Four games into the season and Real Madrid are the only perfect side in La Liga. It does not require much more to understand the explosive start Carlo Ancelotti’s side have enjoyed this term.
The men in white thrashed Celtic midweek and started their UCL title defence with a bang. They return to the Santiago Bernabeu tomorrow to face off against the league’s 12th-placed side, RCD Mallorca.
Javier Aguirre’s men currently sit on five points and have won only one of their four games. Of their other three fixtures, they drew two and lost one.
With another UCL clash in less than a week’s time, Los Blancos cannot afford to lose their momentum. A win on Sunday would not only keep them high in spirits but also safeguard their lead over Barcelona.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Sunday’s early kick-off.
1. How will Vinicius carry on without Benzema
The best teams, indeed, do not rely on individual brilliance to win games. However, there is always that one player who provides something extra and makes a difference regularly.
For Real Madrid, that player is Karim Benzema. If one were to go back to last season’s records, they would find that Los Blancos’ worst periods of the term coincided with the Frenchman’s absence. Even in the preseason, Carlo Ancelotti’s side lost their only game without Benzema.
The striker’s role at Real Madrid goes far beyond just scoring goals. His involvement in pressing the opposition, in the buildup and as a captain on the field is invaluable.
Benzema seemed to be picking up after a slow start to the season, but the joy was short-lived as he was forced off with a knee injury against Celtic. Reports suggest that the veteran will face around two weeks on the sidelines and will miss tomorrow’s clash in the process.
The focus lights will now shine brighter on the team’s next most potent attacker- Vinicius Jr. The Brazilian’s game has levelled up significantly over the past year and has become a terror for opposition defences.
In just four La Liga games so far, he has scored three goals and provided one assist. Moreover, he opened his season’s tally in the UEFA Champions League against Celtic. With all eyes on him on Sunday, the youngster will look to show that he can lead Real Madrid’s attack on his own.
2. A new role for Eden Hazard
Karim Benzema’s unavailability opens up a starting spot in Carlo Ancelotti’s lineup against Mallorca. The manager confirmed in his press conference that Eden Hazard would take that place and added that he would play as a false nine.
Not only is this a change for the Belgian star’s role but also for the team’s overall formation. The new setup will see two strikers in Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo, supported from the halfspaces by Eden Hazard.
Such a formation will reduce the width of the team in attack as it sees no direct wingers in action. The Belgian International will thus be crucial on the night as the creative core of the team.
It will be the first time Hazard is starting a game for Real Madrid in 231 days, and he will look to make the most of his chance. The 31-year-old has endured a difficult time since his arrival from Chelsea, and this could well be his final shot at making it big at the club of his dreams.
3. Antonio Rudiger’s window of opportunity
When the news of Antonio Rudiger’s transfer arrived to Spain, it seemed clear that the German would be a regular starter for Real Madrid. It was thought that he would replace David Alaba in central defence, with the Austrian international moving to left-back.
However, the reality was far different from the expectation. Rudiger’s first few weeks at the club have been difficult, and he has started just two of Los Blancos’ six games so far. In his 200 minutes so far in La Liga, the German has averaged less than four defensive actions per game.
The manager has stuck with his tried and tested combination of Alaba and Militao so far, and continues to persist with Ferland Mendy as the left-back. For that to change, the 29-year-old will have to prove his worth to Ancelotti.
Luckily for him, that chance comes as early as Sunday. Militao’s thigh injury has ruled him out of action for at least the next two games, and Rudiger is best placed to replace the Brazilian defender. He will start against Mallorca alongside Alaba and will look to stitch up a special performance.
Real Madrid 3-1 Atletico Madrid: Player Ratings
A scintillating Madrid derby saw Real Madrid leap past Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid by a scoreline of 3-1 to book a place in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey. As one-sided as the scoreline looks, the game was far from that.
Atletico Madrid took the early lead through Alvaro Morata in the first half and held onto their lead for close to an hour. However, Rodrygo had other plans and equalised for the hosts with a stunning solo strike to force extra time.
Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr then scored in the first and second periods of extra time to give Real Madrid the win. Notably, Los Rojiblancos were down to ten men by that point, with Stefan Savic having been sent off.
Madrid Universal brings you the player ratings for both teams at the Madrid derby.
Thibaut Courtois: 8.5
Absolutely gargantuan. Made a whopping five saves to keep his side in the game throughout, including four from inside the box.
Nacho Fernandez: 7.5
Playing as a right-back, Nacho did a great job at controlling Reinildo and Antoine Griezmann.
Eder Militao: 8
Calm, cool, and composed. 13 recoveries, seven clearances, four headed clearances, one interception and six duels won in addition to a game-high 117 passes.
Antonio Rudiger: 7
Tight performance from the German, was part of Real Madrid’s resilient defence that prevented an Atleti equaliser late on.
