The future is now: Real Madrid's youngsters step up to get Champions League campaign off to perfect start

Written By Rik Sharma
Rodrygo Real Madrid 2021-22
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Match statistics: Inter 0-1 Real Madrid

For a while, many in Spanish football scoffed at Real Madrid spending a combined €90 million (£75m/$015m) on Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo Goes.

The Brazilian wingers failed to deliver consistently for Zinedine Zidane, and the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo continued to loom large over the Spanish capital, especially considering Eden Hazard’s injury problems.

Hazard's consistent absences were matched by the inconsistency of the South American duo, but at the start of this season, they have been crucial for Carlo Ancelotti and Los Blancos.

Vinicius has netted four goals in the opening four La Liga matches to put Madrid top of the table, and now Rodrygo’s 89th-minute strike has earned his team a huge 1-0 win at Inter on Wednesday in their Champions League opener. 

Madrid have started the season in swashbuckling fashion, with goals flying in at both ends, but back in his homeland Ancelotti changed the plan.

The Italian tactician shut up shop against the Italian champions to snatch the three points at San Siro, in what is on paper the toughest game of their group-stage campaign.

Ancelotti did have goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to thank, with the Belgium intertnational making several big saves to keep Simone Inzaghi’s side at bay.

Then, throwing on young substitutes Rodrygo and Eduardo Camavinga, he paved Madrid’s path to victory, as Camavinga’s gentle, cushioned cross was volleyed in by Rodrygo past the previously untroubled Samir Handanovic.

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Undeniably the goal was against the run of play. Inter peppered Madrid’s goal and at times, the Spaniards were hanging on.

“Inter deserved more, they had the better chances,” admitted Courtois post-match. “We spoke with the coach and among ourselves and the second half was an improvement.”

However, in the Champions League, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat is Real Madrid’s M.O.

Given Spanish clubs’ financial problems in comparison to the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, having the youngsters come to the fore at this moment feels poignant for Madrid. These are the players who will be flying the flag for this season and beyond.

Madrid’s team has been largely unchanged for years, in part because of their success, and with the exception of centre-backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane leaving this summer, many of Ancelotti’s starting line-ups would not have seemed out of place over the past half-decade.

Inter came out of the blocks quickly, and Courtois did well to deny Edin Dzeko and then Lautaro Martinez. It was the theme of the night for the keeper, kept busy throughout.

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The former Chelsea shot-stopper's early months at the club saw him hit with criticism for his inconsistent performances, but over the past couple of years he has become the first name on the Madrid team-sheet - and not just because he is No 1.

For a long time his efforts seemed destined to secure Madrid a valuable point, but Camavinga and Rodrygo had bigger ideas.

For Inter, it was a familiar face taunting them. Last season it was Rodrygo who scored the winner in Real Madrid’s 3-2 home win over Inter in the group phase.

“In the Champions League I always do well, I love playing in this competition,” said Rodrygo.

It will be music to Madrid ears. Still the record 13-time winners, this is the competition they live for. And this season’s campaign is alive and kicking.

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