It looked like Real Madrid’s poor run was going to continue… but then Dani Ceballos happened. That introduction was key in Los Blancos’ 3-2 comeback win at Villarreal, as was the hosts having to take off the just-back-from-injury Juan Foyth. Those two substitutions feature among the below talking points, as we answer three pre-match questions we had and three new questions that have come out of this Copa del Rey last 16 victory.
1. Who’d would be the right-back? Would it be Vinícius Tobias?
The big question mark over Real Madrid’s line-up ahead of this game was the right-back position, given that Dani Carvajal and Lucas Vázquez were out injured and given that Carlo Ancelotti doesn’t trust Álvaro Odriozola. With the young Vinícius Tobias in the squad, Madridistas were excited at the thought that the Brazilian might make his debut. But, he didn’t. Instead, Ancelotti opted for the experience of Nacho. Like his teammates, the Spaniard struggled in the first half, but came up with some big moments in the second period. Vinícius Tobias’ debut will have to wait.
2. Would Real Madrid test Villarreal’s rookie goalkeeper?
Villarreal decided to rotate their goalkeeper for this cup game – something Real Madrid didn’t do in this round, with Courtois starting instead of Lunin – and this meant Filip Jörgensen was playing the biggest game of his life. The 20-year-old academy product was starting just his fifth game in senior football. So, would Real Madrid pepper his goal with shots to test the rookie? Well, not at first. It wasn’t until the 34th minute that Real Madrid had their first shot on target, which was a long-range Ferland Mendy strike that Jörgensen didn’t actually look all that comfortable with. Los Blancos’ lack of shots was a symptom of their terrible first-half performance overall, but you simply must get some shots on target when up against such an inexperienced goalkeeper. It wasn’t until the second half, after the substitutions, that Real Madrid finally tested Jörgensen, who looked shaky throughout. When they started shooting on target, they started scoring, finally making the most of the fact that Pepe Reina was on the bench – getting into fights with everyone, by the way – and not on the pitch.
3. Who’d win the latest Foyth vs Vinícius?
In the LaLiga game a week and a half ago, we were treated to an epic duel between Juan Foyth and Vinícius, with the Villarreal right-back doing an excellent job of shutting down the Brazilian. Would he be able to do so again here, especially considering Foyth was coming off an injury suffered on the weekend? Well, this latest battle between the Argentine and the Brazilian was even better than the one a few days ago, as they both went at each other from minute one, clashing in play and off the ball too. As also happened last time, Foyth had Vini under control. But, his recent injury meant he couldn’t last the full game and he was substituted off in the 52nd minute for centre-back Aïssa Mandi. Five minutes later, Vinícius was completely free and scored. That wasn’t a coincidence, as the game swung with Foyth’s withdrawal.
1. The MOTM award can only be for Ceballos, right?
The game also swung because of the introduction of Dani Ceballos. The Spaniard was substituted on just a minute before the first Real Madrid goal and he immediately got to work, as he was the one who both won the ball back and then played the final pass to Vinícius. He then put in the cross that led to the Militão equaliser. And, of course, it was Ceballos rolling the ball into the back of the net from the edge of the area for the late winner. He only played 35 minutes, but he did so much in that time that he absolutely deserves the Man of the Match award.
2. What was Ancelotti shouting at Rodrygo for?
One of the more curious images from the night was when Rodrygo was substituted off as part of the double change that saw Ceballos and Asensio come on. It appears he didn’t shake Ancelotti’s hand as he went off and the Italian was then seen pointing his finger at the Brazilian and shouting at him. “You need to greet me,” lipreaders worked it out as. The coach later said in his press conference that he thinks Rodrygo forgot to greet him. But, is there something deeper there? Does this add to the recent reports about Rodrygo being unhappy with his limited playing time?
3. Was this a season-changing victory?
Who knows what’ll happen over the next few weeks, but this felt like a momentous victory. Not just because it was a tricky fixture at a stadium where Real Madrid hadn’t won since 2017, but because of the manner of the comeback. By hitting the nadir and then responding in the same game, Real Madrid turned the narrative and the confidence. Recent results and performances had some fans and journalists remembering the ghosts of the second half of the 2014/15 season, but this comeback win may be a season-changing victory. Only time will tell, and an away game in Bilbao on Sunday isn’t easy, but this win could be worth much more than just passage into the Copa quarters.
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Three answers and three questions from Real Madrid’s comeback win at Villarreal
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