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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s draw at Elche

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The last match of the year.

Elche CF v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s winning run ended on Wednesday night, with a 1-1 draw at Elche halting their series of victories at six. This December has been a bittersweet way for Real Madrid to end 2020, as they recovered their form only to then drop two points at a newly promoted side. As the year draws to a close, there are many questions to contemplate and several of them are discussed here.

Three answers

1. Would Modrić be fit enough to start?

Having suffered a knock, Luka Modrić was a slight doubt coming into this game. He’d recovered enough to make the squad, but it wasn’t clear if he was going to be able to start or if Zidane would go for Fede Valverde or someone else. In the end, Modrić was fit enough to start and he even looked like one of the freshest players on the pitch. His headed goal – his first ever headed goal with Real Madrid – was made possible because of an incredible burst of acceleration to get there before the Elche defenders. The veteran was even seen sprinting back - but properly sprinting back - on occasion to help out in defence. Once again, Modrić looked so good.

2. Would the struggles with Marcelo continue?

There’s no doubt any more that Ferland Mendy is a better option at left-back than Marcelo, but the real concern with the Brazilian being selected to start this game was that he tends to be associated with poor results. It’s not always Marcelo’s fault, but he’s the common link as he has started in four of Real Madrid’s five defeats of 2020/21, while he was missing throughout the entire six-in-a-row winning run they’d embarked on this December. The only player in the whole squad with a worse points-per-game record than Marcelo’s 1.0 for this season is Mariano, with 0.8 per appearance. So, what would happen this time? Well, it was another case of dropped points with Marcelo involved. It wasn’t necessarily his fault, but it happened again with him on the pitch.

3. Would we finally see Hazard?

Eden Hazard suffered his most recent injury on November 28th against Alavés, but he has had the medical all-clear since December 16th. Zidane, though, has been so hesitant to rush the Belgian back that Hazard hadn’t played a minute in the three games Los Blancos played since December 16th. So, coming into this game we were surely going to see him make his comeback. Right? Well yes, he did play. Although it was only for the final 13 minutes. Zidane only partly peeled off the cotton wool that he has been wrapping Hazard in. Maybe it’ll fully come off on Saturday against Celta Vigo.

Three questions

1. Why did it take so long for Zidane to make any substitutions?

Hazard’s introduction on the 77th minute was the first of the evening for Real Madrid, coming on at the same time as Fede Valverde. Considering how much Elche improved after scoring their equaliser, it’s strange that no changes were made earlier. This has been a common theme in recent weeks and Zidane was asked about this in his post-match press conference. “When it comes to making substitutions, you must be very clear on what you want from them,” the coach explained. “We weren’t playing poorly, so that’s why I waited until later,” he added.

2. To talk about referees? Or, to not talk about referees?

I don’t think Casemiro and Thibaut Courtois got the same memo ahead of their post-match interviews. Literally minutes apart, Casemiro said “We don’t talk about VAR or referees” and Courtois, referring to the foul called on Dani Carvajal, said “There are some referees who like to call that kind of penalty” and “You can’t not give the one against Benzema and then give this one”. Whether the refereeing incidents in this match were correct or not - and I largely believe the decisions were all the right ones - it’s not a good look to have one leader of the dressing room calling for the players to stand above such controversy and to have another airing frustration by breaking down specific details live on TV.

3. Who’ll have played more minutes by the end of the season? Kubo or Ødegaard?

There is so much talk of how harsh Unai Emery is being with Takefusa Kubo, but Zidane is being just as stingy when it comes to giving minutes to Martin Ødegaard. Both players currently find themselves at a club that is maybe a little too big for this current stage in their development, where there are simply too many good players blocking their path to the pitch. With the January transfer window approaching, there is loan talk about both of these players. I don’t think Ødegaard is going anywhere, while there’s a slim chance that Kubo could switch teams. In any case, it’s interesting to wonder who’ll finish the season with more minutes. Kubo currently has 687 minutes to his name at Villarreal, while Ødegaard has 362 at Real Madrid, partly because he’s had injuries. What do you think? Who’ll finish the 2020/21 campaign with more minutes?