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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s nervous win over Mallorca

Antonio Rüdiger got the winning goal

Real Madrid v Real Mallorca - LaLiga EA Sports Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Real Madrid secured a winning start to 2024 as they overcame Mallorca at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu on a cold Wednesday night. The 1-0 win was courtesy of Antonio Rüdiger, with the German defender rising highest to head the only goal of the game into the back of the net with a powerful finish late on in the game.

Three answers

1. Who would play returning from injury?

The starting line-up featured Dani Carvajal and Vinícius Júnior all making returns from injuries. In addition, Aurélien Tchouameni was making his first start since the Clásico in October and was doing so out of position in defence. Carvajal was only out short-term, but Vinícius had spent a considerable time period on the sidelines. The Brazilian was afforded an hour on the field before being replaced by Brahim Díaz, and looked a little rusty. He recorded three shots, two on target, one impressively from outside the box, and completed three of his seven attempted dribbles. We saw flashes of Vini’s pace and cutting edge, but he didn’t seem to quite get out of first gear. In fairness to Ancelotti, he may be reluctant to have given him his return to action in the Copa del Rey against Arandina on a lower-tier field, or wait for the Super Cup next week, but some may question whether starting the forward in this tie was the right call.

2. Could Carlo Ancelotti match his record unbeaten at home?

With this victory, Real Madrid extend their unbeaten run at home to 19 matches including 16 wins and three draws. Only once before has Carletto achieved that many, between April 2022 and February 2023 as he recorded 14 victories and five ties. This was far from the most comfortable game of the 19-match streak, and Ancelotti may have expected it to be a little less stressful, but the side got the job done and secured his record. It’s an impressive feat which all Madridistas will be expecting to extend further when Almería arrive next up in just under three weeks’ time, with what seems like a winnable tie to extend the ru to 20 games.

3. Would we see Arda Güler in action?

There has been plenty of hype and expectation surrounding Arda Güler since the Turkish teenager joined the club in the summer but injuries have prevented him from making his debut even now, 181 days after his arrival was made official. On the bench for the start of the game, the expectation was that he would make it off the bench should the game progress as expected. The only problem for the Turk was that it didn’t quite happen as expected. Ancelotti made changes on 85 minutes but preferred to go with Dani Ceballos in midfield to see out the result which was still on the edge with only one goal between the teams. The wait for Güler’s first appearance in a Real Madrid shirt goes on, and will surely happen now against Arandina in the Copa del Rey this weekend.

Three questions

1. Which attacking set-up works best?

It’s clear that going with Joselu in the frontline involves an entirely different offensive set-up to one which lines up with Rodrygo Goes and Vinícius Júnior as the front two. Yet, it was only after the introduction of the target man on 68 minutes that Real Madrid’s attacking play really got going against this Mallorca low block. With one of his first touches he held the ball up to play in Jude Bellingham, and by offering an outlet he provided a physical presence which enabled Real Madrid to make the most of their wide play. It was through a set piece, where Joselu again posed a danger, that the goal eventually came against a side who were up for a physical battle.

2. What decision will Ancelotti make on his goalkeepers?

Before this game, Carlo Ancelotti insisted that “in each game, I am going to choose the goalkeeper that gives me the most confidence”, but to continue in that vein through the rest of the season seems impractical. He claimed that Lunin got the nod on Wednesday evening owing to Kepa suffering with the flu, but the Ukrainian did not produce his best display in a Real Madrid shirt. The Ukrainian had an awkward miscommunication with Antonio Rüdiger in the first half and was booked before the break for dissent as he came off worse in a physical battle which almost allowed Mallorca in. That said, his distribution was better, with one eye-catching long pass down the right flank to Fede Valverde, and his command of the box generally appeared improved. Ancelotti has a decision to make, and Lunin may not have helped himself a great deal with this performance.

3. Was that the quickest yellow card ever at the Bernabéu?

It took referee Alejandro Muñiz Ruiz only nine seconds to brandish his first yellow card of the game as he showed it to Siebe van der Heyden for a flailing arm in an aerial challenge with Dani Carvajal in a move almost straight from Mallorca’s own kick-off. The referee seemed to come to regret that decision as the Belgian tripped Rodrygo on the edge of the box just before half-time but avoided a second yellow card and it was no surprise that Mallorca coach Javier Aguirre took the defender off at half-time. This was Muñiz Ruiz’s first game in charge of Real Madrid three seasons into his career as a top-flight referee, and he seemed to have the previous meeting between the two teams in mind given that Alejandro José Hernández Hernández showed 10 yellow cards in the fixture in February.

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