After a couple of disappointing performances which saw Zinedine Zidane's squad relinquish its spot at the top of the league, the kids returned to take on 12th place Sestao River in the hopes of reversing their slide.
Sestao River: Raul, Dani, Cabrero, Tarantino, Anáez, Kurbus, Abaroa, Silas, Jorge Canario, Jito.
RM Castilla: Carlos Abad; Fran, Lienhart, Marcos Llorente, Tejero; Javi Muñoz, Enzo; Alvaro Odegaard Narvaez; Mayoral.
The match started off brightly enough for both sides, as Madrid's interplay in Sestao River's half was silky smooth while the home side was finding it too easy to make their way into Madrid's box. However, the better opportunities were going to Sestao River with a chance in the 10th minute as the shot hit the Castilla bar. Then, calamity ensued as Lienhart brought down a marauding attacker in the box to pick up a yellow and concede a dodgy penalty kick, which was promptly put away as Abad dove the wrong direction. A recurring theme this season, and a concerning one at that, has been how often Zidane's team has gone down a goal and has had to chase an equalizer.
Two minutes later, Enzo picked up a yellow and one could get the sense that the match hung in the balance as Castilla simply couldn't get a consistent foothold on the proceedings. They just couldn't get anything going offensively. However, a flurry of chances in the 21st minute, including a near miss from Odegaard, put a little jolt in the visiting side even with no goal to show for it. However, what followed was 10 minutes of middling play with neither side seeming to want to take the game by the neck. A decent save from Sestao River's keeper in the 32nd minute kept things in their favor but that's about as much action as Castilla produced in the final third. On the other end, Abad kept Castilla in it with an excellent save just minutes later. A truly flat, uninspired showing from his teammates to leave him hanging like that. Half time with Madrid trying to up the tempo late but nothing coming from it as they went into the break down by one.
The second half started much the same way the first ended, some decent play but nothing spectacular or noteworthy from either side. Llorente made his presence known a few times just as he did in the first half, which was nice, but on the offensive end Castilla just couldn't muster anything other than pointless backpasses and turnovers.
The 55th minute saw Zidane make his first change as Febas came on for Enzo and Castilal almost instantly went down 2-0 as Sestao River had a clear breakaway on goal before Abad bailed them out - AGAIN. Then in the 61th minute, Odegaard lined up for a corner kick and just like that, Lienhart atoned for his early penalty by connecting beautifully with the Odegaard ball and leveling things up. Game on.
Abad came to the rescue for the third time just minutes later, it's amazing to think about how often he's bailed this side out in this young season. Nevertheless, Castilla clearly took it up a notch by this point. Zidane made his second change in the 69th minute as Cedres came on for Narvaez. Castilla pushed and pushed but alas, no goal. Odegaard came off late for Fran Perez and Mayoral had a chance to win it but it wasn't meant to be and Castilla had to settle for one point.
All in all, this was another disappointing result. After starting the season on fire, the team has now only scored two goals in the last three and has only picked up two points from those matches. Too many long stretches of lethargy are dooming this side which is unfortunate as the talent to win games is there. Zidane has to figure out how to stop conceding these cheap goals and how to put his playmakers in more advantageous positions. Mayoral is isolated, the ball is being poorly circulated, the transitional game is going nowhere and the defense speaks for itself.
Three things we learned:
1. Someone needs to step up offensively. And fast. Mayoral is the big-name attacking starlet but he can't do it all, especially when he's blanked out of matches like he was today. The creativity behind him has been missing in large swaths and going down a goal in seemingly every match makes it that much tougher for him to get going. Odegaard did pick up an assist off the corner, but his open play contribution has been mediocre so far this season and the excuses are starting to dry up for him as he's failed to feed his starlet striker. Mayoral needs help.
2. The habit of conceding first needs to stop. Once or twice is normal, but it happening repeatedly is a worrying trend for Zidane. It's fun to be known as the comeback kids but it leads to unnecessary strain to try and chase every single match while the other side can sit back and hit on the counter when Castilla overcommits. This defense still needs to shore up its discipline.
3. Carlos Abad is a fantastic prospect. The 20-year-old is on loan from Tenerife and likely won't have a lasting Real Madrid career, but he's also someone who clearly shows the potential to make it to the big leagues sooner rather than later. Whether it's holding his line or rushing out to meet an attacker, the 6 ft 4 in stopper has come up huge this season for Castilla and Zidane has him to thank for the single point today.