What: Isco and Carvajal’s debut
When: August 18th 2013
Who: Against Real Betis
Where: Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid
Score: Real Madrid 2-1 Real Betis
Goals: 0-1 (Jorge Molina, min 14), 1-1 (Karim Benzema, min 25), 2-1 (Isco, min 86)
Real Madrid line-up: Diego López; Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Marcelo; Luka Modric, Sami Khedira (Casemiro, min 56); Mesut Özil (Ángel Di María, min 69), Isco, Cristiano Ronaldo; Karim Benzema (Álvaro Morata, min 80)
Coach: Carlos Ancelotti
“Marcelo’s cross is really good… goooaaaaaallllllllll!!!!!! Isco scores!!! A goal and an assist for Isco!!! We have our man of the match and his name is Isco. He has arrived at Real Madrid ready to take on the world.”
Isco’s Real Madrid debut could hardly have gone much better. After arriving from Málaga in the summer of 2013, the Spanish midfielder put together a debut for the ages as Los Blancos came from behind to defeat Real Betis 2-1 on the opening weekend of the 2013/14 season.
It wasn’t only Isco who was making his debut that evening. Dani Carvajal, whose buy-back clause had been activated after a great 2012/13 season with Bayer Leverkusen, was back at his boyhood club and making his first appearance for the first team too. Both players completed the full 90 minutes and were as important that day as they are for the team now. This was also the debut of new coach Carlo Ancelotti, who’d come in along with Zinedine Zidane as his assistant to try to put the broken pieces together after a certain Portuguese coach threw the toys out of the pram towards the end of the previous season.
There were debuts all around at the start of a season that would go down in Real Madrid history as the year when the club finally secured La Décima, their 10th European Cup. It was, therefore, the last season to start with the old club anthem playing on the Bernabéu sound system before the game, before it was replaced with the new Hala Madrid y Nada Más song.
With Barcelona having opened their 2013/14 campaign with a 7-0 victory over Levante, the pressure was on Ancelotti and his men to at least open their account with three points. Yet this was not an easy game. Pepe Mel’s Real Betis were a good side and had finished seventh the year before, qualifying for European competition.
Real Betis may have been missing their star man Rubén Castro for the match, but they had Cedrick. The Congolese winger only cost Real Betis €1.21 – yes, 121 cents, as they only had to pay his symbolic release clause of one euro plus VAT to release him from his Numancia contract – but he caused €6.5m man Carvajal all kinds of problems in this one with his blistering pace.
It was Cedrick who was behind the first goal seen at the Bernabéu in that 2013/14 season, as he darted forward and left Sergio Ramos looking foolish as he spun past the centre-back to set up Jorge Molina for the opening goal just 14 minutes into the match. Even if Carvajal was the player caught in the photographers’ lenses as Molina put the ball past Diego López, the goal wasn’t his fault. Molina wasn’t his man; he was Pepe’s man. Plus, Ramos should have done better.
But that’s not to say that Carvajal had Cedrick under control. The Spaniard regularly lost his battles against the Real Betis winger in his debut. As the commentator put it in terms that surely wouldn’t be heard nowadays in 2020: “Carvajal is the guy who got stuck dancing with the ugly one.” This ballroom dance at the Bernabéu certainly wasn’t a waltz in the park for Carvajal. It was anything but.
As the clock ticked onwards, Carvajal started to look more comfortable. One thing that he can’t be criticised for in his debut is a lack of confidence as he played passes with authority and looked like he’d already been playing right-back for years, even protesting with the referee as if he were a captain. Yet the performance was littered with the errors you would expect from a debutant. Just whenever you thought the Spaniard was beginning to look comfortable and composed, he’d make an error or two. A good block, a good pass… and then he’d risk giving away what another referee would have deemed a penalty on Cedrick. A good piece of control, a good tackle… and he’d lose Nosa Igiebor at a corner and see the man he was supposed to be marking hit the crossbar.
The best part about Carvajal’s debut, apart from the confidence he was clearly oozing all over the Bernabéu turf, was his contribution in attack. There were several occasions where he got forward and helped keep the attacks ticking over and he even combined a lot with Isco. This was how the first Real Madrid goal came about. Isco played a crossfield ball to the right-back, who put in a cross that could only be cleared as far as Mesut Özil, who played it to Sami Khedira who played it to Marcelo who played it back to Isco, who nudged a perfect ball into the firing range of Karim Benzema. 1-1.
Before half time, Isco repeated his trick with a virtually identical pass to Benzema but on the right-hand side of the pitch instead of the left. It ended up in the back of the net too, but this was one of the several occasions where a rusty Benzema was offside in this match and the goal didn’t count, just as three other offside goals scored by Real Madrid didn’t count that evening.
What Real Madrid were looking for in the second half was a legitimate goal. It was in this second half that Cristiano Ronaldo – making his 200th appearance for the club – really turned things on with shot after shot, including one off the crossbar in the first minute of the second half that was made possible by Isco causing some chaos in the box, before Carvajal recovered the crossbar-smudged ball to play another cross into the area and to win a corner.
The substitution of an exhausted Cedrick on the hour mark meant that Carvajal was able to finish the game really strongly and he contributed more and more in attack, all of a sudden able to worry less about what was going on behind him.
Yet this was Isco’s night. Overall, Carvajal had a good debut but it was Isco’s name that was being chanted at full time. That’s because he came up with the match winner, bursting forward from his No.10 role to become a centre-forward and to head into the net from a Marcelo cross just four minutes from the end of normal time.
This was the kind of performance that had been expected of the player who’d arrived to the tune of €30m and he even had time for an encore by performing a double nutmeg on Jorge Molina and Álvaro Vadillo in stoppage time. It was almost as if he wanted to make sure that the chants at the full time whistle were for him. And, sure enough, as the whistle sounded just as Carvajal had the ball in his hands and was taking his time over a throw-in, Isco’s name rang around the Bernabéu. It was a five-star debut for him, and overall a good debut for Carvajal as well.