Dani Ceballos had to wait for his first competitive Real Madrid start after joining the club last summer, but he immediately underlined his potential as a future star with a match-winning double in Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 La Liga win at Alaves.
Just 10 minutes into his full debut, Ceballos received a cross from fellow youngster Marco Asensio, bounced off an Alaves defender and guided an excellent, low, 15-yard shot into the net.
Then after Alaves captain Manu Garcia had surprisingly equalised, it was Ceballos who stepped up and showed excellent anticipation and technique to fire in the loose ball after home keeper Fernando Pacheco had spilled a cross.
On an afternoon in which Gareth Bale was rested, Cristiano Ronaldo had six shots on goal without scoring (two hit the post), Ceballos was an unexpected hero for a Madrid side who have stumbled so far this season amid a flurry of injuries and suspensions and could have fallen even further behind early season leaders Barcelona.
“It was a good debut, a dream,” Ceballos said afterward in the Mendizorroza mixed zone. “It really could not have gone better.”
The €16.5 million summer signing from Real Betis only came into Zinedine Zidane’s XI against La Liga’s bottom side with Toni Kroos injured with a rib problem and Luka Modric resting a back issue ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League trip to Borussia Dortmund.
Starting in Kroos’ playmaking role to the left of midfield holder Casemiro in a 4-3-3 system, it was not just the goals that impressed from Ceballos. Through the first half, he was constantly involved in the game, working back in defence when required and connecting very well with fellow young Spaniards Isco and Asensio when in possession. There was a clear feeling that the 21-year-old is already on the same wavelength as his much-admired teammates.
“I’m happy for Dani,” Zidane said at the postgame news conference. “He showed he was ready to play for us. Besides the two goals, he also played a good game. He is a kid who wants to learn, and he will get more chances to play. We got the three points thanks to his two goals.”
There had previously been some doubts about whether Zidane was fully convinced about Ceballos, who joined last summer after he burst to prominence by being named Golden Player of the tournament as Spain finished runners-up at the European Under-21 Championship.
Barcelona were also said to be very interested in signing the Andalusian, making it even more important that Madrid’s hierarchy ensured the deal went through this summer. At the end of last season, it had been thought that Ceballos was most likely to join Atletico Madrid, having impressed Diego Simeone with his displays against the Rojiblanco outfit in recent campaigns.