In the toughest fixture of their Champions League group, Real Madrid went away to Napoli and won 3-2 in what was a thoroughly enjoyable game of football. Both sides played some great stuff, but Jude Bellingham stood out above the rest as he created one and scored one. After a night like this, there’s a lot to discuss, so here come three pre-match questions that have been answered and three new post-match questions we now have.
1. Would this game live up to the hype?
This was one of the most highly-anticipated Champions League group games Real Madrid had had for years. Going away to a club like Napoli this early in the tournament added a sense of importance and jeopardy that Real Madrid rarely experience in the group stages. With so many star players involved, on both teams, we all kind of suspected we were in for a treat. So, did the game live up to the hype? You bet it did. This was one of the best-quality football games of the year. Both sides put on a spectacle, while the stars shone like we expected them to. And, in the end, Real Madrid secured the three points to take a huge step towards the last 16.
2. How would the Bellingham-Vinícius-Rodrygo front three look?
This was Real Madrid’s 10th game of the season, but only the fourth time that they’ve started with Bellingham, Vinícius and Rodrygo as the front three. So, how would it look in this tough test at Napoli? Well, we got to see just how lethal it could be, especially with Bellingham playing as good as this. The Englishman did ever so well to intercept and assist Vinícius for Real Madrid’s first goal, before Bellingham scored a super solo goal of his own. Overall, the trio had some nice combinations in attack. More is still demanded of Rodrygo, whose place is under threat from Joselu, but this was a fun front trident to watch tonight.
3. Would the Real Madrid players be able to avoid Turpin’s notebook?
Real Madrid will once again go far in the Champions League, so it’s important to keep the yellow cards to a minimum in order to avoid costly suspensions in the knockout rounds. And, considering that card-happy Clément Turpin was the referee for this game, Los Blancos had to be careful. The French referee showed the third-most yellow cards in the competition last season, averaging 4.67 per game, so we expected some bookings in this match. In the end, there were four total bookings, and there were several unnecessary ones for Real Madrid players. Camavinga, Bellingham and Kepa all went into the book tonight, to join Tchouaméni, who was booked against Union Berlin. They’ll all have to be careful over their next Champions League games, as cards aren’t cleared until the semi-finals.
1. What speed was that Valverde strike going at?
It doesn’t go down as his goal, since it bounced back off the crossbar and in off Alex Meret, but Fede Valverde’s strike was worthy of winning any game. We all know that the Uruguayan can hit them, but this shot seemed to be carrying extra venom. Just how quickly was it travelling? How did it not break Meret’s hands? That was an absolute rocket.
2. Was the penalty the right call?
It didn’t really matter in the end thanks to Valverde’s venomous strike, but the penalty call to allow Napoli the equaliser will still be talked about long after this game. Although Nacho’s hands were high up and hit the ball when he went to defend a cross, everyone who has ever watched football will watch that and know that there is no other place for the centre-back to put his arms while making that defensive move. The handball rule really needs to be looked at.
3. What must Mendy and Fran García be thinking?
When Camavinga started at left-back ahead of Mendy and Fran García in Girona, it was certainly a surprise but it made some sense as a one-off. When Camavinga started at left-back for a second game in a row, with the other two natural left-backs both available again, you really had to wonder what was going on. What must Mendy and Fran García have been thinking as they took their seats on the bench? If they thought the decision was unfair, well, Camavinga once again showed them that he is as good at left-back as anyone. Eventually, with the converted midfielder on a yellow, Ancelotti decided to swap in Mendy. But, that must be a concern for Mendy and Fran García if that’s the only way to get ahead of Camavinga.