Real Madrid: Marco Asensio is at his best when we do not pressure him

Real Madrid, Marco Asensio (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Marco Asensio (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid right winger Marco Asensio has now scored in back-to-back games off the bench. Let me rephrase that with some context. In his previous 31 appearances in all competitions, including 22 starts, Asensio scored two total goals in La Liga only. But in his last 27 minutes off the bench, Asensio has scored two game-sealing goals in 3-1 wins over Atalanta and Celta Vigo.

Before I get into my hypothesis as to why this is not a coincidence, I must admit that the case for it being a coincidence is rooted in the nature of the small sample size of 27 minutes. So that caveat must be stated.

Asensio has struggled for much of the 2020-2021 season. And with each passing week of criticisms from Madridistas, which were rightfully earned due to the magnitude of his poor play, it seemed like Asensio’s work deteriorated. He missed easy chances, failed to create shots for himself, and was even culpable defensively. We weren’t watching the guy who scored a number of goals for Real Madrid this summer in the march for the title. Honestly, we weren’t sure who we were watching.

Madridistas tend to see Asensio as a role player. There have been some people thrusting a weight of expectations onto him to be a superstar of galactic heights, but that’s really not his skill-set. He doesn’t have the athleticism or skills to be that kind of player. He is no Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe, or Erling Haaland.

Real Madrid’s manager stepped in to give Marco Asensio a needed break

But he is a very good footballer. Asensio has a hell of a left boot, capable of scoring from range or placing pinpoint crosses. We have seen a couple of examples of the latter this season, as Asensio has two assists in the league.

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Asensio also seems to be a player who does not respond well to this weight of pressure. It is too much and it is unfair. And every time some Spanish paper rattles off a post about how he is “like a new signing” or a “Galactico”, the fanbase rolls its eyes. When Asensio inevitably falls short of such lofty, artificial expectations, fans point to these reports with frustration.

I was glad Zinedine Zidane made the decision to bench Asensio after a string of horrible, anonymous performances against Real Valladolid, Atalanta, Real Sociedad, and Atletico Madrid. His display in El Derbi must have been the last straw. He was tragically poor in that match.

Truthfully, Zidane should have brought the hook sooner. Not because Asensio is bad. Not because Asensio should have been punished. But to protect Asensio. To look after a talented footballer who was underperforming, lacking in confidence, in spiraling in the starting lineup amidst increasingly frustrated cries from the fans. And Madridistas had a right to be frustrated! What Asensio was producing simply was not up to standard. Yet hearing that frustration vocally can weigh on a player even more.

Marco Asensio can succeed at Real Madrid as a key role player

So Zidane gave him a breather. No minutes against Elche. Let me tell you a stat that will blow your mind. His absence against Elche was the first time since Matchday 2 in which Asensio did not feature in a match for Los Blancos. Talk about overworked. Talk about being weighed down. Talk about needing a break.

One game after his break, Asensio was on the bench. Then he scored. And he did it again the following weekend in Vigo.

The lesson here is that we must temper our expectations for Asensio. We must see him as a role player. We must understand that he is not ironman. He cannot play every week and face this kind of pressure and criticism without there being a detriment to him. As magical as his summer was, we must also bear in mind that he is only a season removed from a very serious injury.

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Asensio is a player who can succeed at Real Madrid and be an important piece of the picture. Real need a left-footer like him who can score and play a supporting role. But let him be a member of the supporting cast. Don’t throw him into the fire as an anointed Galactico when that is not the right role for him. Ease up and watch him perform for the club without the manufactured, detrimental hype.