Real Madrid have pulled nine points clear at the top of the LaLiga Santander table, at least temporarily, thanks to a 1-0 victory as Los Blancos made the short trip to take on Rayo Vallecano. Carlo Ancelotti doesn’t think there are any negatives, but there definitely are a number of questions to discuss. So, here come three pre-match questions we had, plus three new post-match ones.
1. Would we suddenly see Real Madrid become a pressing team?
Over the past couple of weeks, Ancelotti has floated the idea of Real Madrid gradually abandoning the low block and becoming a pressing team. That’s much easier said than done when you’re in the middle of a season, but if there is a time to try implementing new tactics then it’s when you have a free midweek. Real Madrid had enjoyed a full seven days off since the Alavés win, so perhaps they had worked on this on the training ground and perhaps they were going to press in this game. Perhaps… The reality was that Real Madrid pressed on occasion, as every now and then they’d chase down some defenders, but it just didn’t work. It was too rare and too unpredictable, even for the rest of the Real Madrid players. It’s really not easy to successfully add pressing to a team’s game halfway through the season. It’ll be a miracle if they perfect this over the final months of this campaign.
2. How would the pitch hold up?
This was Real Madrid’s first match at the Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas since April of 2019, so it was nice to see them return to what is one of the most charismatic football venues in all of Spain. But, at the same time, this is not a stadium in good condition. Never mind the fact that, in the stands, the seats are broken and there are only Porta-Pottys instead of real toilets, even the pitch itself is in a sorry state. With Friday and Saturday having brought Madrid’s first rain in 50 days, this was a potential problem for the turf and so it proved. After the game, Thibaut Courtois even complained about it, saying: “Obviously different clubs have different budgets, but this surely isn’t a good look.”
3. Would Luca Zidane be chosen to face his former club for the first time?
The Rayo Vallecano team sheet was going to be interesting for a number of reasons, not least because Luca Zidane had a chance to start. Although Stole Dimitrievski has been Rayo’s starting goalkeeper for most of the season, it hasn’t been a lock and Luca Zidane had been the one impressing in recent weeks. So, would he get the chance to play against Real Madrid for the first time ever? Yes, yes he did. The 23-year-old goalkeeper was able to take on his former teammates and the club where his father was a legend, and Luca Zidane performed excellently, making some very good saves from Marco Asensio and Karim Benzema. He proved that he belongs at the top level and silenced all those who claimed back in the day that he was only given an opportunity because of his father.
1. Which of the three reasons saw Casemiro’s goal ruled out?
Casemiro had a poor outing and, as Ancelotti explained afterwards, he was substituted off before he could be sent off. The Brazilian did have a disallowed goal in the first half, however it could have been chalked off for offside, handball and a foul. Casemiro offered the referee and VAR a hat-trick of disallowable reasons, with the officiating crew deciding to keep it simple and to go for the offside as the official reason why his 39th minute strike didn’t stand.
2. Will it be Valverde-Kroos-Modrić against PSG?
It was Fede Valverde who came on when Casemiro was taken off in the 61st minute, with Toni Kroos slotting into the Case role and Valverde playing as an interior. This tactical change made a difference for Real Madrid as Valverde brought energy and verticality, as he always does. After the match, Ancelotti was asked if Valverde-Kroos-Modrić could be the midfield trio for the PSG second leg, when Casemiro is suspended, and the coach admitted that this is the most likely combination. We still have to wait to see, but that’s reassuring, as many worried that Ancelotti would be tempted to try a like-for-like Casemiro-for-Camavinga swap and play Modrić-Camavinga-Kroos. The Valverde-Kroos-Modrić option sounds better.
3. Will Lunin be available for the next matches?
When it was announced in the hours before the game that Andriy Lunin was no longer in the matchday squad, most assumed that this was related to the conflict in the backup goalkeeper’s native country of Ukraine. To have to focus on football in those circumstances must be near impossible and it was understandable for Lunin to miss out for that reason. But, in actual fact, it was because of an elbow injury that Lunin didn’t make the bench. Still, it’s not clear if he’ll be able to make the bench in the coming matches, given what is taking place in Ukraine, where Lunin still has many family members. Even if the reason for this Saturday’s absence was injury, the young goalkeeper may need and deserve some time away from the pitch.