Real Madrid: Benzema, Courtois, Vinicius & more feel Solari effect
In his four games in charge, Santiago Solari has improved Real Madrid's fortunes - and, in the process, those of several players, too.
Having registered four wins from four as caretaker coach, Santiago Solari has revitalised Real Madrid - not least in front of goal - and has been handed the job at the Bernabéu on a permanent basis.
And in the process of reviving the team's fortunes, Solari has improved those of several players who did not all enjoy Julen Lopetegui's confidence - but who have now made themselves indispensable to the Argentine.
Odriozola puts pressure on Carvajal
Álvaro Odriozola has proved one of the chief revelations in this new Real Madrid. The right-back has started to look like the player who caught the eye at Real Sociedad: a bundle of energy who gets up and down his flank and, when he joins in the attack, shows the offensive prowess of a winger. In the absence of the injured Dani Carvajal, the Basque has played the full 90 in all four games.
Reguilón: a pleasant surprise
On the other side of the defence, Sergio Reguilón has surprised more than a few with his fine performances, not to mention a level of maturity that belies his young age. A penetrative force going forward, the left-back has consistently shown the energy and commitment to get back into position and avoid leaving gaps behind him. He has arguably been the best news to come out of Solari's time in charge so far, albeit that has been tempered by the injury he suffered against Celta. Like Odriozola, he has started every game under Solari.
Courtois installed as Solari's No 1
When it came to the goalkeeping question at Madrid, Lopetegui sat firmly on the fence, going with Keylor Navas in the Champions League and Thibaut Courtois in LaLiga. However, Solari raised eyebrows at Melilla in the Copa del Rey, playing Navas instead of Kiko Casilla in a decision that heralded the seeming abandonment of his predecessor's rotation policy. Courtois played in Plzen, and looks like he'll be the new coach's man between the sticks in the league and in Europe.
Vinicius is now a reality
Vinicius didn't seem much to Lopetegui's liking, barely getting any game time under the ex-coach. Now, though, he's in every squad. Given his full debut at Melilla, he conjured up skill and assists, and almost scored his first goal for the club. He was a substitute against Valladolid but changed the game when he came on, netting a strike which, despite really being an own goal, was awarded to him. The fans are calling for the Brazilian to start, but Solari, who knows him well from his time in charge of the club's 'B' team, Castilla, is remaining cautious. He gave him half an hour in Plzen and, because of injuries to others, kept him on the bench in Vigo.
4-3-3 with Vázquez on the wing
While Odriozola and Reguilón have mainly been brought in because of the absence of others, the inclusion of Lucas Vázquez has been Solari's chief unenforced change of personnel. A starter in Melilla, Vázquez put in an active display but was wayward in the final third. He came on in the second half against Valladolid and, once again, it wasn't his day, but Solari kept faith in the Galician and started him in Plzen - a game in which he also did not fully shine - and again in Vigo, where he fought hard and ran himself into the ground, albeit without showing his best form. His versatility is something Solari values: he ended up at left-back at Balaídos.
Faith in youth product Sánchez
Injuries have forced Solari to turn to the Castilla set-up to complete his first-team squads. The four lists he has named so far have all featured Javi Sánchez, and the young defender has not let anybody down when called upon. He started in the Copa and helped the team keep a clean sheet, and got 30 minutes in Plzen to protect Sergio Ramos from a suspension-incurring yellow card. He wasn't expected to be involved in Vigo, but the injury to Reguilón saw him given a further 45 minutes. Assured, quick into the challenge, good in the air... He still needs to develop, but is a promising defensive prospect.
Ceballos ahead of Isco and Asensio?
Dani Ceballos had actually already enjoyed opportunities under Lopetegui, but with Solari at the helm he looks to have moved further up the pecking order - and even overtaken Isco and Marco Asensio. Although he did not play against Valladolid, the 22-year-old got the full 90 minutes in Plzen and was brought off the bench ahead of his fellow Spaniards when Casemiro was forced off injured in Vigo, capping his display with a fine goal from outside the box. His fringe status under Zinedine Zidane appears to be definitively a thing of the past.
Benzema bounces back
With Karim Benzema responding to Solari's faith in him, Mariano Díaz is yet to get a look-in under the 42-year-old. The Frenchman is the only attacking player who has been in every Solari line-up, and has repaid the Argentine with four goals, only drawing a blank against Valladolid. Time will tell whether Benzema can keep up his resurgent form, or whether he'll slip back into his habit of turning in too many anonymous performances.
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