Real Madrid secured a 2-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano, with the team playing better than the scoreline suggests. After Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema put Los Blancos two goals to the good, Radamel Falcao pulled one back to make for a nervy finish. But, Carlo Ancelotti’s men held on and go into the international break on a high. As they do so, here comes a look at three answers and at three questions.
1. Would Ancelotti get his 100th win?
Carlo Ancelotti came into this match with 99 victories as Real Madrid coach, so he had the chance to make some history this Saturday night. And he did. Ancelotti is now just the seventh Real Madrid coach to reach 100 wins, after Miguel Muñoz, Zinedine Zidane, Vicente del Bosque, Jose Mourinho, Leo Beenhakker and Luis Molowny. Only Mourinho, who reached 100 wins in 133 games, got to this total in fewer matches than Ancelotti, with 135 games.
2. Asensio or Hazard?
The big team news discussion ahead of this game was once again the right wide forward spot. Would it go to Marco Asensio or Eden Hazard? Despite some speculation that Ancelotti was going to give Hazard the start against Rayo, it was Asensio who actually got the nod and he was excellent, putting in one of his best performances in some time. The Spaniard created several chances, including Toni Kroos’ goal, causing Real Madrid academy graduate Fran García so many problems. Asensio also worked well with Dani Carvajal, proving that they could be a winning combination on the right flank.
3. What happened to Modrić?
There was some surprise when Luka Modrić wasn’t named in the starting XI and then even more when he wasn’t even among the substitutes. Despite initially being named in the matchday squad, the Croatian had pulled out. The reason? He was suffering from what the club officially described as “a severe cold”. This, though, shouldn’t stop him from going away with Croatia this international break.
1. Is Kroos going to keep shooting?
Toni Kroos was the hero of this game, making the goalline clearance in the final moments and scoring the brilliant opener in the first half. He had been searching for that first goal of the season for a couple of weeks now, taking many more shots in the past few games than he normally does. This year, he is attempting 1.93 shots per match and he has never had a season where he has shot more often. It seems Ancelotti is encouraging the German to try his luck and this finally paid off in this game, when he scored against the same opponent as his first Real Madrid goal. So, will we see more shots from Kroos as the season goes on? It looks like we might.
2. Is Hazard as a false nine going to be a thing?
Karim Benzema couldn’t complete the 90 minutes, with Ancelotti admitting that the striker was substituted off in the 83rd minute because he was fatigued. Interestingly, it was Eden Hazard who came on in Benzema’s place. We didn’t see enough of Hazard to draw many conclusions, but perhaps the Belgian can be an option to fill in for Benzema when the centre-forward needs a rest. Nobody is going to replace Benzema’s goals, so why not use a player with good link-up play on those rare occasions when the No.9 isn’t available?
3. What if ‘it’ had gone in?
You know the play I’m talking about, the incredible Vinícius run in the 50th minute. Imagine Óscar Valentín hadn’t been able to clear the ball off the line. Just where would this have ranked in terms of all-time great goals? Even without this one rippling the net, the magic on display from the Brazilian was awesome as he picked the ball up inside his own half and then carried it at speed through a channel of space, before breaking defenders’ ankles once inside the box and then sliding the ball goalwards. For me, this run that didn’t finish in a goal was even better than the run that did finish in a goal away in Kyiv against Shakhtar Donetsk.