It was a very frustrating Sunday for Real Madrid as they were held to a 1-1 draw by relegation zone side Girona. After finally breaking the deadlock when Fede Valverde found Vinícius, a controversial handball penalty against Marco Asensio allowed Cristhian Stuani to score for the final scoreline. There is so much to discuss, so here come three pre-match questions that were answered and three post-match questions we now have.
1. Would this game produce as many games as the stats suggested?
Coming into this matchday, these were the top two sides in LaLiga for total goals produced in their matches, in terms of goals for and goals against. Real Madrid led the charts with an average of 3.36 total goals in their league matches so far, while Girona’s games were averaging 3.09. Plus, in nine of Real Madrid’s and nine of Girona’s matches so far this LaLiga Santander season, both teams had scored. So, would we see lots of goals today at the Bernabéu? Well, there were none in the first half as both sides defended well. Girona, when the ball was in play, were as brave and ambitious as usual, but they did play a much different style to normal, even timewasting from the fourth minute onwards. Goals did finally arrive in the second half, with Valverde assisting Vinícius – and not for the first time – before Cristhian Stuani converted a controversial penalty. We could have got closer to the three goals average, but Rodrygo’s late goal was ruled out – and correctly so, as we’ll explain below.
2. How would the completely changed back four do?
For this match, Carlo Ancelotti completely changed his back four compared to the RB Leipzig game on Tuesday night. Dani Carvajal, David Alaba and Ferland Mendy all started after they’d been on the bench in Germany, while Antonio Rüdiger was a change too, as he was deployed at centre-back from minute one this time instead of at left-back. So, really this was a complete change of the back four, and they were going up against a Girona team that, as the above numbers show, do attack well. And this back four did fairly well. There were a few moments when Girona’s pace caught them out in transition, but Real Madrid were one controversial handball call away from collecting a rare league clean sheet.
3. How would Miguel Gutiérrez and Reinier do against Real Madrid?
While Nico González couldn’t face Barcelona on Saturday night since the Blaugrana had put a “fear clause” into his Valencia contract, Real Madrid were going up against two of their own here, in Miguel Gutiérrez and Reinier. The former is a full Girona player as he joined on a permanent transfer, but there is a buy-back clause and Ancelotti has confirmed that Real Madrid are monitoring him. Then, Reinier is at the Catalan club on a normal loan deal. So, how would they do at the Bernabéu? Well, only Miguel started, doing so as part of a back four on this occasion and not the back five Girona sometimes deploy. He had the unenviable task of going up against Fede Valverde, but did a good job defensively, positioning himself well and matching the Uruguayan for pace and power. It was tough, though, for Miguel to get forward. He showed a few nice touches but little more and, on the few occasions he did have the ball in the final third, his crossing wasn’t as good as usual. He only lasted to the 63rd minute when he had to go off injured, but that was still much more playing time than Reinier got. The Brazilian only came on with 15 minutes to go and only had seven touches and not much time to show what he can do in attack.
1. Why was Rodrygo’s goal disallowed?
Real Madrid thought they’d retaken the lead late on through Rodrygo, but that goal was ruled out because Girona goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga was deemed to have possession. Many will have thought he didn’t have enough control of the ball to be “in possession” of it, but the rules of the game state: “A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball with the hand(s) when the ball is between the hands or between the hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body)”. And, Girona would have been furious had it been given because they had a late equaliser ruled out just 10 days ago vs Almería from a situation that was about as similar as could be. So, the Rodrygo goal was correctly disallowed. The handball penalty, however… You see these given all the time in modern football, but the handball law needs a shake up.
2. Is it time for Benzema to get off the sofa?
It would have been useful for Real Madrid to have Karim Benzema for this game, wouldn’t it? And, it’s important to keep in mind that Benzema didn’t miss this game because he is injured. That was made quite clear by Ancelotti in his pre-match press conference: “He trained, but didn’t feel comfortable. We did tests and it all went well. He doesn’t have a problem, but we need to keep in mind the player’s feeling. He still doesn’t feel 100 percent.” So, Benzema sat this Girona game out because he himself decided to miss it. Whatever the real reason, there are many fans and journalists who believe he has taken Ancelotti’s advice a little too literally, after the Italian said “any player scared of picking up an injury should stay on the sofa and watch a movie”. After missing Russia 2018, the striker is determined to go to the World Cup and that’s understandable. But, Real Madrid still have important matches before then. So, will Benzema get off the sofa and feel “comfortable” enough to play again for his club before packing his bags for Qatar? Celtic in the Champions League isn’t too important a game, so he’ll likely miss that, but if there is no injury issue then he should play against Rayo Vallecano and Cádiz next week. Real Madrid need him.
3. Is Rüdiger Real Madrid’s superhero?
Let’s end on a positive note. Ahead of this game, Real Madrid held a joint promotion with Marvel and then, during the game, Antonio Rüdiger was the team’s superhero on a couple of occasions in the first half. In the second half, in the 67th minute, he also delighted the Bernabéu with a comically effective recovery sprint, one which I’m sure is already a meme. The fans love everything they see from Rüdiger. From his smashed face goal against Shakhtar to his efforts here, he has been exactly the kind of player who becomes a fan favourite. Even when Girona scored their penalty, he – along with Vinícius – were the two players most enthusiastically lifting the crowd up. Even if Rüdiger’s Real Madrid career isn’t the longest, he could go down in Bernabéu folklore.