Real Madrid returned from the November international break with a big win, defeating Granada 4-1 on the road for a 13th consecutive victory against the Andalusian side. With club football now back, there are lots of talking points to dive into and that’s what we do right here through three questions and three answers.
1. How tired would the internationals be?
The first game back after any international break is always a banana skin. For Real Madrid, that’s especially so now that Karim Benzema is back playing for France and given that Vinícius received a last-minute call to go off with Brazil. At the start of this game, neither of Los Blancos’ star forwards looked sharp. But, that might not actually have been fatigue, given that both Benzema and Vinícius grew into the game. As for some of the other internationals, Luka Modrić is the Duracell Bunny, while the only player who needed a rest was Éder Militão and this was a good game for him to receive it, with Nacho stepping in confidently.
2. Would we see a Vallejo cameo?
Given that Militão was rested for this one, even if he still made the travelling squad, it was Nacho and David Alaba in the centre of defence and they were solid, with the only goal - or chance, even – that was conceded with them both on the pitch coming courtesy of an unlucky deflection. Militão’s rest meant Jesús Vallejo was the centre-back option to come off the bench when the opportunity arose to bring Alaba off, meaning the 24-year-old made just his second appearance of the season and his first in LaLiga Santander, coming against the club where he spent a year and a half on loan. Ancelotti claimed that the substitution wasn’t made for any sentimental reason, but it was certainly a nice moment for Vallejo to come on to an ovation. He deserved that for what he did during his year and a half at the Nuevo Estadio de Los Cármenes.
3. Can Asensio be Real Madrid’s 12th man of the year?
If there was a 12th man of the year award at Real Madrid, like the NBA’s sixth man of the year prize, then Marco Asensio would be a prime candidate for it. He’s not a guaranteed starter, but he’s more than capable of filling in when cover is needed, either as an occasional starter or off the bench. At this stage in the campaign, Asensio has played the 14th most minutes in the squad, with the only other non-starters ahead of him being Nacho and Lucas Vázquez. Of the three Spaniards, Asensio has been the most impactful in 2021/22 and he seized this latest opportunity, adding a fourth goal of the season to his tally and coming inches away from another. Any title-winning team needs players like Asensio. The backups who are almost – just almost – good enough to start.
1. Are Real Madrid the best counter-attacking side in LaLiga?
That third goal was special. Granada were unlucky to have Víctor Díaz pull up with a hamstring as he was marking Benzema, but Real Madrid made the most of it by zipping the ball to Modrić and then Vinícius for the finish. That’s what they’ve been doing all season, with Los Blancos ruthless on the counter attack. Are they the best in this department in the country? The answer is a resounding yes, with Ancelotti’s team now having scored eight counter-attacking goals this campaign, double the next teams on the list, who are Sevilla and Atlético Madrid with four each.
2. Could Real Madrid end up with a Pichichi one-two?
That counter-attacking goal took Vinícius’ LaLiga Santander goal tally up to eight, meaning that Real Madrid currently have the top scorer in the division – Benzema on 10 – and the second-top scorer too. There is a good chance that Real Madrid will see one of these forwards claim this year’s Pichichi award, while they could even have a Pichichi one-two. Not since Hugo Sánchez and Jorge Valdano in 1985/86 have the capital city side had the top two scorers of the Spanish league season. You never know. That could happen in 2021/22 if Vinícius keeps this up.
3. Does Vinícius need special protection?
For Vinícius to keep up his scoring run, he’ll need to be on the pitch. But, in the 71st minute of this match, he was taken off and sat on the bench, for his own protection Ancelotti later explained. “I took Vinícius off to avoid problems as the match was getting a little fiery,” the coach stated, referring to the angry challenges Granada were putting on the Brazilian, one of which saw Monchu shown a straight red. Vinícius is Real Madrid’s most-fouled player this season by far, with 31 fouls received to date, way ahead of second-most-fouled Éder Militão, who has been taken down 23 times. Vini is usually able to bounce right back up and he was even seen laughing after the Monchu challenge this Sunday, even before the Granada man was shown the red card. But, one foul too many could be serious. It’s good that Ancelotti realises this and that Juan Martínez Munuera, this game’s referee, intervened too.