Real Madrid World Cup spotlight: Asensio, Courtois shine, but Hazard underwhelms
Wednesday brought with it some of the 2022 FIFA Word Cup’s most important results. There were shocks and surprises, both good and bad, as a new set of teams made their debut in Qatar and showed the world what they bring to the table.
The day kicked off with a clash between 2018 runners-up Croatia and Morocco. Luka Modric’s side were expected to coast to a win in their opener but could only manage a stale draw.
The action then shifted to Germany vs Japan, a game that brought with it arguably the biggest talking point of the day. After taking an early lead against the Asians, Germany lost the plot in the closing minutes and conceded twice to forfeit all three points.
Spain then took on and demolished Costa Rica by seven goals, the highest number of goals ever scored by La Roja in a World Cup game. Luis Enrique’s side announced their arrival in style and could not have dreamt of a better start in Qatar.
The final game of the day saw Belgium defeat Canada by one goal. However, the game had no dearth of action as the Red Devils were made to work hard for all three points.
Madrid Universal brings you an overview of the performances of Real Madrid players on the night.
Luka Modric (Croatia vs Morocco)
While the 2018 edition of the World Cup saw just one goalless draw, there has been no shortage of 0-0 scorelines in Qatar. Croatia were expected to open their campaign with a bang after their deep run four years ago, but were forced to settle for just one point without even finding the back of the net once.
While the game in itself was uninspiring and lacking in attacking chances, Croatia’s team revolved around Luka Modric for any sort of initiative on the ball. The midfielder was everywhere on the pitch, commanding his defence at times and also creating a spark in the final third.
Croatia’s orchestrator-in-chief had 107 touches on the night and attempted a whopping nine crosses and eight long balls while also making close to ten defensive contributions. He was named the Man of the Match for his tireless 90 minutes, and rightfully so.
Antonio Rudiger (Germany vs Japan)
Germany’s defeat to Japan was the most shocking result of Wednesday, especially considering that they were leading with 15 minutes to go. To concede two goals from there on and lose the match does not read well for the German defence, and Real Madrid’s Antonio Rudiger was part of the backline that collapsed.
The former Chelsea player did not do much wrong on the night and was solid for most parts of the game. He won 100% of his duels, made five recoveries, two clearances and two blocks. At the same time, he missed one big chance at the other end.
But there was more than one instance in the second half when he appeared to take things lightly against Japan. Nevertheless, questions need to be asked of the German defence after a collapse like Wednesday’s.
Marco Asensio (Spain vs Costa Rica)
Luis Enrique gave Asensio a start in Spain’s curtain-raiser and the Real Madrid forward did not disappoint. In a team that has lacked a decisive figure in front of the goal in recent years, Asensio played that role when needed whilst dropping into the spaces during the buildup.
He scored La Roja’s second goal with a well-timed half-volley off Jordi Alba’s cross and was a constant threat in Costa Rica’s area. He had one shot on target out of four total shots and even had one blocked attempt. Simply put, Asensio made a strong case to be a regular starter for Luis Enrique’s side.
Dani Carvajal (Spain vs Costa Rica)
The veteran stayed on the bench through the ninety minutes as the manager opted to give Cesar Azpilicueta the start at right-back.
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium vs Canada)
Thibaut Courtois has set high standards for himself through his consistently top-class displays at the club level. Starting for the Red Devils against Canada, he was once again at his surreal best to see his side to a narrow 1-0 win.
In the ninth minute of the game, Tajon Buchanan won a penalty for his team and Belgium seemed set to go behind. However, Courtois stopped Alphonso Davies with a perfect dive to deny the North American side.
In addition to the saved penalty, the Belgian also made three saves from inside the box and completed close to 80% of his passes.
Eden Hazard (Belgium vs Canada)
Handed a start by Robert Martinez against Canada, Eden Hazard disappointed once again. Yet, it was not unexpected given the forward’s horrendous form for Real Madrid.
