Real Madrid’s 2019/20 season is over. Their second leg loss to Manchester City means they’re out of the Champions League and means they finish the campaign with a LaLiga Santander and a Spanish Super Cup title. Not bad. But still with room for improvement.
So, here come three questions that were answered by Friday night’s game, as well as three questions still needing answered as we look ahead to the future.
1. Would Zidane’s black magic work again?
Zinedine Zidane is a master of the Champions League. He was as a player. He is as a coach. Going into this match, the Frenchman had been in charge of 12 knockout Champions League ties – including finals – and he had won all 12 of them, for three Champions League titles. This time around, he had it tougher than ever. Even tougher than the Wolfsburg comeback attempt, one of his first ones. Going away to Manchester City and overturning a home leg deficit was never going to be easy and so it proved. So, after 13 attempts, Zidane has finally lost a Champions League knockout tie as coach. He made some mistakes over the course of this tie, but let that take nothing away from the achievement of the three-peat that came before it.
2. How would Real Madrid cope without Sergio Ramos in central defence?
Not well. Real Madrid came into this game with five defeats from the past six Champions League matches in which Sergio Ramos wasn’t present. Going up against a team with the attacking might of Manchester City, it was a huge concern that the captain was suspended once again. Ahead of the match, most of the focus was on Éder Militão as the young Brazilian was coming in to replace Ramos. But, in the end, it was the experienced Raphaël Varane who let the side down in defence with two uncharacteristic mistakes. It happens and he’ll bounce back. Don’t worry about that.
3. Was Zidane being truthful about Hazard?
In his pre-match press conference, Zidane insisted that Eden Hazard was feeling himself again. He insisted that the Belgian had fully recovered from his ankle injury. Yet reports in the local media ahead of the match suggested otherwise and so too did his performance. Even in the post-match press conference, Zidane again told the journalists that Hazard is fine. But, there’s surely something going on. He doesn’t seem to have fully recovered from his various ankle injuries and was as quiet in this game as he has been for most of the season. 2019/20 really hasn’t been Hazard’s year. Let’s hope 2020/21 can be.
1. Where was Vinícius?
As Real Madrid searched for a goal, or goals, there was no sign of Vinícius. None. The Brazilian didn’t even warm up. While he had to watch on during the final minutes of Real Madrid’s Champions League elimination last year against Ajax due to an injury, this time around he was fully fit. Yet Zidane didn’t opt for the 20-year-old. Instead, he sent on Lucas Vázquez, Fede Valverde and Luka Jović in a too-little-too-late triple change in the 83rd minute. Vinícius watched on from the sidelines, surely frustrated. Not only is Vinícius one of the most direct players in this squad, but he has been one of the most energetic in matches where Real Madrid have needed a late goal. Remember when Real Madrid almost pulled off a comeback in the Copa del Rey quarter-final against Real Sociedad? That was 95 percent Vinícius. He surely deserved to have a go at making an Etihad miracle happening tonight.
2. Will Real Madrid reach 100 goals next season? And do they need to sign another striker to do so?
In the past decade, there has been just one season in which Real Madrid haven’t reached 100 goals across all competitions and it was 2019/20. This year Real Madrid scored 99 across their 51 games for a record of 1.94 per game and that’s simply not what we’ve come to expect of Los Blancos. So, can they reach 100 goals again next season? And how will they do so? It was easier when they had Cristiano Ronaldo, who would contribute half a century of goals himself each season, but now they need others to step up. Even with 22 different goalscorers, there hasn’t been any forward apart from Karim Benzema who has contributed consistently with goals. Hazard will need to step up next season, while Zidane will hope some others can as well. Perhaps there’s even a need for another goalscorer to be signed for matches like this, where just one goal won’t do.
3. How will Zidane use the five subs rule if it stays?
FIFA and IFAB have approved the continuation of the five substitutions rule for the 2020/21 season. While the Premier League have already announced that they’ll go with three subs, it’s not clear yet what will happen in LaLiga. If LaLiga does keep the five substitutions rule then Zidane will need to work out how to navigate this. Once again in tonight’s match, he didn’t use all five of his available subs and he waited until the 83rd minute to use his second, third and fourth available changes with a triple swap. This means that Zidane has used all five of his available subs in only six of the 12 matches since the restart, between LaLiga and the Champions League. On three occasions, he even used just two subs, while on three occasions he has used four. He’ll need to work out exactly how and when to use these options from the bench if this rule sticks around.