(This is a new series of posts which will chronicle the adventures of shiny-domed Zinedine Zidane and his band of precocious kids in their quest to reach the promotion that they missed out on last season. Let us know if you like it, if you don't or if we missed something that you want to know more about!)
Real Madrid Castilla XI: Carlos Abad; Fran, Lienhart, Hector, Tejero; Marcos Llorente, Javi Muñoz; Cedrés, Ødegaard, Narvaez & Mayoral.
Rayo Majadahonda: Basilio, Rubén, Llorente, Oliva, Iñaki, Fabry, José Luis, Jorge Félix, Borja, Rubén Blanco, Portilla.
To start with, pregame warmups had to be cut short due to a tremendous storm in Madrid which, in turn, truly affected the first half play. In an odd display, Mayoral started the game on the right wing despite being such a poaching threat in the box. However, that didn't stop him from showing some nice moves to evade his man with silky footwork. Castilla seemed to have a foothold on the match, if not creating any effective chances, until Rayo found a great look in the 12th minute before Lienhart blocked a sure shot on goal.
Things didn't get much better soon as an error by Hector let Majahonda clear on goal before the shot was scuffed just wide. Castilla tried to establish some influence, but given the pitch's wet conditions the players were just limited to punting the ball long and hoping to latch on or a mixture of controlled passes in gigantic puddles, which wasn't working. The strategy, outside of the type of passes, was wonky as well. Mayoral and Odegaard are two of this side's most talented players, but it seemed the plan was to stretch the field and play very wide, notably with Mayoral often hugging the sideline. Not only did this not lead to good shots, but it left Castilla vulnerable as Majadahonda found acres of space to run in, especially on Castilla's left side, including a third shot which just went wide in the 21st minute.
The positive thing is that much like the senior side, members of the front four started to click a bit and had the freedom to be fluid in their positioning as Narvaez and Mayoral were swapping roles on and off. It might be too soon to read into things, but perhaps this is something that Benitez wants to see incorporated at all levels. This led to Castilla picking up the pace a bit at the end of the half with some slick passing leading to a chance in the 42nd minute but no one could connect with Mayoral's low cross into the box, this right before Abad pulling off a fantastic save right before halftime.
Majadahonda started the second half better with a lofted ball into the box off a free kick but Abad acrobatically got a fist to it. Majadahonda's keeper, Basil, followed suit at the other one with a save from Cedres' header in the box. Mayoral took it upon himself to try and create something out of nothing just minutes later as he deftly beat his marker on the left edge of the box only to find his shot hit the side netting. As someone that many see as a pure poacher, his burst of speed and skill on the ball was a nice sight.
Play slowed for the next few minutes, but following yet another Abad save Majadahonda found a breakthrough as a rebounded shot in the 56th minute found Alex just feet from the net with no one to beat. 1-0 Majadahonda. Zidane responded by taking off Mayoral and bringing on Alvaro in midfield, perhaps to gain more control of the match. Minutes later, Odegaard made way for Mariano in order to try and introduce a more direct threat on goal.
However, Majadahonda nearly made it 2-0 after poor positioning and an error by Hector led to a shot from close range. The players then just more or less went through the motions for the next 20 minutes as some pretty uninspired foorball followed. Fran made way for Enzo ZIdane in the 75th minute and he nearly made an instant impact as his free kick just minutes later barely flew over the top of Majadahonda's goal.
Then, a breakthrough in the 81st as a bulked-up Mariano (seriously, the kid looks swoll) took advantage of a ball behind the defense to slip in and equalize for a distinctly average Castilla side with a cheeky outside of the boot goal.
Golazo de Mariano. Definición perfecta. https://t.co/Aqy6Klyuap— Primillo7 (@primillo7) August 30, 2015
And would you believe it, just six minutes later Mariano was the man in the spotlight again as he pounced on a great ball from Enzo to slip his shot under the keeper and give Castilla the 2-1 lead late.
Remontada Castillista. Doblete de Mariano https://t.co/kuYy0XqFY9— Primillo7 (@primillo7) August 30, 2015
Majadahonda had a chance in the 88th minute to draw but nothing came of it as Castilla took home the spoils in a late 2-1 victory thanks to Mariano's brilliance. Top of the table with six out of six points!
Things we learned:
1. The front four is expected to be fluid. We saw this with the senior side and it was evident in the first half of Castilla's match as Mayoral and Narvaez swapped positions and even Odegaard found himself at the tip of the attack. If it's an order from above then expect all of Madrid's attackers, at least while Rafa Benitez is at the club, to be versed in multiple roles and not just their preferred one.
2. The defense was shaky at best. So many times the midfield would lose the ball in the center of the pitch, Majadahonda would find their way out wide and this would lead to a shot on goal. It could've been worse and the defense did step up in the crunch, but Abad bailed them out a number of times and a better side would be more punishing. Control and shape in transition without the ball needs to improve.
3. Mariano looked inspired and Zizou got his substitution right. The press will likely make a meal out of the team scoring once Odegaard came off the pitch, but they should rightly be praising Mariano for his direct style of play and making the best out of an opportunity. His powerful running and burst of pace broke the game open and took advantage of two lapses of concentration for a Majadahonda side which really wasn't troubled for the majority of the match. A great move by Zizou to get him on and big props to Mariano on his MOTM showing.