Real Madrid already have three points on the board in the Champions League, something they didn’t achieve until November in last year’s edition. Their 1-0 victory away at Inter puts them in an excellent position to progress and it has thrown up some fresh questions, while it also answered some of the pre-match doubts we had. Let’s take a look.
1. How would Real Madrid cope with the speed of European football?
The start to Ancelotti’s second stint in charge of Real Madrid had largely been positive, but it had all been in LaLiga until now. The rhythm of the Spanish top division is nothing like the fast-paced tempo of elite European football and, when they faced Levante, the only fast-paced Spanish side they’ve met so far, Real Madrid struggled. So, how would they cope here under the San Siro floodlights? Well, not good at first. Inter just seemed quicker to every ball and more urgent than Los Blancos. But, as Ancelotti pointed out in his post-match press conference, Inter’s hectic pace tired them out and Real Madrid were ultimately able to capitalise. Maybe Real Madrid aren’t up to Champions League top speed yet, but if they have the fitness to outlast their opponents and the quality to pick them off late in games when they’re out of gas then this could work. Like Homer Simpson’s boxing strategy, let the opponent exhaust themselves.
2. How would Lucas Vázquez do on the right wing?
At this point in his career, Lucas Vázquez is more of a right-back than a right winger. Last season, for example, he played two-thirds of his matches at right-back. So, it was a bit of a surprise to see him deployed on the right of attack for this one. Ancelotti repeated time and time again in his pre- and post-match press conferences that he believes experience is important for Champions League nights like this and, having so confidently spun the ball on his finger before firing in a penalty in the 2016 shootout in this same stadium, Lucas has that. So, that explains the reasoning of putting Lucas at right wing. But, it just didn’t work. He tracked back, as he always will, but Lucas offered almost nothing in attack in his 65 minutes. It was only when Rodrygo came on that Real Madrid had a balanced attack.
3. Would Arturo Vidal get sent off this time?
Chapter 15 of Arturo Vidal vs Real Madrid wasn’t as dramatic as some in the past. For whatever reason, Vidal has decided he hates no club more than Real Madrid and he always dives into any clash with Los Blancos full of rage and fury. He was sent off in this same fixture last year, the second time he has been dismissed against Real Madrid, after his 2016/17 red card with Bayern Munich as well. Sadly for all fans of football shenanigans, Vidal was only introduced for the final 25 minutes of this game, so there wasn’t much time for him to stoke any tensions. Although, recent comments Vidal made about the referee in Chile vs Brazil did see Militão’s girlfriend try to start a social media spat with the midfielder as she watched the game. It’s never dull with Arturo Vidal, even when he himself keeps his cool.
1. Is Militão-Alaba Ancelotti’s first-choice partnership?
When Ancelotti named all three of Éder Militão, David Alaba and Nacho on the team sheet, it was logical to think that Alaba was going to play left-back and that Militão and Nacho would be the central defensive partnership, as was the case against Alavés and against Levante. But, no. It was Nacho out at left-back this time, with Militão and Alaba the central defensive duo. This was only the Brazilian and Austrian’s second game together in central defence, with the other being in the 1-0 win at Real Betis. Therefore, Real Madrid’s only two clean sheets of the season have come in the only two games where Militão and Alaba was the central defensive duo. It’s true that they weren’t actually very solid in this match at the San Siro, allowing Inter’s forwards to get to so many of the balls into the box. But, it does seem like this is Ancelotti’s first-choice centre-back partnership. He even stated after the game that Alaba will play in the middle, so long as there isn’t an injury crisis in other positions.
2. What is it about Rodrygo and the Champions League?
Rodrygo loves the Champions League. It’s quite incredible how much more frequently he scores in this competition compared to any other. In 675 Champions League minutes, he has six goals for a rate of one every 113 minutes. In 2,194 minutes across all other competitions for Real Madrid, he has four goals for a rate of one every 549 minutes. What is it that makes Rodrygo so much more dangerous in Europe?
3. Can Real Madrid qualify with a round to spare?
With five matchdays to go, it’s still very early. Very early. But, that said, Real Madrid have already taken three points from the most difficult fixture in the group and they’ve seen Shakhtar Donetsk, the third-best team in the group, lose to minnows Sheriff Tiraspol. They are already in an excellent position to advance to the next round. Unlike in previous seasons, your first opponent in a Champions League group is now your last opponent – and not your penultimate opponent, as it was last season and before – so Real Madrid won’t have the rematch vs Inter until the final round of group stage fixtures. Could they already be qualified by then or even guaranteed top spot? Given the results of both fixtures in this group this Wednesday night, that’s a strong possibility.