The most striking part of the Juventus game, or at least the most surprising, was seeing Marco Asensio in the role of a false No.9. In the first half, Real Madrid played with a 4-4-2 in a rhombus formation, with Isco at the vertex with Bale and Benzema up front. It was far from inspiring and the only saving grace was Bale’s wonder-goal – a typically sublime effort from him. The team looked a little disjointed and only really connected when they got close to the rival goal. The second half performance was much better, especially the team’s blistering start with a three-pronged attack: Lucas Vázquez-Asensio-Vinicius, in which Asensio tended to drop back then pop up just at the right moment. In doing so he grabbed two goals.
While Madrid scour the market in search of an out-and-out centre-forward, Lopetegui used the game to dabble and his experiment paid off - Asensio has provided him with a solution. As for the ‘false No.9, it’s a tactic which many of football’s historic sides have employed to great effect. Austria’s fabled Wunderteam used it with Matthias Sindelar in the deep-lying role; as did Hungary with Nándor Hidegkuti in the deeper, retreate position; and also Real Madrid with Di Stéfano; the acclaimed Brazil 1970 side with Tostao dropped back and not forgetting Ajax with Cruyff, although when El Flaco fell a few yards back, he would usually drift over to the left; we saw it many time with Guardiola’s Barça with Messi in the role and with Del Bosque’s Spain during several games at EURO 2012 with Cesc Fàbregas playing ‘in the hole’.
Exploiting Asensio's versatility
I don’t know whether Lopetegui, in the off chance that Florentino doesn’t find him a bona fide centre-forward, might be considering possibility of fielding Asensio in that position but he’s obviously thought about enough to put the experiment to the test. It has to be said that nor is Benzema a classic, out-and-out No.9 – he’s more of what the Argentineans would call a ‘nine and a half’, half striker-half deep-lying forward; so that leaves just Borja Mayoral, who is still learning the ropes, and Raúl de Tomás meanwhile will be going out on loan. Asensio has a good shot on him, he can play in various different positions, but I get the feeling that he gets a bit bored playing out wide on the left. He revels being in the heart of the action – that’s precisely where he was against Juve and he looked right at home.