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Three talking points from Napoli 2-3 Real Madrid | UEFA Champions League

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Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Real Madrid are the sole leaders of Group C in the UEFA Champions League. They now bear a comfortable three-point cushion over their closest competitors and are in the driver’s seat to finish as table-toppers.

The pinnacle position, however, did not come easy. Faced against Napoli away from home on Matchday 2, Los Blancos had their work cut out for them. They eventually came out as 3-2 victors, but the result could well have gone either way.

Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Jr. were on the scoresheet on the night while the third came from an Alex Meret own goal as the men in white recorded their third win on the trot.

Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from Napoli 2-3 Real Madrid.

Pressure of the highest degree

Real Madrid were pushed to the limit at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on Tuesday night, and rightfully so. After all, it was a clash between two of Europe’s biggest names.

Los Blancos boast of the most coveted history in the UCL and are known as the kings of the competition. Napoli, however, are champions in their own right having conquered the Serie A just last season.

When the two giants locked horns, the result was unsurprisingly 90 minutes of tightly contested and gruelly fought football. In fact, it was Carlo Ancelotti’s side that spent longer spells on the backfoot.

The Italians finished the game with a superior xG tally of 1.98 (as opposed to Real Madrid’s 1.48) and were unlucky to garner no points. In the end, the difference between the two sides was the quality in front of goal.

Napoli recorded seven shots on target, forced four saves from Kepa Arrizabalaga, and had two big chances on the night. They also hit the woodwork once.

For the Merengues to walk away with three points from such a neck-to-neck battle speaks volumes about their resilience and ability to shine under pressure. Needless to say, the return fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu will be another colossal battle.

Napoli gifted a way back

A penalty that never should have been. (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

Rudi Garcia’s men took the early lead on Tuesday through a well-worked set-piece delivery. Real Madrid responded as they always do – with fearless attack – and turned the tables around with two goals in the first half.

The ball was thus in the Galacticos’ park heading into the second period. They were under pressure after the restart but held their own to deny the hosts any clear goalscoring chance.

The 54th minute, however, turned the tables around. VAR intervention saw the visitors concede a precious penalty when the ball unfortunately struck Nacho Fernandez’s arm in the box. His hand was not in any unnatural position, and it is still unclear as to how the incident led to a spot kick.

Gifted a chance to level the scores, Piotr Zielinski took it with both hands and thus began a period of serious Italian dominance.

The following 20 minutes saw Napoli push forward in numbers and put the pressure on Real Madrid with incessant attacks. Considering that their equalising goal was controversial, to begin with, the script could well have been different had the referee made the logical call.

Three glorious goals

Real Madrid walked away with three points last night purely because of their superior finishing. After all, all three goals were sights to behold.

The visitors’ equaliser stemmed off a loose pass from Napoli that was quickly won back by Jude Bellingham. The youngster found Vinicius Jr. between the lines, and the Brazilian executed the perfect finish.

Faced with a tricky angle, he took a touch to eliminate the defenders and slotted the ball beyond Meret’s reach.

Minutes later, the Merengues took the lead with an audacious goal from Jude Bellingham. The English youngster received the ball at the halfway line and began a vertical run.

As he wriggled his way through the Napoli bodies, he suddenly cut inside and eliminated the defenders. The youngster then lashed a shot past the goalkeeper to complete the perfect solo run.

The team’s third, and winning goal, was the epitome of a perfect winner. Federico Valverde’s vicious volley from outside the area flew like a bullet towards a helpless Alex Meret.

Before the Napoli goalkeeper knew what had struck him, the ball had struck the post and taken a rebound off the back of his head to deposit itself in the back of the goal. A sight to behold.

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Features

Real Madrid’s best lineup next season with Kroos retiring, Mbappe and Endrick joining

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Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP via Getty Images

It is set up to be a transformative summer for Real Madrid. After the UEFA Champions League final has concluded and the grand showdown finally has a victor, the Merengues are expected to undergo a squad revamp.

Indeed, the Santiago Bernabeu is preparing to welcome several high-profile signings, while also bidding farewell to some beloved Madrid legends.

Considering the potential arrivals of Kylian Mbappe and Endrick, as well as Toni Kroos’ recent retirement, here is how Real Madrid could shape up next season:

Goalkeeper

Having made a long-awaited return from injury, Thibaut Courtois is anticipated to guard Real Madrid’s goal next season once more.

The Belgian goalie has already started featuring in the starting XI and is expected to play against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final, too.

As such, his place for next season is hardly in doubt. However, unlike previous seasons, he will face much fiercer competition from Andriy Lunin, who has enjoyed a stellar campaign.

Defence

Fortifications in the defensive line remain high on Real Madrid’s priority list in the upcoming summer transfer window. However, even with the given options the Royal Whites boast assurance and grit in their back-line.

The likely occupants on the flanks would be Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy, who have both produced great exhibitions throughout the campaign.

Ferland Mendy has the full trust of Carlo Ancelotti. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Carvajal is known to punish defensive lines and on the defensive end, his anticipation of forwards has been equally appreciable.

Meanwhile, Mendy’s resurgence this season has earned him immense faith from the coaching staff, as his defensive aptitude continues to set him apart.

In the centre-back positions, Real Madrid are expected to rely on the dependable figures of Antonio Rudiger and Eder Militao.

Real Madrid consider Rudiger to be indispensable owing to his front-footed style and the important role he has had to play amidst the injury crisis. Similarly, Militao is valued by the team as he proceeds to regain match fitness after recovering from a long-term injury.

Midfield

The void of Toni Kroos in midfield will compel coach Carlo Ancelotti and co. to
reconsider their midfield strategy.

Real Madrid will be unable to count on Kroos next season. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Thankfully for Real Madrid, their succession stage had begun a while ago and they have ample options to trust in the center of the park.

With Aurelien Tchouameni protecting the base of midfield, Real Madrid will possess security and deep progression.

Ahead, occupying the interior midfield positions, Fede Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga are well-suited to provide a combination of energy off the ball and threat in possession.

And to put the cherry on top, Jude Bellingham’s place as the number 10 behind the two strikers would certify his status as a pivotal playmaker and scorer in the team’s setup.

However, he is adept at making third-man runs and connecting the midfield with the offence and could play deeper to not only make up for Kroos’ absence but also facilitate more options up front.

Attack

Real Madrid’s offensive department is where the largest reform is expected to take place.

Kylian Mbappe’s goalscoring instincts need little introduction by now and he is thus anticipated to be fielded as the striker.

Vinicius Jr. is expected to take up the position as a secondary striker drifting from the left, something he has become quite accustomed to this season.

Endrick will have to battle for a starting spot. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

It is worth noting that Endrick could also play a part by either replacing Vinicius off the bench and playing off Mbappe.

It remains to be seen how many men forward Ancelotti will commit to but the presence of Mbappe and Vinicius seems set in stone, given their huge profiles and status in world football. How the manager uses Rodrygo Goes will be interesting to see as well.

All in all, considering Ancelotti’s proficiency in profiling players, Madrid fans can expect to see these stars play in favourable environments.

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