Another game, another impressive display from Real Madrid left back Ferland Mendy. The summer signing isn’t just establishing himself as Marcelo’s successor; he’s also establishing himself as one of the world’s top left backs.
Real Madrid have one of the most well-rounded squads in the world, which is why they are among the favorites to win the Champions League this season. Their defense is the backbone of the team, as they are statistically the tightest defensive unit in European football heading into the Champions League knockout stages.
The center back pairing of Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, which has set the standard for the past handful of years, is the main draw. Dani Carvajal has been a fixture at right back for Real Madrid over the years. And Thibaut Courtois is a big-name goalkeeper who is now living up to his reputation – and then some.
However, if you want an unsung hero or breakout star, then look no further than starting left back Ferland Mendy, who has effectively supplanted Marcelo as a regular in Zinedine Zidane‘s first-choice XI.
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Signed from Lyon for about 50 million euros, Mendy has already been worth every penny. It may be difficult for a young defender to settle into a new club, especially one on the level of Real Madrid, but Mendy has exceeded expectations.
Defensively, there isn’t a better left back on the planet right now. That’s a bold claim to make, but Mendy is an absolute wall.
Nobody can dribble past him. In fact, per WhoScored.com, only two players in Europe’s top five leagues have been dribbled past less times per 90 minutes than Mendy, who has 1.6 tackles per game and 1.2 interceptions per game to boot.
Mendy’s defense is his calling card, and it’s why he was given an opportunity to start over Marcelo early on in his career; it’s an opportunity he’s taken fully.
Questions were asked about Mendy’s ability to help the attack, but he’s consistently improved over the months, to the point where he’s now a clear asset in that department.
What sets Mendy apart from most left backs is his work rate. He never tires, and he’s always willing to help the offense with late runs. Maybe more importantly, Mendy is smart with his positioning when he runs up the pitch, never sacrificing his defensive duties. The left back is confident in his speed in transitioning back to defense and will thus press, but he will never press too high up the pitch or forget to track back.
Off the ball, Mendy is a great outlet when starting counterattacks and showed a good connection with Eden Hazard when the latter was healthy. He does a great job of giving his left winger an option to pass when pressed, which is a skill even some veteran left backs struggle with. When shifting back on defense, he pinches a little bit inside – Alvaro Odriozola could learn from this – so as to not allow the winger a clear opportunity to get the ball in the box or even shoot.
Mendy doesn’t get praised nearly enough for his intelligence, and his work off the ball on both ends of the pitch is difficult to measure statistically. But the stats show a strong, capable defender who is impossible to get by. Even elite dribblers like Lucas Ocampos have been frustrated by Mendy.
And speaking of dribbling, Mendy is a nasty dribbler himself. Only Bayern Munich ace Alphonso Davies, who is a converted forward and one of the Bundesliga’s brightest breakout stars, has more dribbles per 90 minutes at the left back position than Mendy this season. And Mendy has significantly fewer unsuccessful dribbles.
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Sergio Reguilon is an amazing attacking left back who has improved defensively and can be a future star for Real Madrid, too. But in the present, Ferland Mendy has already established himself as more than just a clear-cut starter. He’s in the discussion among the best left backs in the world. Raphael Guerreiro and Davies, for example, have been much better offensively, but Mendy’s defense goes underrated by the statistics and truly sets him apart. He has been a gem of a signing for Los Blancos in 2019-2020.