Marco Asensio needed no diagnosis; he knew his season had ended before it even started. It was evident in the look of anguish, both physical and emotional, in the 24-year-old’s eyes, and in the sight of the 24-year-old being stretched off just before the hour mark of a pre-season friendly against Arsenal at FedEx Field.
Indeed, the Real Madrid winger would soon learn for certain that he had torn his ACL, an injury that sidelined him for the vast majority of the 2019/20 season.
Or at least, it would have sidelined him for that much of the season had the campaign not been halted in March due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Now, Asensio will get the chance to play a pivotal role in the 2019/20 La Liga title race after all. The Spain international has been back in first team training for a number of weeks and when Real Madrid are ready to resume play, with La Liga fixtures scheduled from June 11 onwards, Asensio will be too.
It’s not so long ago that Asensio was viewed as the future face of Real Madrid, the man to one day replace Cristiano Ronaldo on the billboards around the Santiago Bernabeu. This is a player who has made the difference in Champions League semi-finals and finals, title showdowns and Clasicos. He was, for a time between 2017 and 2018, the best and brightest young talent in all of Europe.
Certain things were expected of Asensio. There was a self assurance not just to his play, but to his character. When he found the back of the net with a dipping strike from 35 yards out in a Spanish Super Cup against Barcelona in August 2017, Zinedine Zidane simply smiled. There was no shock or surprise in his reaction. This sort of thing had become the norm.
But expectations of Asensio were perhaps heightened to unrealistic levels, as the 2018/19 season saw him fall short of the prematurely projected rise to superstardom. Ronaldo left for Juventus and Asensio, perhaps more than anyone else, was expected to step up. Instead, he took a step backwards. While Asensio scored six times in La Liga in 2017/18, he mustered only a single goal in 2018/19.
Those struggles, however, came during Real Madrid’s worst season in the better part of a decade. Julen Lopetegui never knew how to use Asensio, denying him the freedom to play his natural game. Zidane, on the other hand, appears to have a better grasp of the 24-year-old’s strengths, and also his weaknesses.
The Frenchman’s return to the Santiago Bernabeu in March last year must have been a relief to Asensio, and was surely one of the reasons for his devastation at being injured so close to the start of Zidane’s first full season back at Real Madrid. 2019/20 should have been a season of resurgence for Asensio. Instead, it has been one of recovery.
He can now complete that recovery by getting back on a soccer pitch, with Real Madrid’s first game back (against Eibar at home) just over a week away. Just two points divide Los Blancos and Barcelona at the top of La Liga. Both sides have their vulnerabilities, which have been exposed more than once over the course of the campaign, but the return of Asensio could give the capital club an edge.
It’s not just Asensio’s long-awaited return to fitness that could provide Real Madrid with a timely boost. Eden Hazard has also suffered his injury troubles this season, struggling for form and fitness since his €100 million transfer from Chelsea last summer, but he too is ready to enter the fray.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Asensio and Hazard will hit the ground running. The nature of this unique situation, where the final quarter of the season will be crammed into just a few weeks, means there is little scope for Barcelona and Real Madrid to ease themselves back into things. There can be no slack for either of the trophy-chasing teams.
There’s also no guarantee that Asensio, even if he is fit and ready to play, will play. Competition for a starting place on the left side of Real Madrid’s attack could hardly be stiffer, with Brazilian teenagers Rodrygo and Vinicius Junior sharing the role so far this season. Hazard’s preferred position is also on the left.
Real Madrid are undoubtedly in a state of transition. For Asensio, his biggest obstacle now is that his injury forced Zidane to find a way to cope without him–there was no other choice. But the results have shown the manager's solutions to be imperfect, which means Asensio is finally in a position to answer the call.
Real Madrid Schedule
The weekly La Liga schedule has only been determined for the next four matches. Real Madrid will face Eibar on Sunday, June 14 at 1:30 pm ET in their first match since the La Liga season was paused due to coronavirus.
Sun, June 14, 1:30 pm ET – Real Madrid vs Eibar
Thu, June 18, 4:00 pm ET – Real Madrid vs Valencia
Sun, June 21, 4:00 pm ET – Real Sociedad vs Real Madrid
Wed, June 24, 4:00 pm ET – Real Madrid vs Mallorca
TBD – Espanyol vs Real Madrid
TBD – Real Madrid vs Getafe
TBD – Athletic Club vs Real Madrid
TBD – Real Madrid vs Alavés
TBD – Granada vs Real Madrid
TBD – Real Madrid vs Villarreal
TBD – Leganes vs Real Madrid