Including todays’ draw in Fuenlabrada, Castilla have now lost just one of their opening six games while going unbeaten in their last four. The results surpass the eye test. For the majority of the season - particularly in the past two games - Solari’s squad has struggled to find openings with regularity, all the meanwhile their defensive lapses always seem to cost them at least a goal or two. If that doesn’t sound eerily similar enough to their patriarchs under Zidane, consider that Castilla, like Real Madrid’s A-team, often don’t start playing football until deep in the 2nd half, when they’ve realized the desperation of their circumstances. Sometimes that earns them a victory in the 96th minute, and on other occassions, like today, the engine is revved when it’s too late to ensure three points.
It just didn’t look right today. Castilla’s first half in particular will go down as their worst of the season up to this point. They looked unimaginative, leg-heavy, and probably still acclimating themselves to the uncommon noon kickoff in the outskirts of Madrid, half-hourish commute from the Santiago Bernabeu.
To put it into tangibles, Solari’s scheme was distorted. The spacing was wonky, which made it difficult to build attacks. Sergio Diaz and Martin Odegaard were isolated up front, with no one to channel them into a medium of cohesiveness. In theory, Enzo and Febas should’ve been those links, but they were suffering the same way the rest of the team was - hounded with no outlets when they received the ball. Individually, both midfielders were quite good, and in Febas’ case, he was, for the umpteenth time, Castilla’s best player on the pitch - but they couldn’t funnel that individual effort into the team’s flow.
Fuenlabrada deserve credit. They took the game to Castilla early, making Carlos Abad far and away the busier of the two goalkeepers. They attacked in unison, and recovered defensively tremendously well. On rare occassions where Castilla looked to attack with numbers, Fuenlabrada moved back so swiftly that Solari’s men had no choice but to retreat - pull the ball back deep and start their build from scratch.
The grit was lacking too. Castilla were easily muscled off the ball on multiple occassions. With no outlets, the natural reaction to break through Fuenlabrada’s scheme was to take the ball solo - it never worked. It was hard to break through even one defender without being pushed off the ball. After all, these are kids facing grown men - if you’re resorted to a physical battle, you will get thrown around easily.
There were other palpable problems. Tejero, Castilla’s promising wingback and one of the team’s most consistent performers, wasn’t his usual self. He was shifted to the left today while Achraf - the goalscorer - started on the opposite flank. Tejero’s touch was off, as was his passing. In the 2nd half, he committed a clear dive and earned a deserved yellow.
In the midfield, Jaime Seoane started over Federico Valverde, and looked completely out of his depth. He suffered more than anyone dealing with Fuenlabrada’s up-tempo and suffocative blueprint.
Amid all this, Fuenlabrada threatened several times while Castilla struggled to dictate play. In the 32nd minute, Fuenlabrada’s Dioni scored from the penalty spot after a handball in the area. From that moment until the end of the first half, Castilla still hadn’t woken yet.
The 2nd half was better, to be sure. Valverde’s entrance at half-time for Seoane helped push the tempo to a higher rate, and Castilla started pushing a bit higher up the pitch. Nothing had drastically improved, but they did look slightly sharper. Still, it wasn’t enough to break through Fuenlabrada’s organized defensive lines - that is until Febas, ever-magical, made a damaging run into the area that broke Fuenlabrada’s shape. They scrambled to clear the ball, and a blocked shot fell to Febas again, who cooly slid the ball out wide to Achraf and watched the right back shelf the ball into the top right corner of the goal.
Classic Castilla. That goal was marked at minute 77, just late enough to fit the narrative - Castilla just don’t turn the gears on until their backs are completely against the wall. And that goal, coupled with the moment that Febas decided to shear Fuenlabrada’s defense, one helpless defender at a time, changed things. That run was the turning point. After that, Castilla were the better team - the less rattled of the two.
Some morsels from today’s match
- Sergio Diaz has the most star-power on this entire squad, but make no mistake that Aleix Febas is the team’s most important player. It’s arguable, sure, but up to this point, it’s hard to debate. Febas has really been the team’s engine. His darting runs and distribution seems to be the trump card in most games. He may not make it in the first team, but he’ll make it.
- Back to Diaz, he’s been poor for two straight games now. It’s not all on him, given the team’s structure. As mentioned before, he’s often isolated, and to compensate, falls deep to make himself involved. In those situations he’s starved of the ball, and fails to make the right decision with it. This is on Solari to figure out.
- Let’s talk about Enzo - because that’s always fun. It’s impossible not to be enamored by him, for whatever reason. He’s as silky as his dad, and adds aesthetic value for tuning into Castilla’s games. He does needs to work on his efficiency, as good as he is on the ball. At times, he gets caught up with his eel-like ability to slide past defenders and can hold on to the ball for too long. He’s lost it on several occassions this season because of that habit, when a simple pass would’ve sufficed. He gets bonus points though. At first I questioned my sanity tuning into such an early game where Castilla were getting picked apart mercilessly. Enzo was the one who woke me up. Amid Castilla’s meltdown, he conjured a brilliant maneuver in an attempt to get out of a tight space with four defenders surrounding him. If a video gets uploaded, I’ll be sure to add it.
- Estadio Fernando Torres - yes, that’s a real thing, actually named after Torres - had a fun atmosphere. 3, 000 fans showed up in full voice and fan-gear. It’s not a huge surprise, given that Fuenlabrada is located a stone’s-throw away from Madrid. De facto, it’s considered a city within the Madrid municipality. There are also a couple ties there. Many of these fans also support Real Madrid in addition to supporting their local team, and fans were supportive of both sides. Also, our very own Fernando Morientes is the head coach of Fuenlabrada, which brings it all together.