Carlo Ancelotti explicitly said his Real Madrid side would be out for revenge against Sheriff Tiraspol and Los Blancos well and truly got the job done, winning 3-0 and booking their place in the Champions League last 16. This was a Champions League trip with many talking points and the main ones are discussed below in the form of three questions that were answered and three new questions we have to ponder.
1. Would Ancelotti stay true to his word with the line-up?
Ancelotti basically gave away the starting line-up in his pre-match press conference, confirming that Éder Militão and Rodrygo would return from rest and injury respectively and that he didn’t want to make rotations other than that. So, would he stay true to his word? Yes, he did. The only two changes compared to the Granada starting XI were the two Brazilians who came in.
2. What state of mind would Benzema be in?
This Wednesday was a complicated one for Karim Benzema, as he was found guilty in the Valbuena case in France in the morning - even if the striker wasn’t there in person, as he was with the team in Transnistria. The fine may be a drop in the ocean to him and the prison sentence may be suspended, but a guilty verdict can’t have been easy to take. So what state of mind would he be in? Well, he seemed his normal self, especially when producing a typical Benzema finish for his goal. Ancelotti revealed that the Frenchman has been calm all day, so it seems he is managing to focus entirely on football when he crosses those white lines.
3. Would Casemiro collect a suspension?
There was only one Real Madrid player who was one booking away from a suspension coming into this game and that was Casemiro. In the past, when qualification has been secured or nearly secured, Real Madrid players have often tried to collect the third booking in order to miss the final group game – sometimes getting caught out when doing so. So, would Casemiro collect a deliberate yellow? Well, the midfielder actually spoke to Ancelotti about this straight after the third goal. When all the others were celebrating, Casemiro went over to the Italian to tell him he was one booking away from a ban. In the post-match press conference, Ancelotti revealed: “He told me he was one booking away from suspension and that he didn’t want to risk collecting that yellow card. He asked if I could take him off. I waited a little and then took him off to avoid that suspension coming for the match against Inter.” Did Casemiro really ask to be taken off? Or did he ask Ancelotti for permission to seek a deliberate yellow card, knowing that Los Blancos were on their way to the last 16, even if top spot is still up for grabs. Watch the video again and you clearly see Ancelotti saying “no” to the Brazilian. No to what, exactly?
1. Why didn’t Benzema and Vinícius get a rest?
When the match finished, many asked why Karim Benzema and Vinícius had been left out to play all 90 minutes. In fact, one of the journalists at the press conference asked this too. And Ancelotti gave a very clear and understandable explanation. Ferland Mendy and Casemiro were among the first substitutions because of the threats of a yellow card, while Dani Carvajal and Rodrygo were taken off because of their recent injuries and David Alaba came off because of the knee sprain suffered on the night. There were no more changes available. Benzema and Vinícius will have to rest and there will be opportunities for that. Tonight, there were simply other players prioritised for bringing off.
2. How serious is Alaba’s injury?
Speaking of Alaba’s injury, how serious will it be? He has a slight sprain of his left knee and it really didn’t look positive at first. But, there is confidence at the club that this is not going to be a serious issue. Ancelotti even hopes to have the Austrian back in time for Sunday’s LaLiga Santander game against Sevilla. With Alaba having been one of the best and most reliable performers so far this campaign, it would be a blow if he has to miss Sunday’s match against the third-place team in the league.
3. How seriously will Real Madrid take the Inter match?
So, Real Madrid are through, but they’re not guaranteed top spot yet. They’ll go into their final group game with 12 points, while Inter will visit the Bernabéu with 10 points. So, a draw or win for Real Madrid is enough, while an Italian victory would put Real Madrid through in second. Obviously, Real Madrid would like to win their group to increase their chances of an easier last 16 tie, but this has never been an exact science anyway. So, might Real Madrid rest a few players for that game? Might Inter do so? It could even be a good opportunity to finally give Andriy Lunin the start he deserves or to test Eduardo Camavinga from the start against a top-class opposition. With the Inter game sandwiched between LaLiga matches vs Real Sociedad and Atlético, it’s surely not worth going all out for.