Real Madrid World Cup Spotlight: Asensio, Carvajal out as Spain suffer shootout misery
The FIFA World Cup is full of unexpected twists and turns, and Tuesday saw one such result that sent shockwaves through the entire footballing world. Morocco’s win over Spain in the Round of 16 of the competition was not one many saw coming, yet one can not say that it was not deserved.
For ninety minutes, Spain dominated the possession with not much to show for it. Meanwhile, their opponents were happy to sit back deep and hit on the occasional counter.
As time passed by, it seemed like Luis Enrique’s men were in no hurry to find the back of the net. The game finished goalless at the end of ninety minutes and went into extra time where the same story repeated. Even with just two minutes left on the clock, one could not see any sense of urgency on the faces of the Spanish players.
The game went to penalties after both sides failed to find the back of the net in 120 minutes. Abdelhamid Sabiri took the first spot-kick and converted cleanly before Pablo Sarabia struck the post. Hakim Ziyech doubled Morocco’s lead and Carlos Soler’s casual penalty being saved did not help Spain’s cause.
Morocco’s third penalty was well saved by Unai Simon, but Sergio Busquets did not have it in him to get the better of Bono. Stepping up for the decisive penalty, former Real Madrid ace Achraf Hakimi was ice cool and executed a perfect Panenka to send Spain home in front of tens of thousands of Morocco fans.
While Spain did indeed dish out a disastrous performance, it would be unfair to close the topic without appreciation for the Moroccan team. Having topped a group that had the likes of Belgium and Croatia, they walked into the game against Spain as underdogs.
Faced against one of the most richly talented squads in Europe, every single Moroccan player on the field played as if his life depended on it. Their tireless shifts saw the team put up one of the World Cup’s most resilient defensive performances and gave La Roja no room.
Madrid Universal brings you an overview of the only Real Madrid player involved in the game today, Marco Asensio.
Marco Asensio (Spain vs Morocco)
Spain’s engine had too many loose screws for Luis Enrique’s liking at Education City Stadium, but the forward line seemed to be the weakest link of them all. None of the three starting forwards had a good game by any standards, and Asensio was arguably the worst of them all.
The winger has struggled for minutes at Real Madrid this season, but his performance in the World Cup opener against Costa Rica had sown a seed of hope that he had not lost his touch. Against Morocco, Asensio showed exactly what a lack of regular game-time can do to a player as he lacked sharpness, creativity, or intent in the final third.
Enrique chose to start the 26-year-old as the centre-forward ahead of Alvaro Morata. While the No.10 did a good job of holding his position in front of the goal and making himself available as a target man, he failed to produce any end product.
He had just 23 touches in 66 minutes, a number that is simply unacceptable when one considers that Spain had 77% of the possession and clocked north of 1000 passes. Further, he was shambolic on the ball, as he completed a meagre 70% of his attempted passes.
Asensio had a good chance in the 27th minute when Jordi Alba played the ball into space for the 26-year-old down the left wing before the Real Madrid star took on and beat the Moroccan defence. Having gotten past the defensive wall, he found himself 1v1 against Bono but hit the side netting.
Apart from Asensio’s shot, La Roja failed to register any further attempts at goal in the opening period. He had no defensive contributions either except one ground duel won and was dispossessed ten times in an hour. His only saving grace was a key pass that he provided in the 55th minute.
Dani Carvajal (Spain vs Morocco)
The Real Madrid right-back remained an unused substitute, with Enrique opting to choose Marcos Llorente as his starting right-back on the day. He exits the World Cup after just two appearance in which he clocked a total of 135 minutes.
Three talking points from Barcelona 2-1 Real Madrid | La Liga
Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid fell to a 2-1 defeat against Barcelona on their first trip to Spotify Camp Nou after more than a year.
The Catalans had not won against the Merengues at home since 2018 ahead of the game but a clutch goal from Franck Kessie helped them turn around the record.
Vinicius Jr opened the scoring early in the game by forcing an error and own goal from Ronald Araujo. The hosts levelled the score in the 45th minute through Sergi Roberto, before the winner arrived in stoppage time.
The game was not without its share of controversy as Real Madrid had a goal disallowed for offside that Ancelotti felt was unfair. Madrid Universal brings you three talking points from the fourth Clasico of the season.
1. Quality of full-backs
Real Madrid have etched their names into history as one of the most deadly counter-attacking teams in world football. Their pacey transitions and shifts of play have traditionally progressed through the wing with unreal speed to catch the opponent off-guard even in a momentary lapse in concentration.
Needless to say, the full-backs have always worked in tandem with the team’s wingers to make such speedy counters possible. The glaring problem at Real Madrid currently is that their full-backs do not provide half as much as they need to.
Los Blancos’ counterattack now seemingly consists of only Vinicius Jr on the left wing making a quick transition to find Karim Benzema. With just one outlet, it is difficult for the men in white to be effective.
The story at Spotify Camp Nou was very similar. Dani Carvajal started as the right-back and had a good showing defensively. Yet, he was virtually absent in the final third and left Real Madrid’s right-wing lifeless. In ninety minutes, he managed no crosses or long balls and had just one key pass.
The story at left-back was equally, if not more abysmal. Nacho Fernandez was the candidate deployed in the position and could also not manage a single cross, long ball or key pass on the night. He was eventually substituted for Ferland Mendy but the Frenchman could not do much either.
The difference in the quality of full-backs between Barcelona and Ancelotti’s side is gaping. The Catalans blazed through the wings on the night with Ronald Araujo and Alejandro Balde who constantly got forward in attack to stretch the men in white. In response, Real Madrid had nothing.
2. A dead right-wing and lack of intensity
It is imperative for any top football team to have the resources to attack both wings, for it is the constant switching of play that triggers errors from the opposition. For a club like Real Madrid to not have such resources is criminal.
The game against Barcelona was completely predictable given that the Merengues’ right wing was nonexistent. Any attack, almost surely, had to come down Vinicius’ wing and this made Barcelona’s defensive work easier.
Dani Carvajal was barely involved in the final third against the Catalans. That, coupled with Federico Valverde’s atrocious showing as the right-winger removed one side of the field from Real Madrid’s game.
Valverde made just 27 passes in 76 minutes and failed to make a single cross on the night. Further, he recorded just one key pass and one accurate long ball in El Clasico.
When Marco Asensio came on for Los Blancos, the equation completely turned around. The winger came on as a direct replacement for Valverde and happened to score the disallowed goal that was millimetres from giving Real Madrid three points.
More importantly, the move for the aforementioned goal was completely down the right flank, a testament to the alarming situation.
3. Goodbye La Liga?
When the clock at Spotify Camp Nou struck 81 minutes, the race for La Liga seemed to be on. Real Madrid had just scored a possible winner and had cut short their deficit with Barcelona to just six points.
Ten minutes later, the scoreline read 2-1 in favour of the hosts. Their lead atop the league standings was suddenly twelve points with just 12 games to go.
History is witness that counting out Real Madrid does not fare well. However, it is difficult to surpass the supposition that the 12-point gap is too wide to bridge.
Los Blancos will continue to fight in the league, but Ancelotti will likely preserve his weapons for the UEFA Champions League where they face a bigger chance at glory.