Real Madrid began their LaLiga title defence by overcoming a flat start in their season opener with a 2-1 comeback win over newly promoted Almeria. David Alaba netted a divine winner after Lucas Vazquez had drawn Madrid level following a surprise opener from Almeria’s Largie Ramazani in the sixth minute.
ESPN’s Alex Kirkland has the reaction.
Rudiger, Tchouameni get a rude awakening
Welcome to LaLiga. Summer signings Antonio Rudiger and Aurelien Tchouameni both started here for Real Madrid on matchday one and quickly found that there are no straightforward games, even against newly promoted teams.
Carlo Ancelotti had promised to rotate more this season and was true to his word, making five changes from the side that won the UEFA Super Cup last week over Eintracht Frankfurt. The result was a disjointed first-half performance as the team struggled to find its rhythm.
Those changes included three of Real Madrid’s back four, with a new-look centre-back partnership of Nacho Fernandez and Rudiger, and the defence was left all at sea for Almeria’s opening goal when an attempted offside trap was ruthlessly exposed by Largie Ramazani, leaving Rudiger in his wake. The Germany international did his best to compensate for that and went as close as any Madrid player to scoring with a first-half header.
Meanwhile, in midfield, Eduardo Camavinga was replicating some of the recklessly anarchic performances we saw last season when he started games — rather than when his energy was channeled off the bench — and Tchouameni was failing to exercise anything like the control Madrid are accustomed to seeing from Casemiro. Ancelotti looked to remedy the situation at halftime, hauling off Camavinga for Luka Modric, and Tchouameni followed him off after an hour.
Madrid improved soon enough, and Lucas Vazquez and David Alaba scored — the latter a gorgeous free kick with his first touch — to turn the game around. One of Madrid’s great strengths is their ability to boast a bench with players of the calibre and experience of Modric and Alaba, and here it ensured they took home three points on opening weekend.
Vinicius is still Madrid’s difference maker
It was notable here just how many of Real Madrid’s attacks came down their left-hand side. Time and again, it was Vinicius Junior who looked the player most likely to make something happen, even as Madrid were unable to find any kind of fluency in the first half.
After stepping up a level in terms of productivity and consistency last season, Vinicius plays now with a new kind of confidence and self-assurance, knowing he can take on and beat pretty much every defender that he encounters.
He also is willing and able to keep plugging away, knowing that if he keeps probing and looking for opportunities, the chance to change the game will come. Here, Vinicius was key to the move that ended with Vazquez slamming the ball into the Almeria net to level and set Madrid on the way to victory.
There’s no doubt that Karim Benzema is Madrid’s main man, but against some packed defences — when the Ballon d’Or favourite is unable to find the space he needs to operate at his best — Vinicius is an unpredictable, electric alternative.
Almeria impress on return to Primera
This was a tall order for Almeria in their first game back in the top flight since 2015 — hosting Spanish and European champions Madrid — and they acquitted themselves well. This was a home side without a number of summer signings, including keeper Fernando Pacheco and forward Leo Baptistao, as the club struggle with the same salary-cap registration issues that have plagued Barcelona and Real Betis. But their absence wasn’t felt as the Andalusians stunned Madrid by taking an early lead.
Forward Umar Sadiq — who scored 18 goals in the second division last season — is expected to leave the club before the transfer window closes, but he was an awkward physical presence here, while 21-year-old goal scorer Ramazani, formerly of Manchester United, was a live wire alongside him.
In defence, 18-year-old Brazilian Kaiky — rated by many as the best of Almeria’s summer additions — looked physical and authoritative in his debut in European football. The team were unable to maintain their first-half levels of performance as Madrid began to impose themselves after an hour. But when the club can finally get the rest of their signings registered, Almeria did enough here to suggest that survival is very much achievable this year.
Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois 7; Lucas Vazquez 7, Antonio Rudiger 6, Nacho 6, Ferland Mendy 6; Aurelien Tchouameni 5, Toni Kroos 7, Eduardo Camavinga 5; Fede Valverde 7, Vinicius Junior 8, Karim Benzema 7.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Vinicius Junior, Real Madrid
Full of ideas and invention, he never stopped running at the Almeria defence, believing in his ability to make something happen, which it eventually did with the equaliser.
WORST: Eduardo Camavinga, Real Madrid
There was a concerning pattern last season of Camavinga thrilling when used as an impact sub but looking a little lost from the start. Here, when an urgent change was required, it was Camavinga who made way at the break.
Highlights and notable moments
Almeria gave the Real squad, holders of the Champions League trophy, a guard of honour in recognition of Los Blancos‘ UEFA Super Cup triumph over Europa League champs Eintracht Frankfurt last week.
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) August 14, 2022
Game, set, match with that stunner from Alaba.
Real Madrid go ahead on a free kick from David Alaba
After the match: What the managers, players said
“We had some problems in the first half but came back stronger in the second. We wanted to keep going this season; what happened last season was last season. We’re looking forward, and we’re really motivated.” — Real Madrid goal scorer David Alaba
“At first, [Karim Benzema] or [Toni Kroos] were going to take it. From that position, Alaba shoots well. [Assistant coach] Davide [Ancelotti] said to me, ‘Give it to Alaba’. We said he’d take it. It wasn’t easy to say no to Karim or Toni … But he shot and scored.” — Real coach Carlo Ancelotti on Alaba’s goal.
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Ramazani’s goal is the earliest given up by Real Madrid in a LaLiga season-opening game since matchday one of 2007-08, when 19-year-old Sergio Aguero scored in the first minute for Atletico Madrid. Ramazini is 21 years old.
Alaba scored 28 seconds after coming on as a sub. That is fastest goal by a Real Madrid sub in LaLiga since 2006-07.
Real Madrid extends their unbeaten streak in LaLiga openers to 14 games (last such loss in August 2008, versus Deportivo La Coruna)