It was a shaky start for Real Madrid away at Celtic, but Los Blancos ultimately held firm and scored three second-half goals to win 3-0, with Vinícius, Luka Modrić and Eden Hazard getting on the scoresheet. Hazard was only on the pitch because of an injury to Karim Benzema, so we have many things to discuss beyond what happened between the white lines tonight. So, here come the three questions that were answered and the three questions that now need answering.
1. Would Real Madrid be ready for Celtic’s intensity?
Anyone who has seen Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic knows that they play with tempo and intensity. Even a team that knows this so well, like Rangers, were thrashed 4-0 by them on Saturday. So, would Real Madrid be ready? Ancelotti is not the kind of manager who spends much time poring over opposition film, so there was the chance that Celtic’s style of play could shock their opponents. And, that was certainly the case. Real Madrid seemed rattled for the opening half hour, struggling to play out from the back and even making the mistake on a couple of occasions of switching off and almost getting caught out by Celtic’s trademark quick throw-ins. Ultimately, though, Real Madrid weathered that storm and this will surely prove to have been a good test. There won’t be many LaLiga games like this one, but this experience could prove useful later in the Champions League season.
2. How much would Ancelotti rotate?
Ahead of this one, Carlo Ancelotti stated that he might make some rotations. But, he didn’t really. After you swap Casemiro for Aurélien Tchouaméni, this was the same line-up that started last year’s Champions League final. In other words, it was last year’s ‘Gala XI’. But, maybe this was the kind of game where it really made sense to rotate, since it’s only the group stage and since the energy of players like Antonio Rüdiger, Eduardo Camavinga and Rodrygo would actually have been useful against a team like Celtic. Ancelotti has kept insisting he’ll rotate more this year than he did last year. But, at least so far, his actions haven’t really matched those words.
3. How would Modrić celebrate his latest milestone?
Yet again, Luka Modrić was one of the best players on the pitch in what was his 100th Champions League appearance for Real Madrid. The Croatian is only the eighth player to reach that milestone for the club and could enter the top five this season if he catches fifth-placed Roberto Carlos’ 109 UCL outings for the club. He was excellent in Glasgow and not just with his goal. So many of Real Madrid’s counter-attacking opportunities in this game involved a perfectly timed Modrić pass as part of the move. Even though he’s getting on in age and will turn 37 on Friday, Modrić certainly still has what it takes to add to his already impressive Champions League resume.
1. How bad is Benzema’s injury and is Hazard the man to replace him?
Despite the victory, this could turn out to be more of a sour than a sweet night for Real Madrid. Now 34 years of age, and with a World Cup in the middle of the season, Karim Benzema was never likely to avoid injuries throughout the whole season. Even last year he had to miss 10 full matches due to either injury or fatigue. But, to go down so soon was the worst fear of Real Madrid fans. It seems to be a right knee issue, so this really is a night of nerves for Madridistas as the striker prepares to go for tests. Carlo Ancelotti said as recently as Saturday that Benzema “actually has lots of potential replacements”, citing Mariano, Hazard, Rodrygo, Asensio and even Modrić. It was Hazard who he turned to here and the Belgian had a fairly good performance – and not really because of the goal he scored, since that was 90% Carvajal. But, we’ll have to wait to see if it’s Hazard who is picked to lead the line over the next few games, or for however long Benzema is out.
2. How similar to the Paris goal was this Fede-to-Vini strike?
Back to something positive, and the breakthrough goal of this game was a beauty. Fede Valverde spotted Vinícius when none of the other 60,000 people in the stadium did, but the hardest part was finding a way of curling the ball across the pitch to the Brazilian. But, Valverde has experience of this, as this was really quite similar to the Champions League final goal against Liverpool. Given that there were more bodies in the way in Paris, and given the stakes, that cross was still way more impressive. But, the goal here was almost spookily similar.
3. Will Courtois break last year’s record for saves made?
Thibaut Courtois was one of the many heroes of last year’s triumphant Champions League campaign, making 59 saves in total during the run to glory, or an average of 4.5 per game. That was a record for a goalkeeper in a single season in the history of the Champions League. Here, the Belgian also had to make a number of saves in this first match of 2022/23 at Celtic Park, with four in total, and he was generally impressive, commanding his box and dealing well with some at-times terrible back passes from his defenders. If Real Madrid go deep into the competition again, perhaps Courtois can even beat his own record of 59 saves along the way.