Dani Carvajal fired Real Madrid to a 1-0 victory over Real Betis on Saturday night. In this tough fixture, Los Blancos came out on top and have seven points from three away fixtures. Here, we look at some of the questions and answers from the team’s start to 2021/22.
1. How would Ancelotti solve the centre-back problem?
There was a big team news question mark coming into this game, with centre-back Nacho out injured and with left-backs Marcelo and Ferland Mendy out injured. David Alaba had covered the absences of Marcelo and Mendy by playing at left-back in the first two matches of the season, but what would happen in this game? There were two options: play Alaba at left-back again and replace Nacho with Jesús Vallejo, or play Alaba at centre-back and replace the left-backs with Miguel Gutiérrez. Ancelotti opted for the latter and it was 100 percent the right decision. We don’t yet know what level Miguel Gutiérrez can reach, but we know from the end of last season and from performances like this one against Real Betis that he is a solid option for Real Madrid. We also know, from Ancelotti’s press conference, that the coach would prefer to use Alaba at centre-back.
2. Vinícius as a starter?
“I don’t think it’s so important to start a match, it’s about deciding matches.” That’s what Ancelotti said after Real Madrid’s draw with Levante, in response to a question about whether Vinícius would start this game vs Real Betis. It seemed at that point that Ancelotti was trying to play down the calls for the Brazilian to start and to hype up what the youngster can do as a super sub. So, would Vinícius start this game? Honestly, I didn’t think he would. I thought he’d come on as a sub again. But, Ancelotti went for it. Vinícius started and he was effective, even if it was clear that he isn’t right now a player for 90 minutes, whether that means he should start or not.
3. How many points would Real Madrid take from three consecutive away games?
Real Madrid are in a very unique situation. After three matchdays, they’ve played three games away from home. No other LaLiga Santander team has faced that situation. Real Madrid wanted this, it has to be said, having asked to play the first three fixtures away from home so that they can have more time to work on the new Bernabéu. But, it’s not normal to play away from home the first three games. With seven points from nine, that could be a benefit, though. That works out at 2.3 points per game, which is better than the 2.2 points per away game Real Madrid took last year, which was actually the best away record in LaLiga Santander.
1. What will Miguel Gutiérrez’s role be?
Above, we discussed what this match meant for Alaba, who was playing at centre-back instead of left-back. But what did it mean for Miguel Gutiérrez, who came in to play on the left of defence? Well, once again this was a solid performance at left-back from the 20-year-old. It was only his seventh match for Real Madrid’s senior side, but he was as comfortable as always, even making a vital interception in the second half to stop an almost certain Real Betis goal. So, what is his role this season? Is Miguel Gutiérrez really the fourth-choice left-back behind Mendy, Marcelo and Alaba? I don’t think so.
2. How will Hazard respond to being benched?
There’s no other way to put it. Hazard was benched for this game. The Belgian was as fit as he was for the other two games this season that he started, but Ancelotti decided that Vinícius and Gareth Bale were performing well enough to deserve to start ahead of the Belgian. Most fans saw this from the first two games, but we must also remember that Ancelotti will have seen this from training sessions too. So, how will Hazard respond? When the Belgian has started on Real Madrid’s bench before, it was almost always because of fitness. This time it wasn’t. Will he respond to this with some extra oomph in the next game?
3. Was Carvajal’s celebration more than a celebration?
Dani Carvajal was back and he was the match winner, scoring on what was his first start since April 27th. It was a well-taken goal, but what will surely stay in the memory was his celebration. This was more than a normal celebration. This was a release. This was a return. This was passion. Watch the celebration again and you’ll see that this was a player who has had so many struggles in the past year and who needed to release it all. Carvajal is back.