Real Madrid needed a couple of late Karim Benzema goals to get the job done against Espanyol, but that’s exactly what the Frenchman provided to make it a 3-1 win and a fourth victory out of four so far this season. This performance answered several pre-match questions and also threw up some new ones, so let’s take a look at the three answers and three questions from this win in Catalonia.
1. Rodrygo or Fede Valverde?
With Rodrygo back from injury, the selection decision that I was most interested in ahead of this game was who Ancelotti would opt for at right wing. He was even asked about this in his pre-match press conference and his answer suggested that Valverde might retain his spot, since he is “interpreting that position well”. And, sure enough, the Uruguayan started and did well, playing an important role in the beautiful opener and also putting in the kind of shift he always does. There was a moment in the first half when Valverde marshalled the ball out for a goal kick at the left-back spot, the opposite side of the pitch from what should be his position, and he looked like a man possessed. He is not going to be demoted to the bench quietly.
2. Which centre-backs would play this one?
Given that Real Madrid now have three starting calibre centre-backs, it’s never clear who’s going to be chosen for any particular game. It turned out for this one that all three would start, with David Alaba doing so at left-back while Éder Militão and Antonio Rüdiger did so in the middle. It wasn’t Militão’s best game, as he was made to look silly at the Joselu goal, but he seems to be the one of the three who has his place in the middle most secure. Perhaps it’s because of his young age and future, but the Brazilian does need to try to cut out the mistakes and soon.
3. How would Tchouaméni do?
This, let’s face it, is going to be one of the main questions ahead of every Real Madrid game for the next while. After some ups and downs with his performances so far, Tchouaméni started again and this time he really gave the fans something to be excited about. His pass for the Vinícius goal was as good an assist as has been produced in a Real Madrid shirt and it showed that he is going to play the No.6 role in a way that still allows him to be involved in the attacking third. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
1. Will Camavinga and Rodrygo stay content with being impact subs?
Just like during last year’s Champions League run, Eduardo Camavinga and Rodrygo came off the bench to make the difference. As Carlo Ancelotti laid out in his post-match press conference, their presence meant Real Madrid had more energy on the pitch at the end. The Camavinga and Rodrygo double sub is so effective, but for how long will those two youngsters stay content with this role? Even though they’re both so professional, they’ll surely want to start more often, even if they both seem to be most effective off the bench. So, how does Ancelotti manage that?
2. Will the first home game be all that different?
Because of the ongoing work at the Bernabéu, Real Madrid’s request to play the first three matches of this season on the road was accepted. Despite the potential for this to be an early season sporting disadvantage, they’ve won all three and now have their first home fixture next weekend when they host Real Betis. That’s a very impressive achievement, to take nine points out of nine away from their home ground. That said, there will be much tougher away days than Almería, Celta Vigo and Espanyol, three away venues where either the city or the club has a strong Real Madrid following. That was clear to see when Benzema scored his two late goals at the RCDE Stadium, which almost looked like the Bernabéu given how many Madridistas there were present. That support was welcome for this game, but there will be much more hostile atmospheres to come this season, such as in Seville, Valencia or across the north.
3. Benzema or Lewandowski to win the Pichichi?
Benzema will soon be presented with the Pichichi trophy that he won last season, the first time in his career that he’d finished top of the LaLiga Santander scoring charts. He won it with 27 goals, nine more than his closest rival. This year, though, the challenge is going to be much tougher. Before Benzema scored his two goals against Espanyol, Robert Lewandowski netted two of his own just five kilometres down the road at the Camp Nou. The Pole and Borja Iglesias currently lead the charts with four goals each, while Benzema is up there with three. This is going to be a fascinating individual battle this season, as the two 34-year-olds rack up the goals.