Real Madrid started the defence of their LaLiga Santander title with a 2-1 victory on the road at newly promoted Almería, but it wasn’t easy. They fell behind to a first-half strike from Largie Ramazani, but managed to fight back in the second half thanks to goals from Lucas Vázquez and David Alaba, who curled in a freekick with his first touch after coming on.
Euan McTear was at the magnificently named Power Horse Stadium for Managing Madrid, and these are his talking points from the game, looking at three pre-match questions that were answered and three new questions to come out of this performance.
1. Would Ancelotti start yet another league campaign with a win?
This time last year, Real Madrid earned a commanding 4-1 victory away at Alavés to launch what turned out to be a triumphant league campaign. For Carlo Ancelotti, that was the 20th time and the ninth in a row that he had won his opening league game of the season, from 26 attempts. In those 26 years of coaching, he’d only drawn five and lost one of his season openers. It looked here like it could be a rare Matchday 1 defeat for the Italian, but they turned it around in the second half thanks to Lucas Vázquez’s alertness and David Alba’s incredible first touch freekick. It’s now 10 seasons in a row in which the Italian has won in the opening round.
2. How would Real Madrid break down Almería’s wall of centre-backs?
Almería played a back three with deep wing-backs, but really it was four centre-backs on the pitch for the home side. In addition to Kaiky, Rodrigo Ely and Srdjan Babic in the middle, it was Chumi, a natural centre-back and La Masia graduate, who played right-wing-back. Add to that the fact that Almería’s midfielders were of a very defensive profile, and this was going to be a tough wall for Real Madrid to break down. Once Los Blancos fell behind, that task became even harder and Almería gave their opponents so little space, blocking as many as 10 shots in the 90 minutes. Ultimately, the breakthrough finally came from knock, knock, knocking until Lucas Vázquez could find the narrowest of cracks to slot the ball through and into the net. Add in a moment of Alaba brilliance and that’s three points.
3. How would Tchouaméni do as the No.6?
There were four changes to the starting line-up, but the one that interested me the most was Aurélien Tchouaméni coming in to play the Casemiro role. It’s interesting that Casemiro was dropped when he had just won the MVP award for the UEFA Super Cup, but that just shows how much Ancelotti wants to use Tchouaméni and how he plans to use him, at least for now, as the midfield anchor. Sitting in the press box, I watched Tchouaméni a lot during his hour on the pitch, especially when he was away from the play. His body language constantly oozed confidence and he could be seen communicating and orchestrating those around him. But, he was very isolated, with both Nacho and Antonio Rüdiger sitting very deep behind him. Obviously, there’s room for improvement. But, that was always going to be the case.
1. Who would you say is more urgent out of Camavinga and Modrić?
A half-time change was needed and Ancelotti went for a substitution of Camavinga for Luka Modrić. That made Real Madrid more urgent, which is kind of strange to say considering that Camavinga plays with so much urgency. But, while Modrić may not have the pace or vertical dribbling of the Frenchman, he is always hustling and harrying and getting play started quickly. He sprints to get corners and throw-ins taken quickly, the kind of game management that Camavinga maybe lacks at this stage in his young career. The Croatian’s experience and game management is priceless, as he knows what to do in every situation. Even with the Alaba freekick, Modrić went looking for that foul, aware of what a good position he was in, and he got it. These are all tricks of the trade that come from spending almost 37 years on this football-loving planet.
2. Is Kaiky one to watch for the future?
One of the Almería centre-backs mentioned above was Kaiky, the 18-year-old who the newly promoted club signed this summer from Santos for €7m. He had a particularly good game, making good challenges and also passing out from the back well. The up-and-coming defender had been linked with Real Madrid in the past, while Barcelona even had a right of first refusal on him. Now, he is at Almería and expected to have a good season. Going by the way he dealt with Vinícius, putting up a good fight against his fellow countryman, Kaiky can handle the very best in the business and his value could multiply. Might Real Madrid be interested in him again in the future? Don’t rule it out. And, in the meantime, enjoy watching his progress.
3. Is the asymmetry of this team a positive or a negative?
The performances from the full-back positions were very interesting in this game. On one side, Ferland Mendy just wasn’t able to do anything to help Vinícius in attack. On the other, Lucas Vázquez consistently got forward and had the ball in the net twice, once offside and then with the equaliser. Assuming Lucas starts a lot of games this season – and, with Dani Carvajal already injured, that’s a logical assumption – we’ll see a very asymmetrical output from the two full-back positions. Then, there is asymmetry in the attack too, mostly because of the kind of game-changing threat that Vinícius is on the left. This was also the case for a lot of last season too, while it explains a lot of the good and the bad of tonight’s performance. So, do the positives of the asymmetry in Real Madrid’s shape outweigh the negatives?