After a sluggish start to 2019, Real Madrid finally claim their first win of the year beating Leganes 3-0 in the first leg of the Copa del Rey round-of-16.
Since dropping points in LaLiga away against Villarreal and most recently Real Sociedad at home, Santiago Solari’s diverse lineup was able to get revenge on Los Pepineros and find some fulfillment along the way.
In front under 45,000 fans at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid showed that they do have the ability to play good football despite their recent form. Especially if they trust their younger players.
Going forward, the key for Solari and squad will be to try and find the right combination of what players play on the pitch, and where.
Injury list asks young players to step up
Prior to Wednesday’s match, Real Madrid had six players out with injuries including Marcos Llorente, Marco Asensio, Mariano Diaz, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale and Thibaut Courtois.
So really, who was left to play against Leganes?
With that many squad members unable to play, Solari had no choice but to put together a line-up mixed with different levels of experience and hope for the best.
Veterans Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Casemiro and Lucas Vazquez all started the game while Nacho and Keylor Navas also returned.
The remaining players in the starting XI were all under the age of 23; including Alvaro Odriozola, Sergio Reguilon, Dani Ceballos, Fede Valverde and of course, Vinicius Junior.
Even with the team almost split 50/50 on exposure, they played very well together and offered insight as to how Madrid could operate in the future.
Older players such as Ramos and Benzema were eager to show their leadership qualities and both had an hand in the first two goals of the match but the influence of the youngsters was just as important.
It was the attacking efforts of Odriozola that allowed the Captain to step up from the spot and give Madrid a 1-0 lead right before halftime.
Then in the 68th minute, Benzema’s ability to pick out a bad pass from Unai Bustinza and tee up Vinicius Jr. (who unselfishly slid the ball to Vazquez) ensured Madrid doubled their lead.
The games final goal came from a link up between two youngsters as Odriozola crossed a ball into the box finding Vinicius Jr. who finished with a sublime volley.
Reassembling a strong defence
While in the end Madrid cruised to victory, it’s important not to brush off the issues in the first half of the match.
Once again, Real Madrid’s defence was shaky and there were many opportunities where Leganes could have scored the first, particularly through Martin Braithwaite’s three chances.
After around 30 minutes into the match, the defence finally clicked in and kept their formation on the pitch.
Sergio Ramos, Nacho and Casemiro all carried the responsibility of holding the back line (and even some of the midfield) while teammates Reguilon and Odriozola were free to influence the team’s attack.
These three, alongside Navas in goal, covered a lot of ground and made sure Leganes were unable to score throughout 90 minutes.
Looking ahead for future games, Solari could opt to play more of a 3-2-3-2 line up and give more ground for defenders to cover.
Almost every left/right-back on the squad usually has the ability to play up-top so the dynamic on the pitch would not change that much.
Strong substitution options
With Solari’s decision to have five young players on the pitch, this meant that other healthy veteran players such as Isco, Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal were all on the bench.
While it may come to a surprise as some that players of such stature are fighting for minutes, it allows the squad a lot more depth when entering the second half of the match.
Isco, Modric and Carvajal all have the ability to come on and make an impact on the game if necessary and the younger substitutes on the bench such as Jesus Vallejo, Cristo Gonzalez and newly-signed Brahim Diaz can do the same.
This ensures that if Madrid are ever in trouble, they have talented players to turn to.
Isco was one of the players to help Odriozola set up the third goal and Cristo offered an alertness in replace of Benzema that could be greatly influential if he is given more playing time.
Marcelo and Varane did not attend the match but they would offer the same assistance.
Against Leganes, every player, no matter what age or experience level, was given the opportunity to step up for the club and they all successfully did.
Younger players are quickly finding their ground and giving the club the results it desires while the veterans continue to give solid representation on the pitch.
The leadership and trustworthiness of both the coach and all the players on the pitch was key to Wednesday’s result and the team looked more like Real Madrid than it has throughout the season so far.
If the blending of experience continues to be successful, maybe the club that was once only focused on Galactico signings could be adapting their recruitment approach in the future.