Real Madrid lost to Shakhtar Donetsk again, meaning I titled this column slightly differently because there already was a ‘Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk’ piece from last time. To have lost both matches to the Ukrainian side is certainly a shock and it throws up several questions. Below comes a look at the main ones.
1. How fit would Benzema be?
Karim Benzema returned from injury for this match, but it wasn’t clear if he was going to be 100 percent fit. He looked sharp in the first half, setting up the early Marco Asensio chance. Later, he also created an opportunity for Nacho. But, he had to be taken off as a precaution in the 77th minute, a substitution that was clearly scripted beforehand. With Real Madrid needing goals, they wouldn’t have taken the No.9 off at that moment had he been 100 percent. Perhaps by the weekend, when Real Madrid play Sevilla, Benzema will be ready to play 90 minutes again.
2. Who would bring the ball out?
Real Madrid lose a lot when Sergio Ramos is out injured. They lose leadership, they lose defensive solidity and they seem to lose the best of Varane too when the captain isn’t there. But, one thing that’s missing is Ramos’ ability to bring the ball out. Matt Wiltse wrote recently about how Toni Kroos had to drop so deep in the Villarreal game to compensate for this and it was evident once again. After the two centre-backs, Kroos’ average position in this match was deeper than anyone else in the Real Madrid team, and it wasn’t much higher. This is fine, but Kroos being so deep means that Real Madrid lose a lot of what makes Kroos so useful further up the pitch. The sooner Ramos is back, the better.
3. Is it just a matter of time for Marco Asensio?
In his pre-match press conference, Zidane got a little tetchy when asked about Marco Asensio. “You need to stop always asking about Asensio,” he told the media. It’s true that there have been many questions about the man from Mallorca this season, but that’s because he’s such a mystery. He was such a promise, then he had a poor 2018/19 and then he suffered a very serious injury. It’s hard to work out just how good Asensio is. As MARCA’s José Félix Díaz put it in a column this week: “Perhaps the worst thing Asensio did was score vs Valencia with his first touch back.” That goal perhaps gave a false perception of his current state, as we maybe underestimate just how serious his injury was. He needs time. He needs patience. But, we can also say that he was excellent in this match in Kiev. We can say that without getting carried away, though. It’s not fair to him if we put too much expectation on him so soon.
1. Where do Real Madrid stand in the group?
Okay, maths time. This was the early kick-off of the night, so Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Inter hasn’t taken place yet. It’s taking place as I write this column. The result Real Madrid want from that is for a draw or an Inter win. Because if Borussia Mönchengladbach were to defeat Inter then qualification would be out of Real Madrid’s hands on the final matchday. Anything other than a Borussia Mönchengladbach win over the Italians, though, puts it back in Real Madrid’s hands and they’d go through with victory at Valdebebas over the Bundesliga side.
2. Just how bad is this season?
Historically speaking, Real Madrid are on course to have one of their worst ever seasons in terms of matches won. With seven victories from the 15 matches played so far, their win percentage for 2020/21 is 47%. In only 12 complete seasons did they finish with a lower win percentage than that: 1929/30, 1930/31, 1940/41, 1942/43, 1943/44, 1947/48, 1949/50, 1950/51, 1973/74, 1976/77, 1984/85, 1995/96 and 1999/2000. None in the 21st century, then.
3. Did Real Madrid underestimate Shakhtar Donetsk?
How can Real Madrid beat Inter Milan twice and lose to Shakhtar Donetsk twice? It it a matter of motivation? Did they underestimate the Ukrainians? Well, I think it is true that Real Madrid underestimated them in the first half of the first game, when they went in 3-0 down at half time. But, the second half response that day was good and they were dominant in this week’s game, even if they were imprecise. It should be kept in mind that the second pot team in Real Madrid’s group this year was Shakhtar Donetsk. So often teams from eastern Europe are dismissed as the weak links, but this is a very good team that Luis Castro has constructed. Perhaps the reason Real Madrid beat Inter Milan twice and lost to Shakhtar Donetsk twice is simple. Perhaps the Ukrainians are better than the Italians right now.