Real Madrid’s pre-season tour started in earnest on Sunday night, with Los Blancos coming from 2-0 down to defeat AC Milan 3-2 at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. Fede Valverde and Vinícius produced the goals in front of the thousands of fans, who would have been left very impressed by Jude Bellingham. There’s a lot to discuss from this first game of the US tour, so here come three questions that were answered and three new questions that have arisen.
1. Would we indeed see a new formation from Ancelotti?
Carlo Ancelotti had said before this game that Real Madrid would experiment with other formations this coming season, so how would they line up here against AC Milan? Many fans wanted to see the much-hyped 4-4-2 diamond deployed, and that’s exactly what the veteran coach went for. The line-up was as follows: Lunin; Lucas Vázquez, Militão, Nacho, Mendy; Kroos; Valverde, Camavinga; Bellingham; Brahim Díaz, Joselu. More than the personnel, the most interesting aspect of this starting XI was the shape, with Kroos as the holding midfielder in the very narrow diamond, behind the energy of Valverde and Camavinga and the playmaking of Bellingham in the No.10 position. Discussing this shape after the game, and specifically the role of Bellingham, Ancelotti said: “Bellingham’s positioning was good, but it will take some time for the team to get used to his quality, which is extraordinary.” That makes sense, but supporters will have been excited to see something new from the Italian and to see glimpses of the young Englishman’s supreme quality.
2. How would the summer signings look?
As is always the case in pre-season, all eyes are on the new signings. So, how did they fare at the Rose Bowl? Well, as mentioned above, Bellingham offered many glimpses of what he can do, especially from the roaming role behind the forwards. It’s just so clear that he is a world-class player, both technically and in terms of his game intelligence. He was playing behind two of the other new arrivals, Joselu and Brahim, and they had mixed evenings. Brahim clearly wanted to impress and expended a lot of energy in trying to combine with Valverde and get involved. Joselu, meanwhile, endured some struggles in terms of trying to hold the ball up. The Spain international obviously isn’t Benzema, and it may take the team some time to learn how to play without the Frenchman, who was always halfway between a No.9 and a No.10. The other summer signing who participated was Fran García, who came off the bench for Mendy at half-time and who immediately contributed much more in attack than the Frenchman. Arda Güler, the other new arrival this summer, missed out with some discomfort.
3. Would AC Milan’s extra warm-up match make a difference?
While this was Real Madrid’s first pre-season game, it was the second for AC Milan, who’d warmed up and thrashed Lumezzane 6-0 in Italy before jetting off. Would that make a difference in this game in LA? While some might think that AC Milan had a faster start than Real Madrid, given the Italians’ 2-0 half-time lead, it was actually a very even first 45 minutes and a good first-half showing from the Spanish side. Most of the Real Madrid starters looked sharp, demonstrating that Pintus has been working them hard already, even if this was game one in front of an audience. With three more friendlies to come, the players should only get fitter from here.
1. What’s happening with Fede Valverde’s potential ban?
Fede Valverde, who scored the first two goals of Real Madrid’s comeback, was the MVP of this game and looked to be in really good shape. After a disappointing second half to the 2022/23 campaign, the Uruguayan seems determined to bounce back this term, especially now that he has extra competition for minutes in the form of Bellingham. After such an outstanding pre-season display, many Madridistas will be wondering what’s going on with the prospect of a multiple-game ban for Valverde for the Álex Baena incident. Even though it took place back in April, and even though a judge in the regular courts archived one complaint, it still isn’t clear if Valverde will be available for selection for the first fixtures of 2023/24. Either way, he’s raring to go whenever he is allowed on the pitch.
2. Is the diamond just for Bellingham?
The use of the 4-4-2 diamond is really interesting, as it seems that Ancelotti has turned to this formation mostly because of Bellingham. In fact, the coach has even stated as much, telling reporters “I have to adapt to the characteristics of the players” when explaining his use of this scheme. But, is it just for Bellingham to be able to play as a No.10, or could others also start at the tip of the diamond when the Englishman isn’t available? Our Kiyan Sobhani asked that very question in the post-match press conference and Ancelotti named Nico Paz, Luka Modrić, Rodrygo and Güler as other candidates to play as a No.10 besides Bellingham.
3. Is Shaka Hislop okay?
Above all, the main concern coming out of this game has to be for ESPN’s Shaka Hislop. As many will have seen by now, the analyst collapsed on air during the pre-game show as he was working pitchside. His colleague Dan Thomas provided an update, reporting that “he’s conscious and he’s talking”, so that’s certainly good news. Let’s hope Shaka, one of the kindest guys in the industry, fully recovers quickly.