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Jese starting to play his way into Real Madrid's plans

The young attacker seemed to be on the fringes of Rafa Benitez's thoughts at the start of the season but recent performances show he is ready to play a more important role.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Any positive comments directed Real Madrid's way following the Champions League stalemate in Paris were aimed at the defensive nous implemented by coach Rafa Benitez to thwart PSG's star-studded attack. A makeshift Blancos attack should not go without at least a few plaudits of its own, however, despite drawing a blank.

Madrid failed to find the back of the net for the first time in the group phase of the Champions League since November 2008 against Juventus but the circumstances were such that the performance was not as bad as it seemed on paper. No Gareth Bale, no Karim Benzema and no Luka Modric or James Rodriguez meant Madrid were thin on the ground in attack going into a game against a PSG side tipped to go far in this season's competition.

Those absences meant ‘back-up' players such as Jese Rodriguez and Lucas Vazquez got a chance to shine on the big stage and both could leave relatively happy with their performances at the Parc des Princes - especially the former.

Jese endured a somewhat problematic opening few months to the season - at least from the outside. Reports in Spain suggest his coach is not too happy with his off-the-pitch music commitments while the player's agent has already hinted that the Spanish youngster may look elsewhere for first-time opportunities if they are not provided in at the Bernabeu.

Those comments and any lingering doubts over the player's desire to succeed with Madrid have been somewhat put to bed over the last week, however, with starring performances both in the French capital and in last weekend's La Liga victory over Levante, in which he opened his goalscoring account for the season.

"Saturday was much closer to what we all expect [from Jese]," Benitez said of the 22-year-old's performance at the weekend. "The level of demand here is very high and he has to work as he did [against Levante], with balance, hard work and zip. "He knows the path he must go down. The only way he can get minutes is by going out and proving he is worthy of them."

It is fair to say Benitez had reason to demand more from the Las Palmas-born attacker. Jese was handed a starting role in the season opener at Sporting Gijon in the absence of the injured Karim Benzema but he failed to shine. The only other match that he started in domestically was in the frustrating stalemate against Malaga on home soil. On both occasions Madrid failed to find the back of the net and they were the only matches Los Blancos have failed to score in the league so far this season. The blame, of course, does not fall solely at the feet of the youngster.

Against Levante he was handed 21 minutes from the bench and scored Madrid's classy third goal nine minutes from time to sew the three points up. He showed more of the confidence, fizz and speed in his play that was apparent when he first broke onto the scene from Castilla. It may only have been 21 minutes but those 21 minutes may well have helped to kick-start his season.

"He has been sensational in training," Benitez said of the Spain international. "I'm the first to give him confidence and I have showed my faith in him. I have to create a competitive atmosphere amongst the players. There are certain players who have an edge in terms of their experience. He added: "There are certain younger players with a lot of talent who need to work hard and as the fixtures unfold I'll play them one at a time."

Circumstances, rather than first choices, dictated that Jese started in Paris on Wednesday night but he certainly showed his coach that he can perform on the big stage. The 22-year-old was arguably Madrid's biggest threat going forward with the kind of performance that had Madridistas on the edge of their seat when he broke into the first team under Carlo Ancelotti.

Jese's attitude may have been called into question but his season-ending knee injury in 2014 has proven a tough obstacle to overcome. In the games he was handed immediately after his long-awaited return to action some of the jet-heeled pace that allowed him to cause defences all kinds of problems seemed to be missing. Nobody knew if that would return but his latest few outings have seen the player almost back to his initial best.

"He has to play more, playing more helps to raise the morale of the players. It's very complicated and so the club will have to make a decision," said Gines Carvajal, the player's agent recently. Some pressure on Benitez to play Jese more often but also a hint of reality that seems to be ringing true.

Madrid now go into Saturday's big game at Celta Vigo with a viable alternative in attack. Bale and Benzema are both uncertain starters given their current injury problems. Benitez may now have more faith in his talented youngster plugging the gap in attack, especially after the relationship he showed with Cristiano Ronaldo on Wednesday night.

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