From Sergio Ramos’ freekick to Takefusa Kubo’s performance against his parent club to Zinedine Zidane’s never-before-seen BBVH line-up, there were many talking points from Real Madrid’s 2-0 win over Real Mallorca. Here comes a look at several of them.
1. Would there be a 179th line-up?
There was an incredible stat in MARCA this Wednesday morning, which explained that Zidane had used 178 different combinations for the 202 starting XIs he had selected as Real Madrid coach. When you think about it and about how much he likes to mix things up, it sort of makes sense. But, it still struck me as something incredible. So, would we see a 179th different combination in this game? The answer was yes. Never before had Thibaut Courtois, Dani Carvajal, Raphaël Varane, Sergio Ramos, Ferland Mendy, Luka Modric, Fede Valverde; Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, Vinícius and Karim Benzema played together from the start. He is Zinedine ‘Rotations’ Zidane.
2. How would the front four work?
Once we saw that we did have a brand new starting XI, thoughts around an hour before the game turned to the shape of it. How would this work? Which spaces would Benzema, Bale, Vinícius and Hazard occupy? It was expected that we’d see the BBVH as the front of a classic 4-2-3-1 and this was the case, with Hazard as the No.10, Benzema as the No.9 and Bale on the right and Vinícius on the left. It worked well, but it has to be said that we shouldn’t expect to see this very attack-minded formation too much in the future. It was partly a response to the absence of Casemiro, as a way of creating a double pivot. And it was partly possible because of the opposition and the fact that this was one of the – on paper, at least – easiest fixtures of the season.
3. How would Takefusa Kubo do against his parent club?
Real Madrid faced Takefusa Kubo for the second time in 2019/20, but they faced a very different Kubo to the one who took part in the first meeting of the season in October, the 1-0 defeat. Back then, Kubo wasn’t a starter for Real Mallorca. He’d played just 322 minutes across the first eight rounds of the season. Now, though, he is very much a starter for this team, where he has become one of their best players. “If he were to stay at home tomorrow then that’d be better,” Zidane even joked when discussing the Japanese in his pre-match press conference. In the end, Kubo played and he played well. Real Mallorca weren’t good, but the 19-year-old was the most dangerous player on his team.
1. When will Benzema get a rest?
90 minutes. 90 minutes. 78 minutes. 83 minutes. A total of 341 minutes so far for Karim Benzema across the first four matches since the restart. So, a big question is: when will he get to rest? Along with Dani Carvajal, he is the only starter who doesn’t really have a natural replacement – in Benzema’s case because of the injuries at the position. It’s a problem because Benzema will need to rest at some point. At Barcelona, Lionel Messi is also playing all the matches, but the Argentine is almost able to rest as he does so because he is so good at conserving energy as he walks around the pitch, before a decisive burst. That’s not Benzema’s style. The Frenchman is running and moving all the time, all over the pitch. That’s tiring and he’ll need a night off at some point. Maybe the next match against bottom-placed Espanyol would be an opportune moment...
2. How long will it take until the next freekick goal?
Ramos’ spectacularly curled freekick was Real Madrid’s first in 528 days. Not since Dani Ceballos scored against Real Betis on January 13th 2019 had Los Blancos found the back of the net in this way. Even though Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure in 2018 partly explains this, it’s still surprising considering how many talented freekick takers there are in Real Madrid’s squad. Ramos is one of those and he was practicing freekicks before Wednesday’s match. In fact, he took one during warm-ups at the Di Stéfano from an almost identical position to the freekick he scored in the game, hitting the crossbar on that occasion. After that miss, he yelled at Thibaut Courtois that the next one was going in. During the match, it sure did.
3. Can Real Madrid maintain this lead at the top?
Real Madrid went top of the table on Sunday and they’ve managed to stay there through this midweek matchday. If they win all their games then they’ll stay top throughout and they’ll finish the season as champions, no matter what Barcelona do. But, this isn’t a given. In 2019/20, Real Madrid have really struggled to stay top whenever they have risen to the summit. The only matchdays in which they’ve been top of the table by the end of the round are matchdays 1, 6, 7, 8, 21, 22, 23, 24, 26, 30 and 31. The longest run at the top, therefore, was just four rounds. We saw just before the coronavirus break how they gave up the lead almost immediately after winning El Clásico by then losing at Real Betis. Let’s see if they can stay top over the final seven matchdays.