The first game of the season ends in a draw. Here’s our quick reaction. Still to come: Player ratings, post-game podcast, post-game quotes, and a ton more.
On Real Madrid’s opening weekend of La Liga, Zinedine Zidane breathed new life into the team’s starting line-up with one new face, perhaps surprisingly thrown into the fire on the first matchday. Martin Odegaard, the league’s breakout star one season ago, started in midfield alongside Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.
It was always going to be interesting to see how that played out. Kroos, Modric, and Odegaard are all techincally-gifted, press-resistant players who can find incisive passes. Collectively, they will give you control. Will they give you defensive stability too? Modric and Odegaard are hard-working two-way midfielders, and all three have done well in a double pivot at different stages of their career. Without Casemiro in the starting line-up, you’d expect Fede Valverde in there to provide stability — but Zidane had both on the bench.
Zidane’s starting trio in midfield lasted 69 minutes together, until Casemiro replaced Odegaard and Valverde replaced Modric. It’s hard to come to a conclusion on how those three will fare together in such a small sample size, and to be sure, I’m not sure how much we’ll see it again given that Fede and Casemiro are both pillars. The first few games of the season are always unusual, and given the team had no preseason, some growing pains will exist in the initial flurry of games.
Here’s what we saw: As expected, the team had control (70%+ possession in the first half, and nifty passing and movement). Odegaard positioned himself between the lines, and unlike Isco roaming in a diamond, stayed mostly central in a 4-2-3-1 behind Benzema — with Rodrygo and Vinicius on the flanks making overlapping runs. Odegaard’s positioning looked such that he was still calculating the scheme around him, but we did see hints of how well he positions himself in transition to receive the ball behind the opposing midfield.
Defensively, the team looked good for a good 43 minutes, until Courtois had to make a huge save just before the half. Zidane’s men had a few defensive sequences on either side of the half where they scrambled, and there was a clear lack of presence in Zone 14 where Casemiro would’ve been. Ramos would sprint over to the right, and Carvajal to the left. Odegaard did not have many defensive duties, and hedged higher to serve as an outlet. Outside of a few moments, the defense held up, and both Ramos and Varane were solid reading passes and covering for their full-backs. Carvajal started off sluggish, but recovered well and made several good vertical passes to Odegaard and Rodrygo. Mendy on the other end, was good on both ends of the field.
(Mendy, interestingly enough, was basically playing in the final third, and had license from his captain behind him to help Vinicius overload the wings.)
But in many ways, this was a familiar game to the ones we saw last season. The defense was fine, limiting their opponents to chances few and far between. Offensively, outside of Karim Benzema, Real Madrid did not have any meaningful shot-generating. Vinicius and Rodrygo looked to break lines as much as they could — Vinicius’s dribbling was hard to defend, and Rodrygo was able to implement a few pass-and-move sequences — but they were met with packed flanks and multiple La Real jerseys any time they received the ball. Alguacil’s men defended well.
This was not a bad start, but it was a slow one. It will be interesting to see if Zidane can solve the team’s offensive issues that will linger from last season. We’ll break this down in much more detail in the coming hours.