Real Madrid ended 2022 with a victory, defeating Real Valladolid 2-0 on the road thanks to a pair of late Karim Benzema goals, the first of them from the penalty spot. Overall, it wasn’t a great performance from Los Blancos, but some rust was to be expected in this first game since the World Cup break. Here, we analyze the game by answering three of the pre-match questions we had and then asking three new ones.
1. Another tough game against Real Valladolid?
In recent times, Real Madrid have found it tough when going up against Real Valladolid. They may have won their past three games against Pucela, but each of those was just by a 1-0 margin. This Friday night, it was another very difficult game against the side from Castile and León. Real Valladolid managed to withstand an early flurry of Real Madrid pressure, before finishing the first half strongly and starting the second half well too, creating some very good chances. But, Real Madrid did what champions do and they managed to grind out a 2-0 victory, with Karim Benzema scoring an 83rd minute penalty and then adding a second against 10 men to make the scoreline more flattering for Los Blancos. This was not pretty at all, but Real Madrid secured the three points and that was the most important thing on this first night back since the World Cup break.
2. How would Benzema look?
This was Benzema’s first competitive game since November 2nd (58 days ago) and his first competitive start since October 19th (72 days ago). So, how would he look? Even though he is fully recovered from his injury, would Benzema be match sharp? Well, to start off with, he really wasn’t. The Frenchman looked lost in attack and lacked his usual spark. But, he grew into the game the longer it went on, finding his feet in front of our eyes. It was his shot that forced the corner from which Real Madrid won the handball penalty, with Benzema then sending Jordi Masip the wrong way to convert. Then, in the final moments, he controlled the ball perfectly and blasted past the Real Valladolid goalkeeper for the 2-0. Benzema is back.
3. Would we get to see a tribute to Pelé?
Even though Éder Militão had to drop out of the line-up after feeling sick, there were still many Brazilians involved in this match, from Ronaldo Nazário in the stands to Vinícius and Rodrygo on the pitch. So, would there be an opportunity for a special tribute to Pelé, beyond the minute’s silence held before the game? Well, no. Vinícius surely had a special goal celebration prepared for O Rei, who he paid tribute to with a lovely social media post on Thursday night, but the winger couldn’t find the back of the net despite managing to drive into the penalty area on several occasions. .
1. Were the two handball penalty calls correct?
It was a penalty that allowed Real Madrid to finally break the deadlock in this game, one conceded by former academy player Javi Sánchez. Was it the correct decision? Absolutely. The center-back’s outstretched arm was not in a natural position by his side and it made him bigger, so much so that he blocked a ball that was heading towards the goal. It was a penalty textbook, based on the current rules. In the first half, Real Madrid also claimed for a handball penalty, also on Javi Sánchez, but this one was not given. This one was more dubious, since it could be argued that his arm was in a natural position, placed where it was to support his fall as he went to the ground. But, a very similar incident saw a penalty awarded to Girona in their match against Rayo Vallecano on Thursday. So, that first-half play could have perfectly been given as a penalty too.
2. For how much longer will Camavinga be a super sub?
Once again, Eduardo Camavinga came on and the game changed. He is the ultimate super sub, coming on and using his skillset optimally when the opposition’s starters begin to tire. It happened during Real Madrid’s Champions League run last season. It happened for France in the World Cup final. And, it happened again here in Valladolid, where Camavinga pushed the team forward from the moment he stepped onto the pitch in the 69th minute, including when he raced forward and set up Benzema’s second. Asked earlier in the season why Camavinga is better as an impact sub rather than as a starter, Carlo Ancelotti said: “When the match is more open, he can stand out more with his characteristics, especially physically. He’s a less positional player who doesn’t have the same reading of the game than someone like Toni Kroos.” This is something he’ll have to learn if he is to regularly be included from the start. But, who knows when he’ll make that transition from super sub to starter.
3. Was Thibaut Courtois the best goalkeeper of 2022?
Yes, let there be no mistake that the best goalkeeper of this calendar year was Thibaut Courtois. Because Belgium didn’t go deep into the World Cup, some other shot-stoppers received a lot of praise and attention over these past few weeks, but let’s not forget how good the Real Madrid No.1 has been this year. In this game he also pulled off a couple of incredible saves, denying Álvaro Aguado and Sergio León. For most goalkeepers, those might have been their best saves of the year, but Courtois’ 2022 has been so good that they might not even make his annual highlights reel.