It was a hard-fought victory for Real Madrid against 10-man Elche, with Casemiro and Mariano even finishing the game with bloody war wounds, but the three points are returning to the capital thanks to two sublime goals from Vinícius. His silky finishes ensured Real Madrid claimed a 2-1 victory, with the main talking points from this one discussed below.
1. How would Real Madrid cope without Benzema?
There was one clear pre-match talking point coming into this game: how do you cope without Karim Benzema? This was the first Real Madrid match without Benzema in the starting line-up since a goalless draw with Getafe in April, 22 matches ago. It’s not just that Los Blancos were losing their best player, but they were also losing the cornerstone of their entire offensive system. So, how do you replace that? Well, Carlo Ancelotti decided you don’t replace that with Luka Jović, you do it with Mariano. That decision surprised a few, with Mariano not having played since May. But, he did excellently. The backheel assist for Vinícius’ first was Benzema-esque, while Mariano was heavily involved throughout his 90 minutes and did almost everything right - apart from not passing to an open Eden Hazard in the final minutes - in what was his first completed match for the club since last November. Ancelotti obviously wants Benzema back as soon as possible, but at least Mariano has shown that he can do a job and keep the attack functioning.
2. Would Real Madrid be caught napping in this early kick-off?
It was an early start for Real Madrid in Elche this Saturday, with the 14:00 CEST kick-off their earliest start to a game this season. So, would we get a sleepy Real Madrid performance? Would the players be able to adjust their body clocks appropriately, something they couldn’t do away at Espanyol when they had their first afternoon game of the season? Although Los Blancos had a poor start to the game, they did wake up when Vinícius provided a jolt of footballing caffeine in the 22nd minute. It should be noted that one thing Carlo Ancelotti has been doing this season, which Zinedine Zidane didn’t do last year, is to put the training session the day before a game at a similar time to when the next day’s match will be played. The coach doesn’t want his team to be caught napping. Although fatigue set in late on, his side managed to collect the three points in the first LaLiga game of the round and they can now sit back and enjoy the rest of the weekend’s action.
3. How would captain Marcelo do?
This was a special day for Marcelo, as he led Real Madrid out as captain for the first time since permanently taking over the armband from Sergio Ramos in the summer. Sure, Marcelo has been captain on occasions before, wearing the armband more than 50 times in fact, but this was his first start since becoming the main captain full time. That’s because he’s just not good enough or available enough to start many matches these days. And it showed here. While Marcelo did a lot of good in attack and shared the space of the left flank well with Vinícius, he was totally absent defensively and left Casemiro and David Alaba with a lot of extra work to do. It might be a while before we see the Brazilian out there again shaking the referee’s hand pre-match.
1. Why isn’t Vinicius in the Brazil squad?
Vinícius isn’t in the latest Brazil squad. Yes, that’s right. Vinícius, one of the most in-form players in 2021/22, hasn’t been called up by Tite for Brazil’s November fixtures. With the 21-year-old in this form, there’s no excuse for that. He is giving every right-back he comes up against nightmares and he has now added finishing to his game, scoring two sublime goals in this one. Last season, the difference between Vinícius’ actual goals and expected goals was -3.5. This year, it’s +3.1. He is incredible and should be playing some role for Brazil, even if off the Seleção’s bench. While Tite doesn’t see a way to fit Vinícius in, Ancelotti certainly does and, after first celebrating with his teammates, the winger even ran up to the Italian to high five after his first goal today.
2. Is this the end for Jović’s Real Madrid career?
That’s surely it for Luka Jović as a Real Madrid player. On a day when they were facing one of the weaker teams in LaLiga and when they were without Karim Benzema, the former Eintracht Frankfurt man didn’t get a single minute on the pitch. Ancelotti said in his post-match press conference that Jović wasn’t fit enough to play, but I’m just not buying that. If he wasn’t fit enough, he wouldn’t be in the squad. That has been Ancelotti’s philosophy with injured players throughout his career. The reality is that the coaching staff felt Mariano was a better option, both to start and to complete the match. While that says a lot about Mariano’s contribution, it says just as much about Jović’s standing in this squad. This might go down as the day when any hope of the Serbian making it at the Bernabéu vanished.
3. Weren’t Real Madrid’s injury issues supposed to have been solved?
The one negative for Real Madrid was that they suffered yet another injury in this match, their 21st of the season, with Rodrygo having to go off in the first half. Once again, it was a muscular injury. Once again, it was a non-impact injury. This was the problem last season and solutions were supposed to have been found in the summer, but the injury crisis is even worse for Los Blancos in 2021/22. At this same stage last season, Real Madrid had only suffered 16 injuries. This year, it’s already 21 different injuries. What’s going on?