Karim Benzema scored twice in the 88th and 100th minutes to give Real Madrid a 3-1 win at Espanyol on Sunday night. Vinicius Jr scored the visitors’ opener before Joselu equalised.
The win moved Madrid to the top of the La Liga table, two points behind arch-rivals Barcelona in third place.
1. Tachoumeni is looking at home
It was another game – the second in a row – in which Aurelian Tachoumeni looked like a worthy successor to Casemiro in Real Madrid’s midfield. Indeed, his assist for the opener – a clever through-ball that saved Vinicius from slotting past goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte – was a sign that Tachoumeni is indeed an upgrade when it comes to attacking contributions.
They occupy similar positions in the team – it was the first time Tchoumeni had started with both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric – but the youngster is eager and quick to get going. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has already given plenty of recognition.
“He’s in the box,” the Madrid manager said last week. “I wouldn’t ask him to play like Casemiro.”
Completion of Tchoumeni’s pass was also outstanding here, which was completed at 94%.
Like the rest of the team, they found the second half more difficult as Espanyol increased the pace, but the early signs are good. Casemiro has yet to miss.
2. Defensive switches cause uncertainty
Ancelotti has made it clear that last year’s double-winning central defensive duo, David Alaba and Eder Militao, will be first choice as the campaign gets underway. That left high-profile summer signing Antonio Rudiger with some unexpected cameos at full-back so far, and starting with Nacho in a rotated squad on opening day.
Both Ancelotti and Alaba had said the Austria international would continue to be used in the middle in exceptional circumstances, so it was a surprise to see Rudiger here alongside Militao, and Alaba moved to the left.
The call looked dubious when Rudiger and Militao were badly caught for Joselu’s equaliser. The lack of shared game-time was evident as Rudiger stepped forward when Militao played Joselu aside, and both failed to react when Joselu’s initial effort came back to him.
Having three centre-backs of such quality is a luxury, but this is one area of the pitch where consistency of selection is essential for a reliable, error-free partnership to flourish.
Anelotti has some tough decisions to make.
3. Rodrigo’s impact from the bench shows depth
As Madrid fought to a 1-1 draw in the second half, Ancelotti turned to his Champions League comeback formula from last season: asked Eduardo Camvinga and Rodrigo to add energy and quality from the bench.
Few teams enjoy the luxury of being able to field an option of this caliber. Camvinga’s all-action style is best suited to be deployed in such a context, while Rodrigo’s ability to make decisive interventions from limited playing time – as he did to such effect in Europe last season – Very impressive. .
His 88th-minute cross for Benzema’s winner was a moment of quality and precision in an otherwise spirited second period, and he didn’t even have a goal ruled out for offside in extra time. Ancelotti said on Saturday that Rodrigo will have a “more important role” this year and feature more often than at the start.
For now, that’s the ideal Super-Sub when Madrid are chasing a winner.
Best and worst actors
Best: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Started quietly but rose to the occasion, scoring two big goals in the second half to give Madrid victory at a ground where they lost last season.
Worst: Benjamin Lecomte, Espanyol
Embarrassed by their late red card, which forced poor defender Leandro Cabrera into the goalkeeper’s gloves – Espanyol used all their options – to concede Benzema’s spot kick.
You have to do your traditional running and shouting, with some heavy hand pumping. He follows it up with a double knee slide, which he immediately pops up and seamlessly transitions into a mid-air. Then it’s cold stares in the crowd, allowing his teammates to hug him. After panning the bench and crowd, our focus returns to Joselu, who blows a kiss to the camera before giving one final fist pump and a loud roar. He concluded the ceremony with a hearty kiss to the supporters.
What the manager, players said after the match
“It’s normal to be sad, especially from home,” Kruse said. “We controlled the game well until they scored. After that it is normal that you suffer. At the end you can see that they were tired. It is not easy to win away from home. And we Ise three bar kiya hai [ab tak. season] to hum khush hain.”