In over an hour on the field, Hazard failed to take a single shot both on and off the target. His contributions on the field were close to nothing, especially in attack. Hazard was eventually replaced by Leandro Trossard in the 62nd minute.
Three talking points from Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid | La Liga
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid fell to a 2-1 defeat against Barcelona on their first trip to Spotify Camp Nou after more than a year.
The Catalans had not won against the Merengues at home since 2018 ahead of the game but a clutch goal from Franck Kessie helped them turn around the record.
Vinicius Jr opened the scoring early in the game by forcing an error and own goal from Ronald Araujo. The hosts levelled the score in the 45th minute through Sergi Roberto, before the winner arrived in stoppage time.
The game was not without its share of controversy as Real Madrid had a goal disallowed for offside that Ancelotti felt was unfair. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from the fourth Clasico of the season.
1. Quality of full-backs
Real Madrid have etched their names into history as one of the most deadly counter-attacking teams in world football. Their pacey transitions and shifts of play have traditionally progressed through the wing with unreal speed to catch the opponent off-guard even in a momentary lapse in concentration.
Needless to say, the full-backs have always worked in tandem with the team’s wingers to make such speedy counters possible. The glaring problem at Real Madrid currently is that their full-backs do not provide half as much as they need to.
Los Blancos’ counterattack now seemingly consists of only Vinicius Jr on the left wing making a quick transition to find Karim Benzema. With just one outlet, it is difficult for the men in white to be effective.
The story at Spotify Camp Nou was very similar. Dani Carvajal started as the right-back and had a good showing defensively. Yet, he was virtually absent in the final third and left Real Madrid’s right-wing lifeless. In ninety minutes, he managed no crosses or long balls and had just one key pass.
The story at left-back was equally, if not more abysmal. Nacho Fernandez was the candidate deployed in the position and could also not manage a single cross, long ball or key pass on the night. He was eventually substituted for Ferland Mendy but the Frenchman could not do much either.
The difference in the quality of full-backs between Barcelona and Ancelotti’s side is gaping. The Catalans blazed through the wings on the night with Ronald Araujo and Alejandro Balde who constantly got forward in attack to stretch the men in white. In response, Real Madrid had nothing.
2. A dead right-wing and lack of intensity
It is imperative for any top football team to have the resources to attack both wings, for it is the constant switching of play that triggers errors from the opposition. For a club like Real Madrid to not have such resources is criminal.
The game against Barcelona was completely predictable given that the Merengues’ right wing was nonexistent. Any attack, almost surely, had to come down Vinicius’ wing and this made Barcelona’s defensive work easier.
Dani Carvajal was barely involved in the final third against the Catalans. That, coupled with Federico Valverde’s atrocious showing as the right-winger removed one side of the field from Real Madrid’s game.
Valverde made just 27 passes in 76 minutes and failed to make a single cross on the night. Further, he recorded just one key pass and one accurate long ball in El Clasico.
When Marco Asensio came on for Los Blancos, the equation completely turned around. The winger came on as a direct replacement for Valverde and happened to score the disallowed goal that was millimetres from giving Real Madrid three points.
More importantly, the move for the aforementioned goal was completely down the right flank, a testament to the alarming situation.
3. Goodbye La Liga?
When the clock at Spotify Camp Nou struck 81 minutes, the race for La Liga seemed to be on. Real Madrid had just scored a possible winner and had cut short their deficit with Barcelona to just six points.
Ten minutes later, the scoreline read 2-1 in favour of the hosts. Their lead atop the league standings was suddenly twelve points with just 12 games to go.
History is witness that counting out Real Madrid does not fare well. However, it is difficult to surpass the supposition that the 12-point gap is too wide to bridge.
Los Blancos will continue to fight in the league, but Ancelotti will likely preserve his weapons for the UEFA Champions League where they face a bigger chance at glory.