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14-Jun-2020, 01:16 am

Asensio's back! Real Madrid winger's return could solve Zidane's attacking problems


Marco Asensio Karim Benzema Zinedine Zidane Real Madrid GFX

The pain was almost too much for Marco Asensio to take.

He pulled his shirt up towards his mouth and bit down hard as he tried to supress his anguished cries.

Just moments earlier, he had been shouting with joy after drawing Real Madrid level in their pre-season friendly against Arsenal in Maryland.

Then, an innocuous collision with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang saw him land awkwardly on his left knee.

Madrid's crestfallen coach Zinedine Zidane could barely watch as Asensio was stretchered off the field in tears and admitted to reporters afterwards, "It looks bad."

And it was.

Asensio had ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral meniscus. He would be out of action for at least nine months. His season was over before it had even started.

Or so it seemed.

On Saturday morning, Madrid announced their squad for their first La Liga fixture back after the coronavirus-enforced suspension of football in Spain, against Eibar.

Eden Hazard's inclusion drew most of the attention but Asensio's return could be just as important for Zidane.

It's easy to forget just how big an impact the winger made at the Santiago Bernabeu when he returned from a successful loan spell at Espanyol in the summer of 2016.

Asensio scored on his first appearances in five differentcompetitions for the club: the UEFA Super Cup, La Liga, the Champions League, the Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de Espana.

What made his success even sweeter for Madrid fans was the fact that the versatile forward should have been playing for bitter rivals Barcelona.

Marco Asensio Karim Benzema Real Madrid GFX

It was the Blaugrana who had first approached Mallorca about signing the Palma native. Barca even met the islanders' €4.5m asking price and Asensio reportedly even travelled to Catalunya to go house-hunting.

However, when Mallorca asked that the money be paid up front in one instalment, the deal collapsed. It was at this point that tennis legend, Mallorca native and massive Madrid fan Rafael Nadal intervened.

"Rafa phoned (Real president) Florentino Perez and told him that they could not let me escape," Asensio later told AS.

"In the winter, my agent called me to say Real Madrid were interested. Then Florentino called before a game to tell me I was going to be a Real Madrid player.

"Everything happened in one day: we travelled to Madrid, signed the contract, visited the Bernabeu and we returned to Mallorca to finish the season.

"It was all fast and intense, but the satisfaction was huge."

For Madrid, though, it was even more satisfying watching Asensio produce a stunning strike in both legs of the 5-1 aggregate rout of Barcelona in the 2017 Supercopa de Espana.

By that point, Perez felt he hada new superstar on his hands. He wasn't the only one either.

When Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus in 2018, many pundits argued that Asensio was the Portuguese's natural replacement.

Such talk didn't sit comfortably with Asensio, and it showed.

He netted just once in La Liga