Real Madrid

6 things we learned from Real Madrid's opening day victory over Alaves

Max Parsons
Karim Benzema gets congratulated for his brace
Karim Benzema gets congratulated for his brace / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Confidence is the usual word associated with Real Madrid ahead of the start of a brand new season, but this time things are different.

Following the departure of their esteemed central defence pairing - Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane - the fans have reason to be worried and slightly pessimistic. It hasn't been the usual mammoth transfer window that Los Blancos have so often pulled off in the past, either.

With only David Alaba through the door so far, the squad is all too similar to the one that fell short of city rivals Atletico in last season's La Liga title race, eventually finishing second in the table.

But in typical Real fashion, new manager Carlo Ancelotti saw his side put in a dominant display against Alaves on Saturday, earning a 4-1 win to end matchday one at the summit.

And there were things to be learned from that performance...

1. David Alaba needs to played as a centre-back

David Alaba
David Alaba in a Real Madrid shirt / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Let's start with the bad news; Real Madrid were simply not good enough at the back - or, more suitably, Eder Militao was not good enough. The Brazilian was full of hesitation and looked liable to the odd mistake that could so easily have allowed the opposition a route back into the game.

In fact, when his side were 3-0 in front against Alaves, the Brazilian's woeful back pass played John Guidetti clean through before the Swede won a penalty which Joselu calmly converted.

It was the kind of play that suggested the pressure was a little too much for the defender - and that, for Real Madrid, is simply not acceptable.

As it is highly unlikely for Los Blancos to raid the transfer market for a top quality centre half to sure things up, it should fall upon Alaba to fill the void and introduce some of that remarkable talent and composure that saw him thrive and win everything possible at Bayern Munich.

The 28-year-old made his debut for Los Blancos at left back and, while he linked brilliantly upfield with Eden Hazard and Luka Modric and crossed deliciously for his side's fourth, defensive solidity should be the priority when figuring out what his role should be within the side.

2. Nacho Fernandez is capable of stepping up

Nacho Fernandez
Nacho Fernandez deserves a shot at a first-choice role for Real Madrid / Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

While Alaba's inclusion into the heart of defence could be a key factor in eradicating defensive errors altogether, it must be said that Nacho Fernandez's presence is certainly not the cause for any mishaps.

The Spaniard has been a loyal and reliable back-up option to Ramos and Varane over previous campaigns and, with their departures coming simultaneously, this could be the year for the 31-year-old to take centre stage.

Against Alaves, Nacho made nine defensive interventions - more than any other player on the pitch - and even grabbed a well-taken goal to put Ancelotti's side 2-0 up.

He's proven his quality throughout his understated career, but now should be the time for him to really step up and form a first-choice partnership with new man Alaba.

3. Federico Valverde set for much more prominent role

Fede Valverde
Fede Valverde was the heart of Real's engine / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Ancelotti has reportedly already been impressed by Federico Valverde and, following his showing in Real's opening day thrashing of Alaves, his admiration can only be increasing.

There were clear signs of ageing in Los Blancos' midfield last season, with Toni Kroos and Modric unable to find the legs to cope with fellow elite European sides in the latter stages of the Champions League.

As a result, Ancelotti seems prepared to offer Valverde the minutes his consistently dynamic performances have deserved. The Uruguayan was at the heart of his side's engine room on Saturday, energetically driving from deep and carrying the Real team up the pitch.

Should his attributes continue to aid Real in dominating midfield battles, there's no doubt this could be a big season for the 23-year-old.

4. Signs of more attacking edge

Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema
Gareth Bale started in attack for Real Madrid against Alaves / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Throughout the 2020/21 season, Marco Asensio, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Hazard scored a combined 12 La Liga goals around Karim Benzema's 23 strikes - the need for greater attacking contributions was frighteningly evident.

It seems that Ancelotti has got his forward players playing with an added freedom, however. Gareth Bale was named in the starting XI following his return from a loan spell at Tottenham and showed some good touches in advanced areas throughout the first half, while Vinicius Junior looked a different player after his introduction midway into the second period.

His fearless drive towards goal terrified the Alaves back line while more intelligent movement around the penalty area got him opportunities to score - something he did with a rare header in the second minute of stoppage time.

More creative, clinical and direct performances from the men in white like the one against Alaves will aid in relieving Benzema of the humungous goalscoring burden he carried with him throughout 2020/21 and, with that, Los Blancos will undoubtedly look a better team.

5. Eden Hazard may not be finished after all

Another player who looked more dangerous was Hazard. Like his previously mentioned colleagues, the Belgian's output was a cause for grave concern for everyone associated with Real Madrid.

Since his club record €115m arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer of 2019, Hazard has played just 41 times, scoring five times and assisting nine goals. Hampered greatly by injuries, his time in the Spanish capital has been nothing short of nightmarish after a second consecutive disastrous campaign last time out.

However, the 30-year-old looked to be playing freely and with enjoyment against Alaves, producing touches reminiscent of his sublime Chelsea days.

The pick of the bunch was his sensational little flick through to Benzema to assist the opening goal of the game - the jewel in the crown of a very encouraging performance.

6. Karim Benzema will still have to be the leading light

Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema scored twice in Real Madrid's 4-1 win / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Yes, the forwards look much more ready to actually make things happen as a unit - but most of the responsibility will still fall at Benzema's feet.

He was the main man - and, most of the time, the only man - in Real colours to create and execute moments of brilliance that carried their mediocre season to a somewhat respectable outcome last time out.

While Los Blancos' performance against Alaves gave reason for optimism, the Frenchman's brace would suggest that he'll still be the one to carry the goalscoring torch once more for Ancelotti's side this campaign.