It's going to be Marco Asensio's year. The Real Madrid forward is ready to make the definitive step from being a promising fringe player to be one of the team's leaders. After Cristiano left for Juventus, the club decided against bringing in another big name player to replace him, opting instead to give the likes of Asensio freedom to exploit his talent. In last's night's UEFA Nations League game, Asensio showed what he is capable of - with two wonderful goals in Spain's 6-0 pasting of Croatia.
The 22-year-old has ambitions of his own, as he told Panenka magazine this week.
New role at Real Madrid: "With or without Cristiano, I've been approaching the new season full of hope, with the intention of holding down a regular place in the side and playing a more important role. That seems to be happening - I've started the season well and I'm working well".
A different shirt number: "I don't want to end my career still wearing the No.20 shirt - I think that explains everything about how I feel. Would I like to change it? Of course, we'll see what happens".
Learning the ropes
Experience in the second division with Mallorca: "Despite having some good offers from other clubs, me and my family were every sure about what was best for us. We wanted to stay in Mallorca so I could complete that stage in my development. Mallorca is as good as any other club for a player to work on their game and that's how it was. The objective was to get to a level where I could play for the first team and stay there. That's how it worked out".
Pressure: "The pressure at Real Madrid is nothing like what I experienced at Mallorca, where sometimes you here people in the stands shouting: ‘Run, you're playing with my children's money...'".
A year in Barcelona
Espanyol experience: "It was a good season for me, I got to play regularly and improved my game quite a lot; there was a different kind of pressure because of the team's precarious position in the table. But it was all good for me, the best learning experience you could have".
Zidane's influence: "He always used to tell me not to get involved with things that weren't inside my own head, to ignore what was said outside of the club. Because people say a lot of things - especially when you are at Real Madrid, there are a lot of expectations on you. He told me to focus only on football, in making sure my family life was stable and secure, and not throwing away everything I'd done to get to this point".
Magical European nights in Chamartín
Best moment with Madrid so far: "Champions League nights at the Bernabéu… No other matches compare with those - quarter-finals, semis, having to turn the tie around, needing to score a goal…".
So you enjoyed ties at Bernabéu rather than actually playing in, and winning, the final? "Well, a Champions League final is also very enjoyable. But when you are playing at home, the public get right behind you and make the atmosphere special, they make the team take wings and fly - it's an amazing thing to feel".