After securing maximum points at Real Betis last Saturday, Real Madrid returned to action on Wednesday night at the Estadio Alfredo di Stefano.
Their performance last weekend was hardly convincing, and they were in the hunt for some consistency against a struggling Real Valladolid. The match did end in favour of the hosts, of course, but Los Blancos were far from at their ruthless best.
The only goal of the 1-0 win came on the 65th minute through substitute Vinicius Jr, who benefitted from a comedy of errors inside the Valladolid box. The Merengues did try to double their advantage but were left undone by their lacklustre finishing and the brilliance of Valladolid stopper, Roberto.
Yet, despite their recent good fortunes and comfortable league position, coach Zinedine Zidane has to take note of the weaknesses and strengths of his team and make sure they don’t end up handing Barcelona the advantage.
A tough affair that was finally settled by a spirited Brazilian — here are three big takeaways from Real Madrid’s first home game of the season.
#3 Thibaut Courtois’ underrated genius
Last night, Real Madrid ended the match with 63% possession — a figure well beyond comfortable. They had the better players on the pitch and, of course, came away with all three points. Yet, despite the encouraging stats and figures, the match was far from a shoo-in for Real Madrid.
Real Valladolid took a total of 11 shots on target, last night, and five of those forced Thibaut Courtois to come to his club’s rescue. He standing saves and diving saves. He controlled the ball and distributed it. He organised his back-line expertly and made sure not to give the control away to the visitors.
Thibaut Courtois, once again, showed how crucial a piece he is. He, once again, proved that his debut-season woes are well and truly behind him. He emerged as a brick wall against Real Valladolid and made sure his team walked out with all three points.
#2 Marcelo slips, Modric shines
Zinedine Zidane’s tinkering with his line-up continued on Wednesday night, as he named Marcelo and Luka Modric into the starting XI against Valladolid.
The Croatian, in many ways, was an obvious choice, as Real Madrid were in desperate need of some midfield stability after Toni Kroos’ injury. Marcelo’s inclusion, on the other hand, was much more surprising.
The Brazilian was given a shot to give current first-choice, Ferland Mendy, a run for his money. Sadly, the Brazilian failed to portray consistency down the left channel and was only restricted to some moments of individual brilliance.
His crossing looked rusty, he gave away the ball quite regularly, and his back-tracking, too, wasn’t noteworthy. Overall, a disappointing outing for the club legend.
While the left-back struggled to put on a show, a certain 35-year-old ran the show from the middle of the park. The elected player of the match, Luka Modric, played the whole 90, hit the crossbar, created four chances, completed 62 passes, and allowed Real Madrid to keep hold of the middle throughout.
The former Ballon d’Or winner’s stamina and hunger impressed every Madridista watching from their homes, and we’re sure of seeing more of the same in the coming weeks.
#1 Luka Jovic’s misfortunes
After enduring a hopeless debut season, Serbian sharpshooter, Luka Jovic, was tipped to play a crucial part in Real Madrid’s La Liga title defence.
However, only two weeks into the new campaign, rumours started linking him to a loan move. We aren’t aware of any recent developments, but two successive starting XI appearances certainly look encouraging.
Against Valladolid, Zinedine Zidane, once again, tried the Luka Jovic-Karim Benzema pairing up top, but with some adjustments. The Frenchman allowed Jovic to drop deeper than his last outing and gave Benzema a more central role.
This tweak saw Jovic enjoy more possession and even link up well with his team-mates. He held up the ball well, combined with Alvaro Odriozola, and even showed flashes of his dribbling. Sadly, the end product, once again, was missing.
He missed the mark in the first half from Fede Valverde’s delicious delivery — scuffing the ball narrowly wide. In the second 45, he managed to direct a header towards Roberto’s goal, but the Valladolid keeper was up to the task.
He was finally taken off just before the hour mark, making way for Vinicius Jr — who eventually scored the winning goal.