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Marco Asensio steps up for Real Madrid

Chelsea defender Ola Aina, left, follows Real Madrid midfielder Marco Asensio with the ball in the first half of an International Champions Cup soccer match, Saturday, July 30, 2016, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
(AP Photo/Tony Ding)

The UEFA Supercup is mostly a celebration for the incoming UEFA Champions League and Europa League seasons. It includes both reigning champions of two competitions, as these kinds of inaugural events typically do. But the Supercup is also a football match; a competitive one, at that.

Not only do each of these teams — in this case, Real Madrid and Sevilla — look to plant their city’s flag deep into continental soil, but so do the individual players, some of them looking to finally solidify a place in their highly cutthroat side. Marco Asensio was the latest to recognize this golden opportunity, as well as the latest to take it.

A 20-year-old product of Mallorca’s youth academy, Asensio was signed by Real Madrid toward the end of 2014 for a reported €3.9 million fee. A highly-touted prospect even back then, the young playmaker was loaned back to Mallorca for one more season in the Segunda. Last season, he was loaned out to Espanyol, where he finally gained some valuable Primera minutes.

For what it’s worth, Asensio’s 2015/16 loan spell at the Cornella-El Prat very much served as a breakout campaign. The Spaniard’s ten assists over the season were sixth-best in La Liga, while he also scored four goals, proving crucial in the Blanquiazules successful late-season charge toward safety. Those performances were impressive enough to earn a Spain call-up from Vicente del Bosque for a pair of friendlies in May. He debuted for La Roja against Switzerland on May 29.

But it was during Wednesday’s Supercup triumph over Sevilla that Asensio truly and formally announced his name to the soccer-watching public by opening the scoring via this spectacular strike-from-distance.

Not only did Asensio’s goal come on his debut in a Madrid shirt, but it was also part of his Man of the Match performance. The wonderstrike gave everyone watching a snapshot of Asensio’s repertoire, although only a snapshot. It acutely displayed his most-prized gift, which is his god-sent left-foot. Asensio is much more than a looping missile shot from outside-of-the-box, however.

Extremely direct in possession, Asensio is a textbook creative attacking midfielder. Always looking for the killer pass, and very often executing it, the 20-year-old is the kind of wizard who can dictate a game from a deep or shallow position. A crafty dribbler yet tough on-and-off-the-ball, Asensio can most accurately placed somewhere between Andres Iniesta and Eden Hazard on the player-type chart. And if that seems like high praise, it is. It’s also deserved.

Many liken Asensio’s skills to those of another Madrid youngster, Isco. The comparisons aren’t unfounded; both players possess a low center-of-gravity, along with the necessary versatility to play centrally, as well as on either flank.

Apart from being four-years younger, however, Asensio has quickly garnered favor from Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, while Isco has found it difficult to win the Frenchman’s approval over the last year. After Wednesday’s final, the French boss insisted that Asensio “is here to stay.” Meanwhile, rumors of Juventus and others swooping in for Isco’s signature seem more believable by the day.

Asensio showed at Espanyol that, despite his tender age, he was able to sufficiently carry the creative load for a top-flight side. Of course, that load intensifies dramatically once you take the leap to a giant club like Real Madrid. But if Zidane’s preferential lean toward the 20-year-old over both Isco and James Rodriguez — Madrid’s two most inventive attackers — then perhaps he’ll assume that role this year after all.

It’d be a surprise, to be sure, but only because such a colossal undertaking is typically reserved for more experienced players. Asensio, however, has already proven himself to be anything but typical.

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