This wasn't the Castilla we're used to seeing. Gone from last year's spine: Marcos Llorente, Martin Odegaard (loan imminent), Borja Mayoral, and Mariano - among others. The team was gutted after failing to qualify for Segunda,- graduating its top players who needed to move on with their careers. But blessings arrived alongside the overhaul, with players like Enzo, Cedres, and Mario Rodriguez earning opportunities; while Sergio Diaz - the new de facto galactico of the team - was pumped in to inject goal-scoring prowess in the absence of Mariano and Mayoral. The byproduct of these changes were all apparent in today's league opener - the team looked unfamiliar, but it also looked clearly talented, and the final score was a testament to individual talent grinding out an aggressive match collectively and imposing their way to what looked like an unlikely victory mid-way through the 2nd half.
It was a messy start for Santiago Solari's men. In the 6th minute, Luca Zidane - making his Castilla debut - cleared the ball right to Sociedad's Jon Guridi who punished the young goalkeeper and gave his side an early lead. It was a rude awakening for Luca, who also had another freakishly horrendous clearance in the first half which the Basques couldn't capitalize on. He had some shaky moments, but it has to be said Luca did a lot of good too. At 0-1, he kept Castilla from a heavier deficit with some solid saves, and looked particularly comfortable in snuffing out high crosses that looked out of reach.
At half-time, Castilla trailed by a goal, and Solari opted not to make any changes - a fair approach. Castilla were facing a disappointing result, but Sociedad's B team is quite good, and despite the deficit, the team had grown toward the end of the half, with Mario Rodriguez, Cedres, Sergio Diaz, and Enzo Zidane in particular starting to link up well offensively.
Naturally, as the team was finding its feet, they conceded again. Phillip Lienhart bombed up the field with the ball in the 56th minute before misplacing a pass and exposing the backline to a counter attack. Jon Bautista scored Sociedad's 2nd as Castilla's defense failed to recover from Lienhart's turnover, and things looked bleak at that point. It stung for Lienhart more than anyone - up until that moment he was having a commanding game at the back.
But backs against the walls, Castilla responded. Sergio Diaz was giving Sociedad's backline headaches all game with his runs in behind the defense and slick, mazy dribbling. In the 59th minute, he pulled one goal back for Castilla after some nice work from Cedres. Five minutes later, the roles were reversed as Sergio Diaz sent a pass to Cedres who pinged a low shot just inside the far post. The game was tied, and Castilla's spunk was rewarded. Both Diaz and Cedres deserved those goals - as did the team. They were the better side overall and had been knocking on the door all game. 25 minutes later, they not only knocked on it, they completely bulldozed it - three points waiting on the other side.
Sergio Diaz unleashed his inner Sergio Ramos
So clutch, baby.
It's funny - as unlikely as any result looked by the time Sociedad scored their 2nd goal, Castilla looked just as unlikely to finish this game without a win by the time Cedres had scored. The momentum had shifted - hard. Though the Basques did launch a couple attacks after they lost their lead, Castilla had them on the ropes, and Sergio Diaz completely ended their misery in the 90th minute for all the bragging rights after a game full of tension and physical brute.
Así ha sido el ⚽ en el último minuto de SERGIO DIAZ.— MADRIDISMO (@madridismo9) August 20, 2016
Emulando a Sergio Ramos y su Minuto 93 pic.twitter.com/uCQQGSSoI5
Diaz's winning-goal was a hammer - a message of his arrival. It's not easy replacing the behemoth Mariano or the elusive Mayoral, but Sergio Diaz is special enough to keep Castilla's offense flowing without his two predecessors. Real Madrid have found yet another gem in their chain of talented forwards.
This Castilla team hasn't played together much, but there is still enough talent residing to keep our interests, and de facto, themselves in contention. If Solari's project is still in its fledgling stages and far from gelled, then it's encouraging Castilla can still pull out an impressive comeback win against a good team despite some lapses and unfamiliarity. This was a victory of character.
Those defensive lapses that led to Sociedad's two goals were concerning though, and it's a problem that carries over from Castilla's breakdown during last season's playoffs where the team defended well as a whole but conceded goals stemming from individual snafus - as was the case today.
Full match highlights