Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s loss to Sheriff Tiraspol

Sheriff Tiraspol have just beaten Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. Yes, Sheriff Tiraspol have just beaten Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. As incredible as that may sound, the team with a total market value of just €12m have won 2-1 against Los Blancos thanks to a late Sébastien Thill wonder strike. We have so many questions, so let’s get into them with three pre-match questions that were resolved and three news ones this wild game conjured up.

1. What would Sheriff Tiraspol’s level be?

Speaking at his pre-match press conference on Monday, only 28 hours before kick-off, Nacho admitted that Real Madrid didn’t yet know too much about Sheriff Tiraspol, just like most football fans didn’t know much about the Champions League debutants when they became the first ever side from the Moldovan league to qualify for the competition. So, this was the big pre-match question. Are Sheriff Tiraspol good enough to give Real Madrid a game? Yes, was the answer. Oh yes. Jasurbek Yakhshiboev and Sébastien Thill scored the goals and Yakhshiboev was particularly brilliant overall, while captain Frank Castañeda appeared everywhere to put out fires. They even had a Cristiano of their own, the left-back who assisted for Yakhshiboev. It’s true that Real Madrid could have won quite comfortably on another night, had some of their many many chances gone in, but huge huge credit to Sheriff Tiraspol. They’re no longer going to be the butt of any jokes.

2. How would Casemiro and Camavinga do together?

This was the first match in which Casemiro and Eduardo Camavinga started together, as the Frenchman’s only other start so far had come against Real Mallorca when the Brazilian was given a rest. That was the very best of Camavinga’s several bright outings in his short Real Madrid career, as he made the Case role in the centre of midfield his own, but for this game we had them playing together. So, how would that look? Well, Camavinga was everywhere in this game, but would mostly start alongside Casemiro in a double pivot, at least in the first half, with Fede Valverde playing a little ahead of the Frenchman and Brazilian. And, it didn’t really work. If anything, Casemiro and Camavinga played so close together that they just seemed to get in each other’s way. It could be tricky to work out a way for Camavinga and Casemiro to be effective together.

3. What would the right-back and right winger combo be?

Before this match, Ancelotti made it quite clear that when he picks the right-back and the right winger, he is very much making these decisions based on how they complement each other. At least, for as long as Dani Carvajal is out injured. He even gave an example of how and why Lucas Vázquez and Rodrygo wouldn’t work so well together. So, what would we get on the right flank this game? Well, it was Nacho at right-back and Eden Hazard as the right winger… in theory. But, Hazard ended up playing centrally and Nacho had a lot of ground to cover on his side of the pitch. And, that’s where the first Sheriff goal came from, with Nacho unable to either charge down Cristiano or offer support in the box. Go back and watch that cross come in and you’ll see Nacho was in no man’s land and it wasn’t even his fault. Tonight’s starting right-side combo just didn’t fit.

1. What even was that formation at the end?

Ancelotti has been a football manager since 1995, but tonight was the first time he had ever made four substitutions at once in a competitive match. It’s true that the rules haven’t allowed him to make four changes at once for the vast majority of his managerial career, but still, this was a little crazy. The four changes were made just after Benzema’s equaliser, as well, although the quartet of Kroos, Rodrygo, Modrić and Jović were standing waiting to come on even before Vinícius was fouled for the penalty. Once they came on and with Real Madrid enjoying some momentum, there was chaos. It was essentially a 2-4-4 of: Courtois; Militão, Alaba; Valverde, Modrić, Kroos, Camavinga (yes, Camavinga at left-wing-back); Rodrygo, Jović, Benzema, Vinícius. It did not work.

2. Is there a need to panic?

This is an embarrassing defeat for Real Madrid, that’s true. But, is there a need to panic? Well, no, not really. Real Madrid did play well at points and create many many chances, plus they’re still in an excellent position to qualify from this group, especially because neither Inter nor Shakhtar Donetsk have won a match yet. Right now it’s Sheriff Tiraspol in first on six points, Real Madrid second on three and Inter and Shakhtar Donetsk joint-bottom on one point each.

3. How many penalties will Vinícius win this season?

Real Madrid’s initial equaliser in the game was a Karim Benzema goal from the penalty spot after Vinícius won the spot kick, just like for the fifth goal against Celta Vigo earlier this month. Vinícius could have won at least another penalty in this match and you have to wonder how many spot kicks the Brazilian will earn for Real Madrid this season. Now that defenders know Vinícius has his shooting boots on and that he could score if they let him past, they may need to defend him extra physically and that could produce several fouls inside the area. It’s two Vinícius penalties already this season. Let’s start a count.
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