For the second time in a matter of weeks, Real Madrid defeated Shakhtar Donetsk for three vital Champions League points. This Wednesday’s 2-1 victory wasn’t as dominant as the 5-0 in Kyiv from a few weeks ago, but a win is a win and it has provided us with these talking points.
1. Who would score the 1,000th goal?
Real Madrid went into this game with 999 goals between the European Cup and the Champions League. Despite their recent struggles to score at home, there was great expectation ahead of this one and that raised the question of who would score this special 1,000th goal. The man to score it, and to then take the tally to 1,001, was Karim Benzema and that’s fitting, given how he has stepped up his game in the Champions League so often throughout his career.
2. Who would replace Rodrygo?
With Benzema and Mendy expected back in the starting line-up, the only other change to the XI was due at right wing, given that Rodrygo was now out injured. So, who would take that spot? Ahead of the game, there was a lot of debate in the Spanish media over whether that position on the right of attack should go to Eden Hazard or Marco Asensio. In the end, it went to neither. Carlo Ancelotti picked Lucas Vázquez and he justified that decision afterwards, saying: “I thought about starting Hazard today, but because of a tactical reason I preferred to play with a winger who could give more width than Hazard, who prefers to go inside. That’s why I selected Lucas Vázquez instead.”
3. Would Real Madrid sit off Shakhtar again?
In the first meeting with Shakhtar Donetsk, Real Madrid really didn’t press much at all and this was on purpose. At home, though, with the fans expecting effort and energy, would Real Madrid feel the need to press their opponents more than they did two weeks ago? Well, no. And Ancelotti explained why. He said: “Shakhtar are a different team to most others because they like you to press them, because then they can hurt you. So, we had some specific tactics for this specific game against this specific team.”
1. How effective could Vinícius be from the right?
Very early on in his Real Madrid career, it was quite rightly decided that Vinícius has to play on the left. The Brazilian struggled so much whenever he was placed on the right flank, so his various coaches agreed that when he played then he should do so from the left. Over the years, and especially this season, the Brazilian has made that flank his own. But, when you look at the second goal scored against Shakhtar Donetsk, you see Vinícius collect the ball on the right and attack the penalty area from the opposite side of the pitch to usual. And he does it so well. So, theoretically, how would Vinícius do if he were to be deployed on the right again, something that hasn’t happened at all this season? I’m not saying his position should be changed, because why tinker with something that is working so well? But, I would be curious to see how 21-year-old Vinícius would do as a right winger, considering we haven’t really seen him tried there since he was 18 or 19.
2. Is Hazard’s problem an attitude one?
The Hazard situation is getting quite serious. In Real Madrid’s five matches since the October international break, he has played a grand total of 27 minutes. Even though he has reportedly been fully fit for the past few games, Ancelotti hasn’t selected him. There is clearly an issue there and some reason why Ancelotti doesn’t trust Hazard. The coach is asked about the Belgian in virtually every press conference and he has kept repeating lines like “he needs to be ready” and “he needs to stay patient”. Ahead of this midweek game, Ancelotti even said: “He just needs to keep the faith that his moment will come, just like it did for Mariano. He hadn’t played a single minute and then played really well on Saturday, demonstrating his professionalism. This is what Hazard and the others who aren’t playing must do.” Is Ancelotti repeating such lines so often in order to send a message to Hazard? Is the coach having to say this because there is an attitude problem? There’s clearly something going on that we’re not being explicitly told.
3. When can Real Madrid confirm last 16 qualification?
Real Madrid now have nine points from the first 12 available, meaning they top Group D, with Inter second on seven points, Sheriff third on six and Shakhtar last on one. So, when can Real Madrid mathematically confirm their passage to the next round? Well, they can do so in the next matchday with a win away at Sheriff, although a draw or defeat there would force Los Blancos to wait until the final matchday. If they do win the next game against Sheriff and if Inter fail to beat Shakhtar that same night, then top spot would be guaranteed too before the final round.