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Lucas Silva shines on Real Madrid debut

Lucas Silva made his full Real Madrid debut in the 2-0 Champions League victory over Schalke on Wednesday night and he made a good impression on his first outing.

Lars Baron/Getty Images

You couldn't help but think it was a sort of ‘changing of the guard' in the Real Madrid midfield at the Veltins-Arena on Wednesday night.

Carlo Ancelotti opted for Lucas Silva alongside Toni Kroos and Isco in a three-man midfield against Schalke that, again, had no space for Asier Illarramendi. Another talented young prospect in for one that has tried and failed to win the trust of his manager.

Football can be a cruel game at times and Illarramendi knows that all-too well. His starting role in the 2-0 victory against Deportivo La Coruna at the weekend may well have been his last in a Madrid shirt as Los Blancos look to cut their losses and focus on one of Brazilian football's hot prospects instead.

That Ancelotti opted for a player who had not started a match since December 7, when he played for Cruzeiro against Fluminense, in such a big match was telling. That, coupled with Luka Modric's successful return to training on Thursday and the future returns of James Rodriguez and, to a lesser extent, Sami Khedira, should leave the Basque midfielder at long odds to start again before a probable move to pastures new in the summer.

Germany has not been a happy hunting ground for Illarramendi. It was at Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park, just 32km from the Veltins-Arena, where his Madrid career started to unravel. Madrid were seemingly in control of last season's quarter-final tie against Dortmund thanks to a 3-0 lead built up from the first leg but they trailed 1-0 in Germany and a loose pass from the former Real Sociedad man let in Marco Reus for a second. Madrid recovered to hold on but Illarramendi did not.

Ancelotti's decision on Wednesday night to go with Silva from the start will have been met with disappointment from the former Spain under-21 star but also an expectation from a player who seems to have the physical qualities to thrive but not the mental ones.

Lucas Silva had not arrived in Madrid to make friends with Illarramendi and if any lingering doubts remained before Ancelotti picked the Brazilian over the Basque, they will have disappeared after the match with the 22-year-old producing a convincing, if not glittering performance on his full debut for the European champions.

Not that it needed to be glittering. While Isco and the ‘BBC' provided the glamour and Toni Kroos passed his side around the pitch like clockwork, Silva did the simple things to hold the play together and he did them well.

"I went with him [Silva] because he had fresher legs, having barely played on Saturday," Ancelotti said in his post-match press conference. "His fitness has improved. He imposed order and showed his personality on the pitch. He kept things very simple and had good ideas. His personality has surprised me. It is not easy playing for Real Madrid for the first time at 22 years of age."

Perhaps that final part referenced Illarramendi and his reported struggle to adjust to life at arguably the world's biggest club. He has not been able to lift that weight off his shoulders. Being lined-up by the press as Xabi Alonso's like-for-like replacement will not have helped. In Silva, however, Madrid have a young star who seemingly has an old head on young shoulders.

He looked assured on the ball, won plenty of aerial battles in midfield and added the go-forward approach that Illarramendi does not. He even had the audacity to attempt an ambitious 30-yard drive that eventually drifted well wide but the sign was a positive one. This is a player who has scored from that distance before and he was not afraid to get a shot away with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale waiting ahead of him.

Playing on the right of the midfield three, Silva was positionally sound, offering attack and defence in equal measure and was also not afraid to boss his more senior team-mates into position on occasion. Silva not only recently turned 22 but it was also his first 90 minutes with the European champions and the Liga leaders. His range of passing was good, from simple short balls to cross-field passes to spread the play.

The early signs are good - Silva seemed to have the lot. The expectation is that he will continue from the start when Madrid visit Elche on Sunday night, although two games in five days after what was the Brazilian's pre-season may come into Ancelotti's thinking. His bigger headache will be how to squeeze the former Cruzeiro man into his starting line-up when everyone is fit and available. It's a nice headache to have.

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