Real Madrid: Unexpected reinforcements
Played like Vinicius, Mendy, Mariano and Militao were at the end of the line to start the season but their time has come with two titles on the line.
Real Madrid has seen a change of guard recently that will continue until the rest of the season as they go in search of titles domestically and in Europe. Four players who had marginal roles have started crucial games in the last few weeks and put in important performances with more to come. The most notable is Vinicius, who turned the Clásico on its head and won Real Madrid's player of the month award.
The Brazilian had a difficult start with Zidane. The arrival of the French manager came when Vinicius was injured and he only played three games in the league to end the season with two of them coming off the bench. Zidane, at that time, turned back to the players who helped him win trophies in the past. With the arrival of Hazard, it seemed like the door that Solari had opened for Vinicius into the first team had closed in his face. In fact, this season Vinicius didn't play a full game until 14 September. He has only been a starter in 12 of 38 games this season for Madrid, but has started in the most important games recently against Manchester City and Barcelona and in both of them he was central to proceedings. He has scored four goals this season, his biggest weakness, and has three assists.
Ferland Mendy was recommended to the club by Zidane, a football to replace Marcelo at left-back in the long run. The Brazilian had shown signs of decline last season. Mendy didn't settle in straight away though with just two games played of the first five in the Champions League and two of the first 11 in LaLiga. His strength defensively pushed him to the front of the race though with Real Madrid conceding just half the number of goals when he is in the teams. The French defender has played more games than the Brazilian (21 to 18) and also has more minutes (1,607 to 1,436). His absence against Barcelona caused a shock.
A similar future might await Mariano, the invisible man under Zidane. He only played 44 minutes before the Clásico. Hazard took his number, 7, when he arrived and Zidane did not include him in the Copa squad, which is seen as a chance to play out of favour players. The 26-year-old's cameo in the Clásico was perfect though and his desire to chase the ball is contrasted by Jovic's very cool approach on the field. the Serbian, who has been afforded several chances (24 games), is not the solution to Madrid's goal problems. But maybe Mariano is.
Militao's time has come too. The Brazilian has played less than expected but he will have to replace Sergio Ramos against Manchester City after the captain was red-carded at the end of the first leg at the Bernabéu. He is a regular for Brazil under Tite but he didn't debut with Madrid until 14 September and has only played 12 games since then. The central defender has not played in LaLiga since 18 January and was a disaster in the Copa game against Real Sociedad. The moment of truth is here with little time to prepare him for it.
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