Real Madrid returned from the international break in style, putting six past Real Valladolid at the Bernabéu on Sunday afternoon. Precisely because of the break, we went in to this game with many questions and below come some of the answers to those questions, as well as some of the new debates that this 6-0 win threw up.
1. How much would Ancelotti rotate?
With the LaLiga title race virtually over, it’s surely time to rotate in league matches between now and the end of the season, as the Copa del Rey and Champions League are now far more important for Real Madrid. So, would Ancelotti rotate in this game? And how much? Well, this starting XI certainly was a heavily rotated one. Some changes were forced due to injuries or suspensions, but the Italian still left regular starters such as Dani Carvajal, Fede Valverde and Luka Modrić on the bench. Then, when Real Madrid had a comfortable lead, he left those starters there and instead dished out minutes to lesser-used players. That’s a good sign.
2. Would it be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 with Asensio as a midfielder?
The fact that all four of Karim Benzema, Vinícius, Rodrygo and Marco Asensio were starting the game left us with some doubts about the formation. We’ve seen Asensio play as part of the midfield in a 4-3-3 before, while we’ve also seen a 4-2-3-1 in which Rodrygo plays as the No.10 with Vinícius and Asensio on the wings. So, which would it be here today? Well, Ancelotti stated in his post-match press conference that it was actually supposed to be a 4-4-2 to start with, one which looked like a 4-2-3-1. But, Rodrygo played wider and wider as the first half went on, and that’s how the first goal came about, as Asensio fed the Brazilian. There was a lot of fluidity in the attack today and it really clicked, as Benzema fired in his hat-trick off of assists from Vinícius twice and from Rodrygo once, before more combinations between the forwards in the second half.
3. How would Vinícius fare against three right-backs?
Looking at Real Valladolid’s starting XI before kick-off, it was interesting to see that all three of their right-backs – Luis Pérez, Iván Fresneda and Lucas Rosa – were starting the game. Vinícius has had to overcome all kinds of right-back challenges this season, but never before had he faced three right-sided full-backs at once. Of course, Pacheta didn’t put all three of Pérez, Fresneda and Rosa on the Brazilian winger, as Rosa was filling in at left-wing-back, while Pérez was a right-wing-back and Fresneda was a right-centre-back in a back three. But still, there were a lot of obstacles for Vini to overcome, and he largely overcame them. Even if Vini was the only forward who didn’t get on the scoresheet today, he had an impactful game in his own way.
1. When did we last see such a quick hat-trick?
Benzema will take all the headlines from this game and rightly so, as he produced a brilliant hat-trick, with each of his goals special in their own way. Just six minutes and 30 seconds passed between his first and third goals, making this the quickest hat-trick in LaLiga in over six years. Not since Kevin Gameiro scored three in four minutes and 45 seconds for Atlético vs Sporting in 2016/17 had a player hit three so quickly in Spain’s top flight. These goals also took Benzema’s tally for the season to 22, meaning he is the first ever Real Madrid player to have 11 separate 20-goal seasons for the club.
2. Will there now be calls for Hazard to have more minutes?
There was a rare Eden Hazard sighting in this game, as he came on for the final 25 minutes. He was more involved than he has been in other off-the-bench appearances this season, but that wasn’t hard since Real Madrid were so dominant against this Valladolid team. After failing to control and turn in a rebound, the Belgian did then win the ball back and assist Lucas Vázquez for the sixth goal of the afternoon. Well done to Hazard for that, but let’s not pretend like he deserves more game time based on that one assist at the end of a thrashing. There will surely be calls from some quarters for Hazard to be given more minutes now, but let’s not get carried away.
3. Will this fourth pitch of the season last till the end of the campaign?
Not for the first time this season, Real Madrid stepped out onto a brand new pitch at the Bernabéu. Given the major problems the ground staff have had with keeping the pitch in good condition – mostly because of the dust from the construction work – this was the fourth different turf to have been laid in Chamartín in 2022/23. It looked great on this sunny Sunday afternoon as the ball zipped about, but that had also been the case whenever the previous pitches had just been freshly put down. Will this one last till the end of the season? There are still seven or eight – if there’s a Champions League semi-final – home fixtures to go this season, so let’s see…