When Real Madrid exercised their buy-back option on Lucas Vazquez in June, there was cautious optimism. By no means was Lucas Vazquez going to be the man to carry the team to La Undecima, but he was foreseen as having a role in the team as a productive squad filler. After all, Real Madrid are a team notorious for getting obliterated with injuries season after season, particularly when the International break looms. A Madridista through-and-through, the Galician winger was welcomed warmly. Ultimately, he was a youth product - better to fill your roster with young blood that runs white than to spend money on players like Chicharito who hinder the development of the youth.
The Nacho of the midfield
In essence, Vazquez’s role in the team can be compared to that of Nacho more than anyone else - a youth product happy to ride the pine but plays hard when called upon. Nacho is a fourth choice central defender, but gets his fair share of minutes. Vazquez is in a similar position.
Vasquez has played more minutes than initially expected though. If Real Madrid had James and Bale as fixed starters, it was clear enough that Isco and Jese were immediate back-ups, with Kovacic filling in as a central midfielder. The depth chart looked solid on paper, but left little room for Vazquez to sneak in minutes bar dramatic injuries to at least a couple of players in the pecking order, something that eventually happened much earlier than expected.
It also soon became clear that Lucas Vazquez’s role in Rafa Benitez’s system was larger than we thought - particularly to begin the season. Rafa has preferred Vasquez to Jese and Kovacic a few times already (although Kovacic does not directly compete with Lucas Vazquez, he can be played deeper while Isco is pushed higher up the pitch).
But is Lucas Vazquez ready for such a task? At first glance, it looks like being under the Bernabeu’s flood lights has overwhelmed him mentally.
There are two things that can’t be taken away from Lucas Vazquez: 1) Work ethic; and 2) Stable defensive positioning. But For all the good that Vasquez does in those two areas of the field, he has been a complete liability on offense, and perhaps his play epitomizes the struggles of Real Madrid thus far: A toothless offense scraping by on marginal wins and freakishly good defensive execution.
That last sentence actually doesn’t sound that bad, but it remains to be seen if this sort of system remains sustainable throughout the year. Real Madrid is bound to have enough defensive slips in big games no matter how well they defend (see: Individual mistakes; Marcelo, Arbeloa). Vasquez brings sound wing-play on the defensive end, but little else to the table, if anything at all.
The comparisons that were drawn between Vazquez and Callejon were for the most part nonsensical. Apart from both being wingers and having stints with Espanyol, there is little they have in common in terms of style. Callejon was more ‘Real Madrid ready’, had more confidence in his game, and provided much more flair offensively. Lucas’ season with Espanyol last year was impressive. He was the type of player who could cut in, score goals, and swing in deadly crosses. But the sample size was relatively small. In 30 games started, Vazquez scored just three goals and notched up six assists. It’s also one thing to shine in Espanyol, and another to do it in Real Madrid.
Breaking it down
Knowing full well that Vazquez has talent, he can still bounce back and provide Real Madrid with productive energy. At this point, his problems are mental. Below are a few gifs of his time with the ball where he looks fully mortified of having this round object at his feet. Essentially, he needs to look back at some tape and study what it is he’s doing out there. He needs to simplify the game and be more decisive.
Exhibit A, Real Madrid has the chance to bury Bilbao in the last minute of the match. Vazquez decides to make a run forward - a risky decision given that Real Madrid need to defend their crucial three points. If he makes that run, he needs to absolutely make sure he gets the ball. Here he is running at full speed, yet fails to read the ball and runs past it, committing an erroneous first touch with the back of his heel. Bilbao hit-back on the counter, and Vazquez was fortunate that Real Madrid did not concede.
The next two gifs show perhaps the ugliest side of Lucas’ game. Pure indecisiveness. In the first one, he choose to run into the area with the least amount of space - into an area where three defenders are closing in while two of his team-mates are open, and all the remaining open space is on the right flank. He’s bailed out by a foul.
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Then Lucas has two options. In the traditional Rafa mid-half offensive shake-up, Lucas switches to the left side and gets the ball on the corner of the 18-yard box. He can either make an easy pass to the overlapping Marcelo on the left, or he can cut into the space inside and shoot.
He makes the worst decision - running straight into the defender.
In that same tedious match, he holds the ball for several seconds before giving it away:
Keep in mind a different perspective though: If the premise of this article was that Lucas is a complete black hole offensively, then where does that leave Jese and Isco - two players who have fared no better than Lucas this season?
Per Squawka, Vazquez - per 90 minutes - has more successful take ons, more tackles won, and a better pass completion rate than both Jese and Isco.
Benitez has shown that he doesn’t entirely trust Lucas in a big match like the one in the Vicente Calderon this past weekend, but is more than willing to develop him in the smaller clashes against the La Liga minnows. But if Lucas is to take advantage of his playing time, he needs to simplify his offensive game and shed his anxiety when he has possession of the ball.