Real Madrid coach Santi Solari said it was “good news for the club” that five unproven youngsters featured in Sunday’s rollercoaster 2-1 La Liga win at Real Betis, while saying there was “nothing personal” behind experienced stars Marcelo and Isco being left on the bench throughout.
Luka Modric fired an injury-hit Madrid team ahead early, only for ex-Blancos player Sergio Canales to equalise near the hour mark, before ex-Betis midfielder Dani Ceballos entered from the bench and won the three points with a late 20-yard free kick.
With seven players missing through injury and suspension, Madrid had five youngsters aged 22 or under either starting or coming off the bench, all of whom are gaining their first senior experience in difficult circumstances with their team still 10 points adrift of La Liga leaders Barcelona.
“The most important is the three points to keep making up ground on the teams ahead of us,” Solari said at the post-match news conference. “This year the kids are needed in the squad. We had many very young players on the pitch today — Fede Valverde , Vinicius Junior , Brahim Diaz , Sergio Reguilon, Cristo Gonzalez . That is part of our job this year, to bring through many young players into this team of the stars. And good news for the club for sure.”
Solari was less comfortable when asked why he had dropped club vice-captain Marcelo and continued not to call on Spain international Isco.
“We are who we are and today I want to focus on the serious game we played,” he said. “There is nothing personal involved. We all do our best, coaches too. They can all play, they are all part of the squad.”
With Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Marco Asensio among the big-name players currently missing, there was further negative injury news for Madrid with centre-forward Karim Benzema apparently fracturing a little finger late in the first half.
“[Karim] had a fracture and had to come off,” Solari confirmed. “He was in a lot of pain. The fortunate thing is that is his hand, so hopefully he will be able to play with us [soon].”
A lack of fit attackers was behind the decision to start the game with a five man defence, Solari said, while admitting that his team’s performance had dropped at the break when Benzema left.
“It was circumstances but in football circumstances often take control,” he said. “We had a lot of attacking players injured. We had to look for solutions to get depth in our play to win this game. In the second half we were lacking that depth which Karim gave us. Cristo did very well but Karim is Karim and difficult to replace. In the first half we had various chances to add to our lead which would have let us manage the second half more calmly.”