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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s win over Napoli

The talking points as Real Madrid seal top spot in Group C.

Real Madrid CF v SSC Napoli: Group C - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Florencia Tan Jun/Getty Images

Real Madrid have secured first place in their Champions League group, thanks to a 4-2 win over Napoli at the Bernabéu on Wednesday night. Although Napoli went ahead early on, Los Blancos fought back and went in 2-1 up at the break thanks to Rodrygo and Jude Bellingham goals. And, despite conceding another early strike at the start of the second half, a long-range first goal for the team from Nico Paz and a much-needed goal from Joselu made it 4-2. There’s a lot to discuss following this one, and we do so here in the form of three pre-match questions that were answered and three new questions that have come up.

Three questions

1. Would Ancelotti take the opportunity to rotate?

Even though Real Madrid were already missing several players due to injury, this was still a good opportunity for Ancelotti to rotate, given that Real Madrid were already mathematically through and likely to win the group even if they’d lost to Napoli tonight. In fact, given the lengthy injury list, it was perhaps even more important to take precautions here. But no, Ancelotti named the strongest possible starting XI that he could. Even though Antonio Rüdiger, Fede Valverde, Jude Bellingham and Ferland Mendy were all serious candidates for some rest, they didn’t get it. Real Madrid managed to win, thanks ironically to one of the youth teamers who was given a chance, but there are now several extra kilometres on the legs of the aforementioned starters.

2. Could Real Madrid keep Giovanni Simeone under wraps?

Looking at the Napoli line-up, there was intrigue as Giovanni Simeone made just his third start of the season for the Italian club. When you have the son of Diego Simeone starting at the Bernabéu, you just know that’s a narrative waiting to happen. And, sure enough, the striker opened the scoring just nine minutes in. But, before that could even really become a storyline, Real Madrid were already celebrating Rodrygo’s latest goal up the other end, having responded brilliantly. Interestingly, Diego Simeone’s former Argentina teammate Pablo Paz also got to celebrate a goal of his son, with Nico Paz enjoying a moment he’ll never forget.

3. Would Carvajal win this duel vs Kvaratskhelia?

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia had already looked very dangerous against Dani Carvajal in the first meeting in Naples before the winger also caused the right-back problems in the recent Spain vs Georgia match. So, could Carvajal win his duels against the Georgian here? He even mentioned in his pre-match press conference how he’d have to be very focused against Kvara. And, he was. This was the best of Carvajal’s three performances against Kvaratskhelia so far this season, with the right-back looking solid in defence and also getting forward a lot to provide width in the new-look 4-2-2-2.

Three questions

1. Will Rodrygo finish the season as Real Madrid’s top scorer?

Rodrygo’s first goal against Cádiz had been so good that he decided to conjure up a replica for the home fans at the Bernabéu to enjoy, rippling the back of the net just minutes after Napoli had taken a shock early lead. With his goal tonight, Rodrygo is now onto eight for the season, having definitely shaken the famous Ruud van Nistelrooy ketchup bottle. Even though Bellingham also added to his tally, the incredible November form of Rodrygo makes you wonder if the Brazilian can even catch the Englishman and end this season as Real Madrid’s top goalscorer. Vinícius will score goals too, of course, but the fact Rodrygo has been more available and the fact he’ll play in a more advanced position than Bellingham for the rest of the season means the possibility of the Brazil international ending 2023/24 top of Los Blancos’ scoring charts is real.

2. When will Theo Zidane make his Real Madrid debut?

There was obvious excitement when Theo Zidane – the third-eldest of Zinedine Zidane’s four sons – was named to the matchday squad for this game. Would the midfielder make his debut on the turf his father once graced? Well, it wasn’t to be in this game. But, aged 21 now, you have to think that Theo Zidane’s first opportunity with the senior team is just around the corner. Perhaps in the early rounds of the Copa del Rey we’ll get to see Zizou’s son in action.

3. Who can Real Madrid face in the next round?

Now that Real Madrid have secured top spot in the group, we can already start to think about the last 16 and the potential opponents. So far, there are two teams who are guaranteed to finish second in their groups, RB Leipzig and PSV Eindhoven, so both are potential opponents for Real Madrid. Then, Los Blancos could also face whoever finishes second in a crazy Group A between Galatasaray, Copenhagen and Manchester United and whoever finishes second in the equally wild Group F between Borussia Dortmund, PSG, Newcastle and AC Milan. They could also meet Inter Milan if Real Sociedad top that group, Lazio if Atlético Madrid win that group or Porto or Shakhtar Donetsk if Barcelona win that group. There’s still a lot to be decided, but Real Madrid know they’ll be in the seeded pot when the draw takes place on December 18th.

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