Marco Asensio the match-winner Real Madrid have been waiting for
The search for the real Real Madrid goes on. Sunday's 5-3 win over Real Betis was always going to be a frenetic affair, and the billing did not disappoint with Marco Asensio proving he can be a game-changer as a starter as well as from the bench.
Zinedine Zidane was afforded the chance to rest Luka Modric and give minutes to some of the players who might be feeling a little left out in the cold while also securing all three points. The Champions League is all that matters now and any La Liga comeback is for posterity but it can also help with momentum before the second leg of the Paris Saint-Germain tie rolls around.
Asensio's time is now and Zidane is starting to appreciate that and the smart winger is proving decisive when given opportunities. The Real Madrid boss is surely now convinced that Karim Benzema is no longer a viable starting option when the livelier Asensio is available. With Real Madrid crying out for a talisman at times this season when Cristiano Ronaldo and others are off the boil, Asensio has emerged as the man who can inject inspiration into the side.
Real Madrid continue to leak goals and can never be truly trusted to close out a game. Real Betis' style means they always want the ball but Real Madrid handed it over to them too easily and backed off despite such a convincing start. Gareth Bale seems to have taken his benching on Wednesday night to heart and was very poor. The Wales international seemed detached and barely batted an eyelid when he was taken off after 73 minutes.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Zidane's hands were tied a little with the injury to Toni Kroos during the week and the need to rest Luka Modric with Leganes on the horizon on Wednesday. He might have used his resources better with Dani Ceballos sitting on the bench and the midfield he did pick -- Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez and Mateo Kovacic -- were incapable of enforcing themselves on the game or holding onto the ball for an extended period of time. Zidane stuck with his gameplan and made the call to pick Asensio over Benzema, which worked a treat. Real Madrid's adjustments at half-time and rip-roaring start to the second half were excellent too.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Keylor Navas, 7 -- It is understandable that the very last line of Real Madrid's defence be judged so harshly but Keylor Navas made some magnificent stops only to let one watery attempt at a save slip past him for Real Betis' second goal. The Costa Rica international is still searching for the consistency that separates the very best goalkeepers in the world from the tier just below them, but can be happy with his night's work overall.
DF Dani Carvajal, 7 -- Returned from his suspension in the Champions League and played well with little protection down the right as Junior caused him problems for the duration of the game. He drove forward to put Asensio's second on a plate for him, leaving a number of would-be Real Betis defenders in his wake. Solid throughout and spectacular on one occasion.
DF Sergio Ramos, 6 -- His header to level matters in the second half was as powerful as it was important but this was a snapshot of Ramos' season: a mixed bag with lapses in concentration as frequent as glimpses of his brilliance. Booked for a cynical foul in the second half and had some misplaced passes that he didn't need to make.
DF Nacho, 7 -- Real Madrid's sturdiest defender. Made a number of important tackles when the game was hanging in the balance and while he rarely decides games, he is always consistent and can be counted on in any game regardless of its size. Probably should have put his foot through the ball when it hit his shin for an own-goal but there's nobody that was watching the game in the stadium or at home that knows this better than he knows himself.
DF Marcelo, NR -- Taken off after a half an hour with an apparent hamstring injury but looked as animated as ever during his brief cameo. More important than his performance is the grade on that muscle tear with a vital second leg against PSG coming soon.
MF Casemiro, 5 -- He was the most experienced player in a midfield three that included Vazquez and Kovacic but scarcely showed it. He did take some control of the game when Real Madrid started to get the upper hand but struggled with the added exposure he was subjected to in the absence of Kroos and Modric.
MF Lucas Vazquez, 5 -- He worked hard and was in an unfamiliar position but cut a frustrated figure throughout the game -- committing fouls more often than he connected with teammates. Zidane praised his workrate after the game and seems to have put him in that central midfield role with the purpose of doing the dirty work. He needs to show more gusto when in possession though and barely touched the ball enough to cause any problems for Real Betis.
MF Mateo Kovacic, 5 -- You don't need to be a football genius to understand that Real Madrid were going to lose something in the absence of Modric and Kroos but you expect their replacements to try their best to mirror them. Kovacic often looked lost and gave away the ball a number of times under very little pressure. He plays in that role to complement the more ham-fisted Casemiro but struggled to ever get to grips with his role or the game.
MF Marco Asensio, 9 -- Real Madrid's saviour on the night. Aside from his two goals, which were both taken with precision, he looked dangerous and wanted to be the protagonist. Too often this year, Real Madrid have been screaming out for someone to be their hero and against Real Betis, Asensio proved to be that man. Worked every bit as hard as Vazquez but added creativity and goals too. It was only a matter of time before Asensio became a bonafide starter on this team and it seems that his patience has paid off.
FW Gareth Bale, 4 -- Practically non-existent. He did have two chances in the second half that Antonio Adan did well to save but you could also argue that Bale should have scored at least one. Made absolutely no impact on the game and you wonder if Isco's reclaiming of his spot against PSG has gotten into Bale's head. He was not missed when he went off and Real Madrid will have to continue to look elsewhere for inspiration.
FW Cristiano Ronaldo, 8 -- It is not as easy as it once was for Ronaldo but still has plenty to offer this side even on his quietest nights. Took the shot that rebounded out for Asensio's first and scored his 10th in six games. He was also ruled out for offside incorrectly as he strode towards goal in acres of space too. Not Real Madrid's best attacker on the night but didn't need to be with Asensio accepting that mantle.
DF Theo Hernandez, 5 -- On for Marcelo, filled in well for the most part but Sergio Leon's goal is an example of why Theo will never make an impact under Zidane in his current mental state. He switched off at the back post and failed to track his man resulting in a unnecessarily nervy last few minutes before Benzema killed the game.
FW Isco, NR -- On for Bale and popped up in some nice positions but did nothing of note during his brief spell on the field.
FW Karim Benzema, NR -- On for Ronaldo, played the last few minutes and touched the ball a handful of times. One of those touches happened to be a lovely goal that sealed the victory for Real Madrid at 5-3.
Robbie is based in Madrid and is one of ESPN FC's Real Madrid bloggers. Twitter: @robbiejdunne