The World Cup may still be going on in Qatar, but Real Madrid have been working hard at Valdebebas since December 1st and played an hour-long friendly match against Leganés this Thursday, which finished 1-1. It was behind closed doors and wasn’t broadcast, but those who were there saw Toni Kroos score from outside the area for Los Blancos. While both clubs shared scarce information about this game, we were able to find out enough to answer three questions and to ask three more.
1. Who would start for Real Madrid?
With any kind of pre-season – or, in this case, mid-season – friendly, what fans want to know the most is the starting line-up and what clues can be drawn from it. For this game, though, the answer to that question was always going to be pretty obvious, given that Carlo Ancelotti only had 11 first-team squad members at his disposal. Using those 11, he put together a makeshift starting XI, which was: Andriy Lunin; Lucas Vázquez, Jesús Vallejo, Nacho, Ferland Mendy; Dani Ceballos, Toni Kroos, David Alaba; Álvaro Odriozola, Karim Benzema, Mariano. Of course, the presence of Benzema is a major talking point, as are the positions of Alaba as a midfielder and Odriozola as a right winger.
2. Would Ancelotti use any Castilla players?
The entire starting line-up was made up of first-team squad members, which makes perfect sense because it’s the first-team squad members who need the minutes. The Castilla players have been playing matches all throughout the World Cup, so didn’t really need to participate in this friendly that was set up for fitness purposes. The fact that it was only an hour long, with two halves of 30 minutes, also meant that most of the limited minutes were naturally going to go to the first-team members. In the second half, Sergio Arribas. Rafa Marín and Carlos Dotor did all come on for Real Madrid, but most of the starting XI played the whole hour.
3. How would Real Madrid fare against an in-form team?
The final score was 1-1, which some Real Madrid fans might view as disappointing given that Leganés are in 12th position in LaLiga SmartBank. However, it must be kept in mind that this was the first match these Real Madrid players have competed in for over a month, whereas Leganés have been playing all through the World Cup and are undefeated in the five league fixtures they’ve played since Real Madrid’s most recent match vs Cádiz. A 1-1 draw given the circumstances of this kind of friendly isn’t actually bad at all, especially considering Mariano also hit the crossbar, meaning this was close to being a victory.
1. Could Benzema have returned to the France squad?
The fact that Karim Benzema played in this game has raised a lot of eyebrows, since he is still officially part of the France World Cup squad. Technically, he would be able to play in the World Cup final on Sunday if Didier Deschamps wanted him to, although it seems quite clear that the French coach doesn’t. But, could Benzema really have returned from injury to play for France in Qatar? Probably not, as a friendly against Leganés is quite different from knockout matches of an international tournament, plus the striker only played the first half of this 1-1 draw, so just 30 minutes. Benzema is in that middle state right now, where he’s no longer injured but where he’s not match sharp yet, certainly not enough for a World Cup final.
2. What do the positions of Alaba and Odriozola mean?
As mentioned above, the two positions that stood out the most were those of the Austrian left-back being deployed in left midfield and the Spanish right-back being used as a right winger. How significant are these positional switches, though? Well, not very. Ancelotti played those players out of position because he only had a limited number of first-team squad members available to him. If it wasn’t Alaba or Odriozola playing out of position, someone else would have had to. Perhaps the most interesting thing from these positions is the fact that it wasn’t Lucas Vázquez as a right winger and Odriozola as right-back. It’s telling that Ancelotti wanted to give Lucas minutes at full-back, even when there was another right-back available and a gap in Lucas’ old position of right wing. That shows that the coach exclusively views Lucas Vázquez as a full-back at this point in time.
3. Was Cristiano Ronaldo watching?
Cristiano Ronaldo was back training at Valdebebas for a second day in a row this Thursday. Having been given permission by his former club to keep up his fitness in the Spanish capital, the forward is making the most of it and spent time on a separate pitch from the current Real Madrid squad members. But, did he walk over to watch this behind-closed-doors game during his time at the facilities? Even sneaking a peek for a few minutes? Chatting with his former colleagues? That’s one question we might never know the answer to.