Real Madrid have taken another step towards mathematically sealing the 2021/22 LaLiga Santander title, having gone away to Osasuna and having earned a 3-1 win. Goals from David Alaba, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vázquez proved to be enough, even with Karim Benzema seeing two penalties saved by Sergio Herrera. With that match now over and with Real Madrid now enjoying a six-day rest before Manchester City, here comes a look at three pre-match questions we had and three new ones to think about over the coming days.
1. Why was Benzema starting?
When the line-ups were released, many on social media were asking the same question. Why is Ancelotti starting Benzema in an almost meaningless match when the next one is against Manchester City? Well, it’s quite simple. The City first leg isn’t until next Tuesday and Real Madrid don’t have a fixture this weekend because of the Copa del Rey final. Of course there’s always a risk of injury, but playing the striker tonight wasn’t going to make him at all fatigued for the game at the Etihad. If anything, not playing Benzema might have been more problematic, as then he’d be going into the City first leg without having kicked a ball in earnest for nine days. As Ancelotti explained: “When a player is in a good rhythm and doing well, and isn’t tired or overworked, they don’t need to rest.” Forgetting the fact that Benzema went on to miss two penalties, Ancelotti’s logic in starting him was completely sound. With the Frenchman is such a good run of form, you don’t want to bring that momentum to a complete halt.
2. Could Rodrygo make the most of his opportunity on the left?
For just the third time this season, Rodrygo was able to start in his preferred position on the left wing, since Vinícius was being given a rest. The younger Brazilian had only been able to start on the left side of attack on two previous occasions this season – the 1-0 loss at Getafe and 1-0 win at home to Granada – and neither performance was particularly memorable. Here, though, Rodrygo grasped his opportunity and caused Osasuna all kinds of problems, provoking both of the penalties. It might be a while until another opportunity on the left presents itself to Rodrygo, but, given his performances in the past couple of weeks, Rodrygo might get to start on the right against Manchester City. He’s certainly giving Ancelotti a decision to make.
3. Could Camavinga stay out the referee’s notebook?
With Casemiro now out injured, after missing the previous game through suspension, this presented Eduardo Camavinga with another chance to impress in the centre of the pitch. After his one – and a half – yellow cards in the first half at Sevilla saw him hooked at half time, you wondered whether Camavinga could keep his cool here and complete the full 90 minutes, something he had only done in five of his 12 starts so far this season. But, he was shown another yellow after just five minutes at El Sadar, even though he really shouldn’t have been. It’s almost as if his reputation is preceding him at this point, which is a concern. Despite that unfair booking, he kept his composure and played really well, lasting until the 73rd minute, when he was substituted off. In Ancelotti’s view, the booking almost helped the teenager, as it “changed his attitude and made him focus more”.
1. How serious is Alaba’s injury?
Despite the positive result and the fact that the title is even closer, there was one negative from this game and it was a big one. At the end of the first half, David Alaba went down with an adductor injury in his right leg. With the Manchester City first leg just six days away, that is a major concern. He’ll obviously go for tests when back in Madrid, but this is a headache for Ancelotti, even if the coach played down the extent of the injury after the game.
2. Why was the game halted in the 79th minute?
In the 79th minute of the game, play was halted for a few minutes by referee Ricardo de Burgos Bengoetxea. Why? What happened? The reason was that an object had been thrown from the stands just behind Thibaut Courtois’ goal, which is one of the few stands in all of Spain with a standing section, in the direction of the goalkeeper. De Burgos Bengoetxea, who was the referee when the Betis vs Sevilla Copa del Rey derby had to be suspended because of an object thrown at Joan Jordán, clearly didn’t want a repeat of those scenes and ordered for an announcement to be made on the sound system. It halted play for a few minutes, but prevented the situation from escalating. Well handled by De Burgos Bengoetxea.
3. Will Real Madrid change penalty taker?
Benzema had both of his penalties saved by Sergio Herrera, who clearly won that battle by convincing the Frenchman to fire his second spot kick to the same spot with some clever mind games. The double miss means Benzema has made some unwanted history, as he became the first player since Raúl Tamudo in 2005/06 to miss two penalties in the same LaLiga match and he became the first player since Fernando Torres in 2006/07 to miss four penalties across a LaLiga season, having only scored seven out of 11. So, is it time for a change of penalty taker? Not in Ancelotti’s mind. Asked that in the post-match press conference, the coach shut the suggestion down and said: “If we’d had another penalty, he’d have taken it. When we have our next one, he’ll take it.”