Real Madrid came from behind to win 3-2 at Real Betis on Saturday night, a win that was a milestone for Zinedine Zidane. That and several other talking points are discussed below, in the form of questions that were answered and questions that need answering.
1. Would Zidane reach 100?
Going into this game, Zidane was stuck on 99 victories from 146 LaLiga matches in charge of Real Madrid. He’d been on 99 wins since the victory over Villarreal that secured last season’s league title on July 16th. It looked like he might not hit the century in this game, but Sergio Ramos’ penalty earned Zidane this historic achievement. It has now been 100 wins, 30 draws and 17 defeats from his 147 matches in Spain’s top division. Only Miguel Muñoz has more wins in the history of Real Madrid coaches.
2. Can Benzema and Jović play together?
“I’ve never thought that Jović is incompatible with Benzema.” That was the headline quote from Zidane’s pre-match press conference ahead of this game. In this match, we got to put that theory to the test because the Serbian started up top along with Benzema. Jović wasn’t great. He wasn’t effective himself. But his presence did occupy opposition centre-backs and free Benzema somewhat and this is always good for Real Madrid. It was the Frenchman who was wide on the right to assist the opener. It was Benzema who was wide on the left to create the great chance in the 15th minute for Ramos. It’s easy to hate on Jović right now, but his presence in this two-up-front system may have helped Real Madrid on the whole.
3. How would Valverde perform?
I’m fascinated to know how the 2020/21 season will go for Fede Valverde. He was so excellent at the beginning of last season and then faded in the second half of the campaign, especially in the post-lockdown matches. This year is going to be huge for him, especially with even more competition for midfield minutes now that Martin Ødegaard is at the club. In this match, he was excellent and not just because he scored a goal. The Uruguayan was so much more than his goal. He was full of energy, bombing up and down the pitch to contribute in attack and defence. After a quiet 20 minutes away at Real Sociedad last Sunday, this was a million times better and the kind of performance that should thrill Real Madrid fans.
1. Were the refereeing decisions correct?
Just as at the end of last season, there were some important refereeing decisions in this Real Madrid match. The sending off of Emerson and the penalty given against Marc Bartra were decisive in the final result and this will create headlines and debate over the coming days. But, all that should matter is whether or not the decisions were correct. And the answer is that yes, they were. Both decisions were correct by the letter of the law. Perhaps they may seem harsh on Real Betis, but anyone who thinks that needs to be angry at IFAB’s rulebook and not at referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea or at VAR.
2. Where is the ceiling for Courtois?
Courtois was immense last season and made an absolutely phenomenal save from Tony Sanabria in the opening minutes on Saturday night, just like he did at the end of the first half of the Real Sociedad match last weekend against Alexander Isak. Courtois has re-established himself as one of the world’s best goalkeepers and you have to wonder where the ceiling is for him. Zidane had specific praise for the No.1 after the match in his press conference, even telling the journalists that Courtois’ contribution in the passing game is not to be overlooked either. Some might criticise him for not stopping Real Betis’ second goal, but it should be kept in mind that most goalkeepers wouldn’t even have got a hand to it. Courtois really is on fire right now.
3. Will Ramos’ confidence from the spot ever stop?
It’s a new season, but the same old Ramos. Once again, the captain scored a penalty to win the game, after also scoring six penalties in the 2019/20 league campaign. When he stepped up to the spot, you just knew he was going to score. Even though he’d had three chances to score before the penalty and had been unable to take them, there wasn’t a second where you felt like that would affect Ramos’ penalty spot confidence. He stepped up and coolly dinked the ball down the middle. It’s 22 in a row converted. Will his penalty spot confidence ever be knocked?