Real Madrid made it two wins from two since the restart, defeating Valencia 3-0 on Thursday night in a match that answered a few questions and that threw up some more.
1. Would we see five midfielders?
Valencia were the opponents this Thursday night, which led some to believe we could see a repeat of the possession-focussed tactics that Real Madrid employed in the Spanish Supercup semi-final in Saudi Arabia, where Zinedine Zidane started five midfielders in that match against Los Che. The injured Isco couldn’t be used again, like he had been in Jeddah, but the other four midfielders from that day – Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Fede Valverde – all were. Zidane later explained in his press conference that using so many midfielders once again wasn’t actually anything to do with Valencia, but he was glad at how it all worked out. He said: “I liked the match from Modrić, who played in a slightly different position in between the lines. I think he interpreted the match really well. The first goal comes from this, with Modrić linking up well with Hazard and Benzema.”
2. How would Hazard do in his first big match?
This was arguably the biggest match of Eden Hazard’s Real Madrid career so far. Having been out so much with injury, the former Chelsea mad had actually missed most of the other biggest fixtures of Real Madrid’s season. He was out for both Clásicos, the Manchester City first leg, one of the Madrid derbies, the previous Valencia game at Mestalla and the Spanish Supercup in Saudi Arabia. Finally, he could play under the brightest lights, at least those of the Di Stéfano Stadium. And he did not wilt under the pressure. This was one of the No.7’s best performances in a white shirt.
3. Would Asensio get to make his re-debut?
Marco Asensio wasn’t used at the weekend when Real Madrid played Eibar, but Zidane turned to the Spaniard here. With 74 minutes on the clock, Asensio came on for his first appearance since his ACL injury picked up on July 24th last pre-season. Then, with his first touch, bang! A goal. He’d previously scored on his debuts in the Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Spanish Supercup, Copa del Rey and LaLiga and now he did so on his re-debut too.
1. Should Rodrigo’s goal have stood?
There was controversy in the first half of this one as Valencia thought they’d gone ahead through Rodrigo Moreno, but that goal was ruled out because Maxi Gómez was judged to be offside. Even though the Uruguayan didn’t touch the ball that was played in towards Rodrigo, he was judged to have put Raphaël Varane off enough to be considered to be interfering with play. Because the interference aspect is subjective, this is why head official José María Sánchez Martínez was called over to the VAR monitor to have a look. Once he decided that Gómez was involved and once the offside lines had determined the Valencia striker was offside, the goal was ruled out – and correctly so.
2. Will we keep seeing Ramos bursting forward?
In the 84th minute of this match, something very peculiar happened. Sergio Ramos was caught offside. It wasn’t at the breakdown of a corner or at a freekick; this was during open play. The centre-back burst forward to join the attack several times in this game, just as he also did on Sunday against Eibar when he scored the team’s second goal. We’ve all seen Ramos deployed as a makeshift No.9 when Real Madrid need a goal and we know he does like to score whenever possible, but the captain seems to be inserting himself into the attack much more often than usual. Will we keep seeing this over the final nine rounds of action? It’ll be entertaining if we do.
3. How will the Benzema-Hazard partnership develop?
Benzema’s first goal was assisted by Hazard. That sounds normal to say and to write, but this was actually the first ever goal that Hazard has assisted for the No.9, while Benzema hasn’t ever assisted the Belgian for a goal. As good and as in sync as the pair of francophones have looked at times, they hadn’t actually directly combined for a goal yet this season, despite playing 1,152 minutes together. Now, they’ve finally connected for a goal, so let’s see if this partnership can become a truly prolific one.