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Zidane's Plan B isn't what it was


A year ago, Real Madrid's second string won a Copa del Rey match 7-1, against Segunda B opposition as were Thursday's opponents, Fuenlabrada. That wasn't the only game Zinedine Zidane's reserves won in style. They were also victorious five times in LaLiga, at difficult stadiums, contributing 15 points to the title and affording the regular starters a complete rest to conserve their energy for the Champions League. I was reminded of this while commentating on the game on the radio, watching the performances of those that featured in Fuenlabrada. Yes, they won 2-0, but it was hardly as convincing as last season's version. Two penalties and a handful of shots that Jordi Codina stopped... It was a far cry from Cultural Leonesa.

It is true that much of the reason for Madrid’s display was the home side's performance. Their coach, Antonio Calderón, has a decent side under his tutelage. They cut Madrid's creativity off at source and left the mark of a well-organised team at the back. Fuenlabrada only wilted at the end, when fatigue set in. But the home side’s solid defence was aided by Madrid’s lack of attacking invention and nerve. There were exceptions. Dani Ceballos had a good game, as did Achraf Hakimi, who was incessant going forward on the right. Jesus Vallejo also played well on his debut, despite losing his head and earning a red card late on.

But Zidane's side were lacking in more than a few facets. Among them, Marco Asensio and Lucas Vázquez, two excellent players from whom we have seen so many positives but who were not at their best in the Estadio Fernando Torres, despite getting on the score sheet from the spot. Zidane's ploy of moving Theo Hernández into midfield also didn't pan out, the 20-year-old denied the space he normally exploits from a position further back. Marcos Llorente battled but he was placed under the tightest surveillance of the visiting midfield and could not slip the net. Borja Mayoral was subdued and only got involved towards the end of the game. All in all, Zidane's team were disjointed. They ensured there were no unpleasant surprises in terms of the tie but also generated a little nostalgia for that other “B” team, so recent and yet so distinct. Of course that side boasted the likes of Pepe, James Rodríguez and Álvaro Morata, but there was also a different kind of spirit about it.