Real Madrid head off into the World Cup break on the back of a victory, with goals from Éder Militão and Toni Kroos earning a 2-1 win over Cádiz. It certainly wasn’t easy against a very physical and aggressive Cádiz team, but the champions’ and Toni Kroos’ quality shone through in the end. Looking back on this win, we can analyse three pre-match questions that were answered and three more questions we have now as we enter this strange seven-week break from club football.
1. Could Real Madrid exploit Cádiz’s central defensive weakness?
On paper, this was the perfect fixture for Real Madrid to get back on track and finish this part of the season on a high. The Andalusians had improved in recent weeks and they did draw both games with Los Blancos last season, but it’s still Cádiz and it was a Cádiz side with a major weakness in central defence, due to the suspension of Luis Hernández and injuries of Víctor Chust and Momo Mbaye. That meant Juan Cala had to make his first start of the season and Fali made just his fifth start at centre-back. But, Real Madrid played very wide in this game, rather than trying to drive straight at the makeshift central defence. Real Madrid’s only first-half touch between the goal and the D of the penalty area was was Militão’s headed goal, which came at a set piece. They didn’t exploit this weakness as you might have expected.
2. Would Marco Asensio keep his place?
Ahead of this game, Carlo Ancelotti stated that Marco Asensio had been Real Madrid’s best player in the last few matches, specifically the matches against Celtic and Rayo Vallecano, so surely he’d keep his spot in the starting XI? Or maybe not, since Kroos’ return had the potential to push Fede Valverde up into the front line. And that’s how it was, with Asensio dropped to accommodate a front three of Valverde, Rodrygo and Vinícius. I don’t think anyone would claim that this wasn’t the best possible front three in the absence of Benzema, as that trio had done so well in the Frenchman’s absence so far. But, it did feel a little harsh on Asensio, considering the urgency and skill he’d displayed in the previous outings. Even harsher was the fact that he wasn’t even substituted on.
3. How would Mendy respond to his World Cup snub?
Last night was tough for Ferland Mendy, as he was left out of Didier Deschamps’ France squad. Even though this was always a possibility, especially since he didn’t play a single minute of qualification, that was still surely a blow for the 27-year-old, as this may end up being his best chance to go to the biggest tournament in international football. So, how would Mendy approach this game? Well, the left-back was ambitious early on as he embarked on a couple of his renowned adventures forward. Then, he was solid at the back, putting his body on the line and keeping his cool as he dealt with the especially aggressive Iván Alejo. He even produced a lovely turn midway through the second half to get out of trouble. It’s a blow for Mendy to have been left out of the World Cup, but he can enjoy his seven-week break feeling proud of his 2022.
1. How can Vinícius break the provoke-provoked cycle that he’s locked in?
The World Cup comes at a good time for Vinícius, because he is starting to face a big problem in LaLiga games. He is stuck in a provoke-provoked cycle that he cannot get out of. The cycle goes like this: defenders are targeting Vinícius violently and deliberately, they’re doing so with the aim of provoking him, and they’re succeeding because Vinícius is either lashing out, risking a yellow or red card, or he becomes disconnected from the game. So that is only going to lead to more provocation from opposition defenders and Vinícius is only going to keep getting frustrated and flustered. If referees start booking opposition players then that could help stop the cycle, but they aren’t doing that. Iván Alejo, for example, should absolutely have been booked in minute one for a what can be described as a Kobe-on-Pau-2008-Olympics-esque deliberate body charge. Since he wasn’t booked until minute 55, after five fouls, Alejo was able to hammer Vinícius a few more times. Still, it wasn’t only Alejo charged with targeting Vini and that’s the problem. Opponents can rotate who lands the blows on the Brazilian. The only other way the cycle can be broken is if Vinícius stops taking the bait and reacting. That is so much easier said than done, but several other dribblers with an X on their back have managed to do that over the years, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi. It’s a difficult cycle to break. Maybe the World Cup pause will help with that.
2. Is Toni Kroos Real Madrid’s MVP so far this season?
It’s not quite the mid-way point of the season, but the upcoming break does make this a time of reflection. So, who has been Real Madrid’s MVP so far this season? The best three players of 2021/22 were Thibaut Courtois, Karim Benzema and Vinícius, but one has conceded too many goals so far this term, one has played too little and the other has faded after a bright start to 2022/23. So, is Toni Kroos the MVP of this first stretch of Real Madrid’s season? This week we saw what the team looks like without him, when he was suspended for the disaster in Vallecas, and then what the team looks like with him, as he assisted Militão’s opener and blasted in a superb volley in this win over Cádiz. So yes, I think Toni Kroos has been Real Madrid’s best performer so far this campaign, with Fede Valverde a close second.
3. When is Real Madrid’s next game?
It feels strange writing this at the Bernabéu, knowing that I won’t be back in this seat for several weeks. Usually that feeling comes in summer, but the thermometer will tell you that tonight definitely wasn’t summer. The reason, of course, is that Real Madrid now have a month and a half off because of the World Cup pause. So, when exactly do Los Blancos return to action? Well, we don’t actually know the exact date yet, because the kick-off time hasn’t yet been confirmed by LaLiga, but they’ll next face Real Valladolid away in Matchday 15 on New Year’s weekend. So, that trip to Valladolid will probably be on Saturday December 31st or Sunday January 1st. We may not have any Real Madrid first-team fixtures until then, but rest assured that Managing Madrid will remain packed with content on the other teams and on the progress of the Madridistas who’ll be in Qatar.