In a team full of superstars, it’s often hard for young talents to get a look-in – just ask any of Chelsea’s legion of youngsters currently farmed out on loan around the continent.
Sometimes though, that talent is undeniable. In special, special cases, a new star can emerge from the reserves and the loan spells early, and make their impact on the biggest stages. Marco Asensio, as it happens, is a very special player indeed.
The 21-year-old has been all over the back pages this week for a pair of shit-hot long-range turbobangers against Barcelona, one in either leg of the Spanish Super Cup, and was compared favourably to Michael Laudrup and Isco while he was learning his trade at Mallorca.
The headline stat around the 21-year-old is his record in debuts; scoring in his first Real Madrid appearance in La Liga, the Champions League, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Super Cup, but the 12 months since that first Real goal in the Super Cup have seen him become so much more than a novelty statistic.
One of the biggest benefactors of Zinedine Zidane’s deep squad rotation plans, especially towards the end of the Primera Division season, Asensio has gone from young backup option to pushing for a place in Real’s first starting XI of the league season on Sunday.
While Zidane rested a handful of his leading men – particularly Cristiano Ronaldo – in away league games for the last two months of the season, Asensio took up a starting position in role across a front three. Alternating between the right and left wings, with an occasional appearance in the centre of midfield, impressed his manager enough to feature in every one of Real’s Champions League games from the quarter-finals onwards.
What separates Asensio from the other players in similar situations to him – Munir and Paco Alcacer at Barcelona, Borja Mayoral and, to an extent, Mateo Kovacic at Real – is how match-ready he is right now.
It’s hard to call last season a true breakout one for him, starting just 12 games across the Champions League and La Liga, but the departures of Alvaro Morata and James Rodriguez have freed up a lot of opportunities for the coming campaign.
And here’s the scary thing:
Asensio 21 years old
— Phil Kitromilides (@PhilKitro) August 16, 2017
The accepted thinking earlier in the summer was that most of the 27 league starts the pair combined for last season would go to Kylian Mbappe when he arrived from Monaco, but excessive wage demands look to have scuppered that move – leaving game time there for the taking.
Now, some of that will go to Isco – although his introduction tends to necessitate a shift from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, with Bale or Benzema dropping either to the bench or a left midfield spot – but Asensio could easily start more than half of Real’s games this season in all competitions. And when he does, he will shine.
His pace and vision already make him one of the most dangerous players in world football on the counter-attack alongside Neymar and Eden Hazard, and the long-range thunderbastards he’s rolled out in the Super Cup mean that defenders can no longer afford to stand off him when he’s on the break. That, in turn, will create gaps in ragged defensive lines for him to either beat his man or play through a Ronaldo or Bale figure.
4 – Marco Asensio’s last four shots for Real Madrid (all comps):
⚽️ vs Juventus
❌ vs Man Utd
⚽️ vs Barcelona
⚽️ vs Barcelona
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 16, 2017
Missing out on Mbappe may be, inadvertently, Real’s best move this summer. In Asensio they have a young, attacking player who has a more complete all-round game, is the better player now and has a higher potential ceiling. He’s played at the very highest level for a season, is being mentored as part of the best club squad assembled in a generation, and could even replace Bale on the left-hand side of Zidane’s attack by the end of the campaign.
The Welshman’s injuries last season made it very clear that Real could win things without him. And more to the point, they could win everything without him. In Zidane’s systems, be it 4-3-3 or 4-4-2, Asensio provides a better stylistic counterbalance to his attacking partners than Bale; and is fast becoming a fan favourite. The Asensio Ascension, as it absolutely will not be called, is well underway.
P.s., he signed for Real for about €3.5m. After a number of Premier League clubs turned him down. Just something to think about.