Asensio key to Real Madrid's Champions League hopes in Paris

Aitor Alcalde
The 22-year-old has been underused this term but helped Real beat PSG, was instrumental at Betis on Sunday and has to start at the Parc des Princes

Marco Asensio is the man of the moment. The former Mallorca midfielder came off the bench to help inspire Real Madrid to a 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League on Wednesday night and he was at it again as Los Blancos beat Betis in La Liga on Sunday.

The 22-year-old did not score against PSG, but Real's two late goals came from his runs down the left and 1-1 became 3-1 in the final seven minutes — an advantage that makes Madrid favourites to advance in the second leg in Paris on March 6.

Asensio and Lucas Vazquez were rewarded for their impressive cameos with starting spots away to Betis and those two give the team balance in a 4-4-2 formation, this time either side of Casemiro and Mateo Kovacic as Luka Modric and the injured Toni Kroos missed out.

And Asensio opened the scoring with a fine header after Antonio Adan had parried Cristiano Ronaldo's shot. Betis, so impressive going forward, turned the game on its head before half-time, but Sergio Ramos headed home an equaliser in the second half and there was Marco again to make it 3-2.

Ultimately, this hugely entertaining encounter finished 5-3 to Zinedine Zidane's side as Ronaldo and substitute Karim Benzema scored, either side of a Sergio Leon effort for the home team.

Defensively, Madrid did not cover themselves in glory again, but Betis have scored past most teams this term and Zidane will certainly look to tighten up at the back as he prepares for a second game against Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani. However, Real almost always raise their intensity and concentration in the Champions League.

Marcelo limped off early in this game and his inclusion seemed an unnecessary risk following his monumental efforts at the Santiago Bernabeu, where he scored Madrid's third goal on Wednesday.

Zidane will be crossing his fingers that the Brazilian is back in time for the second leg against Unai Emery's side, while he will have been happy to see Benzema put an end to his recent scoring drought by netting the fifth goal in Seville.

Betis Madrid score

But whoever is available for the game in Paris, Asensio must surely start. The midfielder was more effective than any of Madrid's forward players on Sunday and his tracking back also helps the team defensively.

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There are always hierarchies at a club like Real and the 22-year-old will understand that Ronaldo, Benzema and Gareth Bale are ahead of him in the pecking order based on reputation and also wages. That is how things tend to work at Madrid.

However, Zidane's side are out of the Copa del Rey and cannot win La Liga, so Los Blancos will be playing for their season in Paris and the French coach fighting for his job.

And putting reputations to one side, Asensio is the man on form. He should be in the starting XI every week for Real — and his inclusion against PSG could well be the key to making the last eight of the Champions League.