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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid 5-3 Atlético Madrid

Real Madrid are into the Spanish Super Cup final

Real Madrid CF v Atletico Madrid - Super Copa de España Photo by Yasser Bakhsh/Getty Images

Real Madrid secured progress to the Spanish Super Cup final after a testing 120 minutes against Atlético Madrid which eventually ended in a 5-3 win. It was a tense affair as the Colchoneros twice took the lead but eventually succumbed in extra time as Stefan Savić scored an own goal before a rapid counter allowed Brahim Díaz to beat Jan Oblak to the ball to convert from distance and seal the win with the final kick of the game.

Three answers

1. Who would start in goal?

Carlo Ancelotti had a decision to make in between the sticks and eventually went with Kepa Arrizabalaga ahead of Andriy Lunin. Afterwards, he may not be convinced that it was the best decision. The goalkeeper had few real involvements, making four saves, but failed to cover himself in any glory in an own goal that was later assigned to himself as he failed to deal with an aerial ball into the box, just as he did the last time these two teams came face to face. Kepa looked insecure and lacking confidence, like the worst of his Chelsea days, and the saves he did make were more of a routine. Ancelotti left the number one jersey open in his post-match press conference, saying, “for the final... we’ll see. Kepa, or Lunin.” The Ukrainian may be quietly optimistic.

2. Who would win the midfield battle?

There was a little surprise that Ancelotti opted to rest Toni Kroos, instead selecting Fede Valverde, Aurelién Tchouameni and Luka Modrić with Jude Bellingham in a more advanced role. In the early stages of the game, Koke and Rodrigo de Paul were allowed to dictate the tempo for Atlético without a great deal of pressure put on them. Supported by Marcos Llorente cutting in from the right and Antoine Griezmann dropping in deep, there were times where they overwhelmed the Real Madrid midfield three. The change came in that Atlético’s midfield tired far more quickly than Real Madrid’s as they struggled to sustain that same level. Axel Witsel and Rodrigo Riquelme were introduced to freshen things up, but lacked the same quality and intensity, and the scales tipped into Real Madrid’s balance with Kroos coming on to dictate play from deep against a tired Atleti midfield. In extra-time, Diego Simeone had to revert to left-back Javi Galán as a makeshift midfielder, while Ancelotti called upon Dani Ceballos and Arda Güler to join Kroos and Eduardo Camavinga. There was little real comparison at that point.

3. Would there be an improvement from the first Madrid derby of the season?

Yes and no. Yes in that Real Madrid competed, were clinical in taking their chances, and made it clear that the gap in depth and quality between the two teams is evident and favours the men in white. The encounter early on in the season failed to show many of those aspects and has been highlighted as the worst performance of the season by some distance. While this was not a complete performance, the strength in depth off the bench allowed Real Madrid to get better as the game wore on and do enough to take the win. No in that Atlético Madrid put three goals past Real Madrid again, doing so for the second time this season despite being the only one to do it in 2023/24. In 7% of games played this campaign, they account for 27% of the goals conceded by Los Blancos, and the defensive play, which included finally conceding from a set piece for the first time this season, left a lot to be desired.

Three questions

1. How can Real Madrid free Jude Bellingham?

For the first time, Jude Bellingham has gone three consecutive games without scoring in a Real Madrid jersey. Alavés before the break, and Mallorca and Atlético Madrid since, have done a reasonable job of silencing the Englishman, who registered only one shot on target in this 120 minutes and only one chance created. While that’s not bad for a midfielder, both stats are below his season averages. It’s also noteworthy that the two games in which he has featured in 2024 have come against a back three, and that system has worked well to reduce his impact. Javier Aguirre pointed to it after the Mallorca game, identifying the back three as a way to deny Bellingham space in central areas. For the second time this season, it worked for Diego Simeone too.

2. How will this impact the next two Madrid derbies?

There was a lot to take in during this game, and even more so with the knowledge that these teams come face to face again in only eight days. While that presents all kinds of mental and tactical challenges, it also raises physical concerns. While Atleti will fly back to Spain on Thursday and have a full week of preparations for the Copa del Rey last 16 tie, Real Madrid will remain in Saudi Arabia, play another 90 (or possibly 120) minutes, and fly back early next week. Fatigue was clear with even workhorses like Dani Carvajal and Fede Valverde struggling, while several others were out of shape after prolonged spells on the sidelines. Balancing game time fighting for trophies on four fronts is not easy, and will be Ancelotti’s biggest test.

3. Why was Toni Kroos booed?

In a stadium packed to the rafters with Madridistas in the famous white jersey, it was bizarre to hear the whistles and boos for a club legend like Toni Kroos. “I don’t understand the booing and I don’t think Kroos does either. I really don’t understand them,” coach Ancelotti said post-match. It’s due to Kroos’ outspoken stance on Saudi Arabia, having recently said, “it starts to become difficult for the football we all know and love. Everyone has to make that decision for themselves, like Cristiano Ronaldo, who decided to do it towards the end of his career. But it becomes very difficult when players, who are in the middle of their career and have the quality to play for the best clubs in Europe, decide to make those changes. The lack of human rights is what would prevent me from leaving.” That statement did not go down well with the local fans, who clearly have still not forgiven him.

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