The night had the scenery that the fable of the Ugly Duckling needs. Brahim walked into the Bernabéu as if surfing on Bellingham's shoulder with a rosary clenched in his hands. Lunin opened his Slavic eyes, icy eyes that don't flinch at all, when he was told that Kepa had hurt himself in the warm-up. The story was open. The rest was up to them. [Narration & Stats 3-0]

They tilted the game, with a non-goal and a goal, although the scorer always weighs more, a hyperactive, excited Brahim, with the will to be in all parts of the attack. It is difficult for theirs to end up as in Andersen's tale, but in this Madrid team that has lost offensive heraldry, there is room to fill the blank pages that remain this season, many. Ancelotti doesn't seem like a guy with a preference for fiction, but some of them improve on reality, and Madrid's reality, despite the thrashing of Braga, can be improved.

The first one who wanted to be the ugly duckling was not Brahim. Lunin made a half-veronica bullfighter in the box to get around an opponent. There was a quiet silence in the stands. He could have cleared the ball, but no, he wanted to prove something. He really did it when he hit the right post to stop the penalty taken by Djaló, after a mismeasurement by Lucas Vázquez, who started in place of Carvajal.

The Galician full-back was not lucky, outclassed by Niakate as well as by Borja or all the Braga players who passed through his lane. Niakate was also brought down in the area abruptly while the Turkish Meler decided not to whistle something that could have been whistled perfectly. Good luck for Madrid and good luck for Lucas Vázquez, with an erratic start. His chance was not the same as Lunin's or Brahim's. His is another role, that of a useful substitute, accepted long ago.

Brahim needs the rebelliousness not to be so in this return to the Bernabeu after a productive spell at Milan, with those goals that this Madrid without Benzema needs so much. More needs to be demanded of Vinicius and Rodrygo, who have been very comfortable with the Frenchman in the past. As happened with Benzema when Cristiano left, they must now be asked to take that step, or that leap, forward. The goal is part of that responsibility.

Vinicius did it, Madrid's second, after a month of dry landing. Rodrygo improved on previous games, thrown into space by Mendy and successful in assisting back for Brahim. Finding the fruit on the counter-attack, almost half a year later at the Bernabéu, already in front of a Braga side that left a meadow behind them. At that juncture they found themselves in their element, vertical, fast and looking for each other almost by telepathy.

Vinicius also offered the same goal to the Spaniard, at the start of the second half, but Braga goalkeeper Matheus was right. On both occasions, as in another shot on goal that did not go on the scoreboard due to a previous foul by Vini, Brahim was always where the finisher should be, as if he were a false nine. Despite Bellingham's absence, Ancelotti did not change the system he has used to insert the Englishman. He kept the 4-4-2, with the Spaniard in Bellingham's position, rather than opting for a 4-3-3.

Brahim adapted perfectly to that inside position, intense and sacrificial in the retreats, and with sense to occupy the scoring spaces and give passing options to Kroos and Camavinga as well as Vincius and Rodrygo. He's not a footballer with Bellingham's colossal physique, of course, but at this level he has a lot to contribute, enough to avoid being ostracized so far. Raised and always made in the aristocracy, Ancelotti is reluctant to certain decisions, more conservative, and that fits well with what Madrid is, a team of players or presidents, not of coaches, but also of opportunities that are fables, and it is his job to offer them.

The Rebels

Lunin and Brahim found themselves in their desired role at the start to allow the rest to do so in the denouement against an opponent very well drawn by Artur Jorge. With a good handful of players who have played in La Liga, such as Víctor Gómez or Bruma, Braga play with decorum in the Champions League and aspire to compete for the title in Portugal, something that, today, is not utopian. Missing a penalty at the Bernabeu, however, is a lot to miss. Djaló, who was playing in an important showcase because he was a selectable player for Luis de la Fuente, wanted to get even in a suicidal run to the area.

Vinicius' goal, Madrid's second, put an end to Braga's faith, who lost the good constants they had shown and which, in the match at their charming stadium, they were able to maintain against the same opponent. The Bernabéu, on the other hand, is like a gorge. If you lose your balance, vertigo sets in. For Vini and Rodrygo, the restorative goals whetted their appetite and Ancelotti sought to awaken that of Nico Paz, a debutant from the academy, instead of taking a risk with Arda Güler, who awaits the respectable. With his applause, he said what he had liked the most: the ugly duckling.

  • Real Madrid