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Fine goals by Valverde and Asensio paper over poor Real Madrid performance

Two fine goals against RB Leipzig on Wednesday papered over the cracks of a Real Madrid performance that was poor and, indeed, bordered on the unacceptable. It’s odd to see Los Blancos play so badly and even look like they weren’t up for it - particularly in the Champions League, their favourite competition. Against a well organised, motivated Leipzig side with bags of pace going forward, Madrid’s creative players lacked inspiration and, as a team, the hosts just kept on giving it away. To make things worse, Antonio Rüdiger looked worryingly slow and unsure in certain situations. It’s a good job he had Nacho by his side; the Spaniard was one of the few Madrid players to come out of the game with any credit. In fact, the only man who truly played at full tilt in terms of commitment, energy and desire was Fede Valverde.

On the hour mark, Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti brought on Marco Asensio, who was given a frosty welcome by the Bernabéu fans. Prompted by the winger’s slack displays, his eagerness to leave in the summer and his dugout tantrum the other day, they’ve started to turn against him. This time, however, he showed the kind of zeal that’s needed from a substitute, and his first contribution was to help win the ball back on the edge of Madrid’s own area. This set up a Valverde break up the field from which first Vinícius Júnior, then Asensio himself went close to scoring. It wasn’t until the 80th minute that the goal came, though, fine play by Vinícius culminating in a thumping left-footed finish by Valverde, who celebrated his strike with abandon. He knew only too well that it had been a difficult night.

Valverde (right) celebrates giving Real Madrid the lead.
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Valverde (right) celebrates giving Real Madrid the lead.Anadolu AgencyGetty

Asensio placates Bernabéu with late second

That put things right on the scoreboard. Real Madrid’s second goal put right the evening’s bad vibes. Asensio it was who scored it in time added on, connecting perfectly with a free-kick that Toni Kroos had played expertly onto his left boot. Asensio’s team-mates ran to hug him, and he then turned to applaud the crowd in a bid for reconciliation, which is what we want to see. Madrid’s supporters are hard taskmasters, but they’re not unfair on their players: they whistle those who deserve it, and applaud those who deserve it. Sometimes, as we saw on Wednesday, all within the same game. Asensio has what it takes to be a success at Madrid - indeed, he has previously been one - and if he’s slipped down the pecking order, it’s not so much about injuries as it is a consequence of his attitude.