Another Real Madrid game, another Real Madrid win. Carlo Ancelotti’s side made it the perfect start to Madridistas’ Sundays with a 4-1 win over Real Mallorca, that required the team to come from behind. Fede Valverde, Vinícius, Rodrygo and Antonio Rüdiger got the goals that turned the scoreline around and the first two feature heavily in this weekend’s three answers and three questions.
1. Could Real Madrid overcome their first true low block of the season?
We’re a month into the season already, but this was the first true low block Real Madrid were coming up against. The teams they’d played until now had actually been quite open, whereas Real Mallorca sit deep with a back five in most games, never mind those away at the top teams. Their only goals conceded so far this season had been penalties. So, Javier Aguirre’s team were always going to be a difficult nut to crack. It took a spectacular Fede Valverde solo goal and lovely play from Vinícius and Rodrygo to break through initially, meaning Real Madrid keep their 100 percent record intact.
2. Would Ceballos grasp this opportunity?
With Ancelotti making rotations, Dani Ceballos was given a rare start in the Real Madrid midfield, just his third start overall since his return to the club. So, after waiting for an opportunity like this, would he grasp it? Well, sort of. He didn’t do anything spectacular – even if the stats will technically say he assisted Fede Valverde ahead of the Uruguayan’s spectacular run and strike – but the midfielder did do all the little things well, keeping the ball under pressure, playing tidy passes and putting buckets of sweat into his defensive shift. He finished with 69 of 76 passes completed (91%) and three of four dribbles completed, more than proving he is fit and ready to start these kinds of games.
3. Could Vinícius step up as a leader in the absence of Benzema?
Replacing Benzema in a football sense just isn’t possible. There’s just no tactical substitute and we know that. But, there was also a need to replace Benzema in an emotional and leadership sense. And Vinícius stepped up. As well as his go-ahead goal, here’s three other examples that might have gone under the radar.
One was Vini’s reaction after his long-range shot flashed just wide, shortly before Fede Valverde’s equaliser at the end of the first half. The way the ball bounced back onto the back netting led half the stadium to think it was a goal and to start celebrating. Vinícius loved that. Waving his arms and applauding, he spurred the crowd on, sending the message that Real Madrid could and should equalise before half time. Of course, they did.
Another detail was when Lucas Vázquez went down injured. Sitting out of his position and waiting to be substituted off, the main referee didn’t see this, so Vinícius went to the fourth official to urge him to permit the sub ASAP.
Then, around the 84th minute, he took several tough challenges in a row from the increasingly frustrated opponents, being shoved into the photographers with one of them. He didn’t retaliate directly, instead simply lifting his arms in triumph to the crowd, like a wrestler who thrives on pain. As well as his talent, it’s clear that Vinícius can also be a leader of this team. He’ll wear the Real Madrid captain’s armband one day.
1. Should Fede Valverde actually be one of the first names on the teamsheet?
In the final minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half, Fede Valverde went for a very important Sunday jog. While it’s true that there was a parting of the red-shirted sea, the Uruguayan displayed the best of himself to drive forward with skill and, more importantly, belief, before firing into the top corner. This wasn’t even the first time this week that Fede Valverde’s verticality has been important for Real Madrid, so are we getting to the point where he should actually be one of the first names on the teamsheet? He’s the member of the ‘Gala XI’ whose position is probably the least secure, but what he brings to the team, whether from midfield or from the right wing, is a difference-making attribute.
2. Is Fede Valverde better at right midfield or right wing?
Now, then, that we’re all in agreement about the fact that Fede Valverde 100 percent has to start every match, what is his best position? His more common position these days is the right wing role, but here he was in right midfield. In which position is he better? No matter which position he theoretically starts in, he gets all around the pitch anyway – Exhibit A being the fact that he made his yellow card challenge by the deep left corner flag. If you had to pick, Fede Valverde at right midfield probably gives you more. From there, he gets himself into the right wing area anyway, but he’ll also, naturally, be more involved.
3. Is it time to start worrying about the defence?
Despite the positive result, Real Madrid did concede again. Five weeks into this new league season, the sample size is now large enough for Madridistas to start getting concerned about the fact that Real Madrid don’t yet have a clean sheet. Not since 2003 have they started a league campaign by conceding in their first five fixtures, doing so against Almería, Celta, Espanyol, Real Betis and Real Mallorca, letting in various types of goals too. Here, the defending against Vedat Muriqi for the opening goal of the game was particularly poor, this time from Ferland Mendy, but there have been other holes in Los Blancos’ defence to start the campaign, and Courtois can’t plug them all. For the best goalkeeper in the division to not have a clean sheet yet, when it’s not his fault, is quite ridiculous.