Real Madrid suffered a defeat on Tuesday night, but it didn’t feel like it. Given that they went 2-0 down so early against Manchester City, it could have been much worse than the 4-3 final score, which very much keeps Los Blancos alive for the second leg, one that will once again be held at the Bernabéu. There’s so much still to play for and so much to discuss, so we take a look at three pre-first-leg questions that have been answered and three new questions that have been generated.
1. With Casemiro out, what would the midfield look like?
Real Madrid maintained up until kick-off that there was a chance Casemiro might play this game, but his injury ultimately ruled him out. So, it was the age-old question. How do you replace Casemiro? Even when the line-up was announced and we knew the midfield would be Fede Valverde, Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić, you still couldn’t be 100 percent sure that it would be Kroos in the No.6 role until you saw it. Even then, how would it look? Well, it wasn’t great when out of possession, which was most of this game. Kroos offered next to no support to the back line in that sense. But, when Real Madrid did have the ball, he was at least able to help the back four play some good forward passes. In the second half, the German played better and he can now hand the baton back to Casemiro for the second leg, with the tie still alive.
2. Were Alaba and Mendy 100 percent fit?
Unlike Casemiro, in the cases of David Alaba and Ferland Mendy they were deemed fit enough to start the game. But, were they 100 percent fit? With Alaba, clearly not. He was uncharacteristically turned for the Gabriel Jesus goal, before he had to come off. As for Mendy, he provided an exquisite assist – that all those who think he offers nothing in attack should take note of – to help Real Madrid get back in this game and tie, but he clearly wasn’t 100 percent either. Perhaps he hid it better, but he hardly sprinted. Surely he’ll be feeling closer to 100 percent by the second leg.
3. Would Benzema take a penalty?
After missing two back-to-back penalties in the last game against Osasuna, some started to question whether Karim Benzema should still be Real Madrid’s principal penalty taker. So, what if there was a crucial spot kick in this tie? Would he be the man to take it? Well, Ancelotti already suggested he would be and there was no hesitation on Benzema’s part when the referee pointed to the spot after the Laporte handball. What Ancelotti didn’t expect, though, pointing this out in his post-match press conference, was that Benzema would execute a Panenka. In hindsight, it made sense. Sergio Herrera won the penalty battle last week by making Benzema pick left over right and, here, Ederson was jumping around so much that it was clear he was diving to one side or the other. Benzema, cool as ice, realised this in real time and put it down the middle. 4-3 and he is now the outright top scorer of this Champions League season.
1. How was this 4-3?
There are so many nuances to this tie, but the primary question we all have after this first leg is a general and prominent one. How was this 4-3? Had Manchester City capitalised on their chances, this tie could have been virtually over before Real Madrid even thought about activating their in-built comeback setting. The xG was 2.8 for City and 0.7 (plus the penalty) for Real Madrid, but, as is so often the case with such stats, that doesn’t even tell half the story, as so many of Manchester City’s clear chances were crosses into the box that missed their targets by mere millimetres, which doesn’t show up on the xG. Pep Guardiola knows that his side let Real Madrid off the hook here.
2. Will João Cancelo or Kyle Walker stop Vinícius?
One of the big changes we know will come in the second leg is that João Cancelo and Kyle Walker will return for Manchester City. No matter which of the pair plays at right-back, that should immediately lessen Vinícius’ impact. For the Brazilian to play against a not-fully-fit John Stones and a 36-year-old Fernandinho was almost unfair, as if Vinícius had selected Amateur mode on FIFA. That wasn’t his fault, though, and he very much capitalised on this for his sublime goal, but it won’t be so easy in the second leg.
3. What to do against Espanyol?
Manchester City made just two substitutions in this game, one being Fernandinho for Stones due to injury and the other seeing Raheem Sterling coming on in the 83rd minute for Gabriel Jesus. Why so few? Well, because Manchester City are also involved in such a tight domestic title race that Guardiola probably had one eye on the weekend. In the case of Real Madrid, they don’t have that problem, as the title race is over. But, they do have a the problem of being able to win it at home this weekend. Why is that a problem? Well, because there is a certain obligation to play a strong enough line-up against Espanyol on Saturday to ensure Real Madrid put on a show and celebrate the clinching of the title in style in front of their home fans. The realists might consider this foolish, but the sentimentalists – which includes Ancelotti – will know that Real Madrid haven’t mathematically sealed a league championship in the Bernabéu since 2007 and that such a party is overdue. The problem is if that creates a hangover for the second leg of this tie.