Football is back and Real Madrid were back on Sunday evening. Los Blancos returned with a home match – yes, the Di Stéfano Stadium does still count as home – against Eibar and with a 3-1 win. In the first half, they were impressive, scoring three goals that were each spectacular in their own right. In the second half, though, things weren’t so good.
So, let’s take a look at three questions we had going into the match that were answered and discuss three questions that this match conjured up as we move forward.
1. Would Zidane use all five substitutions?
Zinedine Zidane is not the type of coach to use all three of his available substitutions just for the sake of it. On average, he uses all three of his substitutions in six out of every seven matches he coaches. So, it wasn’t a given that he would use five substitutions in a match now just because he could. “It’ll depend on the game, as sometimes I might want to make two substitutions or I might want to make five,” he said in his pre-match press conference, further hinting that he might not send five players on from the bench. But, in the end, Zidane did use all five substitutions available to him.
2. How would Hazard look?
This was Eden Hazard’s first match back since his ankle surgery, so all eyes were on the Belgian. Reports from Real Madrid’s training sessions had claimed that he was in top shape and top form and now the world would get to see for themselves. And yes, Hazard was excellent. He was very involved in attack and unselfishly set up Sergio Ramos for the second goal. “That was class,” Zidane said in his post-match press conference, pointing out that Hazard could easily have scored himself if he’d wanted to but that he preferred to roll it to the captain for the tap-in.
3. How would the players adapt to the Di Stéfano Stadium?
This was a very different kind of home game for Real Madrid as it was being played at the Di Stéfano Stadium, given the construction work being carried out at the Bernabéu. The players seemed comfortable enough, though. It makes sense in a way since they go to the Valdebebas training complex every day and since they’ve been training at this stadium. The dimensions of the pitch are the same as the one at the Bernabéu, so it shouldn’t really be a major problem to be away from the usual surroundings. The main problem going forward will be the continued lack of fans, but that’s a problem all clubs are having to deal with.
1. What’s with all the second half siestas?
Not for the first time this season, Real Madrid slacked off in the second half after building up a seemingly comfortable lead in the first half. They’d already had scares against Levante and Granada earlier in the season, even if they were able to hold on, while they have dropped points from late goals conceded to Real Valladolid and Celta Vigo, as well as the late Champions League collapses against PSG and Manchester City. Real Madrid have the best goals conceded record in LaLiga this season, but 14 of the 20 (70%) they’ve conceded have been in the second halves of matches. They seem to enjoy a second half slumber and it’s becoming concerning.
2. How bad is Carvajal’s injury?
Dani Carvajal went off with an ankle knock in this game and hasn’t trained since then. That’s a problem. Zidane compared this stretch of 11 matches in five weeks to a World Cup last week, but no coach goes into a World Cup with just one natural right-back. Yet that’s what Real Madrid are having to do given that Álvaro Odriozola is in Munich. Ferland Mendy was the latest to have a run-out at right-back this weekend after Nacho and Éder Militão have previously tried to replace Carvajal this year. Yet there’s nobody like Carvajal and it’s a big problem if he’s going to miss a few games with injury.
3. How will Real Madrid do against stronger teams?
Peeking over the horizon, it’s Valencia at home and Real Sociedad away coming up for Real Madrid. That’s not easy. Those teams are obviously much better, especially because the Eibar line-up that José Luis Mendilibar put out on Sunday was not Eibar’s strongest. When the Basque club face the biggest teams, Mendilibar often plays weakened line-ups, preferring to lose one battle and eventually win the war by prioritising the more winnable fixtures. So, the next opposition for Real Madrid will be a lot, lot, lot tougher…