19th September 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Despite impressing his manager, Zinedine Zidane, on Real Madrid's preseason tour of North America, Los Blancos believed sending their talented midfielder, Marcos Llorente, out on loan would be the best option for his development.

Although Llorente's preference was to remain in Madrid, which made sense, for he would have served as an ideal backup to Casemiro, the club still believed getting a full season of first-team action elsewhere was the right decision to make.

Coming to the realisation minutes would have been scarce had he stayed, the search began to find him a club that would guarantee him vital playing time for the 2016/2017 campaign. A perfect fit subsequently arrived in the form of newly promoted Deportivo Alaves, and Llorente hasn't looked back, as he's been outstanding since joining El Glorioso.

The fact former Valencia player, Mauricio Pellegrino, is Alaves' manager, a man Zidane knows well having played against him during his La Liga career, was also a key factor in getting the deal done.

Three games in and Llorente's been one of the driving forces behind Alaves' inspirational start. Aside from drawing against Sporting Gijon, their remarkable results to obtain a draw with Atletico Madrid and defeat Barcelona at the Camp Nou have been nothing short of spectacular.

The results speak volumes for the team's never say die attitude and the way Pellegrino's galvanised his side. The tough coach describes their fantastic start suitably by saying they're "rebelling against football's reality". He's spot on too.

To focus specifically on their monumental victory over Barcelona, only the second time they've beaten the Catalans away from home in 95 years, and Pellegrino deserves special praise for surprising his opposition by organising his team into a 5-4-1 formation when defending. A move the Barcelona manager, Luis Enrique, even admitted to being startled by.

"There is an abyss between the two sides and when that's the case you have to make sure that they aren't comfortable playing," explained Pellegrino after the match.

There could be no doubting what an instrumental role Llorente played too, in a match where the 21-year-old's maturity and composure saw him look right at home in front of an intimidating Camp Nou crowd.

It took less than one minute and 30 seconds for the wiry midfielder to stamp his mark on the contest. Having been beaten by Neymar in a 1v1, Llorente quickly got on his bike and charged down the Brazilian to make amends by applying a superbly timed tackle to force a turnover. This sort of fighting spirit undoubtedly set the tone for his teammates to follow and would've been something his manager would've loved seeing.

Thereafter, Llorente displayed a fine level of tactical discipline and concentration, sticking to his task brilliantly. His flawless positioning and staunch adherence to Pellegrino's 's structure gave him the ideal foundation to undertake his duties effectively. He had to be spot on in these regards too, as Alaves were forced to defend for the majority of the contest, with Barcelona enjoying a whopping 72% possession.

Up against Ivan Rakitic, Llorente monitored the Croatian star with great intelligence, successfully managing to limit his impact. While he was happy for Rakitic to receive the ball in front of him in non threatening areas, he never let him get in behind him where he can be so damaging. Helped by Alaves' ability to keep the spacing between their defensive and midfield lines nice and tight, not just Rakitic, but all of Barca's forward thinking players struggled to find space in between the lines that's often an area so fruitful for them. Indeed, this served as a dazzling testament to Pellegrino's diligent work on the training ground.

Another endearing aspect of Llorente's exemplary outing was the way he selflessly supported his teammates. The hard working enforcer would never hesitate to leave his post and help his colleagues track the likes of Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan, Neymar or Denis Suarez if they needed support or were caught out of position.

On top of his positional and tactical acuity, when it came to actually making interventions, he was just as effective. Using his raking long legs, Llorente's capacity to stretch out and win tackles, much like Nemanja Matic does for Chelsea, made him a hugely challenging obstacle for Barca's players to dribble past or shield the ball from.

By the numbers, the fact he won 70% of his individual duels, completed six tackles, made one clearance, and recovered possession nine times beautifully illustrated his immense defensive contribution.

Although the technically proficient prodigy obviously didn't enjoy quite the same impact on the attacking end, he still acted as a classy reference point for the away side to generate their forward forays through. Llorente, who's a crisp passer and very comfortable bringing the ball upfield, remained unfazed by Barca's pressure, distributing the ball about in a concise and thoughtful manner throughout.

Against lesser teams, however, expect his polished offensive skillset to come to the fore, for this is an area of undeniable strength for him. "I am a technical, skillful and agile player with good vision," he explained.

Alaves' unbelievable victory over the reigning champions now sees them move into the top half of the table. For the team who just achieved promotion to the top flight for the first time in 10 years, they really couldn't of dreamt of a better start to life back in La Liga.

Looking ahead, they face another challenging encounter with Deportivo La Coruna on Monday night, and they'll be hoping their gifted loanee who's made an immediate impression can help them continue their promising start to the season.

The player himself will be keen to keep up his high level too, as he's desperate to follow in the footsteps of his ancestors when he returns to Madrid. After all, his grandfather, Ramon Grosso, his great uncle, Francisco Gento, and his father, Paco, all played for Los Merengues.

With such exceptional pedigree, you can guarantee Llorente will be doing everything in his power to ensure he enjoys a long and successful career with Real Madrid.

For now, though, his focus is solely on Alaves, where he's unquestionably doing his prestigious family name proud.

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