Real Madrid have a new hero. With Luka Modric rested and Toni Kroos injured, Dani Ceballos came in for his first start for Los Blancos at Alaves on Saturday since his summer switch from Betis and scored both goals in a vital victory. It was very much his day.
The 21-year-old midfielder had featured for only 32 minutes ahead of the trip to the Basque Country, but was handed a start by Zinedine Zidane in a busy period of fixtures including a tough trip to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League on Tuesday.
"I will give my all to make this club's history even greater," he said after his cut-price €18 million move from Betis in the summer. "I come with great motivation and with the two things that have brought me here: humility and hard work. I will aim to show that I deserve to wear this shirt."
He did that on Saturday as he opened the scoring after just 10 minutes, shaking off two challenges in the box before slotting a low drive into the bottom corner. And after Alaves equalised, the midfielder scored again as he pounced on a loose ball and fired home from just inside the area.
But while he celebrated with his team-mates, Cristiano Ronaldo wandered off all alone after a brief hand clap with the midfielder. It turned out to be another frustrating afternoon for the Portuguese, who saw 12 chances come and go in a disappointing defeat at home to Betis on Wednesday night as he returned from a five-match ban and failed to convert from another six shots this time.
He came close, twice hitting the woodwork, once in the second half with an impressive curled effort from a tight angle that came back off the post. He also failed to connect with an acrobatic effort and complained when Isco decided to shoot when he was unmarked in front of goal.
Ronaldo has netted three times in 2017-18: one superb strike against Barcelona at Camp Nou in the Spanish Supercopa in August and two goals in the Champions League win at home to APOEL earlier this month.
He has yet to convert in La Liga, however, and cut a frustrated figure on Saturday as Ceballos stole the show in what was a very important win after Zidane's side started the day seven points adrift of Barcelona in the Primera Division.
"With Cristiano on the field, we're always more comfortable and he gives us the confidence that turns in to goals," Ceballos said after his substitute appearance against APOEL recently. "He's the soul of the team, he's fundamental for us and he's in better shape than ever. He's had a great game and his ambition makes him the best in the world."
However, it was Ceballos who chipped in with the goals on Saturday in a performance that shows he is ready to feature for this team whenever he is needed. The midfielder is Madrid's 11th scorer of the season already and the good news for Real is that others can contribute when, as on Saturday, Ronaldo fails to hit the target.