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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s Super Cup exit

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What to make of the team’s defeat against Marcelino’s Athletic?

Real Madrid v Athletic de Bilbao - Spanish Super Cup Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Real Madrid are out of the 2020/21 Spanish Super Cup, losing 2-1 to Athletic Club in Málaga on Thursday night. There were many questions going into this match, after a chaotic week, while now we have several more questions to ponder before Real Madrid return to action next midweek.

Three answers

1. Would the team look tired?

This has been a long week for the Real Madrid squad. They haven’t been home since last Friday, instead enduring a stressful flight to Pamplona, struggling to a draw at Osasuna, spending two more days in Pamplona, flying direct to Málaga for the Super Cup and training there in the build-up to this match. No matter what the result was, Real Madrid’s plan was to return to Madrid after this game, but I was curious to see how they’d look, if they’d look mentally or physically tired after a tumultuous week. They certainly started the match slow, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying or for a lack of attitude. It was simply a lack of precision that cost Real Madrid in the first half, particularly from Lucas Vázquez.

2. Would Zidane use Lucas Vázquez at right-back again?

With Dani Carvajal out injured, one of the pre-match questions marks was over the right-back spot. Zidane played Lucas Vázquez there at the weekend away at Pamplona, so would he do the same here? Yes, that’s exactly what he did and that proved to be Real Madrid’s weak link. Lucas Vázquez had a very poor game as he gave the ball away for Athletic’s first goal and as he conceded a penalty for their second. He also picked up a yellow card and ran the risk of being sent off. It was his worst performance at right-back for the club, but we can’t be too harsh on him I suppose. He’s not supposed to be playing right-back when Carvajal is out. That’s supposed to be Álvaro Odriozola’s job, but Lucas Vázquez had performed so well in that position in the past that he overtook the natural full-back in the pecking order.

3. Would Ramos play the whole game?

There were reports before the match that claimed Sergio Ramos has suffered pain in his left knee before the match during the warm-up. Yet the captain did start. So, what was going on? Was he injured or not? And would he complete the whole match? The whole episode struck me as odd given how Zidane doesn’t like to take risks when his players have such issues, but Ramos started and finished the match, even ending the game as a makeshift centre-forward. His knee pain clearly wasn’t that serious, at least not as serious as the issue that forced Raphaël Varane off at half time for Nacho.

Three questions

1. What’s with all the right-footed Mendy shots?

With Real Madrid needing a goal and pushing for an equaliser in stoppage time, the ball fell to Ferland Mendy on the edge of the area… and he blasted it over with his right foot. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this recently. He also had a right-footed shot from outside the area that went off target in the 89th minute of the Osasuna draw on Saturday, two more off-target right-footed outside-the-box efforts against Celta Vigo, another in the previous LaLiga match against Athletic Club and also one in the derby. Of his last seven shots, six have been off-target right-footed attempts from outside the area. As a predominantly left-footed player, this is very weird. What gives?

2. Will we see Asensio on the left and Hazard on the right again?

This match started off with Marco Asensio on the left flank and Eden Hazard playing either centrally or on the right. We’ve rarely seen this, as it’s usually been Hazard on his preferred left and Asensio shoehorned in on the right. So, will we see this again? Well, probably not. Zidane explicitly said in his post-match press conference that he didn’t like the formation he started with and it’s also true that Asensio was at his very best after switch back towards the right, causing Athletic all sorts of problems and hitting the woodwork twice.

3. What will Courtois complain about next?

Three of Real Madrid’s last four matches have ended in a draw or in defeat. And, after each of these three matches, Thibaut Courtois has done a post-match interview in which he complained about something. He complained about the penalty decision after the Elche draw, about the travel arrangements after the Osasuna draw and about an alleged Athletic offside and the Athletic penalty call after tonight’s defeat. What will he complain about next? Probably nothing for a while, as surely the Real Madrid press team will stop putting him up for interviews. All this does is draw criticism and the ridicule of rival fans.