Real Madrid secured the win with virtually the last kick of the game as they overcame Almería at home in LALIGA, coming back from 2-0 down at half-time to win 3-2. The game involved refereeing controversy, but the real drama came at the death when Dani Carvajal sparked wild celebrations with his 99th minute winner after earlier goals from Jude Bellingham and Vinícius Júnior.
1. How would the team react to two high-intensity games in four days?
After facing Barcelona and then 120 minutes against Atlético Madrid, this was always going to be a tricky tie and a potential banana skin against LALIGA’s bottom team. Carlo Ancelotti himself recognised that his selection was wrong, saying, “the only thing that could be done was to change the dynamic and bring in fresh players. Some players have paid for the extra time against Atlético Madrid. I had to put out a different line-up. We have to evaluate the players’ fatigue and I don’t think we did it well.” The impact of those games on tired legs was evident in the worst 45 minutes of Real Madrid’s season to date, with even the likes of fitness beasts Jude Bellingham and Fede Valverde looking tired. With little rotation and six games in 19 days, it’s no surprise.
2. Could Jude Bellingham end his goal drought?
Yes. The Englishman surrendered a chance to score from the penalty spot to allow Vinícius Júnior to complete his hat-trick in the Spanish Super Cup final, but this time nobody was taking the ball off him as he took his first penalty for Real Madrid. He duly converted with a composed finish straight down the middle to end a run of five consecutive matches without scoring. That’s not to say that he has been playing poorly, he’s actually recorded an assist in three consecutive games including his last gasp cross to Dani Carvajal to seal the win on 99 minutes. He has been playing in a more complete midfield role, deeper and with more defensive responsibilities, but was once again one of the stand-out players for Real Madrid on this occasion.
3. Is this the game to give minutes to some of the reserve options?
That should have been the case according to Ancelotti. The triple change at the break gave Fran García, Brahim Díaz and Joselu minutes that they may have felt should have been starts, particularly after the impact of the latter two off the bench at the Metropolitano in midweek. “We changed the system with Joselu and Brahim,” Ancelotti explained after the game. “Especially with Joselu we tried to play more out wide and bring Bellingham closer to the penalty area. Vinicius played more on the inside and that allowed Fran García to move up the flank. Ceballos and Camavinga were also important. They showed that they could start.” With a full week of rest before taking on Las Palmas, they’ll be hoping to have proved a point.
1. When was the last time Real Madrid conceded so early?
Not since 2015, and a 4-1 win over Real Sociedad, have Real Madrid conceded a goal in the first 60 seconds of a LALIGA match. Not since records began in 2003/04 have Real Madrid gone in at half-time two goals down without a shot on target while playing at home. This first 45 minutes was truly a disastrous first half for Real Madrid in every sense. Almería have not won in LALIGA this season and have only held a two-goal lead twice previously this campaign (curiously one of those times coming against Girona). Fatigue and the wrong tactical set-up meant that Real Madrid were not switched on and had their work cut out in the second half to come back from behind and seal a crucial three points.
2. Is the midfield to blame for defensive weaknesses?
10 goals conceded across four games in the last two weeks is the same number as they conceded in the 14 previous games, which is a worrying trend for a side who have started to leak goals of late. There are two key explanations, one being the much-spoken about rotation of goalkeepers with Kepa starting ahead of Andriy Lunin for this game, and the other being the midfield. It’s true that Nacho was not at his best, again, in this match, but he was also offered scant protection from the men in front of him. Aurelién Tchouameni looked off the pace in midweek and, while improved, is still catching up after his spell on the sidelines, and Valverde and Toni Kroos were slow to track back too often. Covering the defensive injuries is taking a team effort, and that effort is taking its toll.
3. Did the referee and VAR get it right?
All of the post-match talk on this game will surround the refereeing decisions as VAR intervened on three separate occasions, all in favour of Real Madrid. It led to some furious reactions from Almería, with Gonzalo Melero saying “we feel like we’ve been robbed”, Marc Pubill adding “someone decided that we couldn’t win here today”, and coach Gaizka Garitano claiming “I have no words for what I’ve seen here today”. The reality is that most of the decisions could be justified. Almería claim there was an Antonio Rüdiger foul before the handball which gave Real Madrid a penalty, which will be hotly debated, and Dion Lopy’s flailing arm did hit Bellingham in a foul. The most controversial call was Vinícius’ shoulder goal. Given the inconclusive footage from various angles, it is a little surprising that VAR intervened to change the on-field decision, but it was Francisco Jose Hernández Maeso on the field who changed his call.