Éder Militão continues to make a name for himself at Real Madrid
Real Madrid fans all over the world were a bundle of nerves when Raphaël Varane was left out of the squad to face Athletic Bilbao away at San Mames, but Éder Militão rose to the occasion and put in probably his best performance in the Royal jersey.
The last time Real Madrid had three elite center-backs in their ranks (not considering Nacho because he has been a versatile player who could slot in anywhere across the backline but he never forced his way into the starting line-up), they won the La Liga and Champions League double in 2016-17, Pepe’s last season.
In 2017-18 and 2018-19, Real had Nacho and Jesus Vallejo as the third and the fourth choice backups respectively, but none of them had the ability to carry the weight of the defence on their own shoulders in absence of Varane or Sergio Ramos (Solari called up Javi Sanchez in 2018-19, making appearances in La Liga, Champions League, and Copa del Rey).
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When it was announced in the winter transfer window of 2019 that Éder Militão would arrive at the Bernabéu from Porto, fans were excited by this transfer as he was a defensive supernova in the Portuguese League, winning Defender of the Month award several times.
Varane and Ramos have been untouchable at the centre of the defence, and they have helped Real Madrid shore up the defence after years of defensive inconsistency. They are factors due to which Real have been able to grind out difficult results and edgy wins both home and away this season.
Militão, meanwhile, hasn’t seen as much action on the pitch as we had expected ahead of the season, or even the resumption for that matter. The start against Athletic was his first since La Liga returned, and his third appearance overall (featuring as a substitute against Real Sociedad and Getafe).
We could say that the Getafe appearance was a big warm-up for the 22-year old, as he brought on as soon as the cooling break was over around the 32nd minutes. That meant he had a good 60-65 minutes on the pitch against a very physical Getafe side. He helped Real Madrid to their 3rd consecutive clean sheet that night, and although Ramos stole the spotlight (both goal wise and with a defensive masterclass), Militão was an able compatriot to the Captain.
Against Athletic, who boast of players like Iker Muniain, Raúl García, and Iñaki Williams among others in their squad, it never seemed like Varane is being missed or Militão is in his first season at Real Madrid.
Iñaki Williams did give the backline a tough time with his blistering pace and link-up with the midfielders, but the Brazilian stood like a wall and had a monk-like concentration level while defending. Whenever there was a half-space between Militão or Ramos, he would utilise his pace or defensive intellect (which is his bailiwick) to bail the team out of pressure.
He was all over the defensive third against Athletic. He intercepted, he tackled, he won aerial duels, and he even outran Iñaki Williams, who is one of the fastest forwards in the league. According to WhoScored.com, the former Porto defender won 3 aerial duels, registered 2 successful tackles (joint second-highest behind Casemiro’s 3), had 3 clearances, passed the ball with 90% accuracy, and delivered 2 accurate long balls. Although his distributional statistics are nowhere near those of Sergio Ramos, his defending yesterday was promising.
Sergio Ramos is suspended for the next game against Alavés, and Militão will be starting for the second successive game for the first time this season. Not only that, Ramos will not be available for the return leg against Manchester City come August.
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If the performance against Athletic Bilbao is anything to go by, Madridistas can breath a sigh of relief and place all the faith in the world in the young defender who has almost always filled in perfectly whenever either of Varane or Ramos have had to sit out a game. He is a very intelligent defender, and he has had a decent debut season at the Bernabéu. I am sure he will pass the Manchester City test with flying colours, too. He seems ready for the ultimate Litmus test.