Kovacic and Vazquez: Hidden stars of Real Madrid’s golden form

When you’ve got class acts such as Gareth Bale and Luka Modric taking up spots on the treatment table, it’s certainly going to be a mighty task not to let standards slip. Tottenham Hotspur can tell you that.

But with Real Madrid breaking a Spanish record 40-match unbeaten run, it’s fair to say they’re doing a decent job of coping.

Such is the talent hub that is the Santiago Bernabeu, you’d be forgiven for thinking a full squad was at the disposal of Zinedine Zidane, atop La Liga by four points with a game in hand.

Gareth Bale

But with a last-16 Copa Del Rey draw to Sevilla on Thursday night and another meeting on Sunday, those beyond the Los Blancos first XI will once again need to step up to the plate.

And in 22-year-old Mateo Kovacic and 25-year-old Lucas Vazquez, Madrid seem to have found replacements more than up to the task – with a few significant factors the basis of their development:


From boy to man?

Much was expected of Croatian Kovacic following his high-profile move from Inter Milan in the summer of 2015, but it didn’t exactly go to plan for the first 12 months.

Having already struggled for a regular starting berth, things went from bad to worse against Valencia in January 2016 – lunging in unnecessarily in the second half, his red card adding salt to the wound as Madrid twice squandered a lead to draw 2-2.

It was to be one of Rafa Benitez’s last games in charge, while the midfielder only got a full 90 minutes only twice more that season.

However, that all seems to behind a player who is still just 22 years old. Kovacic has taken advantage of injuries and come into his own alongside Toni Kroos in La Liga, with their central partnership continuing to flourish.

While he may lack experience of the big occasion, Kovacic is becoming the ideal sort of squad player upon whom Madrid can build trophy-laden seasons.

Vazquez: The man for the occasion

As for Vazquez, he has only been part of Madrid’s first-team squad since 2015, but has wasted little time showing he is the man for the big task.

Despite not representing his country at youth level, the midfielder was called up by Spain for Euro 2016 to play once, against Italy, but it was his domestic displays that truly stood out.

The 25-year-old played seven times in the Champions League-winning campaign, a run which included scoring in the penalty shoot-out of the final against Madrid rivals, Atletico.

Not done there, Vazquez also assisted Sergio Ramos’s UEFA Super Cup goal, the header that ultimately took the game to extra-time from which Madrid succeeded – coincidentally against Sevilla.

Kovacic offers midfield balance


Boasting one of the most potent attacking triumvirates in world football, Real Madrid are always keen to bring out the best in BBC: Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, it’s a mix that has at times caused a lopsided attack, with Kroos often isolated in defensive midfield.

But with Kovacic, a sense of balance has been restored. Sometimes playing alongside compatriot Modric, Kovacic has also joined Kroos in getting the structure of the team sorted, allowing the stars of the Bernabeu to do what they do best.

While he still has some way to go to displace the aforementioned international stars, the Croatian has shown himself to be an apt replacement – also allowing Zidane the benefit of squad rotation and a trust in his system.

Vazquez the Barca beater

It’s easy to for one impressive performance to be taken out of proportion, but when you have the beating of your biggest Spanish rivals, it’s easy to see why.

A starting place against Barcelona back in December was just reward for Vazquez’s impressive consistency – and he did not look out of place against one of the world’s best teams.

Keeping Jordi Alba on a tight leash was impressive in itself, his 11.89km covered was more than any player on the Nou Camp pitch and his 90 percent completion rate is almost unheard of for a player operating on the wing.

It is a game that has seemed to transform outside opinions, with Vazquez going on to play 90 minutes on a regular basis since.


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