Last Sunday, I wrote this in the final paragraph of my weekly article: “something really needs to change for this season to look promising: a player catching fire, a few wins in a row or a huge result versus a top-level rival.”
The thought was indeed a sombre one, as I was in fact waiting for something unlikely to happen. Well, it has happened, and not only once, but twice, as in two – young! – players catching fire at the same time and awakening those feelings we have not had in a while.
It’s hard to remember when was the last time that two callow players like Rodrygo and Valverde shone in a Real Madrid starting line-up.
The former had looked composed enough in previous matches, but his perfect hat trick against Galatasaray puts him in a completely different level. It’s not only the hat trick, but the way that he took each of the goals and kept playing with the same poise, the same focus, the same calm. If you believe that this was a one-off, well, think again, because this kid has ice-cold nerves and will keep performing as long as Zidane keeps giving him quality time with the best possible line up.
Mr Sobhani and myself discussed Rodrygo vs Vinicius in my last appearance in the podcast, and reflecting on that again, I believe that they could not be more different: Vinnie tries to impress every time he gets the ball, while Rodrygo picks his spots and is much more patient. Vinnie is obsessed with scoring and goes to great lengths to get to scoring positions, whereas Rodrygo takes the shots that he must take, no more and no less. Of course, the overwhelming theme between the two is confidence – or lack of thereof in the case of Vinnie – and because their tender ages this could change drastically in a few months.
However, Rodrygo does look like the real thing, like the kind of player that could ignite the season assuming that his more senior teammates know how to involve him in the flow of the match. I admit that I expected him to start again on Saturday in Eibar, if only because I believe we should ride the players’ streaks as much as possible. With another international break about to arrive, why not give the kid another start?
This situation does remind me of Raul’s arrival to the first team under Jorge Valdano. His first couple of matches were fantastic – Zaragoza away, scoreless, and Atleti at home, one goal and two assists --, but the debate was heated: should he play every match, or should Valdano bring him to the first team progressively?
Of course, when you have a talent like that of Raul in a squad, leaving him on the bench takes some guts, especially when there weren’t that many offensive alternatives back then. Now there’s more alternatives to Rodrygo – Vinnie or even Bale – but like I thought when Raul appeared and well aware that this is quite an exaggerated comparison, I would play the kid every match.
The other sensational news is another coming of age, in this case of a box to box midfielder who is also growing in confidence with each passing minute. When Valverde did not start against Betis I half-jokingly said that Zidane was resting him for Galatasaray because he’d already become a starter. Well, I was right, but I don’t fool myself: being right when you’re joking has no merit.
Having enjoyed that day off, Valverde subsequently played two humongous matches, showing an amazing fitness, surprising tactical nous and, finally, great skill on the ball. His Kroos-esque finish having yelled like crazy for Modric to give him the ball was phenomenal, and makes me think that, like in some other occasions, Zidane’s eye for talent is outstanding. Would I be happier with Ceballos in the squad? Yes. Do I think Valverde’s ceiling is higher than that of Ceballos? Of course.
Now, if we add the results of the last five matches, we get 16-0 to the Real of Madrid. It’s a pity that the team could not beat Betis, but things do look up and confidence is obviously growing.
Now Rodrygo and Fede need more airtime so that they help to surpass the real test on the pitch: PSG at home on the 26th of November. Zidane has to get that result if he wants to get the team with the right mindset for the rest of the season.