Real Madrid are halfway there in their quarter-final tie against Chelsea, courtesy of a 2-0 first-leg win at the Bernabéu. There are so many talking points from this night of Champions League football and several of them are discussed below, as we look at three pre-match questions and three post-match questions.
1. Would Ancelotti repeat the Camp Nou starting XI?
When you beat Barcelona 4-0 away, you obviously did something right. So, would Ancelotti repeat the exact same starting line-up as last Wednesday? Well yes, yes he did. It was exactly the same line-up, with Alaba ahead of Rüdiger, with Camavinga at left-back, with Kroos at the pivot and with Rodrygo in the front three. As was also true at the Camp Nou, this was risky, and we saw in the second minute just how much space Real Madrid were leaving in behind when João Félix broke free. But, ultimately, this worked out and Real Madrid’s attacking approach paid off. Perhaps they could have won by more than two goals, especially considering they played with a man advantage for the final half hour, but a 2-0 home win is absolutely a good result in the Champions League knockouts.
2. How would Fede Valverde respond?
What exactly happened in the car park between Fede Valverde and Álex Baena still needs to be cleared up, but one thing we did know for certain before the match was that this incident was going to be on the Uruguayan’s mind. With so much media attention and scrutiny on the midfielder, how would he perform here? Well, he performed like the Fede Valverde we all know. He was a Duracell Bunny in midfield, winning the ball back consistently and launching attacks, often shooting himself. Ancelotti said afterwards that he felt the Uruguayan had been the best player on the pitch and it’s hard to disagree. This game showed that Valverde is still fully focused on football, no mater what is happening in judicially off the pitch.
3. Courtois for Kepa… what if?
Remember when Real Madrid were going to sign Kepa Arrizabalaga in January of 2018? It really was close to happening, with the Basque goalkeeper even coming to the capital for a medical with the club, but then-coach Zinedine Zidane said ‘no’, and he didn’t join. The Frenchman stepped in and halted the signing, preferring to keep Keylor Navas. Once he left, Real Madrid looked elsewhere and signed Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea, which, ironically, saw Kepa move from Bilbao to Stamford Bridge. Despite these two goalkeepers’ paths being so linked, and despite the fact that a ‘yes’ from Zidane might have made tonight’s game a Kepa vs Courtois but with the Spaniard playing for Real Madrid and the Belgian still at Chelsea, they’d never actually faced each other before this quarter-final first leg. So, how would it go? Would either stand out? Well, both stood out, in fact. Kepa certainly had more work to do as he faced 10 shots on target, but he did a good job and, even if he could have done better at the first goal, he definitely gave Chelsea more than he took away. It really is strange to think how different these goalkeepers and these clubs’ paths could have been had Zidane said ‘yes’, but the shot-stoppers weren’t the difference in this first leg.
1. Should Real Madrid have capitalised on Chilwell’s red card more?
Overall, this was a good night for Real Madrid. The only “but” concerns the final half hour. Even though this was the stretch of the game in which Real Madrid had a man advantage, following Ben Chilwell’s red card for a last-man foul in the 58th minute, and even though Asensio scored his goal during this period, the final half hour of this match was actually the period of the game when Real Madrid looked least in control. Why was that? Should Real Madrid have done more to capitalise on their man advantage? We won’t know the answer to that question until the second leg next week.
2. Will Carvajal get the rest he needs to perform like this?
This was one of Dani Carvajal’s best performances of the season. He did well in defence, like a right-back is supposed to do, but he also contributed a lot more offensively than usual, including for the opening goal. So, why was he suddenly so good? Well, maybe it had something to do with the fact that he came into this game with a full week of rest, having not been used for a single minute against Villarreal. It’s clear that a large part of Carvajal’s struggles are physical, so he really needs to be rested before taking on these kinds of big challenges. Let’s hope Ancelotti realises this and, from now to the end of the season, rests Carvajal in every LaLiga fixture that precedes a midweek Champions League game.
3. When is Asensio getting renewed?
I’ve already said it on more than one occasion in this column, but Real Madrid need to renew Marco Asensio. He is absolutely not a starter for Real Madrid, but he is absolutely the perfect kind of weapon to bring off the bench or to start in less important games. With his strike tonight, he now has nine goals for the season, one every 155 minutes. You don’t just throw that away. He is the typical squad player and the kind of footballer who Real Madrid would need to replace if he were to leave. While there is a lot that Asensio doesn’t do well, there are few pure shooters like him and that is a valuable asset that Real Madrid should try to renew.