These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.
It’s still somewhat surreal that Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt hadn’t played each other since one of the most famous and important games in football history in 1960, where Real Madrid — despite everyone in Spain already knowing about the team’s transcendent nature — put on a show for the world to see, in what was in many ways the club’s coming out party to the rest of the world.
Not much has changed since then in terms of narratives. The mainstream media still overlooks Real Madrid, just like it 60 years ago. And not much changes from within, either. On Wednesday night, Real Madrid won, almost casually, the UEFA Super Cup over Eintracht Frankfurt. As the final whistle blew, Karim Benzema remained stoic and unfazed by it all. Business as usual — just as it was after Real Madrid won their 14th Champions League title a mere three months ago, when Luka Modric was found talking about the 15th in the locker-room moments after hoisting the trophy.
To be sure, the win over Frankfurt wasn’t a huge reason to celebrate. Most would label it as pre-season game, a tiny plate of tapas to the main course that will soon arrive. But as Real Madrid get ready to face Almeria on the opening matchday of the season, it’s worth noting that some truly mesmerizing things happened, even if subtle, that seemed par the course, or at least nice to see again after a brief hiatus.
Real Madrid have gears they can click into in games such as the one on Wednesday night, and it’s nice to see the key cogs in the team shift seamlessly back into motion. Toni Kroos rolled out of bed and put in a classic Toni Kroos performance: A game-high in touches, an absurd (yet routine) 12 of 14 long balls completed, a masterful possession game, and terrific defensive interventions all around.
And then there was Karim Benzema, who, at the age of 34, is at the peak of his powers, and I’m not sure we’re truly grasping how special it is for us to watch him play right now. He is an artist, on and off the ball. Some call him a false nine, I’d almost call him a 10. Half of his sequences against Frankfurt were of the stuff Zinedine Zidane got out of Isco in the diamond role some five-to-six years ago. Watching Benzema off the ball is a lesson in itself. He never stops moving, and his entire goal is to provide an outlet wherever needed for the midfielders to hit progressive balls into. When he’s not doing that, he’s gracefully cushioning down difficult balls — while tightly marked in the box — with a deft first touch before holding the ball until the arrival of Vinicius Jr.
Another standout was Fede Valverde, who continues to play in a role that’s secondary to him, but one that he excels in none-the-less. His ball-carrying on the right wing carried Real Madrid’s ball progression on several sequences during the initial 25 minutes of labour, and his cut-back into the box from the wing has become something the team can rely on regularly now. Fede also defends the flank, and now seemingly averages a 40-yard cross-bar rattler every 90 minutes.
I would argue that Real Madrid’s two new signings — Aurelien Tchouameni, Antonio Rudiger — not only strengthen the team due to their own quality, but also because of the fire it lights in two already existing players: Casemiro, Eder Militao. The latter two Brazilians played with a bounce defensively that was impossible to miss. Between them, they combined for 11 tackles (Casemiro with an absurd nine of them), five interceptions, and six clearances. They bodied every Frankfurt player in sight, got to every loose ball, and mopped up several of Frankfurt’s attacks just as the Germans thought they’d exploited the space between Real’s lines.
After the game, Ancelotti said Casemiro was the best player on the field. He also said: “This year, yes. We’re going to rotate a bit more.”
How could you not? Last year, Militao and Casemiro (among many others) both had depleted themselves with heavy minutes and trips to South America. The five players who came in off the bench last night: Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga, Dani Ceballos, Rodrygo Goes, Rudiger — will all play important roles that ensures healthy competition, increased drive, and adequate rest to sustain what will be yet another gruelling season.
While I do expect Barcelona to better than last season, I expect the same of Real Madrid. Make no mistake, Ancelotti’s men are well equipped to win the double again this season.