These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts -- are now a regular weekly thing. All previous editions can be found here.
Two players, Achraf Hakimi and Marcos Llorente, were singled out from the Leganes disaster. The game itself was a horror show. The team couldn’t curate enough chances until the second half, and when that offensive gear finally clicked and Luka Modric came on to pull some strings, Leganes had already zipped up their transition defense and plugged all the channels.
Let’s pump our collective brakes. There’s a lot of blame being dished around this season, and rightfully so. The team is a mess, and there has been little good to talk about -- even those good things are brushed over because generally, they’ve been short-lived. We had 72 hours to bask in a mini (emphatic) victory over Deportivo in a fresh scheme before Asier Garitano and his band of feisty, pragmatic soldiers were dancing at the Bernabeu alongside their 150 travelling supporters.
Narrowing our focus to two new, young, fringe players who are working hard and grasping for air in a tactical fire is unfair.
They both deserve patience. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the developmental process is just that -- a process. If we were to chastise and banish every young player who played poorly we wouldn’t have the honour of experiencing the incredible evolutions of Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Dani Carvajal, and many others. Seriously, it’s been a joy to track the careers of these players, considering where they came from, and how many mistakes they’ve made during their trajectory.
It seemed clear to me in the summer that Achraf was raw (though he’s turning medium rare), and could’ve used a stepping stone out on loan before being promoted to the first team. But writing him off now, even despite showing some exciting things, as noted in the article linked above, would be impatient and reactionary.
Let’s not slam him and cast him away.
Achraf was slandered against Leganes, predominantly for his giveaway which led to Eraso’s goal. That was a bad pass. There’s no other way around it. He had moments, also, where he looked frail, miss-controlling basic deliveries:
But Achraf did a lot of good too — not enough to mask the glaring mistake he made in the first half, but at least enough to debunk the hot takes that he needs to be banished to Muspelheim. We’ve been swooned by his pace before, but it remains a special trait of his. Not everyone catches up to out-of-reach passes like this, even while holding R2:
Blitzing overlapping runs are something that exist in his current game. Other things — beating his man, putting an efficient cross — are still yet to appear in any significant way. But the pace — it helps him move into position swiftly, and over and over again this season, it has aided him to get back into position when he’s caught out:
It was Achraf’s reading of the game that led to Karim Benzema’s goal:
Llorente’s performance wasn’t nearly as good, and that’s saying a lot, given Achraf wasn’t great, or even particularly good himself — but that doesn’t mean we write off his promising Real Madrid career. Hiccups have existed throughout human history and will continue to spring perpetually. Unlike Hakimi, Llorente’s appearances have been sporadic. He’s appeared in 237 La Liga minutes -- about half the mark of Hakimi’s. Match rhythm matters — it’s a real thing. Llorente hasn’t had the luxury of getting fully integrated, and these sporadic Copa appearances alongside Kovacic and Ceballos (who’ve both also struggled), are laborious, and there are clear familiarity issues at play for all three of those players, who are all talented. Mateo Kovacic is a big game player, and both Llorente and Ceballos were key cogs in their respective La Liga teams last season. That stuff doesn’t disappear overnight.
Llorente works hard to retain possession for his team. And for the most part, his IQ without the ball will mask his rawness, shyness, or early irresolution. It’s silly to throw a hard-working youngster under the bus even if he makes mistakes along the way. Simple things like reading the game as an anchor come naturally to Marcos. In the below sequence, he recognizes he needs to switch markers in transition after a Hakimi gamble goes awry, and he tracks Diego Rico as far as the right-back position before dispossessing him:
On an ensuing play, Llorente shows his defensive IQ and low confidence all in one play. As he runs back in transition, he recognizes Sergio Ramos is picking up the wide-man, and then opts to hedge internally to snuff out possession from an unsuspecting Beauvue. The great read turns into a missed counter-attack opportunity, as Llorente misplaces a routine pass to Kovacic:
Those passes were firing accurately last season at Alaves. He has them in his repertoire, and there’s no real reason to believe he won’t eventually come good in that department. Though his distribution was better in previous games against Numancia and Fuenlabrada, he seemed to be notably off-the-mark against Leganes, and a few of his vertical passes were just awkwardly bad and forced:
Let’s not sugarcoat it: Marcos Llorente and Achraf Hakimi both have a long way to go. They have made mistakes, have looked raw, and clearly are on the very beginnings of their footballing journey, still. Let them develop naturally, and lift some of the expectations off their shoulders.
“I’m very happy with him,” Zidane said back in October, when Hakimi made his Bernabeu debut against Espanyol in La Liga.
”It’s his first game here at the Bernabeu, and he was spectacular. I’m happy for him and it’s a game he will remember for his whole life. He has done very well.”
Raw Achraf is still cooking. Marcos Llorente too.