Zinedine Zidane is adept at managing the heavyweight characters in the Real Madrid dressing room. When it comes to the young players, however, the French coach has faltered.
Ceballos given blink-of-an-eye cameo
Dani Ceballos came on for the last 28 seconds of Madrid’s 1-3 victory over Leganés on Wednesday evening, which points to a lack of chemistry between player and coach. Madrid pipped half of Europe to the signing of Ceballos back in the summer. Yet, prior to his blink-of-an-eye cameo against Leganés, he had not played in LaLiga since December 9th. On that occasion, Zidane threw him on for 19 minutes of the comprehensive home victory against Sevilla. Madrid were already winning 5-0 when Ceballos crossed the white line. Against Leganés he did not have time to touch the ball. Zidane would be hard pressed to treat the 21-year-old with less care.
Ceballos is not an isolated case. Marcos Llorente came on for four minutes at Butarque. The defensive midfielder will seek pastures new at the end of the season. Llorente has not had a good relationship with Zidane since their time together with Castilla, and his lack of opportunities this season suggest that nothing has changed.
Llorente flourished at Alavés last season, but has barely played a quarter of the minutes (768) that Casemiro has played (2,672) this campaign. In fact, Casemiro is the most-used member of the squad – having played 144 more minutes that Cristiano Ronaldo – despite the presence of Llorente as back-up.
Asensio overlooked for starting role
The situation with Marco Asensio is subtly different. Zidane has given him opportunities. But he has not been willing to make Asensio a regular start, despite the fact that he is the second top scorer in the squad. When it comes to certain names in the squad, Zidane is protectionist. Asensio has suffered as a result. There are signs that Asensio is low on patience. After a fine performance in Madrid’s thrilling defeat of Real Betis, the 22-year-old was asked about his form. ‘You can’t show it when you don’t have continuity,’ he replied.
Zidane received glowing praise for the way he rotated his squad last season. Yet his treatment of certain players already pointed towards this lack of faith in youth. Mariano Díaz played just 302 minutes throughout the season. The forward made use of his scarce opportunities, scoring five goals in that time. He left for Lyon in the summer, where he has since scored 16 goals and provided six assists. The €8 million that Lyon paid for Mariano is increasingly looking like the bargain of the summer.
This season, Borja Mayoral is in a similar situation to Mariano. Mayoral has already played 771 minutes - more than Zidane gave Mariano in 2016-17 – but he does not have Álvaro Morata for competition. Karim Benzema is the only other No.9 in the squad. Benzema has spent almost three times as much time on the pitch as Mayoral, yet has only scored two more goals.
When the cases of Theo Hernández and Achraf are added to the equation, the picture becomes even bleaker for Madrid’s crop of youngsters. Zidane’s treatment of those players will a key issue if Zidane continues as the coach beyond this summer.