Real Madrid beat Mallorca 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu in what proved to be a very gritty affair. Los Blancos looked rusty and lacked freshness – as pointed out by Carlo Ancelotti during his post-game presser – and struggled to create too many chances. But, an Antonio Rudiger winner at the very end meant that Real Madrid would start the new year as they ended the last one – top of La Liga with another clean sheet. Here are my three observations from a rather dull game.
A typical Real Madrid game in January, but one that ended in a victory
We all know Real Madrid aren’t exactly the best team in the world when they return from their Christmas break. They’re far from it. Even in the club’s historically good seasons, there’s always a blip at the start of January which usually normalises. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a good season.
We saw chunks of that today as a number of Real Madrid players, Jude Bellingham (surprisingly) included, looked rusty and a foot slow. There weren’t enough chances, not enough movement in the final third and the players just looked tired. Most of them, anyway.
The difference was Real Madrid still managed to score despite the blip, Rudiger – more on him later – had a really good performance, as did Luka Modric, and Real Madrid actually won the game. It shocked me.
These sorts of wins – and the one against Alaves – where you fight for every ball, and make it ugly, are what win you championships. That’s why Real Madrid are top of the table right now.
Antonio Rudiger is majestic
In what has become one of his most important seasons as a football player, Rudiger is also playing best football of his entire career. Real have needed him the most, amid so many injuries in the centre-back department, and his minutes have already eclipsed the 1900 mark, which is a lot, but Carlo doesn’t have too many options. In a season where the team really needed him, Rudiger has not only been reliable, he has probably been the best centre-back in the world. He showed that again vs Mallorca as he led the defensive line, did everything he was asked to do, made crisp passes and intercepted everything that came his way. Oh, and he also scored the only goal for Los Blancos.
Rudiger had a couple of really good seasons at Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel, but that also had more defensive coverage, which automatically meant slightly more wiggle room due to a five-defender system. His deficiencies were well-hidden, and he produced really, really good performances in damn near every single game.
Now, the German centre-back plays in a much more open, much more vulnerable system, with a very high line consisting of only two players – sometimes one – staying back. And he’s undoubtedly even better than the player Chelsea sold to Real. He is very mature with his decision-making, bullies players better than ever before and has proved to be one of the best pieces of business Real Madrid have done in recent years. He’s also a big reason why Real Madrid are doing so well defensively.
It also shows the importance of having three world-class centre-backs instead of just two at a club of Real Madrid’s stature. If Rudiger weren’t in the squad, it wouldn’t be so sunny in Madrid. Another awesome game from the player who likes to slap everyone during celebrations. Never change, Rudiger.
Arda Guler might be a myth, and Brahim Diaz might not be the best header of the ball
This is going to be short and light, since I was really having difficulties coming up with a suitable observation to add at the end.
The only minutes Arda Guler has spent on the Santiago Bernabeu pitch this season are during warmups. He might not be real. If he doesn’t play in the Copa Del Rey, the satire in this sentence will turn into actual worry.
And Brahim Diaz can’t head the ball that well. He missed from two yards. It’ll be talked about by all Real Madrid fans as one of the more bizarre misses for years to come. It was quite funny, if I’m honest.
I probably wouldn’t be laughing at it if the game ended in a draw.