With their 2-1 win away at Real Sociedad, Real Madrid have pulled level on points with Barcelona on 65 points and have overtaken the Catalan club on the head-to-head tiebreaker. As such, this could prove to be a huge matchday in the 2019/20 title race and several of the main talking points are discussed below.
1. Where would James Rodríguez play?
Once it was announced an hour before kick-off that James Rodríguez would be getting his first LaLiga minutes since October, the big pre-match question concerned his position. Would he be a No.10 just behind the front two? Would it be a 4-4-2 with James in the midfield four? Would he from part of a front three? In the end, the answer was that he played all over the pitch, starting on the right and then moving to join Vinícius on the left in an asymmetrical attack and then playing more centrally in the second half. He didn’t really make much of an impact, but it’s always a joy to watch him when he’s on the ball. Who knows when we’ll next experience that, though.
2. Could Sergio Ramos set a new record?
In this space after the Valencia win, I wrote about how Ramos was getting forward in open play attacks much more than usual since the restart from the coronavirus pause. So, would this happen again? And could this see Ramos set a new LaLiga record for goals for a defender, after pulling level with Ronald Koeman on 67 last weekend? Yes and yes are the answers to those two questions. Ramos was again found up in the opposition penalty area during the first half of the game, before the penalty won by Vinícius gave him the chance to post the new record, coolly sending Alex Remiro the wrong way.
3. How would the defence cope with Alexander Isak?
Alexander Isak completely terrorised Real Madrid when Real Sociedad won the Copa del Rey meeting between these sides earlier in the year. Now, Los Blancos were going up against the Swede again… and this time they kept him very quiet. Real Madrid’s defence has been excellent all campaign and this was one of the very best defensive displays of the year. There was rarely even a need to fly in with tackles or blocks. This was simply a calm and composed shutting down of Isak and Real Sociedad’s attacking threats.
1. How nasty will the refereeing wars get?
There were three big refereeing decisions in this game. The Vinícius penalty, the Adnan Januzaj cancelled goal and the Karim Benzema legal goal. In my opinion, the correct decision was made with all three of these calls, but some of these calls were tight and the fact that all three went in Real Madrid’s favour has sparked outrage in Catalonia. Gerard Piqué’s Friday night comments - where he insinuated that Real Madrid were being favoured - had already started a fresh round of Spanish football refereeing debates and wars and now these will be taken up a notch. There will be comments in the media and pressure put on referees in the next few days and we can only hope that this dies down sooner rather than later. Otherwise, the end to the 2019/20 season could be totally overshadowed by bickering going back and forth between the capital and Catalonia.
2. What has happened to Martin Ødegaard?
Since the return from the coronavirus break, Martin Ødegaard just hasn’t looked the same at Real Sociedad. It’s strange. While some might have expected the Norwegian and his youthful energy to thrive in these new conditions, it seems that the interruption to the rhythm he’d build up has been really significant. He hardly caused his parent club any issues in this match, even though he’d been a real handful during the previous two meetings this term. Real Sociedad will be hoping he can rediscover his magical form soon. Their Champions League ambitions depend on it.
3. How can Real Madrid replace Casemiro and maybe Ramos?
Looking ahead to the next fixture, Wednesday night’s home match against Real Mallorca doesn’t look too daunting on paper. But, Real Madrid have lost Casemiro to suspension after his booking at the Reale Arena, while Sergio Ramos suffered a knee injury. Although Zidane had a positive outlook when discussing Ramos’ injury in his post-match press conference, it’s still not a great situation. So, how can Real Madrid cope? With Casemiro, there is no real replacement and it’ll likely be up to one of Fede Valverde, Toni Kroos or both to fill in. With Ramos, Éder Militão would be the obvious fit to cover for Ramos’ defensive tasks, but Real Madrid would still be without their leader if Ramos is ruled out of the midweek game.