While a win against Real Betis shouldn’t sound all that emphatic for the famous and ever successful Real Madrid, it was an important one to get under the belt.
Zinedine Zidane’s side were on the hunt for their first league win of the season after playing out a goalless draw the previous week to Real Sociedad. Los Blancos lost away to Real Betis back in March, thus three points was a must. It wasn’t the most convincing win, and falling 2-1 behind shortly after going 1-0 up was disappointing, but the fightback showed Madrid have the tools to be a success once more this season.
Somehow, Sergio Ramos’ obscene ‘Panenka’ penalty to win the game wasn’t the key takeaway from the match. Madrid lined up with a 4-3-1-2, deploying a diamond that consisted of Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde and Martin Odegaard all behind Karim Benzema and Luka Jovic.
The shape deployed by Zidane is an interesting one, but also one that shows just how stacked the defending Spanish champions remain in the midfield department. In recent years, the status quo has been a three-man midfield, but with the emergence of Valverde and the return of Odegaard, the club has to start thinking for the future.
The midfield shape perhaps lost Real some pace on the counter and made for some positional inconsistencies, especially with Kroos being substituted through injury on the cusp of half time, but it also had its positives. Valverde looked back to his best as a creative threat from deep and Odegaard was key both in the final third phase of play and dropping in for the ball.
The quartet of creative midfielders could prove intriguing throughout the season, but not as intriguing as a strike partnership between Benzema and Jovic.
The two paired up together properly for the first time, and while things didn’t run like a Rolls Royce on the night, there was obvious potential for growth as a partnership. Benzema has been the consistent attacking all-rounder that Real have relied on in an inconsistent few seasons, stepping up seamlessly after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo. His new role in a two-man partnership would still get the best out of him going forward, while allowing Madrid to make good on their €60m Serbian in Jovic.
The 22-year-old endured a difficult maiden season in Madrid following the big money move, managing just two goals and two assists from 17 total appearances. This season is a fresh start, however, and a two up front formation with one of the greatest forwards on the planet has already shown some positive signs.
Benzema occupied the free role, drifting off to either flank and coming in to receive the ball from deep. It wielded positive results, giving Jovic the space to be a nuisance between the two Betis centre halves at times. The veteran Frenchman enjoyed a productive evening, enjoying five dribbles, creating two chances, managing four shots and setting up Valverde for the opener.
Jovic was okay and didn’t overly put a foot wrong, but didn’t threaten enough to stake his claim. Zero shots in the 72 minutes he played simply isn’t enough of a threat, especially when there’s space in behind thanks to the creative heads around him. That won’t improve without Zidane putting trust and confidence in him, however, and dropping him after such a performance would do the striker nothing but harm.
Jovic has proven himself to be a potent finisher and skilful chance creator when he’s at his best. Playing him regularly in a two-man strike partnership is absolutely the way that Real Madrid will get that kind of form out of him; overlapping runs from Odegaard and Benzema will result in plenty of goals with time, while the chances created from arguably the best midfield on the planet will leave him with endless opportunities to score himself.
Consider that Madrid still have Eden Hazard, Vinicius Junior, Marco Asensio and Rodrygo waiting in the wings for an opportunity, Jovic needs to show Zidane what he’s capable of this season. The Serbian deserves the time to prove himself and Real Madrid should stick with the two-man strike partnership for the foreseeable, but the incredible depth in the squad gives them plenty of room to tweak the shape whenever they like.
Hazard and Vinicius could prove suitable strike partners to Benzema should Jovic not cut the mustard, and Zidane has made it clear that he’s ruthless when he’s seen enough of a player.
There are plenty of attacking options who have it all to prove in Madrid this season, which isn’t exactly a bad thing. Sticking by a two up top formation gets the best out of Benzema and gives Zidane the chance to try and find a new role for his plethora of versatile wingers and forwards, which could ultimately prove key to them retaining La Liga.