Pasadena, California, played host to the return to action of Real Madrid with some new faces on show in the club’s brand new second jersey. Carlo Ancelotti’s side had their first run out of preseason against his former club, AC Milan, needing to come back from 2-0 down at half time to eventually win the game 3-2 courtesy of a brace from Fede Valverde and a late winner from Vinícius Júnior.
Here are three stats from Real Madrid’s first preseason fixture.
2 - Key passes from Jude Bellingham on his debut
All eyes were on Real Madrid’s star summer singing at the Rose Bowl as the new arrival from Borussia Dortmund put on a Real Madrid jersey in a match for the first time. It would be fair to say that in his 64 minutes of action, Jude Bellingham didn’t disappoint.
Ancelotti fielded him in the number 10 role behind Joselu and Brahim in the first half, and much of the team’s offensive play was driven through Bellingham with him operating as the playmaker looking to progress. He did that both through his passing, with two key passes which were wasted by the team’s forwards, and four dribbles to progress the ball directly. He linked up well with Brahim in particular, with the duo providing a lethal threat from deeper positions.
What caught the eye even more than that was his all-round performance. Bellingham offered an energy and press which has been absent in Real Madrid’s game for some time, successfully recovering the ball in four out of five ground duels.
⚪️ For those who haven't seen it, this was Jude Bellingham's debut in a Real Madrid shirt— ́ - (@Jorge_ltg_) July 24, 2023
➠ 64 Minutes
➠ 57 Touches
➠ 40/46 Passes (87%)
➠ 3/4 Long Passes
➠ 4 Ground Duels Won
➠ 1 Shot
➠ 4/5 Dribbles
➠ 2 Key Passes#RealMadridOnTour pic.twitter.com/sqCTLyML5Y
Speaking after the game, Ancelotti praised the midfielder. “Bellingham is a fantastic player, a complete midfielder who brings intensity to matches and who also moves well without the ball,” he said. “He’s different to the other midfielders we have, able to find the free spaces. If we play the system that we played tonight, he’d be the No.10. If we we play 4-3-3, maybe he can play left midfield or right midfield, but to try to use his characteristics the best position for him is No.10. Today, Bellingham’s positioning was good and he played good. Of course, it will take some time for the team to get used to his quality, which is extraordinary. His ability to get into the area is something we can make the most of this season. I have a good feeling about this and we’ll keep working.”
50% - Conversion rate from 4 shots outside the box for Fede Valverde
Real Madrid need time to adapt to a new system, and that much was clear. It spoke volumes that while Bellingham and Brahim connected well in deeper roles, Joselu was isolated and didn’t receive a single cross to deal with, despite his aerial ability being his biggest strength. That width from Ferland Mendy and Lucas Vázquez as full-backs was absent, with Mendy only attempting two crosses, completing none.
What was also clear was that this Real Madrid side had enough quality elsewhere to compensate, and none more so than in their new found goalscoring threat Fede Valverde.
The Uruguayan was the only outfield player to play the full 90 minutes and showed no sign of fatigue, even as others with fewer minutes did. But his most threatening moments came at the start of each half, registering shots in the sixth and seventh minutes which were blocked and went narrowly wide, before scoring on 57 and 59 minutes. All four of his attempts came from outside the box.
Goals from distance have been lacking for Real Madrid in recent years, but Valverde looks to be changing that trend. In addition to completing six long balls and winning five ground duels, what he brings to the team offensively is something that, at present, no other player offers.
“I want to do what Ancelotti asks of me, if that’s 10 or 15 goals, then I’ll go for it,” he explained post-match. Last season, the Italian set him a target of 10, which he beat comfortably with 12. This time around, his coach is likely to be even more demanding.
83 - The minute of Vinícius Júnior’s winner, and a curious similarity
This was Vini’s first game donning the number seven shirt for Real Madrid following the departure of its previous incumbent, Eden Hazard. What would happen in California would lead to some strange comparisons to when a certain Cristiano Ronaldo wore the famous number seven shirt for the first time.
In the case of the Portuguese, it was a friendly against Club América, where Los Blancos had to come from behind to win 3-2, courtesy of an 83rd minute winner from their new number seven. An almost exact relics of the scenario for the Brazilian against Italian opposition.
Vini came on at half-time to replace Joselu in attack as Ancelotti changed the system to remove the traditional number nine in the side and instead experiment. His impact was almost immediate, with him and Rodrygo looking lethal, the latter involved in setting up the team’s first goal.
Eventually, Vini would get on the scoresheet late on. His finish ended a rapid counter after a pinpoint Luka Modrić pass set him up, placing the ball into the corner with aplomb. It was indicative of the improvement in his finishing and composure in recent years which was previously missing. He suited his number seven shirt.
What’s more, this was curiously Vini’s first ever goal for Real Madrid in a friendly fixture. His first ever appearance for the club came against the same side, Milan, at the Bernabéu in 2018, when a gangly teenager registered with Castilla made his debut.