Despite punishing the woodwork throughout, it simply wasn’t Real Madrid’s night in the pre-season Clásico at AT&T Stadium, as they lost 3-0 to rivals Barcelona. Late goals from Fermín López and Ferran Torres followed on from an early Ousmane Dembélé strike to leave Los Blancos with their first defeat of pre-season. There are many issues to discuss, and we do so here with three pre-match questions that were answered and three new questions that have come up.
1. Would this be a “friendly” Clásico?
This Clásico was, in theory, a “friendly”. But, would it actually be calm on the pitch? No, not at all. There were various tough tackles from both sides, and some brawls as well. Apart from the raft of substitutions – several of which were actually down to injuries related to the physical nature of the contest – there was nothing to distinguish this game from any other Clásico in official competition. Some 82,026 fans packed in to AT&T Stadium, paying huge sums for the privilege, but most will go home feeling that they did get their money’s worth, even if the Madridistas leave disappointed.
2. Would the AT&T pitch be up to standard?
There was a lot of talk about the state of pitch in the pre-match build-up, considering the grass had only been brought in a few days ago and considering the irrigation systems that are commonplace in any major European stadium simply don’t exist in this venue, where artificial turf is used for Dallas Cowboys games. That led to the slightly comical scenes here and in Houston of stadium maintenance staff walking across the field with hoses. But, did the pitch have a negative impact on the game? It certainly didn’t seem to. Sure, it wasn’t the best surface in the world, and Xavi might complain about it afterwards, but it seems some of the pre-match concern was exaggerated.
3.Could the diamond work with Carvajal and Mendy at full-back?
This was the first game in pre-season with both Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy starting in the full-back positions, so this was going to be a real test for Real Madrid’s new system. The diamond formation has produced a lot of good, but it places a lot of burden on the full-backs on both flanks. And, we saw in the first half here that Carvajal and Mendy just can’t quite contribute offensively like they probably need to in order for this largely winger-less shape to work. When Fran García came on for the injured Ferland Mendy, it was better, but it’ll still take time for him to develop chemistry with Vinícius. There’s certainly work to do for Real Madrid in a tactical sense, and only one more pre-season match before the LaLiga season commences.
1. Will Real Madrid ever win an American Clásico?
This was the third Clásico friendly held in the USA and the third to end in a Barcelona win. The Catalans won 3-2 in Miami in 2017, 1-0 in Las Vegas in 2022 and now 3-0 in Arlington in 2023. There was a Real Madrid majority at this one in AT&T Stadium, but they saw their team lose despite Los Blancos rattling the woodwork an incredible five times. Real Madrid have won an overseas Clásico in Saudi Arabia in the Super Cup, but they’ll hope to deliver a victory in this fixture for their American fans the next time they’re stateside.
2. Who should take Real Madrid’s penalties in 2023/24?
When Real Madrid were awarded a penalty midway through the first half, it was the first spot kick since Karim Benzema’s departure from the club. So, who would take it? Well, Vinícius stepped up… and blasted his attempt off the crossbar. Even the best penalty takers in the world miss on occasion, but the concerning thing here was how wonky the whole penalty was mechanically. So, who should take Real Madrid’s penalties in 2023/24? Vini is certainly a leading contender, despite this miss, but it’s worth keeping in mind that both Toni Kroos and Luka Modrić were ahead of the Brazilian during the shootout against Valencia in the Super Cup earlier this year. Neither was on the pitch for this penalty tonight, but might be given the ball in future penalty situations, while Rodrygo is an option too and Bellingham has scored the only two penalties he’s taken in his young career so far.
3. When is Bellingham’s Bernabéu debut?
Jude Bellingham has completely embraced the Real Madrid experience, getting stuck in on and off the pitch from day one. It’s still only a month and a half since his presentation, but here he was getting in the middle of Clásico brawls and raising his hands to get the crowd to cheer Los Blancos on during a pre-season match. The Bernabéu faithful will absolutely love this player and his home debut can’t come soon enough. It won’t be until the first weekend of September when Bellingham will get to play at the Bernabéu, in the Matchday 4 clash with Getafe, but that’s already one worth putting in the diary.