Real Madrid’s ‘plan b’ players have failed to meet expectations this season, and Marcos Llorente and Borja Mayoral are two stark examples of that.
Along with Dani Ceballos, Llorente has probably endured the toughest time this season among the new arrivals to the Madrid squad. He returned to the Bernabéu last summer after a highly productive loan spell at Alavés.
Zinedine Zidane has used Llorente sparingly, despite the fact that he is the most natural replacement for Casemiro at his disposal. Indeed, that clear pathway in to the holding midfield role was the main reason he returned from the Basque Country. The 23-year-old has accumulated just 1,064 minutes on the pitch across 20 matches, less than a third of Casemiro’s involvement.
The Copa del Rey has provided rare opportunities for Llorente. He played in each of the six matches that Real Madrid played in that competition, yet the story in LaLiga and the Champions League has been very different. Casemiro has been absent for seven matches across those competitions (Apoel, Bayern, Real Sociedad, Girona, Atlético, Athletic, Barça) but Llorente did not feature in any of them. He has only started three matches in LaLiga, against Levante, Getafe, and Espanyol, and he was left out of the squad altogether for the visit of Celta Vigo on Saturday.
Mayoral has made more of an impact than Llorente, but their two situations are not vastly different. Madrid hoped that the striker would fill the gap in the squad left by Álvaro Morata’s departure to Chelsea; a high-quality substitute who would chip in with goals throughout the season.
That has not quite been the case, although Mayoral has still scored seven goals in 901 minutes across 23 matches. The 21-year-old has found the net once every 128 minutes, which is a respectable return considering his scarce opportunities. He compares favourably with Mariano, who left Madrid for Lyon last summer and has since scored. The Hispano-Dominican scored five goals in 302 minutes across 14 matches when he was the reserve striker, behind Morata, in 2016-17.
It is worth considering that Zidane has generally opted to field Cristiano Ronaldo as a No.9 rather than offer Mayoral the chance to occupy that central role, which is indicative of his lack of confidence in the player.
What does the future hold?
AS revealed in March that Llorente has decided to leave Madrid in the summer. Real Sociedad and Eintracht Frankfurt are the main competitors for his signature. Both clubs have former Madrid players on their books – Diego Llorente and Omar Mascarell – and have good relationships with Los Blancos.
Mayoral also understands that his immediate future lies away from the Spanish capital, and he acknowledged that following the LaLiga victory against Leganés: “I'm sure I'll have to leave at the end of the season to find regular playing time somewhere else.”
If Mayoral does not find another team in Spain, it may be a good option for him to return to the Bundesliga, a league he knows following a loan spell with Wolfsburg.