After a setback against Osasuna on Sunday, Real Madrid were able to get back to winning ways on Wednesday night as they defeated Shakhtar Donetsk 2-1, with goals from Rodrygo and Vinícius and with a lot of wasted chances apart from that. The result puts them in a commanding position in Group F, ahead of the rematch against the Ukrainian side next midweek. For now, we have three questions that were answered and three new questions to think about ahead of the second meeting between the sides.
1. How different would this year’s Shakhtar Donetsk side be?
There is much more to life than football and it’s important to remember just how much has changed for Shakhtar Donetsk since these two teams met in last year’s group stage. Even though they had already been forced away from Donetsk for several years, the events of 2022 have rocked the Ukrainian club. So, just how different would tonight’s Shakhtar side be compared to the one that lost to Los Blancos 5-0 at ‘home’ and 2-1 at the Bernabéu last year. Well, there are just four players who started for Shakhtar in their last meeting with Real Madrid who are still at the club, and all of them started tonight, including the talented Mykhaylo Mudryk. But, even if the youngster’s own market value has increased, the total value of the Shakhtar squad has fallen from €178m to €80m, according to Transfermarkt. They may have lost this game tonight, and they were outplayed throughout, conceding 30 shots, but for this team, given all they’ve gone through, to have four points in the group and still be second is beyond impressive.
2. Who’d win in Carvajal vs Mudryk?
Dani Carvajal and Mykhailo Mudryk were the two players who spoke in the pre-match press conferences on Tuesday and they were in a direct battle on the pitch here. So, who’d come out on top between the veteran right-back and up-and-coming left winger. Well, it was a fun duel whenever Shakhtar were able to get the ball to their star man – the player Darijo Srna has claimed is the best left winger in Europe after Kylian Mbappé, Neymar and Vinícius. In the first half, he got away from Carvajal once before a mishit shot, while there was one cross put in by Mudryk just before half time that was absolutely delicious. At the start of the second half, he destroyed Carvajal for pace early on and created a chance that Mendy came across to solve. But, there wasn’t much more from the youngster, not even as Shakhtar chased the game. This was overall a solid shift from Carvajal.
3. Would Modrić be ready for this one?
Carlo Ancelotti admitted in the pre-match press conference that Luka Modrić was available for this game but that he wasn’t yet sure if he’d be a starter. Well, the Croatian didn’t start this game, which made perfect sense when you think about it. Why risk a relapse in a match you should be able to win without Modrić? Especially when Modrić sitting out means you get to start Fede Valverde in his favourite position. The Uruguayan was utterly dominant once again, playing in a different dimension to everyone else. Modrić wasn’t even introduced as a substitute, but should still be on schedule to start the Clásico. Unless, and think about it, unless tonight’s line-up was – with the exception of Courtois for Lunin – the ideal line-up to play against Barcelona…
1. When can Real Madrid mathematically secure qualification?
It’s mathematically impossible to secure last 16 qualification after just three matchdays, but Real Madrid could hardly be in a better position at this halfway stage of the groups. With tonight’s win, they’re on nine points, while their next closest challenger is actually Shakhtar Donetsk, who are back on four points, ahead of RB Leipzig on three and Celtic on one. The combination of Real Madrid’s perfect start and the other sides taking points off each other means that Real Madrid can mathematically secure qualification for the knockouts with a draw or a win in Poland against Shakhtar Donetsk next Tuesday. They could even wrap up first place if they win and if RB Leipzig fail to beat Celtic.
2. Will Lunin ever keep a Real Madrid clean sheet?
This was certainly a special night for Andriy Lunin, starting against the leading team from his home country in his first Champions League match. Even if Real Madrid won, he wasn’t able to keep a clean sheet. While Oleksandr Zubkov’s super finish wasn’t his fault, it does mean that the Ukrainian has now conceded in all seven of his matches for Los Blancos. Against Alcoyano twice, Elche, Atlético Madrid, Cádiz, Osasuna and Shakhtar, he has always conceded at some point and the date of his first Real Madrid clean sheet remains a mystery, if it ever comes at all.
3. Is the Bernabéu’s dust healthy?
This last point isn’t really about this game, but I think it’s worth pointing out. The Bernabéu is dusty. Like, really dusty. I’m not sure if it comes through on the TV broadcast. In fact, I doubt it does. But, when you’re in the stadium these days you notice a hazy cloud above the pitch. It was there on Sunday against Osasuna and I asked about it afterwards. It’s dust from the construction work and it was even more obvious tonight. That can’t be good for the players down below, can it? Madrid is a very polluted city anyway, so running around in dusty air isn’t ideal, especially not for the Real Madrid footballers who play every game here. Hopefully it’s just the result of a specific part of the construction work and not something that’ll linger all the way to the end of the redevelopment in next year.