A glorious backheeled assist from Karim Benzema to Casemiro led Real Madrid to a 1-0 win over Espanyol on Sunday night. Of course, that features as one of the post-match talking points, along with Hazard’s foul fears, Mateu Lahoz’s potential goodbye and much more.
1. Would Espanyol benefit from a new manager bounce?
On paper, this was one of the simplest fixtures Real Madrid had remaining in their title run-in. However, Espanyol’s shock decision the day before the game to sack Abelardo and to replace him with sporting director Rufete would have had some Real Madrid fans worried. It’s so often the case that players perform outwith themselves when there’s a new boss on the sidelines. It’s normal. All employees in any field do that. Espanyol have been terrible all season, but they did take points off Barcelona earlier in the campaign with a 2-2 draw and that came courtesy of a new manager bounce when Abelardo was installed and had his first game. So, would the same happen o Real Madrid? No, thanks to a piece of Benzema magic.
2. Would we have a game without controversy?
Every Real Madrid game since the restart has sparked some sort of refereeing debate. Even if the decisions going in Real Madrid’s favour have been correct, it has driven some people to craziness and driven Gerard Piqué to tweeting MGMT lyrics like a teenager on Bebo. But, in this game there was no controversy the Real Madrid haters could latch on to. If anything, Real Madrid were denied a potential penalty on Benzema just before they scored the goal.
3. Were we going to get a Mateu Lahoz special?
This match, as difficult as this will be to take in… may have been the last Real Madrid match for Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz. There have been rumours all season long that this would be the polarising referee’s final campaign. If that is true, then this would surely be his final match in charge of Real Madrid. So, we had to wonder if we were going to get a Mateu Lahoz special, with the attention all on him and yellow cards thrown up in the air like confetti. What we saw was not that. Only two yellow cards were shown in the whole game. It was actually very un-Mateu Lahoz.
1. Are Real Madrid rotating as much as we think?
We often hear talk about how deep Real Madrid’s squad is and how this is benefitting them as we reach the business end of the season. It’s true that Real Madrid’s squad is deep, as it’s surely the squad with the most quality throughout in all of LaLiga. But, is Zinedine Zidane actually rotating as much as we think? He is certainly tweaking his line-up every game, as he hasn’t named the same starting XI twice in a row since the semi-final and final of the Spanish Supercup. But, the heart of the team remains the same game to game. Zidane has used Thibaut Courtois, Sergio Ramos, Raphaël Varane, Dani Carvajal and Karim Benzema from the start in all five of the matches so far and no other club in LaLiga has as many ever-presents in their starting line-ups since the restart. Maybe it’s time for some serious rotation against Getafe on Thursday.
2. Which backheel was better?
As soon as Benzema completed that backheel assist, all thoughts turned to Guti’s backheels – the 2009/10 one against Deportivo La Coruña and the 2005/06 one against Sevilla. Even Guti brought the Depor one up, weirdly sharing a photo of his own assist to Benzema as a way of congratulating the French striker on this piece of art. Guti also retweeted a tweet that said: “Truth police: if you’re comparing Benzema’s (really nice!) assist to this work of otherworldly beauty, you’ve gone wrong.” It all seemed a bit precious from Guti and he won’t have been happy when Zidane said in his post-match press conference that he prefers Benzema’s effort. It’s certainly a debate to be had. Personally, I preferred the cheekiness of Guti’s Depor assist, but believe the skill of Benzema’s Espanyol assist was better.
3. Will Hazard make it through these final three weeks?
Eden Hazard limped off the pitch once again. The Belgian has suffered so many injuries already in his debut season in white and it seemed like he may have suffered another at the RCDE Stadium. That’s because he was fouled four times in this game. This LaLiga season, he is suffering 3.9 fouls per 90 minutes, which is the fourth most in the entire league for all players with at least five appearances – only behind Rafinha (4.3), Rubén Sobrino (4.2) and Nabil Fekir (4.0). Yes, Hazard is fouled even more frequently than Lionel Messi. It’s a problem and one that makes you wonder if he’ll make it through these final six fixtures unscathed.