Real Madrid had a wonderful campaign last season, ending the year as winners of the Champions League and La Liga.
Both major competition victories were accredited to Zinedine Zidane’s decision to rotate the squad often; he regularly rested the big name players ahead of grueling Champions League fixtures, relying on the bench players to see the team through against the smaller teams.
This decision was handsomely rewarded as the striker for the apt named ‘B-team’, Alvaro Morata, scored 20 goals in all competitions, with his goals directly resulting in 13 of the club’s total league points, and a late winner in the first Champions League game to turn one point into three.
Another key player in that squad, James Rodriguez, ended the campaign with 11 goals, opening the scoring frequently and his equalising goal in El Clasico nearly sealed the fate of the league title, until Lionel Messi scored at the death to add another twist to the tale and more spice to the final stretch of the season.
31 goals gone
Both players have since left for different clubs as the upcoming season is a World Cup year, a tournament for which they have to be fully fit and firing to serve up their best football.
Players of their calibre and stature, were too good to be sitting on the bench regardless, hence Morata’s £58m move to English champions Chelsea and James’ two-year loan with Bundesliga winners Bayern Munich.
31 goals gone.
Zidane planned to replace the goals with French wonderkid, Kylian Mbappé, but the youngster snubbed the offer from the Spanish giants in favour of remaining in his homeland, albeit with another club, Paris Saint Germain, as he left Monaco on a loan deal with an obligation to buy next year for a mind-boggling £166m.
Enter Borja Mayoral
This has left Zidane with Karim Benzema and Borja Mayoral as his two pure strikers, with Cristiano Ronaldo becoming more and more of a striker notwithstanding.
Zizou adopted a 4-3-1-2 formation towards the end of last season, using Benzema and Ronaldo as his striking combination. The decision paid off nicely as the club won the Double.
However, the formation changed to a more traditional 4-3-3 when both players were left at home, as Morata was left leading the line with players on either flank.
He’s long gone now, taking his goals along, leaving Zidane to sort himself out whenever he wants to rest his strikers ahead of the big games and who does he turn to?
Borja Mayoral, it seems.
Good enough for Real Madrid?
The young Spaniard is a talented player, one that uses his feet well and has exceptional link-up play like every Spaniard.
Mayoral also has the positional skills required of a front man but lacks the brute strength to lead a side as the sole striker when the more traditional 4-3-3 formation is adopted, as he plays better when he has players in close proximity with him, rather than those flanking him.
This is because he utilises his dexterity on the ball to get past burly centre-backs, rather than having to duel with them to get on the end of crosses, a tussle that has only one winner.
His form out on loan last season was nothing short of calamitous, albeit with an admittedly woeful Wolfsburg team.
Mayoral struggled for minutes and when they did eventually come, he never did enough to show he was worth more, scoring a paltry two goals the whole season as his loan spell expired and he was brought back from his German nightmare.
Eggs in one basket
This should not be the player Zidane relies on to replace the goals that have been lost in Morata, James and even Mayoral’s ex-Castilla teammate, Mariano Diaz.
When the Mbappé deal would not happen, as it was public knowledge he was moving to PSG for over two weeks before the close of the window, a striker should have been brought in while Mayoral was sent out to hone his skills on loan, not serve as back up to an equally underwhelming Karim Benzema.
The goals from the striker on the bench were key to winning trophies last season.
Zidane has let these goals go without bringing in a suitable backup, putting all his eggs in the Mayoral basket.
The decision to trust the youngster might prove as inspired as the decision to keep Marco Asensio this time last year proved to be, but only one person can tell: Father Time.
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