It’s not easy to go to Osasuna and win. Only two teams had done that already this season, but Real Madrid became the third on Sunday afternoon with a 4-1 comeback victory. It was an impressive one, so much so that it answered a few questions and threw up some new ones too.
1. How would Real Madrid respond to the Copa del Rey exit?
This, of course, was the first match since the 4-3 defeat at home to Real Sociedad in the Copa del Rey, the game that brought the 21-match undefeated run to an end. It was always going to be interesting to see how Real Madrid would respond. Would their momentum be completely lost? Would they come back stronger? After Unai García’s early goal, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Real Madrid were suffering a hangover of sorts from that midweek cup elimination. But they fought back in commanding fashion to prove that this year’s squad is made of strong stuff.
2. How would Bale perform on his return?
After not being included in the past four squad lists, even though he was believed to be fit for the past three of them, the past week saw several pieces in the Spanish media claiming that Zinedine Zidane and Gareth Bale’s relationship had reached breaking point and that we shouldn’t expect to see the Welshman on the pitch again any time soon. Yet there he was as Zidane named his line-up at El Sadar. The coach trusted the forward against Osasuna, so how did he do? Well, Bale was hardly involved. Apart from one header over the bar when he should have done better, it was as if Bale had been left out once again.
3. How important would Casemiro be?
Casemiro wasn’t available for the midweek loss to Real Sociedad, but he was back for this one and that was vital. Stadiums like El Sadar were built for players like Casemiro and players like Casemiro were built for stadiums like El Sadar. Although he lost his marker for Unai García’s goal, the Brazilian got better as the game went on and was dominant in the middle of the pitch, providing control and physicality. His return was a welcome one.
1. What will Hazard’s return mean?
Eden Hazard wasn’t quite ready to feature in this match at Osasuna, even though he’d been training with the rest of the team all week. Yet he should be ready in time for the next game, at home to Celta Vigo. So, what will his return mean? Will it see Isco, who was excellent in this game, return to the bench? Will it require Vinícius, who was excellent in the previous game, to be shifted back out to the right? Will it mean the end of the five-man midfield that Zidane has sometimes opted for? Hazard’s return is a boost for the team, but it will require some adjustments.
2. Where will Ramos finish on the appearances chart?
With his inclusion in the line-up for this game against Osasuna, Sergio Ramos made his 440th LaLiga appearance for Real Madrid. That saw him move ahead of Fernando Hierro to enter the top five. So, where will he stand when he finishes his career? Can he reach first place? Currently ahead of the centre-back in Real Madrid’s all-time LaLiga appearances list are Santillana on 461, Iker Casillas on 510, Manuel Sanchís on 523 and Raúl on 550.
3. How useful will the free midweek prove to be?
The Copa del Rey elimination was a blow, but it does mean that Real Madrid have a free midweek coming up. Zidane has given the squad two days off, as they won’t return to work until Wednesday. While this extra rest time shouldn’t be necessary to beat relegation-threatened Celta Vigo next weekend, it could be a massive plus ahead of the crunch fixtures that are coming up in LaLiga and in the Champions League.