Real Madrid got back to winning ways on Tuesday night, defeating Shakhtar Donetsk 5-0. More than anything, they just got back to playing ways, after a 16-day break between matches, but Carlo Ancelotti will be delighted that Los Blancos triumphed in style, with Vinícius scoring two, Rodrygo one, Karim Benzema one and then an own goal too. Here comes a look at some of the talking points from this one, in the form of three questions that were answered and three new questions we now need answers to.
1. How would Mendy do on his return?
Ferland Mendy went straight back into the starting XI. This was the big news of the starting line-up and you had to wonder how he’d cope considering his previous match came a full six months and five days ago. Yet, the French left-back slotted in seamlessly. It was as if he’d never been away. Most of the defensive work that Mendy had to do in this game was in the opening 15 minutes and he executed his tasks perfectly, as if this was his 10th or so outing in a row. Having him at left-back makes such a difference.
2. Would it be 4-3-3?
Ancelotti insisted in his pre-match press conference that he wants his Real Madrid side to play 4-3-3 when they can. So, what would we get in this one? Well, we got a 4-3-3, exactly as Ancelotti suggested. He played with two natural wingers either side of Karim Benzema and it worked excellently, as Vinícius and Rodrygo were two of the best players on the park. The 4-3-3 might not work in every game, but when it does it can be a thing of beauty.
3. Would Shakhtar Donetsk be better than last year?
Shakhtar Donetsk defeated Real Madrid twice last year. Now, a season on, Los Blancos had to face them again and Luka Modrić warned in his pre-match press conference that they are even better than they were last campaign. For those who aren’t football nerds to the level of Modrić, who explained he’d been following the Ukrainian side closely, the midfielder’s declaration surprised many. So, would Shakhtar indeed be better than last year? Well the scoreline certainly says that they aren’t. Yet, they have been achieving good domestic results. It might be the case that Shakhtar are better than they were in 2020/21, but that their more expansive style of play doesn’t favour them against the big teams.
1. Should Rodrygo start El Clásico now?
With his two great goals, Vinícius was the star of the show against Shakhtar. Yet, Rodrygo on the opposite flank was almost just as impressive. Asked about Rodrygo and his chances of starting El Clásico on Sunday, Ancelotti responded: “I don’t know, but it would be tough to make a change. We’ll need to look at things over the coming days. It’s a different game.” That suggests that Ancelotti will give some serious thought to starting Rodrygo against Barcelona, when he might not previously have done so. Before the game, he had suggested Eden Hazard could be back for El Clásico, but now all eyes might be on Rodrygo.
2. When will the non-press work again?
Real Madrid surprised many by simply refusing to press Shakhtar in their own half. Los Blancos instead waited for their Ukrainian hosts to cross midfield and advance toward Thibaut Courtois’ goal, before then pushing to win the ball back. This half court approach to pressing worked well in this game, but it surely wouldn’t be an option against certain European teams. It’ll be interesting, then, to see when and where Ancelotti next turns to this tactic.
3. What will be different for the ‘return leg’?
At this midway point of the Champions League group stage, the next match is against the most recent opponent. It can get a little déjà vu-ey, especially if you also played Shakhtar in last year’s Champions League, but it’s important to remember that this is an important game coming up on November 3rd when Shakhtar visit the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. It will almost feel like the return leg of a knockout tie, given that these sides just met, and there should be a fascinating atmosphere at the Bernabéu. There, we’ll surely see a different kind of Shakhtar team, with Roberto De Zerbi now very much aware that his approach to this Tuesday’s clash didn’t work.