The youngster was expected to become a key man this term, but things have yet to work out and he now finds himself out of favour under Santiago Solari. If things had gone to plan, this would have been the week of Marco Asensio. Two Clasicos, two big occasions, two games in which he would inevitably shine. After all, this is a player who has scored on five Real Madrid debuts netting in his UEFA Super Cup, La Liga, Champions League, Copa del Rey and Spanish Super Cup bows for the club in what was an incredible 12 months between August of 2016 and 2017. With Cristiano Ronaldo leaving for Juventus in the summer, this was supposed to be the season in which Asensio stepped up from fringe player to key man at the Bernabeu.
But, unfortunately, things have not gone to plan thus far for the 23-year-old. Real Madrid’s own fortunes have contributed to this. Under Julen Lopetegui, Asensio was a regular, starting 10 of the manager’s 19 games in charge and playing 90 minutes in seven of those. However, most of his game time under the former Spain boss saw him operate in a left-wing position in which he does not feel as effective.“I can be more decisive on the right flank or in the middle,” he said. “If I play more on the right or in the middle, I have more chances to be decisive and get more involved.” But under Santiago Solari, he’s hardly played at all. Only once has Asensio got a full 90 minutes under his belt with the new boss, being granted just seven starts in his 18 games so far.
The chaos around the team has no doubt contributed to a less fruitful season at this point for the Spain international. No fewer than 44 goals left the club over the summer as Ronaldo moved to Juventus, and injuries to Gareth Bale, the man expected to fill Ronaldo’s shoes, mean more pressure has fallen on Asensio. The winger himself does not think that is entirely fair, saying: “I don’t think it’s for me to carry the team – there are players who are much more experienced, have more years playing under their belts and more status than I have and they’re the ones who have to lead the team.” But with Bale rarely fit or in favour and Lucas Vazquez regarded as more of a workhorse than a goal threat, pressure has unexpectedly fallen on the shoulders of a 23-year-old who started just 27 of his 51 games last term. “If those expectations exist it’s because I have proven it on the pitch and I deserve it, I suppose,” he begrudgingly added. But the circumstances of the past and those of the present are completely different.
It’s clear that his confidence is not the same as it was under Zinedine Zidane, who often called upon him to save the day. Asensio’s chance conversion rate is down to 14 per cent this season, having stood at 40 per cent the year before and an incredible 62.5 per cent in 2016/17. Whether that’s down to his ineffectiveness under Lopetegui or not, it has not been helped by the emergence of Vinicius Jr either. The Brazilian teenager was a peripheral figure under the former manager, but he has become to Solari’s Madrid similar to what Asensio was to Zidane’s. With two goals and seven assists from eight Copa del Rey appearances, that is understandable. Solari cannot ignore form like that from a player whose lack of game time was significant in the dismissal of his predecessor.
Speaking to AS after Asensio came to the rescue against Bayern Munich in last year’s Champions League semi-final, Zidane declared his impressive impact as “nothing new”. “He made the difference out there,” the manager said. “He brings real speed and cutting edge and had an excellent impact on the game when he came on. I’m very happy with him, as are his team-mates.” Although not in as big a fixture, Asensio served fans a timely reminder of his ability to perform in the big moments two weeks ago, despite spending just 17 minutes on the pitch. It was his late, late winner that saw Real Madrid edge out Ajax in the first leg of their Champions League last 16
“You want to do everything in the five or 10 minutes they give you, so if things don’t go well for you, you have to be strong mentally,” Asensio admitted during a difficult spell last season. But he overcame those difficulties to deliver that key moment in Munich, on the way to another European title. So while things may not be going so well for him right now, Asensio is likely to intervene crucially before the season is up – and there is no better timing than a Clasico.