Two goals from Karim Benzema in the 88th and 100th minutes saw Real Madrid eke out a late 3-1 win at Espanyol on Sunday night. Vinicius Junior scored the visitors' opener, before Joselu levelled the scoring.
1. Tchouameni looking at home
This was another game -- the second in a row -- in which Aurelien Tchouameni has looked a worthy successor to Casemiro in Real Madrid's midfield. In fact, his assist for the opener -- a clever through-ball which set Vinicius away to slot past goalkeeper Benjamin Lecomte -- was a sign that Tchouameni is actually an upgrade when it comes to attacking contributions.
They occupy the same position in the team -- this was the first time Tchouameni had started alongside both Toni Kroos and Luka Modric -- but the youngster is keener and quicker to get forward. Manager Carlo Ancelotti has already recognised as much.
"He gets into the box," the Madrid manager said last week. "I won't tell him to play like Casemiro."
Tchouameni's pass completion was also exceptional here, finishing at 94%.
Like the rest of the team, he found the second half more difficult as Espanyol increased the tempo, but the early signs are good. Casemiro hasn't been missed yet.
2. Defensive switch causes uncertainty
Ancelotti had been clear that last year's double-winning central defensive pair, David Alaba and Eder Militao, would remain first choice as this campaign got underway. That left high-profile summer signing Antonio Rudiger having to make do so far with some unexpected cameos at full-back, and a start alongside Nacho in a rotated team on opening day.
Both Ancelotti and Alaba had said the Austria international would continue to be used in the middle unless in exceptional circumstances, so it was surprise here to see Rudiger alongside Militao, and Alaba moved out to left-back.
The call looked suspect when Rudiger and Militao were badly caught out for Joselu's equaliser. A lack of shared game-time was evident as Rudiger stepped up as Militao played Joselu onside, and both failed to react when Joselu's initial effort came back to him.
Having three centre-backs of such quality is a luxury, but this is one area of the pitch where consistency of selection is necessary to allow a reliable, error-free partnership to flourish.
Ancelotti has some difficult decisions to make.
3. Rodrygo's impact off the bench showcases depth
When Madrid were struggling here at 1-1 in the second half, Ancelotti turned to his Champions League comeback formula from last season: calling on Eduardo Camavinga and Rodrygo to add energy and quality off the bench.
Few teams enjoy the luxury of being able to field substitutes of this calibre. Camavinga's all-action style is best suited to being deployed in this kind of context, while Rodrygo's ability to make decisive interventions from limited game 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 frenetic second period, and he had a goal ruled out for offside in added time, too. Ancelotti said on Saturday that Rodrygo will have a "more important role" this year and feature more often from the start.
For now, he's the ideal super-sub when Madrid are chasing a winner.
Real Madrid: Thibaut Courtois 7; Lucas Vazquez 6, Eder Militao 6, Antonio Rudiger 6, David Alaba 6; Aurelien Tchouameni 8, Toni Kroos 7, Luka Modric 6; Federico Valverde 5, Vinicius Junior 8, Karim Benzema 8.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Karim Benzema, Real Madrid
Started quietly but grew into the game, scoring two big goals in the second half to give Madrid the win at a ground where they lost last season.
WORST: Benjamin Lecomte, Espanyol
Embarrassed by his late red card that left poor defender Leandro Cabrera having to don goalkeepers' gloves -- with Espanyol having used all their substitutes -- to concede Benzema's spot kick.
Highlights and notable moments
Just look what that equaliser meant to Joselu.
Espanyol get the equalizer vs. Real Madrid 😤 pic.twitter.com/0wZFl6Ygyi— ESPN+ (@ESPNPlus) August 28, 2022
You've got your traditional running and shouting, with some heavy arm pumping. He follows that up with a double knee slide, which he pops up from immediately and transitions seamlessly into single punch of the air. Then it's into the cold stare into the crowd, allowing the embrace of his teammates wash over him. After panning the benches and the crowd, our view returns to Joselu, who blows a kiss to the camera before one final fist pump and emphatic roar. He closes the celebration with a heartfelt kiss blown to the supporters.
Of course, none of it mattered, because of this man.
One of the most clutch players in the world right now, King Benz 👑 pic.twitter.com/EknXBQnEUd— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 28, 2022
After the match: 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 that you suffer. Towards the end you could see that they got tired. It isn't easy to win away from home and we've done it three times [so far this season] so we're happy."
"We started really well, we were dominating the game, they were only dangerous at set pieces," Courtois said. "Then out of nothing a midfield run, I made the save, then another midfield run, I saved but Joselu scored. The second half was more equal, they had some chances but in the end there was some magic from Rodrygo and Karim ... They had some dangerous opportunities in the second half, at one point I feared that we might draw, but you have to keep believing."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information)
Real Madrid extended their unbeaten streak when scoring first in LaLiga, up to 35 matches, the most in the league.
Joselu's goal was his seventh in nine career LaLiga matches against Real Madrid. Incredibly, Los Blancos are the team he's scored most against in league play.