Ferland Mendy: 4
One of the Merengues’ worst players in the first half, limited their width in the final third and did not involve in the buildup. Replaced before half-time after suffering an injury.
Luka Modric: 7.5
Played the full 120 minutes and returned to his imperial best after a mild slump in recent games. Had 136 touches, completed 94% of his passes. Led the team with 22 passes into the final third and assisted Rodrygo’s opener.
Eduardo Camavinga: 7
Did well as the pivot against Simeone’s men, and showed the world that he can compete with Aurelien Tchouameni for a spot as the holding midfielder.
Toni Kroos: 7
Reliable as ever in his 74 minutes on the field. Completed 97% of his passes, created two chances and had 11 passes into the final third. Defensively, he recorded six recoveries, a headed clearance, two clearances and won three duels.
Federico Valverde: 6
A relatively sub-par performance from the Uruguayan. Took five shots against Real Madrid, but only one hit the target. Looked slightly off from the get-go but did not make any glaring mistakes either.
Karim Benzema: 8
A lively presence in attack created three chances and took four shots on the night. Had his big moment in the first half of extra time when he found himself at the receiving end of Rodrygo’s ball across the goal. Faced with an open goal, the Frenchman gave his side the lead.
Vinicius Jr: 8.5
Phenomenal, as is the norm. Was a constant threat down the left flank, and created five chances including a big chance. Got the assist to his name on the night, though Rodrygo deservedly can claim to have been the one to spot Benzema’s good position.
Scored a solo golazo in the final minute of the game to make it 3-1 after he ran past the entire Atleti defence and beat Oblak with a low shot.
Dani Ceballos: 8.5
Kept up his good form in the derby, and found Vinicius for the final goal of the game. Sensational cameo with 120 touches despite not playing the first half.
The youngster came on in the 70th minute for Valverde and got on the scoreboard just ten minutes later. Scored a world-class goal to level things up by running beyond four Atletico defenders and poking the ball past Oblak.
Was a lively presence throughout, and injected energy into Real Madrid’s forward line when they needed it the most. Assisted the second goal with great presence of mind.
Marco Asensio: 3
Discouraging cameo disappeared on the field after coming on.
Jan Oblak: 6
Continued his poor run of form. Could have reacted better to both Rodrygo and Vinicius’ goals as he was easily beaten near the post.
Nahuel Molina: 7.5
The Argentine’s one-touch ball across the face of the goal after receiving Koke’s pass was the reason Los Rojiblancos could take the lead. Was massive in defence with six recoveries and three clearances. Not much he could do about the goals scored by Real.
Stefan Savic: 5
The veteran centre-back was taken to the cleaners by Rodrygo for Real Madrid’s equaliser but was solid for most of the remainder of the game.
Made a headless decision to commit to a late poor tackle on Camavinga. As a result, he saw a second yellow and left his team a man down for extra time.
Mario Hermoso: 6.5
Average performance from the Spanish defender was left to fight a lone bate after Savic’s sending-off.
One of the Rojiblancos’ most disappointing players against Real Madrid. Offered absolutely nothing in the final third and suffered defensively against Rodrygo in the second half.
Was absolutely vital for Atletico’s opening goal as he found Molina with a very difficult lofted ball. However, a relatively average performance from the Spanish veteran apart from his moment of magic. Nothing flashy.
Rodrigo de Paul: 7
The World Cup winner played over 80 minutes and drove Atletico’s midfield. Created two chances and a big chance, and completed 90% of his attempted 71 passes.
Thomas Lemar: 4.5
Barely visible in his 75 minutes on the field, no major contributions or extensive involvement in Atletico’s play.
Antoine Griezmann: 6.5
Led the charge for Atletico in attack and put in a hard-working defensive performance to back it up. Yet, one would expect more impact from a player of his stature.
Angel Correa: 5
Was a shadow of his true self, and lost a game-high nine duels at Santiago Bernabeu.
Alvaro Morata: 8
Helped Atletico Madrid take the lead against his former club with a simple finish into an open goal. Had just 12 passes in 63 minutes, and completed just six. Could not record a single shot on goal apart from the one he scored from.
Axel Witsel: 4.5
Came on at the hour mark for Morata as Diego Simeone looked to flip on the defensive switch. Created and missed a big chance each during his stay on the field but was horribly undone by Rodrygo for the Merengues’ equaliser. Involved in another mess-up in Real Madrid’s second as he failed to clear the ball.
Yannick Carrasco: 4
Just 22 touches and 14 passes in close to 45 minutes of action.
Memphis Depay: 6
Had a good chance to equalise in the 109th minute but put forward a tame effort. A good cameo from the Dutchman from a creative perspective, nevertheless.
Saul Niguez: 6
Good defensive numbers in his cameo but could not give Simeone’s side any edge in the final third.
Geoffrey Kondogbia: 6
Nothing flashy from the central midfielder completed 100% of his attempted dribbles.