With countless talent scouts trawling the globe in search of ‘the next Cristiano Ronaldo’, how ironic that the closest imitation of the Portuguese star has emerged from within the very club at which the man himself resides. Amidst the frantic intensity and ugly scenes in the Copa del Rey’s edition of the Madrid derby on Wednesday night, Jese Rodriguez's performance served to lift spirits rather than raise eyebrows.
The 20-year old got on the scoresheet in Real Madrid’s 3-0 win over Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the domestic competition but that wasn’t the extent of his contribution. On a night when things didn’t quite click for Ronaldo and with Gareth Bale not fit to make the squad, Jese made the most of his latest opportunity in front of the adoring Bernabeu crowd.
The Spaniard was relentless in attack, constantly driving at defenders, whipping in crosses and making intelligent forward runs. He was certainly a handful and Atletico’s left-back Emiliano Insua suffered the most. In fact, Jese recorded more successful dribbles than any other player on the night with 5. Luka Modric made 4 dribbles and Angel Di Maria completed 3. Meanwhile, Ronaldo could only muster two of the same. (According to whoscored.com)
Unsavoury scenes in the Madid derby
The game itself featured some despicable behavior from both sets of players and bore an uncanny resemblance to the Copa del Rey final between these two sides last year. The usual suspects, Diego Costa, Pepe and Alvaro Arbeloa were repeatedly part of altercations that involved everything from cynical swipes to downright play-acting.
Fortunately, the fixture also played host to some quality football though it was almost exclusively provided by the team in white. Real played with pace and urgency while Atletico were always second best. It’s no wonder the hosts enjoyed 71% of possession and had 20 attempts at goal as opposed to Atletico’s 8.
Of course, two of the three goals scored could be deemed fortuitous as strikes from Pepe and Di Maria took significant deflections before ending up in the net. However, fortune favours the brave and Carlo Ancelotti’s side was the one that took the initiative and therefore reaped the benefits.
The contribution of Di Maria on the night deserves recognition as well. The Argentine never stopped running and was involved in all three goals. He set up Pepe for the opener, assisted Jese's strike and took the shot for the third which has since been deemed an own goal.
Jese has made a habit of scoring crucial goals
However, Jese’s pace and directness, as well as his desire to track back, made for great viewing for Real’s home support. His darting run behind the defense was complimented by a neat pass from Di Maria in the 57th minute. The finish from the Spaniard though was clever as he stabbed the ball past Thibaut Courtois first-time, denying the Atletico keeper even a moment to set himself.
It was Jese’s 6th goal of the season and what’s even more impressive is that it was another significant one. Fittingly, his first senior goal was scored at the Camp Nou in his maiden El Clasico although it was in a 2-1 defeat. He also scored a late winner against Valencia in a come-from-behind-victory and grabbed the opening goal in the draw away to Athletic Bilbao.
Jese has effortlessly endeared himself to Madrid fans and a lot of that has to do with the fact that he’s a product of their very own academy. If he maintains this level of performance, he may go on to become the club’s first regular in the senior side since Iker Casillas 15 years ago.
A rising star at the Bernabeau
The pacey attacker began by impressing as a substitute this season which put him ahead of Isco in the pecking order as he was the preferred choice to replace either Bale or Ronaldo. However, he’s since gone on to stake his claim for a place in the first eleven as well, overshadowing Bale’s performances in his absence.
Such is the belief in Jese’s ability within the Real Madrid camp that their assistant coach and one of the best players the game has seen, Zinedine Zidane has taken the youngster under his wing, reportedly conducting one-on-one sessions with the winger after training.
"I have liked a lot of players; the Brazilian Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, but my favourite is Cristiano Ronaldo. I like being compared to him. I love his drive."
Madrid blew €159.2 million in the summer to recruit Bale, Asier Illarramendi and Isco but so far, Jese has outshone them all, raising questions over the club’s need to spend that amount of money. The World Cup in Brazil may be just a year too early for the youngster to make the squad but he will certainly be a key figure in the future for Spain, although you can’t rule out his inclusion this time either.
Real moved mountains to sign Bale, breaking the world record fee according to the English press, and enduring a lengthy tug-of-war with Tottenham Hotspur, all in an effort to secure a replacement for the now 29 year-old Ronaldo. However, in Jese they may have had the two-time Ballon d’Or winner’s ideal successor right under their noses all along, as his performance in the Madrid derby suggests.
|Should Jese be preferred over Bale? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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