Mariano Diaz: The prolific striker Real Madrid should have kept
Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema may have been on target as Real Madrid defeated Malaga 3-2 on Saturday, but it was another unconvincing display from the forward pair.
Ronaldo, in particular, looked out of sorts, swiping at fresh air when it seemed he must score from close range before getting lucky late on as his penalty was stopped but rebounded kindly for him to force home the winning goal.
It may well prove to be the match that acts as a catalyst for the forwards to regain their usual standards, but prior to Malaga fixture, they were ranked 97th out of 98 striking partnerships in Europe’s top five leagues, with only pointless Benevento in Serie A having ranked below them.
The transfer policy of the Bernabeu side has, therefore, come under scrutiny over the opening three months of the campaign, with the finger pointed at the decision to sell Alvaro Morata, scorer of 20 goals last season, to Chelsea in the summer being regarded as a fateful move.
Certainly, the 25-year-old’s sale does appear to be a misstep, even for €80m, but Madrid arguably made an even greater error in offloading another centre-forward, albeit one who has generated, to this point, rather less fanfare.
In his five years with Los Blancos, Mariano Diaz made only 14 appearances for the top team. As a result, when he was sold to Lyon in the summer for a mere €8 million, no-one really took a great deal of notice. He was just a peripheral player departing for a lesser club.
Less than six months later, it appears the French side have won themselves a bargain in their battle to replace last season’s leading marksman Alexandre Lacazette, who was sold to Arsenal for €60 million.
Mariano already has already scored 12 times for the Rhone giants, finding the net roughly once every 100 minutes he has been on the field. Indeed, his consistency has been formidable, as he has struck in 10 of Lyon’s 15 Ligue 1 outings this season.
Lyon knew what they were getting when they signed the 24-year-old, which begs the question why Real Madrid did not do more to keep hold of him when it was clear they were lacking options in the centre-forward role this summer.
It would be too much of a leap to suggest that he would have become a superstar at the Bernabeu, but he certainly possesses all the attributes to make him a useful alternative option when Zinedine Zidane felt the necessity to rotate his squad.
Indeed, the coach even suggested he would make a good addition to Lyon’s squad.
Back in June, Jean-Michel Aulas, president of the Ligue 1 side explained: “Benzema and Zidane have given us good reports on him. In the opinion of Zinedine and Karim, he is a player of a very high level. He’s young, powerful and very ambitious.”
He later admitted that there was “scepticism” over the striker’s ability to make a mark in France due to his relative lack of playing time in La Liga, yet the penalty-box forward has eradicated that to such an extent that there has been talk of Madrid moving to re-sign him.
Unlike Alvaro Morata, who they took back from Juventus, there is no buy-back option in his deal, however.
“Olympique Lyonnais wish to point out that there was no repurchase clause in the transfer of Mariano Diaz, contrary to some assertions made by some in the Spanish media. Olympique Lyonnais explained precisely the terms of the transfer in its press release of 30 June 2017, namely the transfer amount of 8 million euros plus 35% interest on the capital gain of a potential future transfer,” OL responded officially after such reports emerged.
No doubt, though, Madrid will regret letting go of a player who could have proved so useful in a period in which their star performers have failed to reach their best. Mariano’s all-round game may require some refinement, but his scoring instincts are of the highest level.
“He’s powerful, he’s got good timing in the air but he has difficulty in small spaces. That’s the most difficult thing for a centre forward: to see them develop quickly and to get away from the marking,” Bernard Lacombe, Lyon’s record goalscorer, told L’Equipe
But these drawbacks to his game have not dissuaded Spain boss Julen Lopetgui from tracking his progress with a view to testing him out before the World Cup next summer. At this rate, Mariano, who has played once for the Dominican Republic in a friendly, stands a real chance of going to Russia.
That is the player’s short-term target and if he achieves it, it would be a bloody nose for a Madrid side who could use a player with exactly his instincts going forward.