Madrid’s cast-offs get top marks elsewhere

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With Zinedine Zidane’s team in full-on crisis mode, it is clear that last season’s second-string players are capable of playing a lead role in top-level projects elsewhere

It was clear that Real Madrid’s squad last season was one of the best in history as they powered to success in LaLiga and the Champions League titles. Having a second string of such high quality, though, became untenable a year later, as those players -and more so in a World Cup year, when they all need as much playing time as possible- had to move on and leave Madrid behind. Several did, and are now showing at other clubs that they are more than capable of playing a lead role.

James Rodríguez (Bayern Munich): Ancelotti’s sacking led many to think that the Colombian could lose his place in the Bavarians’ line-up, but Heynckes has made him a first-choice member of it. Playing on the inside in a 4-3-3 formation, James is enjoying a lead role in the side and, whatever Bayern’s midfield combination, he is always a part of it. Between all competitions, he totals 22 appearances, has scored four times and provided seven assists. 

Álvaro Morata (Chelsea): His performances have dropped down a rung or two lately owing to a back injury. Chelsea have now given him more competition for a place with the signing of Giroud, but it still seems clear that the Spain international is Conte’s first-choice striker, among other things because of the good understanding he has with Hazard. Morata has made 31 appearances this season, scoring 12 times and giving four assists.

Mariano Díaz (Olympique Lyonnais): The Real Madrid academy product has turned out to be one of the breakthrough players in the French league, despite having a goal-scoring drought recently, and is Genesio’s go-to centre-forward. He and Fekir are one of the attacking pairings most in vogue in Europe at the moment, and he is confirming his status as an aggressive striker with a nose for goals while playing among the elite. The Dominican-born forward has played 29 games this season, and has found the net on 16 occasions and laid on four goals.

Pepe (Besiktas): A rock in defence for the Turkish outfit, the Portuguese centre-back has been a key player in Senol Günes’ side reaching the Round of 16 in the Champions League, in which they will face Bayern Munich. Usually playing alongside Tosic in the middle of the back four, the arrival of Vida confirms a pairing of experienced, top-level centre-backs. Pepe has appeared in 25 games, starting in al of them, and has scored once. 

Danilo (Manchester City): The Brazilian is a substitute in Guardiola’s side, as Kyle Walker is a very important cog in the machine, at right-back. While Mendy, the left-back, suffered a serious injury at the end of last season, Pep has used either Delph or Zinchenko to replace him, but this weekend Danilo played in this position and scored a great goal against Burnley. While he is not a first-choice player, he has been getting quite a lot of playing time. The Brazilian has made 25 appearances, starting in 17 of those games, has scored twice and given one assist.

Coentrão (Sporting de Portugal): The Portuguese full-back left Madrid, tired of being perpetually in Marcelo’s shadow, and is now a fixture in Jorge Jesus’ team in the left-back position. Still not at the peak of fitness, he is indispensable in the defensive system of a team in the race for the league championship, currently led by Porto, who have a slim advantage of two points over Benfica and Sporting. Coentrão has played 27 times, scored once and given three assists.



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