Real Madrid have started 2021/22 with a victory, defeating Alavés 4-1 on Saturday night. To break down some of that game’s key talking points, here’s our first three questions and three answers piece of the new LaLiga campaign. In this column, there are three pre-match questions that were answered and then three new questions that the events of this game generated.
1. What version of Bale and Hazard were we getting?
Ancelotti trusted the veterans with his first official starting XI of the season, partnering Karim Benzema with Gareth Bale and Eden Hazard. Every member of that front three is over 30 and, although you know what you’re getting with Benzema, there are such big question marks over the other two. But, we saw positives from both of them, with Bale working hard and with Hazard displaying some nice passes and touches. The reports were that the Belgian is in great physical condition and he did look sharp in this game in the Basque Country, with his never-in-doubt quality on display. Now, we just need to hope he can stay healthy and have a run of games in a row.
2. Could Benzema get his Pichichi campaign off to a good start?
Benzema has never won the Pichichi award, that goes to LaLiga Santander’s top scorer at the end of each season. The main reason he has never won it is that Benzema has spent his entire Spanish football career with at least one of, and usually both of, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in the same league. That’s no longer the case. With Messi in Paris, Benzema is by far the best forward left in LaLiga and can certainly claim the Pichichi this year. With two goals from Matchday 1, he’s on his way.
3. Could Militão keep up his April and May form?
Éder Militão finished last season in spectacular form. But, having been away with Brazil and having had some time off, would he be able to start the 2021/22 campaign at that same level? Well, for this game at least, the answer was ‘no’. The centre-back was sloppy against Alavés, most obviously when he placed Courtois in the helpless situation where the Belgian ended up giving away a penalty. But, there were other poor passes apart from that and Nacho had to help the youngster out more than he should have had to. But, it’s just one game. Once he shakes off the summer rust, there’s no reason why Militão can’t go back to displaying the form of late 2020/21.
1. Was Alaba only playing at left-back as cover?
David Alaba has now made his official Real Madrid debut and he did it at left-back. Was this solely because both Mendy and Marcelo were injured? Or, is this where Ancelotti actually wants the Austrian to play? We don’t really know yet, although Ancelotti suggested in his post-match press conference that it could be a bit of both, saying: “It could be Alaba, Marcelo, Mendy, Miguel Gutiérrez or even Nacho at left-back. In the future it’ll change. It’s not definitive, as Alaba can also play very well as a centre-back.”
2. Can Vinícius add finishing to his game this year?
Having just turned 21, this is going to be a big season for Vinícius. So, can he finally add finishing to his game? In this match, he was his lively self after coming on in the 66th minute as he made things happen in attack, and Vinícius also got on the scoresheet late on with a header, just moments after drawing a save from Fernando Pacheco with another chance. Ancelotti spoke about the Brazilian and his finishing afterwards, revealing: “I’ve told him that it’s rare to score after taking five or six touches. To score, you need one touch or maybe two maximum.” Ancelotti clearly sees Vinícius’ finishing as something to work on and something that can be worked on. Let’s see how that goes over the whole season, because remember that three of his six 2020/21 goals came in the first month of that campaign, before he faded.
3. Is the distance shooting here to stay?
Faced with a tight Alavés back line in the first half, Real Madrid tried to break the deadlock through some long-range shooting. They took seven shots from outside the box in those opening 45 minutes, plus another couple in the second half to take that total to nine outside-the-box shots. So, is this an Ancelotti tactic we’ll see more of? Well, going back to his last Real Madrid adventure, back then Los Blancos took 7.8 outside-the-box shots per game in 2013/14 and 6.9 in 2014/15, leading the league in that category both years. Last season, they averaged just 5.4 shots per game from outside those white lines and never once averaged more than 6.0 under Zidane. It seems the Italian is encouraging his players to shoot on sight. This could be fun.