Two midfielders saved the day for Real Madrid on Saturday, with the 2-0 win over Sevilla – delivered by Luka Modric and Casemiro – offering Santiago Solari another chance to prove Vinicius Junior is a gamble worth taking.
“We are fighting in three competitions until the last, as always. For Real Madrid, nothing is impossible...”
The smile was back on Solari’s face after Real ground out a 2-0 victory over nearest rivals Sevilla.
The victory saw Real leapfrog Sevilla into third in La Liga, and Solari was in a defiant mood despite ending the weekend still 10 points behind leaders Barcelona, who beat Leganes 3-1 at the Nou Camp on Sunday.
"I always enjoy football and the competition,” Solari added. “It is our passion and we love it despite the tough times. We are passionate about competing and obviously it is better to win, no one can deny that."
The “tough times” have been all too many for Real this season, and it seemed another difficult afternoon was unfolding at the Bernabeu, where 13,000 seats went unsold – a sign some fans are voting with their feet in the Spanish capital.
But though Sevilla were in the ascendancy in the first half, they failed to punish Real, with Sergio Escudero skimming the side-netting when one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois.
After the break it was a different story, with Real looking more like the side that have won three Champions Leagues on the spin, rather than the one that has lost six league games already this season.
Tomas Vaclik had tapped the crossbar in gratitude after it prevented Dani Ceballos from scoring a stunning opener, but the Sevilla goalkeeper could then only parry Casemiro’s fierce effort onto the same patch of woodwork as Real edged ahead with 12 minutes left.
Luka Modric had superbly dummied the ball for fellow midfielder Casemiro in the build-up, and the Ballon d’Or winner was on hand to wrap up the win in injury time with his second goal in as many league games.
In what was Modric’s 284th league appearance for Real, it was the first time the Croatian had scored in back-to-back matches, and his valuable contribution – after a nasty clash of heads in the first half – did not go unnoticed by Solari.
“He's a fighter, he played a wonderful second half, split his eyebrow, then after 15 minutes [at half-time] they patched him up, he came and got the goal at the end,” Solari said. “That speaks volumes about the spirit in this team. It was a very complete performance.”
Modric’s masterful performance also came just two weeks after he issued a rallying cry of his own after defeat to Real Sociedad.
"Many of us are not at our level, we have to be clear about this because it isn't a matter of luck and we can't go to sleep at the beginning of every game," he admitted a fortnight ago, but his mood unsurprisingly changed after two league wins on the spin.
"We need to follow this path. Every player had a great game and our fans want to see us like this,” he said on Saturday.
"We needed a match like this one to give some joy to ourselves and to the supporters. Personally, I feel good and have felt good for the past month and a half."
For Solari, a goalscoring – and happy – Modric offers some reprieve as the Real boss continues to gamble with a youthful selection amid a number of injuries.
Nowhere is this more evident than up front. Gareth Bale and Marco Asensio’s absence has seen 18-year-old Vinicius Junior blooded into the first team, and the Brazilian proved once more on Saturday that he is nothing short of captivating to watch.
This enchantment can at times be infuriating, his chipped attempt from 18 yards out with the clock ticking down at 0-0 was a case in point, but the sheer audacity to attempt this at the Bernabeu only outlines the teenager’s self-belief.
Had it ended goalless, a lack of finishing could have been blamed, and fingers could easily have been pointed at Vinicius, but he was ultimately bailed out by Casemiro and Modric.
In doing so, Solari has been given license to continue rolling the dice with Vinicius. There is room for him to flourish in this side, and he can be afforded to continue learning on the job so long as his experienced team-mates come to the fore.
Madrid’s midfield will not always be there to save him, or Real’s other offensive players, but as we approach the business end of the season, it still stands them in good stead. If their attack can rise to the occasion too, then perhaps Solari is right. Perhaps nothing is impossible.