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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s loss to Espanyol

Some talking points from the first mini crisis of the season.

Espanyol v Real Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Real Madrid have suffered back-to-back losses, which means the alarm bells have been dusted down and they are ringing. We have so much to discuss following the 2-1 defeat to Espanyol, so here are three pre-match questions that were answered and three more post-match questions needing answering.

Three answers

1. How would Real Madrid adapt to the early kick off time?

This was Real Madrid’s 10th fixture of the season, but their first that didn’t kick off at 21:00 or 22:00 local time. It was a 16:15 Spanish time game this Sunday, so there was always a possibility that it could feel a little strange for the players’ body clocks and produce a strange performance in a physical sense. But, they actually started with great intensity and had a dominant opening 10 minutes. Having failed to get the early goal, though, the energy levels dropped off again after around 10 minutes and that was when it became a much more even affair. In the second half, Espanyol were sharper and Ancelotti even criticised the lack of aggression and intensity in his side’s play in his post-match press conference.

2. Who was playing where?

Even when the team sheet was released before the game, we still didn’t quite know who was going to start where. This was an unprecedented Real Madrid XI and we had to wait for kick-off to see how it would look. Then, we saw that it was David Alaba playing left-back and Nacho left-centre-back for this game, while the midfield quartert went, from right to left, Fede Valverde, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga. Up front, Karim Benzema played as a central striker, although drifting as he always does, while Vinícius played as a left forward. On the right flank, there were great spaces, especially when Fede Valverde drifted inwards. It was all a little confusing, which Ancelotti himself even admitted afterwards, with the midfielders interchanging and perhaps interchanging too frequently. A midfield with some more strictly defined positions might have been more effective, both with and without the ball.

3. Would Raúl de Tomás come back to haunt Real Madrid?

Coming into this match, you knew there was a high probability of this game producing a Raúl de Tomás narrative, and it duly did. The Real Madrid academy graduate scored the opener for Espanyol, a strike that had some arguing he shouldn’t have been allowed to leave Los Blancos. To wish RDT was still on Real Madrid’s books, though, is to forget how sizable the €20m transfer fee paid by Benfica was and how useful that proved at the time. It’s true that De Tomás surely deserved more minutes with the Real Madrid first team to try to prove his worth than the grand total of 14 minutes from his sole senior outing, in a Copa del Rey game at Cornellà. But, his transfer away was still the right move. It worked out for all.

Three questions

1. Is it all Nacho’s fault?

Check Twitter and it would appear that the answer to this question is yes. And it’s true that he made several glaring errors in this game, most notably the unsuccessful charge out to try to stop Aleix Vidal’s goal, a move that actually made Vidal’s goal possible. But, let’s add some context. Due to injury and Ancelotti’s formation tinkering, Nacho has played four matches at centre-back, three matches at left-back and two matches at right-back to start this season. He has been moved around everywhere and in each of the past five matches he has been moved to a different position each time (LB vs Valencia, RB vs Real Mallorca, LB vs Villarreal, RB vs Sheriff, CB vs Espanyol). That lack of consistency of position is surely part of the reason for Nacho’s poor play. It’s partly on Ancelotti to find solutions that will allow his players to regularly play the same position and to develop some consistency and familiarity. Nacho hasn’t had that.

2. Can Benzema keep this up?

We all know that Karim Benzema is in great form right now, but he is actually in historically good form. With nine goals and six assists across the opening eight matchdays of the league season, the Frenchman has been directly involved in 15 goals already and no other player has done this since Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi both had 15 direct goal contributions through the first eight rounds of the 2014/15 campaign. Can he keep this up? Well, he doesn’t look like slowing down.

3. How long till Real Madrid can scratch the itch?

Real Madrid haven’t won any of their past three matches and they’ll be desperate to put that right. Unfortunately, they don’t have another fixture for 16 days, not until visiting Shakhtar Donetsk on October 19th. That’s because the October international break has arrived and because Real Madrid’s LaLiga Santander fixture just after that break, the Matchday 9 clash with Athletic Club, has been postponed due to the late return of Los Blancos’ South American players from national team duty. So, it’ll be a long wait for Real Madrid before they can go out there and scratch that itch.