Real Madrid World Cup spotlight: Vinicius, Valverde dazzle
Thursday was an eventful day in Qatar, for the final set of eight teams made their debut in the 2022 edition of the FIFA World Cup. The general theme of conservative football persisted through all four games, and while the first two games saw few goals, the later kickoffs restored parity with great ones.
The day began with Switzerland taking on Cameroon in a surprisingly even clash. Only one goal separated the two sides at full time, and that came in the 48th minute with Breel Embolo scoring via a Xherdan Shaqiri assist.
The action then shifted to Uruguay vs South Korea at Education City stadium where the two sides played a monotonous game and shared the spoils.
The third game was the most eventful of the lot, as UEFA EURO 2016 champions Portugal were made to work very hard against Ghana for a 3-2 win at Stadium 974.
The last, and perhaps most anticipated clash was between Brazil and Serbia and the game did not disappoint. The South Americans walked away with three points courtesy of a brace from Richarlison and ended the day atop Group G.
Madrid Universal brings you an overview of the performances of Real Madrid players who were in action on Thursday.
Federico Valverde (Uruguay vs South Korea)
Uruguay’s game against South Korea was the first time this century that a FIFA World Cup game saw no shots on target throughout its course. Both teams had a combined xG of just around 1, a clear indication of the nature of the game played at the Education City stadium.
It was a special night for Federico Valverde, who made his World Cup debut against the Asian side. However, unlike his usual deployment on the right-wing as under Carlo Ancelotti this season, the player was placed in his traditional position, midfield.
Though the game was quite a dull affair with few chances created, Valverde was amongst the more inspired players on the field and worked hard for the ninety minutes. He started on the right side of midfield but often drifted out of position to cover for any defensive voids.
He had 80 touches and completed 56 passes in ninety minutes with an accuracy of close to 90%. In addition to hitting the woodwork once with a thunderous strike from outside the box, the Uruguayan also recorded three shots off-target and made two key passes.
Defensively, he won four out of six attempted ground duels in addition to two tackles. The 24-year-old’s debut could certainly have been sweeter with a win, yet is one he should be proud of on such a big stage.
Vinicius Jr (Brazil vs Serbia)
In the months leading up to the World Cup, it seemed to be a general public consensus that Brazil were the frontrunner to walk away with the title in Qatar. Needless to say, there was much hype around their opener against Serbia to see the sheer level and class of their forward line.
Yet, the game did not bring the Brazilian flair one expected. Tite’s men found it difficult to break through the well-organised Serbian defence in the first half and it was finally Vinicius Jr who helped them take the lead.
In the 62nd minute, Neymar Jr dribbled past a host of Serbian players before laying the ball for Vinicius Jr. The youngster directly fired at the goal from the left side and had his shot parried away by Vanja Milinkovic-Savic. However, the rebound fell kindly for Richarlison who buried it in the back of the net.
Ten minutes later, the Real Madrid protege once again opened the doors for his National Team and set up the second goal. His well-timed low cross from the left wing found the Tottenham Hotspur striker again before he finished it in style.
The 22-year-old played 76 minutes for the South American side, making 43 touches and completing 20 passes. In addition to his assist, he had four key passes, and four shots with one on target.
Rodrygo Goes (Brazil vs Serbia)
The youngster came on for Vinicius Jr for the final 15 minutes and had a solid debut. In his limited time on the field, Rodrygo made 24 touches including 12 accurate passes with a 100% completion rate. Further, he also recorded one shot on target and another one of his.
Eder Militao (Brazil vs Serbia)
The UCL-winning centre-back started on the bench for Tite’s men as the manager opted for a combination of Thiago Silva and Marquinhos at centre-back. Did not even come off the bench late in the second period.
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.