Home­grown tal­ents make most of chances at Barcelona, Madrid

The Myanmar Times - - Sport -

IN the star-packed squads of Barcelona and Real Madrid, it’s tough for tal­ented young­sters to emerge from ob­scu­rity. Barcelona’s Car­les Alena and Madrid’s Mar­cos Llorente made the most of their chances to shine on the week­end in the Span­ish league, as both mid­field­ers im­pressed in vic­to­ries for their in­jury-hit teams.

The 20-year-old Alena gave Barcelona a 2-0 win over Vil­lar­real on Sun­day with a coolly ex­e­cuted chip of on­rush­ing goal­keeper Ser­gio Asenjo. The goal came af­ter Alena re­cov­ered the ball in mid­field and linked up with Lionel Messi, who met his run for­ward with a pass through four de­fend­ers.

It was Alena’s first goal in the Span­ish league and his first one at Barcelona’s sta­dium.

“The first one is al­ways spe­cial but this one was even more so, com­ing here at Camp Nou at that stage of the match, with the pass com­ing from Messi,” Alena said. “Only he can see that pass. I would never have imag­ined a goal like that even in my dreams.”

Messi, along with team­mates Ger­ard Pique, Ser­gio Bus­quets and Sergi Roberto, are all prod­ucts of Barcelona’s La Ma­sia train­ing academy. They are the last group of top play­ers to come from the famed school, which pre­vi­ously pro­duced Spain greats An­dres Ini­esta, Xavi Her­nan­dez and Car­les Puyol, as well as player-turned­coach Pep Guardi­ola.

But no youth player has earned an im­por­tant spot in Barcelona’s ro­ta­tion since Roberto be­came a starter in 2015. Since then, the club has used the trans­fer mar­ket to re­new its squad.

Coach Ernesto Valverde turned to Alena as a sec­ond-half sub­sti­tute against Vil­lar­real af­ter a spate of in­juries side­lined sev­eral first-choice play­ers, in­clud­ing fel­low mid­field­ers Arthur and Rafinha, along with Roberto and striker Luis Suarez.

Alena’s only pre­vi­ous goal came on his de­but two sea­sons ago in the Copa del Rey. In the mean­time, he has per­formed well for the re­serves while wait­ing for an­other shot with the se­nior team.

“It’s about mak­ing the most of your op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Alena said. “I try to make the most of them in the Copa and did so again to­day. It’s about be­ing there at the right time and giv­ing your coach a dif­fi­cult choice when pick­ing his line­ups.”

SO­LARI’S CHOICE Need­ing to find a backup to in­jured hold­ing mid­fielder Casemiro, San­ti­ago So­lari dug deep into his squad un­til he found the lit­tle-used Llorente.

Prac­ti­cally for­got­ten by his pre­de­ces­sor Julen Lopetegui, Llorente had played a to­tal of 11 min­utes this sea­son be­fore So­lari took over the team in late Oc­to­ber.

But af­ter see­ing Dani Ce­bal­los was not up to the task of play­ing a de­fen­sive role in mid­field — when Madrid lost 3-0 at Eibar — So­lari made the sur­prise move of giv­ing Llorente a try.

With his hus­tle and er­ror-free pass­ing, Llorente per­formed ad­mirably in Madrid’s 2-0 win at Roma to win their Cham­pi­ons League group on Tues­day. So­lari picked Llorente again on Satur­day, and he helped his team keep a sec­ond straight clean sheet in a 2-0 win over Va­len­cia.

The 23-year-old Llorente came up through Madrid’s academy be­fore ex­celling on a one-sea­son loan to Alaves in 2016-17. But un­der coach Zine­dine Zin­dane last sea­son, he only made 13 ap­pear­ances in the league.

“Mar­cos proved up to the task for the big matches that he had got­ten to play,” So­lari said. “It’s fan­tas­tic. This is what makes teams solid.”

COSTA’S FOOT Diego Costa, who has been suf­fer­ing pain in his right foot in re­cent weeks, cued Atletico Madrid’s equal­izer on Sun­day to sal­vage a 1-1 draw at Girona.

When team­mate An­gel Cor­rea stole the ball in mid­field with Girona try­ing to seek a sec­ond goal, Costa saw his chance to catch the de­fense off-bal­ance. His sprint down the mid­dle was spot­ted by Cor­rea, whose long lob was con­trolled by Costa be­fore a pan­ick­ing de­fender tapped the ball into his own net.

Lo­cal me­dia re­ports that Costa is hav­ing trou­ble with his right foot, which he needed surgery on a decade ago to im­plant a screw. There is spec­u­la­tion that he may need surgery again.

Atletico coach Diego Si­mone only had words of praise for his striker.

“You saw Diego Costa in his purest state to­day,” Sime­one said af­ter the win on Sun­day. “The truth is that he is mak­ing an enor­mous ef­fort play­ing on his foot, which isn’t healthy. He put his soul into ev­ery move he made in to­day’s match.” – AP

Photo: AP

FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, right, du­els for the ball with Vil­lar­real’s San­ti­ago Pe­draza dur­ing the Span­ish La Liga soc­cer match be­tween FC Barcelona and Vil­lar­real at the Camp Nou sta­dium in Barcelona, Spain on Sun­day.

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