MADRID Ė A nod to who is winning the battle to be Zinedine Zidaneís first-choice goalkeeper, a brace by Mariano and the return of Vinicius Jr. made for the key talking points following Real Madridís 3-2 win over Villarreal at the weekend.
1. A wink towards Courtois
Zidaneís decision to play Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois over Costa Ricaís Keylor Navas for the second game in a row against Villarreal could be construed as a small wink towards revealing Zidaneís keeper preference amid an ongoing flurry rumors over the future of the two as the seasonís close edges closer, but the Frenchman kept his lips sealed when asked specifically on the matter after the fame.
Navas has already hinted that he would not tolerate the current instability for one more season, while Courtois, who has just joined the Spanish powerhouse, seems to have no intention to leave his dream team.
Counting on Courtois for the second consecutive time was a significant message for a player who has not played at the Bernabeu since March 5, when they were beaten by Ajax and has not played two matches in a row since March 10.
2. Mariano; a brace amid the search for a number 9
The young Spanish-born Dominican player is a natural number 9 whose contract includes neither a prohibitive buyout clause nor a high salary.
The Madrid scouts who are leading the hunt for a striker, with Luka Jovic and Krzysztof Piatek in their sights, are the same as those who presented Mariano Diaz last year.
However, the 25-year-old has not shone as much as he had hoped this season due to injuries and the fact that three different head coaches have been at the helm of the club in his first season.
The confidence he showed by taking on the No. 7 worn previously by club legend Cristiano Ronaldo was not reflected on the pitch until Karim Benzema suffered an injury, leaving a hole up front in the teamsheet.
He capitalized on the chance he had and scored a brace against Villarreal, showing his desire to stay at the club.
3. The long-awaited return of Vinicius
Madrid fans had been waiting with enthusiasm the return of Vinicius, one of the only team members who got the fans on their toes this season.
Vinicius showed no sign of rustiness once on the pitch against Villarreal. Despite a strong performance, he still needs to perfect his final touch in order to secure a place in Brazilís roster for the Copa America.
4. The collapse of Isco and Asensio
Zidane counted on both of them following his return to the Bernabeu, but as the matches went by, they lost their spots in the starting lineup with poor performances such the one they put against Villarreal.
It was when Madrid was leading 3-1 with half an hour to go before second-half stoppage time when they were sent onto the pitch and instead of boosting the teamís attacking edge and increase their tally, they practically had no effect.
This frustrated Zizou, who was counting on both of them for the upcoming season.
The fans also made their discontent heard.
5. The improvement of Valverde
Alongside Brahim Diaz, Fede Valverde is the player who has improved the most.
A string of good performances has helped Valverde lay claim to a spot in Madridís midfield.
Zidane is inclined to field Uruguayan player over Marcos Llorente.
Valverde, who is most likely to stay in the first team for the upcoming season, shone against Villarreal and saved the day for his team thanks to his abundant efforts while Casemiro made two mistakes, one of which cost the team a goal.