The goals didn’t come until the second half, the ones that weren’t disallowed anyway, but Real Madrid eventually got the job done and defeated Valencia 2-0 thanks to strikes from Marco Asensio and Vinícius. Valencia finished with 10 men after Gabriel was sent off for a horrific challenge on Vinícius, making it even simpler for Los Blancos to see out the victory. There was plenty to discuss, so here come three questions and three answers.
1. How would Ceballos do alongside Kroos and Modrić?
Dani Ceballos has been the revelation of Real Madrid to start 2023, mostly filling in for one of Modrić or Kroos. Tonight, he was starting alongside them. So, how would that look? Well, it was classy, as was to be expected, with all three players producing some lovely touches and through balls throughout the night. Ceballos once again did a great job in recovering loose balls, Modrić kept driving the team forward and Kroos looked assured in the single pivot, a role he has had to play more and more regularly these past few weeks. Aurélien Tchouaméni made his long-awaited return from injury in the second half tonight, so his recovery means we might not see this trio together again in midfield for a while, but it was fun to watch on this occasion and Ceballos earned a well-deserved chant of his name from the whole stadium in the final minutes.
2. Would the pitch be as bad as reported?
Just before the game, it was reported that Real Madrid would be undertaking yet another resurfacing of the Bernabéu pitch, starting on Friday morning. This was the third home game in eight days and the surface simply hasn’t coped. Not too get too agricultural, but the reason is that all the dust from the construction works is killing the grass and that’s why the pitch has been poor all season, having to replaced already earlier in the season. And, the truth is that it does look bad. Having personally attended all three of these home games in a row, the difference now compared to last Thursday when Atleti visited in the Copa is striking. It’s certainly not the most interesting talking point to write about, but the pitch is a problem for Real Madrid this season and another change is needed.
3. Why was Vinícius wearing blacked out boots?
Vinícius made headlines again, some of them because the game even kicked off. That’s because he was wearing blacked out boots, as the Brazilian has just ended his decade-long partnership with Nike, according to The Athletic. They were the brand on his boots for the first 199 games of his Real Madrid career, but not for this 200th appearance, in which he scored a lovely goal and provoked a red card too. He is not believed to have signed with another brand just yet, so we may see these makeshift blacked out Vini boots for a while yet.
1. When is Marco Asensio’s contract renewal?
After a frustrating opening 45 minutes, this was looking like it could be a tricky night for Real Madrid. But, then Marco Asensio did what Marco Asensio does best, which is score long-range worldies. Although he missed a couple first half chances, his goal to break the deadlock was brilliant and he followed that up with a nice nutmeg moments later, getting the home crowd on their feet. The Mallorcan – who’ll visit his hometown club this weekend, in fact – is one of seven Real Madrid players whose contract expires at the end of this season. Benzema, Kroos and Modrić are the priorities, for obvious reasons, but Asensio needs to be renewed too. He has absolutely demonstrated this season that he deserves a place in the squad.
2. Was the goal just before half-time correctly ruled out?
This Thursday night game served up a big slice of controversy just before half-time. Just when it looked like Real Madrid would be going in level with Valencia after a lethargic first half, they won a corner and Antonio Rüdiger headed in. But, as the fans were still celebrating, referee Javier Alberola Rojas was called to the VAR screen. There, he saw a slow-mo image of Karim Benzema planting his hand on Yunus Musah’s face. The goal was overturned, a foul was given and Benzema was booked. Was that the right call? That’s certainly going to be debated over the coming hours and days, even despite the win.
3. How costly will the Militão and Benzema injuries be?
Although Real Madrid were able to pick up the three points and cut the gap to Barcelona back down to five points, this might prove to be a costly match. That’s because there were a couple more injuries suffered, with both Éder Militão and Karim Benzema going off with physical issues. Given the massive improvement Militão has made this season and given that Benzema is Benzema, these are two players Real Madrid really can’t do without for long. They could miss the Real Mallorca trip and the Club World Cup, which wouldn’t be a devastating loss, but Ancelotti will hope they’re able to return in time for the Liverpool first leg. We’ll soon find out just how serious those two injury issues were.