Real Madrid returned to winning ways in La Liga on Saturday with a home win over Espanyol. Marco Asensio scored the only goal in the 1-0 triumph.
Real were the better side for large stretches of the match but couldn't make the most of their dominance until Asensio powered home after a deflection put the ball in his path. Espanyol fought back after the break to no avail.
Los Blancos' perfect start to the year came to an end last weekend at Athletic Bilbao. Saturday's win moved them into first place, but Barcelona have a match in hand and will take on Girona on Sunday.
Vinicius Junior's Loan Can't Come Soon Enough
Real Madrid manager Julen Lopetegui rotated heavily on Saturday―more on that later―and gave fans of Brazilian starlet Vinicius Junior a brief glimmer of hope by including him in the matchday squad.
The 18-year-old supertalent has impressed with Castilla so far, but opportunities at the senior level had been limited:
And things didn't improve on Saturday. The teenager dressed for the match but was scratched from the final squad. Federico Valverde instead took a spot on the bench.
This was a golden opportunity for Vinicius to get some minutes, even if only in a second-half cameo. Lopetegui likely won't make this many rotations again anytime soon, unless it's for a match in the Copa del Rey.
A loan seems inevitable:
He's not the only one who thinks so, and there were plenty of rumours during the summer. AS' Javier Silles even reported there were multiple clubs who expressed interest.
There's only so much Vinicius can learn from playing against overmatched opponents, and for the sake of his development, he needs opportunities elsewhere. Real want to avoid the example of Martin Odegaard—the team wasted too much time leaving him in the youth setup before finally sending him out on loan.
Lopetegui Demands Attention After Gutsy Rotation Gamble
Lopetegui was always expected to make some changes to his side for Saturday's contest since their schedule is heating up significantly in the coming weeks. Los Blancos' next three outings are against Sevilla and Atletico Madrid in La Liga and CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League.
But the manager didn't just rest one or two players, he made five changes:
Thibaut Courtois' inclusion wasn't a surprise, but some of the others' were. Alvaro Odriozola had yet to play a minute this season, and with Nacho also in the team, it meant half the defence was different. Asensio and Dani Ceballos also started.
Adding to the risk of swapping in five players is the fact Lopetegui has only been at the club for a few months. It's some accomplishment to have everyone, including the backups, finding success in a new system so soon:
Jonas Giæver @CheGiaevara
A real testament to this Real Madrid side is how quickly they've managed to take to Lopetegui's system. All right, a few of these players have had him at national team level. But they won three Champions Leagues with a different system. Look a different side now. Fun to watch.
And let's not forget Espanyol started the season in solid form, with seven points from their first four matches. The Catalans had lost only a single match and already took a major victory, beating Valencia.
This was a statement match by Lopetegui, who continues to impress early in his Real Madrid career and will have the likes of Gareth Bale and Marcelo rested for the challenges ahead.
Espanyol Must Build Around Iglesias-Baptistao Duo
Borja Iglesias was a standout for Espanyol, once again proving he was one of the best pickups of the summer transfer window.
The 25-year-old was previously on the books at Celta but has thrived with more opportunities in Catalonia. He's scored just once, but his movement has caused opponents headaches.
His speed left an impression on Saturday:
In the first half, he paired well with Pablo Piatti, who missed a big chance to give the visitors a shock lead. Leo Baptistao came on after 55 minutes, and Espanyol grew more dangerous, culminating in an effort off the crossbar by Iglesias.
The two play off each other well and are capable of scoring when given the opportunity. The strong duo put pressure on Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane at times, and Espanyol should continue to build around them.
Real Madrid face a difficult trip to Sevilla on Wednesday, while Espanyol host Eibar on Tuesday.