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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s win at Alavés

The talking points from this Zidane-less match.

Deportivo Alavés v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Real Madrid returned to winning ways on Saturday night, smashing Alavés 4-1 away at Mendizorroza. This was one of the better Real Madrid performances of the season and it came without Zinedine Zidane in the dugout and when they had their backs up against the wall. We have lots of questions to consider, so do so right below.

Three answers

1. How would Real Madrid do without Zidane?

The big pre-match news was obviously the positive COVID-19 test returned by Zidane. The head coach wasn’t able to be with the team the day before this game or during the trip and his long-time friend David Bettoni was the man leading the expedition. So, how would it all work? Bettoni was vague in his pre-match press conference when asked how communication would be organised and said he’d keep that internal. In this win, we saw him on the phone on a couple of occasions. “For the substitutions, I wanted to know the boss’ thoughts because he’s obviously the man in change,” Bettoni revealed afterwards. Zidane will likely still be out for the Levante game next weekend, so this process should be repeated.

2. Would Alavés step it up for their birthday?

This game took place exactly 100 years to the day of Alavés’ founding. Obviously, then, there was extra motivation for the Basque side. So, would that be evident on the pitch? Well, they certainly started with determination and raced around the pitch like motorbikes in the opening five minutes. But, ultimately, Real Madrid’s talent and game plan shone through. Alavés couldn’t get a centenary win and Real Madrid delivered their own Centenariazo to Alavés, just like Deportivo La Coruña had done to Los Blancos back in the day.

3. How would the Varane-Militão partnership do this time?

When Sergio Ramos is missing, Real Madrid struggle. We know this and we had another fear of this this weekend. With Nacho out too due to COVID-19 protocol, Raphaël Varane and Éder Militão were going to form the centre-back partnership. Before this weekend they had started seven games together and had won four of them and lost three of them. Two of those losses were from their previous two starts together, against Manchester City and against Shakhtar Donetsk. They even played the second half of the Cádiz loss together. So, how would they do in this one? Well, they won and they won with just one goal conceded. They’d averaged 1.4 goals conceded per game over their previous seven starts together, but this time it was only one. It’s true that it was Militão who lost Joselu for the Alavés goal, but this wasn’t as bad defensively as on other occasions without Ramos.

Three questions

1. Can Hazard keep this up?

Eden Hazard had one of his better Real Madrid performances in this game, and not just because he scored and assisted. The Belgian was involved from the off and looked sharp. He didn’t play the whole 90 minutes because he never does, with Bettoni saying afterwards that the change was made because they wanted the verticality and freshness of Vinícius. But, Hazard looked good. The only question, then, is this. Can he keep it up?

2. When will Benzema be booked again?

You may have missed it, but Karim Benzema was shown a yellow card in this game. That’s noteworthy because it’s so rare. The last time Benzema was booked was all the way back on August 26th 2018, away at Girona. In fact, he has just two yellow cards in his past 255 matches. He just doesn’t find his way into the referee’s notebook, except under the goalscorers’ section. It was another brace from the Frenchman tonight, his fourth brace of the season.

3. What was Rafa Benítez thinking?

There’s a famous story from Rafa Benítez’s time at Real Madrid about the Spanish coach telling Luka Modrić not to pass with the outside of his boot so much. What was he thinking? Modrić might be the best outside-of-the-boot passer ever and he showed it again in this game. His through ball to Ferland Mendy in the 21st minute was simply exquisite. The Croatian remains a delight to watch. It’s just a shame he passed the ball to the worst finisher of Real Madrid’s outfield players.

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