to be available for Tuesday’s match away at Borussia Mönchengladbach. Lucas can come in, but can he repeat his good performance from El Clásico?