Jese Rodriguez's return boosts an already lethal Real Madrid attack
How can you improve a team that has won 13 games in a row in all competitions, scoring 52 goals in the process and moved to the top of La Liga as well as securing qualification for the Champions League knockout stages with two games to spare?
With the return of a young talent whose rise last season was so rapid that he became a fans' favourite. This same promising player threatened to dislodge one of his senior teammates in the starting XI and was on the verge of a Spain call-up before the World Cup. Jese Rodriguez's return to Real Madrid will only make Los Blancos more threatening.
Rodriguez's powers showed no bounds last season before he suffered a serious knee injury just minutes into a Champions League game against Schalke in March. It cut short his campaign and hampered Real Madrid's title challenge as well as ending any hopes that he could be a surprise inclusion in Vicente del Bosque's squad for Brazil. Now the Las Palmas-born forward is on the verge of a long-awaited return and his comeback will be met with excitement and caution by Madrid.
"Jese is our winter signing," manager Carlo Ancelotti told Spanish radio show Al Primer Toque when asked about possible signings in the winter transfer window. "He could play in the next month."
The 21-year-old was due to return in October but an infection in his knee following surgery put his recovery back. Now a likely return will be penciled in for Madrid's Copa del Rey home match against Cornella on Dec. 2. Lower-division opposition and a 4-1 lead from the first leg should make it the perfect opportunity for the talented youngster to get back out on to the pitch.
That caution is necessary. The serious nature of Jese's injury is such that Madrid should not rush back a player who seemed destined for big things. The length of his spell on the sidelines, coupled with his age, means the European champions need to nurture one of their brightest young talents for a while back on to the scene and not risk any further set-backs and longer-term damage. Luckily, they don't need to given the embarrassment of riches Ancelotti has at his disposal. He does not need to be rushed back, and he hasn't been.
Jese may play in the cup but his full recovery to match sharpness will take longer. Given the free scoring nature of Madrid it will take a lot to dislodge the "BBC" of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. Even Isco, so brilliant in plugging the gap for Bale during his recent injury absence, was back on the bench when the Welshman recovered.
More likely, Jese will feature in the cup and a slow and steady recovery should have him fully at his manager's disposal at the business end of the season when Madrid could be battling for trophies on three fronts. That competition for places will be crucial and although Madrid won an historic 10th European Cup last May, that relative lack of competition saw them suffer in the league, eventually finishing third when the title was theirs to lose.
With the caution to one side, the excitement is sky high. From the players, who offered him a round of applause last week when he stepped back out on to the pitch alongside his teammates for the first time in seven weeks, to the fans, who took him in as one of their own last season. The forward may be from the Canary Islands, but he has progressed through the Madrid youth set-up and Castilla, the club's second team, to become part of the first team. He is loved at the Bernabeu and, perhaps wrongly, has been likened to club legend Raul by some. Some weight on his shoulders.
While his substitute appearances far outweighed his starts in his breakthrough year, the youngster looks to have what it takes to make it at a club where plenty of youth is produced but where most move on to ply their trade elsewhere in light of heavy spending on ready-made talent. Madrid are not a club that can wait on progression, it constantly needs success.
Jese, however, took his place in the eventual European champions like a duck to water. He had the talent by the bucket load but, perhaps equally as important at the Bernabeu, he also had the right mental approach. He has a mature head on his young shoulders.
His impact was such that he soon overtook Alvaro Morata, Madrid's other top young talent, in the pecking order, and all-but forced him to move to pastures new (at Juventus) given his limited opportunities. Unlike Morata, Jese took his opportunities every time they came his way and fans even called for him to become a regular starter in place of either Bale or Benzema.
He has the advantage of being able to play across the front line, and hence offer strong backup to any of Madrid's front three. He has a natural eye for goal, having beaten Emilio Butragueno's record of 21 goals in the Segunda Division for Castilla, and is equally adept at playing on either flank, thanks to his talent of being able to use both feet with success. He has pace to complement Madrid's counter-attacking style but can also pick out a pass and adjust to the 4-4-2 lineup Ancelotti has sometimes implemented.
The numbers suggest that Madrid have not missed their young prospect this season but Ancelotti is right in saying the forward will be like a new signing for the second half of the campaign. He will add more options in attack and will make Madrid's scintillating forward line even more devastating.
His return will offer a boost to the national side, too, as Del Bosque, a fan of the youngster, continues to rebuild his squad following the disaster in Brazil. The forwards shaping his current squad, in Paco Alcacer, Morata, Jose Callejon and Pedro, suggest there could be a place for Jese if he returns to his form of last season.
Madrid are rightly treating Jese's return with excitement but they must also treat it with caution and patience. Youth rarely breaks through the big money signings at the Bernabeu but the forward has so far showed he can break the mould. He could be crucial for Ancelotti and Madrid this season.