Real Madrid have lost their first LaLiga game of 2023, falling to a 2-1 defeat at Villarreal. This game produced several pre-match and post-match talking points, which are outlined below.
1. Could Real Madrid do what they didn’t do on their past five visits, and win?
This was always going to be a tough game, with Villarreal improving under Quique Setién and having recovered many injured players in recent days. We also knew this would be a difficult fixture because that’s how it has been for Los Blancos the last five times they went away to Villarreal. They have drawn each of their past five trip to Villarreal’s Estadio de la Cerámica, so would they finally get a win there? Well, no. And they didn’t even get a draw this time. This was a poor performance from Real Madrid, at both ends, and a very impressive display from the Yellow Submarine. They earned a deserved 2-1 victory, meaning Barça could pull three points ahead of Real Madrid if they win at Atlético on Sunday.
2. Why wasn’t Lucas Vázquez starting?
With Dani Carvajal out of the squad list, it was expected that Lucas Vázquez would start at right-back. But, when the team sheet was announced, we saw that it would be Éder Militão instead. Why? Well, Ancelotti actually addressed that directly in his post-Villarreal press conference, saying: “We didn’t want to start Lucas again after he’d played the whole game vs Cacereño. He was a little tired. We put Militão, who did well at right-back with Brazil at the World Cup. The problem wasn’t him, it was the team in general.”
3. Had Real Madrid ever started without a Spaniard before?
The fact that Lucas Vázquez wasn’t starting meant something historic happened at the Estadio de la Cerámica. For the first time in Real Madrid’s 121 years of history and 4,436 official matches, there wasn’t a single Spanish player in the starting line-up. There haven’t been many Spaniards in Real Madrid line-ups for a few years now, with just seven in the current squad, but this feels like an especially significant moment. For the biggest club in Spanish sport to not have a single Spanish starter is something that won’t sit well with a lot of people in Spain.
1. How many Madridistas played in multiple positions?
One theme of this game was Real Madrid players being shifted around and asked to change positions during the game. How many had to do this? There were five who played in multiple positions in this game, namely: David Alaba (centre-back and left-back), Antonio Rüdiger (right-back and centre-back), Éder Militão (centre-back and right-back), Fede Valverde (right forward and right midfield) and Toni Kroos (right midfield and holding midfield). You can even say, tongue in cheek, that Thibaut Courtois had to play two positions too, being sent forward for the last corner. On a serious note, as much as all these players are versatile, asking so many to move around after the game has already started isn’t ideal.
2. Will we see more of the Vinícius and Rodrygo double punch down the left?
One other player who had an interesting position was Rodrygo. When the Brazilian came on in the 64th minute, it seemed he’d take up the right side of Real Madrid’s front three. But, he actually played to the left a lot, just alongside Vinícius. This actually made a lot of sense, given that Villarreal right-back Juan Foyth defended Vini really well throughout. So, Real Madrid essentially sacrificed their right side, at least until Marco Asensio came on even later in the game, and tried to test Foyth with a Vini-Rodrygo double punch. It worked to some extent, as Villarreal were forced into fouling more and conceding some dangerous set pieces, but it still wasn’t enough for Real Madrid to equalise.
3. Will the Copa del Rey rematch be much different?
As mentioned above, it’s now six visits to Villarreal without a victory for Real Madrid. And, that’s concerning because earlier on Saturday the Copa del Rey last 16 draw was held and Los Blancos were drawn to play… another Villarreal vs Real Madrid. They’ll have to go back there in the midweek of January 17th to January 19th and do this all over again, although the two line-ups will surely be quite different, as both coaches will look to rotate.