Real Madrid’s 2020/21 campaign has started and it has started slowly. The reigning LaLiga champions were held to a goalless draw away at Real Sociedad, a result that’s understandable given this was Los Blancos’ first game but a result that will foster some concern regardless.
Here, we break it all down through three answers and three questions. This is the column where three of the pre-match questions are answered and where three of the post-match questions are thrown out there as we look on to the next one.
1. How would Real Madrid line up?
The big team news for this game was the inclusion of Martin Ødegaard in Zinedine Zidane’s starting line-up and the absence of Casemiro. So, how would it all fit together? The official LaLiga graphic ahead of the match, the one that superimposes those giant versions of the players on the pitch, had the starting line-up as a 4-4-2, with Rodrygo and Vinícius very wide and with Ødegaard up along with Karim Benzema. That didn’t look quite right. It was actually more of a 4-2-3-1, with Ødegaard in the playmaking role and with Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić as a double pivot. This was certainly a brave and bold new line-up for Zidane, one that will take some getting used to if he keeps it up.
2. Could Real Madrid exploit Real Sociedad’s weakness at full-back?
Going into this match, there was one clear mismatch in my opinion. With Real Sociedad’s two starting full-backs (Joseba Zaldua and Nacho Monreal) out and with Andoni Gorosabel and Aihen Muñoz having to come in, this was an opportunity for Rodrygo and Vinícius. Gorosabel and Muñoz are two very average full-backs with a lot of weaknesses in their game and I really thought that Los Blancos’ two Brazilians should be able to put them under pressure. They certainly tried to and Zidane even said in his post-match press conference that he wanted players on the wings, probably because of this weakness. Yet it didn’t quite open up the opportunities you might have expected it to. Vinícius tested his marker more as he had five attempted dribbles, but he only had one successful dribble. Rodrygo, meanwhile, only tried three dribbles, but he got by his man on all three occasions.
3. Would Real Sociedad be less rusty than Real Madrid?
This was Real Madrid’s first match of the new season, but Real Sociedad’s second. Given that Real Madrid’s 2019/20 campaign was extended into August due to their Champions League participation, they were allowed to postpone their Matchday One fixture, but I always thought that this wasn’t necessarily an advantage for the rested teams. That’s because Real Madrid went into this game with pre-season rust still to shake off, whereas their opponents had already started to get into the rhythm of the new season. So, would this show? Well, Real Madrid started the match much better, but they did lack something in the final third. They did look rusty and I wonder if the result would have been different had neither side had a competitive game already under their belts.
1. Will Casemiro be left out often?
It was a huge surprise to see Casemiro left out of the Real Madrid starting line-up. Especially considering he played more minutes than any other Real Madrid player last season and especially considering he has been around for all of pre-season, unlike some of the European players who had international matches. But, we shouldn’t really expect to see much of Casemiro on the bench. Zidane was asked about the Brazilian after the game and said his absence was a one-off thing.
2. When will Ødegaard be 100% again?
Ødegaard played 69 minutes in this match and he was ready to go off by the time he went off. After a bright first half, the playmaker was less involved after the break. It’s clear he is still not 100%, following the knee injury he suffered towards the end of last season. Before the coronavirus break in 2019/20, Ødegaard played the full 90 minutes in 22 of Real Sociedad’s 27 LaLiga fixtures (81% of the time). After the coronavirus restart, he played the full 90 minutes in just one of the final 11 matches (9% of the time). It seems Ødegaard is currently somewhere between the two versions he displayed last season. Zidane insisted in his post-match press conference that the youngster will get there, but there’s a need for some patience as it could take some time before he is 100% again.
3. Will the two dropped points give Barcelona and Atlético a boost?
With Real Madrid starting the season one week before title rivals Barcelona and Atlético, it creates an interesting dynamic. Had Real Madrid won this match then it could have been a psychological blow for the other challengers as they’d have been behind from the very start, even with a game in hand. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, as they say. But now, with Real Madrid having already dropped points, they won’t be so far ahead of their title rivals and they’ll have played an extra game. The psychological element of teams having played a different number of fixtures from each other is an interesting dynamic to look at.