Chances are not easy to come by at Real Madrid and even less so in the last few seasons if you happen to be a right-back. Dani Carvajal’s unassailable position as first choice has been as constant as the Spain international’s performance since returning to the Bernabeu from Bayer Leverkusen in 2013. His name is one of the first on any team sheet drawn up by coach Zinedine Zidane.

This has been particularly true at the outset of 2017-18, with Carvajal the only player to have completed the full 90 minutes of Madrid’s opening 11 games.

However, Zidane will be unable to rely on the defender’s incredible durability for at least a month after Carvajal was diagnosed with pericarditis, causing his endurance run to come to an end against Espanyol.

Having previously missed only 11 games through injury during the Frenchman’s tenure, the absence of Carvajal is almost uncharted territory for Zidane. Last season, Danilo was the nominal backup, but despite a marked improvement towards the end of his brief Madrid career, Zidane was never fully confident in his ability to deputise for the Spain full back. During one game last season Zidane went so far as to drop Lucas Vazquez back rather than turning to the bench-warming Danilo.

Eyebrows were raised on deadline day when it became apparent that Madrid were making no moves in the right-back market, but Zidane believed the answer to any potential period of absence for Carvajal was already in-house in the shape of 18-year-old Achraf Hakimi.

Not only did Zidane not move to replace Danilo, he also vetoed a loan deal for Achraf to spend the season at Alaves at the 11th hour.

The Frenchman is no stranger to bringing through youth talent, a legacy of his time working with the academy sides and managing Castilla, but those eyebrows were lifted to Carlo Ancelotti heights when Zidane confirmed Achraf’s promotion to the senior squad ahead of more experienced Castilla full-back Alvaro Tejero.

Clearly, Zidane had seen enough of the youngster to sway his opinion and the Frenchman has proved on several occasions that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough and if you’re not, you’re moved on like Martin Odegaard or his own son, Enzo.

“He was outstanding,” Zidane said after the 18-year-old’s debut against Espanyol. “Achraf has shown that he can play and I am not scared to throw him in going forward. He is the second-choice right-back and so if Carvajal is not available, he can play.”

Read more…