Real Madrid took the opportunity to hand several of their fringe players a start against Schalke in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday, having already been several goals clear from a 6-1 first-leg victory.
The likes of Nacho, Illarra, Alvaro Morata and Jese all came into the side for the second leg to stake their claims for a regular spot—but the evening ended in disappointment for forward Jese, who was injured and taken off inside the opening 10 minutes. Scans and assessments have revealed cruciate ligament damage to his right knee, as per BBC Sport, meaning he will miss the rest of this season.
Cristiano sends best wishes to Jesé and says the loss of the striker is “bad news for the team”.— AS English (@English_AS) March 18, 2014
It will of course be a disappointment to the 21-year-old forward, but his impressive showing until now this term means he has plenty to look forward to and fans shouldn't take this setback to mean he won't still become a regular starter for the team.
Summer and Beyond
Jese has featured 23 times for Real in the two major competitions this season, La Liga and the Champions League. Although the vast majority have been from the bench, he has little by little established himself as one of the first players that manager Carlo Ancelotti turns to when he wants to alter the flow of a game.
This, in turn, has seen him earn the odd start when the moment has called for it.
An impressive run in front of goal over February saw him score against Athletic, Atletico, Villarreal and Getafe in quick succession, giving him a respectable tally of five for the season. His versatility, just as much as his pace and power, means he has been able to play right the way across the front line for his team.
He is very much a squad option now, perhaps the fourth or fifth attacker in Real's line of three, and although it is inevitable that they will sign somebody in the summer for the final third, Jese has shown more than enough to suggest he will still find a role in the side, once he eventually returns next season.
Vicente del Bosque had only last month, as per Goal.com, intimated that Jese, along with Thiago Alcantara, were outside candidates to go to the World Cup in summer—that is the level of regard the Real Madrid man is held in.
It may be the winter break before Jese is able to return to the Real Madrid side, perhaps even just beyond that depending on how his rehabilitation goes, but he certainly has enough time to hone his game further, strengthen the injured knee and come back in time to play a big role in the run-in to next season, having now missed out on this one.
A Last Chance for Morata?
As ever, an injury to one player is always an opportunity for another.
Alvaro Morata is more naturally used as a central striker, rather than on either flank where Jese looks most promising, but he has been edged out by his team-mate over the course of this season as the youthful attacking option from the bench.
Which youngster has more chance of becoming a regular starter for Real Madrid?
He has started just once and scored three times in the league, with a further 12 sub appearances, and B/R's guest writer Guillem Balague recently reported exclusively how Morata had an agreement in place to move to Arsenal in the summer if he chose to leave Real, and if the two clubs agreed a fee.
What Morata now has is perhaps two months to show that he can bring the firepower and the aggression to the side which Real will lack in the absence of Jese; in other words, that he himself is also worthy of staying in the squad beyond this season.
It hasn't quite happened for him at this level yet, and with Karim Benzema in good form over the second half of the season, it will be difficult to get further starts.
Jese has taken his chances well this season and has made sure he'll be in Ancelotti's thinking going forward. Morata will have to step up even further if he is to grasp this last opportunity and do the same.