For the first time in 2022/23, Real Madrid have lost a league game. The first defeat of the campaign came away at Rayo Vallecano, where the defending champions lost 3-2, and we have so much to discuss. Here, then, come three questions we had before the game and three new ones we have after this loss.
1. Would Real Madrid match Rayo Vallecano’s intensity?
For Real Madrid, a Monday night game at Vallecas is far from being the most important of the season. But, it is Rayo Vallecano’s biggest match of the year. Going into this one, it was clear that one squad was more excited about this fixture than the other. So, would Real Madrid be able to match the intensity, motivation and effort of the home side? Well, no. Not even close. And, in the view of Carlo Ancelotti, this is essentially why Real Madrid lost this game. As he put it in the post-match press conference: “I think it’s quite easy to analyse. We lacked the punch that the opponents had. Our level in that sense was lower and, when that happens, you can’t just rely on your talent.”
2. Would the five days off make for fresh legs?
You hear a lot of coaches talk about playing “every three days”. What that really means is that the team has two fixtures per week, but sometimes the rest time is actually a lot more than three days. With this match, Real Madrid went into it a full five days since they took on Celtic. So, would that produce fresher legs? Well, no. It really didn’t seem like it. Fatigue is, of course, about accumulation of minutes as much as it’s about how much rest you’ve had since the very last game, but it was disappointing to see Real Madrid look so tired after having had a full five days off.
3. How much would Real Madrid miss Toni Kroos?
As well as failing to match Rayo Vallecano’s fitness, effort and intensity, there were tactical issues too. Real Madrid really struggled to play the ball out here, which makes sense since Rayo’s press is really good and since it’s a much smaller pitch, a full 440 square metres smaller than the Bernabéu. So, if we were wondering before the match how much Los Blancos would miss Toni Kroos, well, they missed him a lot. This was exactly the kind of match where you need Kroos’ press-resistant passing out from the back.
1. Is that two games in a row now where Asensio has been Real Madrid’s MVP?
Marco Asensio was arguably Real Madrid’s best player in the 5-1 win over Celtic and he probably was the team’s best performer again here. He won the penalty with which Real Madrid got back in the game and then played in the corner that Éder Militão turned in for the temporarily lead. The Spaniard then almost created another equaliser in the final stages with a brilliant curling cross, which Rodrygo skied over the bar. It’s two matches in a row now where Asensio has been Real Madrid’s best player and you wouldn’t have expected that just a few weeks ago.
2. What to make of the distance covered stat?
There was a stat going around after the game that this was the least distance Real Madrid had covered in a game all season. That sparked a lot of criticism and anger at the players’ lack of effort. However, as much as this was far from Real Madrid’s best effort, one important thing to keep in mind is that, as mentioned above, this was the smallest-sized pitch they’ve played on this season. So, of course they covered less distance because there was less distance to cover. So, do take that stat with a pinch of salt.
3. When can Real Madrid recover top spot?
With this defeat, Barcelona are now top of LaLiga Santander on 34 points, while Real Madrid have 32. There is just one more round before the break for the World Cup and that round starts already this Tuesday, when Barça visit Osasuna. If they win that game then they will definitely be top of the table during the entire World Cup. But, if Barça fail to win then Los Blancos can recover first place with victory over Cádiz. Otherwise, the next chance to shake up the league table won’t come until the first round after the World Cup, which will be held on the dates around New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.