Two goals from Karim Benzema in the 88th and 100th minutes earned Real Madrid a late 3-1 win at Espanyol on Sunday night. Vinicius Junior scored the visitors’ first goal before Joselu equalized.
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The win puts Madrid at the top of the LaLiga table, while eternal rivals Barcelona sit in third place, two points adrift.
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1. Tchouameni looks at home
This was another game – the second in a row – in which Aurelien Tchouameni was seen as a worthy successor to Casemiro in Real Madrid’s midfield. In fact, his assist for the first set – a clever through ball that sent Vinicius fleeing to pass goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte – was a sign that Tchouameni is indeed an upgrade when it comes to attacking contributions.
They occupy the same position in the team – it was the first time Tchouameni started alongside Toni Kroos and Luka Modric – but the youngster is more ambitious and faster to get up front. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has already recognized that.
“He comes into the penalty area,” said the Madrid coach last week. “I’m not going to tell him to play like Casemiro.”
Tchouameni’s pass completion was also exceptional here, finishing at 94%.
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Like the rest of the team, he found the second half more difficult as Espanyol upped the pace but early signs are good. Casemiro has not yet been missed.
2. Defensive switching creates uncertainty
Ancelotti had made it clear that David Alaba and Eder Militao, last season’s double-winning pair in central defence, would remain the top picks at the start of this season. So far, the top-class summer signing Antonio Rüdiger had to be content with a few unexpected appearances as a full-back and a start alongside Nacho in a rotated team on the opening day.
Both Ancelotti and Alaba had said the Austria international would continue to be used in the middle except in exceptional circumstances. So it was surprising to see Rüdiger here alongside Militao and Alaba switched to left-back.
The call looked suspicious as Rudiger and Militao were badly caught equalizing from Joselu. A lack of shared playing time was apparent with Rudiger showing up when Militao played on the side against Joselu and neither responded when Joselu’s initial try returned to him.
Having three centre-backs of such quality is a luxury, but this is an area of the pitch where consistent selection is required for a dependable, flawless partnership to thrive.
Ancelotti has to make some difficult decisions.
3. Rodrygo’s bounce off the bench shows depth
As Madrid struggled 1-1 here in the second half, Ancelotti resorted to his Champions League comeback formula from last season: he called on Eduardo Camavinga and Rodrygo to add energy and quality from the bench.
Few teams have the luxury of fielding substitutes of this caliber. Camavinga’s all-action style is best suited for use in such a context, while Rodrygo’s ability to make crucial interventions from limited playing time – as he did to great effect in Europe last season – is hugely impressive.
His 88th-minute cross for Benzema’s winner was a moment of quality and precision in an otherwise hectic second half, and a goal was also ruled out for offside in added time. Ancelotti said on Saturday that Rodrygo will play a “more important role” this year and will appear more often from the start.
At the moment he’s the ideal super-sub if Madrid are chasing a winner.
Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois 7; Lucas Vazquez 6, Eder Militao 6, Antonio Ruediger 6, David Alaba 6; Aurelien Tchouameni (8), Toni Kroos (7), Luka Modric (6); Federico Valverde (5), Vinicius Junior (8), Karim Benzema (8).
Subtitle: Eduardo Camavinga (7), Rodrygo (8), Dani Ceballos (7), Dani Carvajal (6).
Spanish: Benjamin Lecomte 5; Oscar Gil 6, Fernando Calero 7, Leandro Cabrera 7, Brian Olivan 6; Vinicius Souza (7), Ruben Sanchez (7), Edu Exposito (7), Sergi Darder (6), Javier Puado (6); Josephus 8.
Subtitle: Keidi Bare 6, Nicolas Melamed 6, Dani Gomez 6.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Started quietly but developed into the game and scored two big goals in the second half to give Madrid victory in a stadium where they lost last season.
WORST: Benjamin Lecomte, Espanyol
Embarrassed by his late red card, which resulted in poor defender Leandro Cabrera having to don goalkeeper’s gloves – after Espanyol fielded all the substitutes – to concede Benzema’s penalty.
Highlights and notable moments
Just look at what that equalizer meant for Joselu.
Espanyol equalizes against Real Madrid 😤 pic.twitter.com/0wZFl6Ygyi
– ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) August 28, 2022
You have your traditional run and scream, with some heavy arm pumping. He follows this up with a double knee slide, from which he immediately emerges and seamlessly transitions into a single air punch. Then it’s the cold look at the crowd that lets his teammates embrace him. After panning the benches and crowd, our gaze returns to Joselu blowing a kiss to the camera before delivering a final punch and an insistent roar. He closes the celebration with a hearty kiss to the followers.
Of course, that didn’t matter because of this man.
One of the best clutch players in the world right now, King Benz 👑 pic.twitter.com/EknXBQnEUd
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 28, 2022
After the game: what the managers, players said
“It’s normal that you suffer, especially away from home,” Kroos said. “We controlled the game well until they scored. After that it’s normal for you to suffer. Towards the end you could see that they were getting tired. It’s not easy to win away from home and we did it three times.” [so far this season] so we’re happy.”
“We started really well, we dominated the game, they were only dangerous from set pieces,” Courtois said. “Then out of nowhere a run in midfield, I saved, then another run in midfield, I saved but Joselu scored. The second half was more even, they had some chances but there was some magic from Rodrygo in the end and Karim… They had some dangerous chances in the second half, at one point I was worried we might get a draw but you have to believe in it.”
Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Real Madrid extended their unbeaten streak when they opened the scoring in LaLiga up to 35 games, the most in the league.
Joselu’s goal was his seventh in nine career La Liga games against Real Madrid. Unbelievable, Los Blancos is the team he has scored the most goals against in league matches.
Real Madrid: Los Blancos Hosts Real Betis Saturday, September 3 at 10:15am ET (live stream on ESPN+) and then hosts Mallorca at 3pm ET on September 10th.
Spanish: Los Periquitos Head to Bilbao (live stream on ESPN+) on Sunday, September 4th at 10:15am ET, then catch up with Seville on September 10th at 10:15am ET.
https://www.espn.com/soccer/spanish-laliga/story/4730535/karim-benzema-rescues-real-madrid-at-espanyol-as-aurelien-tchouameni-lessens-loss-of-casemiro Karim Benzema rescues Real Madrid at Espanyol as Aurelien Tchouameni lessens loss of Casemiro