Real Madrid continues with their preparations for the upcoming season, and these last few days have been very busy for the team managed by Zinedine Zidane. The team debuted in the International Champions Cup and played their first two pre-season matches against Bayern Munich and Arsenal, but a big part of the spotlight has been on the future of Gareth Bale and his seemingly imminent departure. His sudden absence from the squad, staying in the stands during the first match, and Zidane’s comments that the club was negotiating his exit and that it would be better the sooner he was gone, ignited a million rumors of his possible future and confirmed that the Welshman was no longer part of the coaches plan this season.
Real Madrid played Bayern Munich first last Sunday at 2 in the morning (Spanish Time). This was a match fans were eagerly expecting as it was where most of the new signings would make their debut with the team. The anticipation of finally seeing Eden Hazard wearing the Madrid white was high, as well as the other new comers like Jovic, Mendy or Rodrygo.
Zidane started with Thibout Corurtois, now wearing number 13, on goal. There were no variations from previous seasons on defense as Carvajal, Ramos, Varane and Marcelo got the starting roles. The midfield was formed by Tony Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco, and Asensio, Hazard and Benzema completed the attack.
The first half was what is to be expected of a pre-season first game. The Madrid players were rusty, slow at times getting in position (both offensively and defensively), heavy on their first touches, and lacking accuracy on their passing and shooting. Bayern Munich took advantage of that, having played already a few pre-season matches, to get ahead on the scoreboard. Tolisso would be the one to score after the sloppy defending from Real Madrid allowed him to finish alone a cross from Coman. Courtois would stop the first attempt but would not be quick enough to save the second.
Still, there were flashes of good football from the whites that should make any supporter look forward to the new season. Benzema and Hazard had some good combinations between them, making it look as if they had been playing together for a long time. Players like Kroos, Modric and Marcelo seemed to have recover most of their form that was almost non existing last year especially with the Brazilian left back. Asensio was also very participative trying to prove that last season was only a fluke and center back Varane looked fresh on the pitch.
The second half was a completely different game with basically new teams on the field. Real Madrid changed the entire line up, staring the second half with Navas, Javi Hernandez, Nacho, de la Fuente, Mendy, Seoane, Kubo, Rodrygo, Lucas Vazquez, Jovic and Vinicius. Lots of young talent from the first team as well as a few players from Castilla, a solid team, but very inexperienced. On the other hand, Bayern Munich had made seven substitutions.
It was clear from the beginning that this new lineup had not played together before, as the players were having a difficult time seeing each other’s movements as well as positioning themselves. Lewandoski took this opportunity to score the second goal. His experience and great skill were hard to defend by the young defenders who were having difficulties keeping their coverages. A few minutes later Gnabry would score the third after Madrid had given away the ball in a dangerous place.
Amidst a clear superiority on Bayern’s part, there were some Real Madrid players that were able to shine and give us some samples of what they can do. Kubo, one of the sensations during training, showed no signs of stage freight and delighted the audience with some creative footwork and moves, a few nutmegs included. Rodrygo on his part showed why he was signed last year at a young age, being very active offensively and creating danger every time he had the ball. His performance was rewarded when he converted a great free kick to score his first goal as a Madrid player. The game ended 3-1 with Bayern taking the victory. Overall it was a decent game by Madrid that, after all, was only another practice with the aims of getting ready for when the season starts.
The second pre-season match was played Wednesday at 1am (Spanish Time) and this time Madrid faced Arsenal, another team that had played various matches ahead of this one. There were changes on the starting XI from the previous match, this time Zidane opting to begin the game with Navas, Carvajal, Nacho, Ramos, Mendy, Lucas, Kroos, Modric, Hazard, Benzema and Jovic.
Things would get messy early on as a careless tackle outside of the box and a handball preventing a goal while conceding a penalty saw Nacho seeing consecutive yellow cards and getting sent off. Lacazette scored the penalty and from that moment on, Arsenal was able to take control of the game having one more man on the pitch. To the dissapointmen of many fans who wanted to see the duo Jovic/Karim, Jovic had to be sacrificed for Varane in order to put another center back to balance the defense.
Real Madrid tried to get back into their game plan, but the team was having difficulties retaining the ball. Carvajal and Ramos were having troubles defending and gave the ball away carelessly in a few occasions. Arsenal would take advantage of their poor defending to score the second goal at the hands (or feet in this case) of Aubameyang. The highlights of the first half were Kroos and Modric looking like their old selves, and Hazard and Mendy showing continuing great adaptation to their new team. Before the end of the half, Sokratis would end up with a red card after, like it had previously happened with Nacho, seeing two yellow cards within minutes. Balance was once more established on both sides.
The second half started with lots of changes once more on Madrid’s side. This time was only six, with Courtois replacing Navas, Asensio coming in for Benzema, Marcelo substituting Mendy, Odriozola taking Carvajal’s place, Isco for Lucas Vazquez, and the surprise of the night, Bale entering for Hazard. Arsenal would only make one substitution at halftime.
With the fresh legs on the pitch, and each team having 10 players, things drastically changed compared to the first half. Madrid took control of the game creating lots of chances from the beginning. Marcelo was demonstrating that he is definitely in better form than last year, creating danger but coming back on defense as well. Odriozola showed that the starting right back position might have a different candidate this year, and Courtois was calm and very effective every time he was called to action, having some great one on one saves.
Ironically Gareth Bale was the first one to score for Madrid. The Welshman had a very solid game, having a few more chances to score, saving a goal on the line, participating in the buildup, and showing no signs of being in the situation he is in besides not celebrating his goal (he did thank his teammates when they came to him).
The other scorer of the night, Asensio, was having a great night too. Scored a delightful goal, hit the post with an amazing shot from distance, and was looking like the Asensio everyone thought would become a top player. Unfortunately, he was not able to finish the match due to an injury. It was later confirmed that he will be out for a long time due to a torn ACL and meniscus, one of the toughest injuries and athlete can suffer. It was the negative news for the night on a match that was looking good for Madrid after being able to comeback to tie the game and win it on the penalty shootout.
The next match will be this weekend against city rivals Atlético. This will be the first time that the Madrid derby will be played outside Spain. Both teams have strengthened their sides and it will be an interesting match to watch as there is nothing friendly whenever these two sides face each other. On the meantime, Real Madrid have a lot of work to do. Asensio’s injury might alter Zidane’s plans for the squad and the team might need to sign another player or keep someone that was originally destined to exit. Only time will tell.