Real Madrid: Analyzing Fede Valverde’s meteoric rise

Real Madrid, Fede Valverde (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Fede Valverde (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Fede Valverde has become a household name in Real Madrid’s midfield.

The summer of 2019 – that’s when the game really changed. The Paul Pogba x Real Madrid rumors were at an all-time high and with Zinedine Zidane back on the touchline again, it looked like the saga would finally come to an end. With each passing day, it looked seemingly obvious that the saga would only end up in Paul Pogba being presented as a Galactico in the Santiago Bernabéu. The war waged on all summer, but like it always happened, fate had different plans and the deal never came to fruition.

Zinedine Zidane did not get his midfield starlet, and Paul Pogba did not get his dream move. Pogba stayed put in Manchester United while Zizou was forced to settle with a limited range of options in midfield. Maybe it was meant to happen this way to make way for something even greater. It’s funny how life turns out sometimes. A star would emerge in the same season because of this very failed transfer. And just like a flick of a switch, many Real Madrid fans now claim that Pogba is no longer required with Federico Valverde available.

From playing for Penarol to being one of the regular starters at one of the biggest clubs on the planet, Federico Valverde has quite had an incredible ride so far. His emergence as a key first-team player under Zidane’s second stint has been absolutely incredible. Fede Valverde has brought the much-needed balance to a team that is often vulnerable further back/in transitions.

The Uruguayan moved straight into Real Madrid Castilla after turning 18 from boyhood club Penarol in July 2016. His development continued in the Spanish top flight as he spent the 2017/18 season on loan with Deportivo La Coruna, with the Uruguayan standing out as the team battled against relegation.

Following the appointment of Julen Lopetegui in Real Madrid, Valverde was promoted to the Real Madrid senior squad in the summer of 2018. He then proceeded to earn regular playing time during Solari’s short spell in charge, and even more so when Zinedine Zidane returned as the head coach. ‘Fede Valverde’, as the fans know him, found a place in Zidane’s blueprint and has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence ever since.

The Uruguayan was a last resort option for both Julen Lopetegui and Santiago Solari in 2018/19, having been on loan at RC Deportivo as they were relegated in 2017/18. Fast-forward a couple of years, Valverde’s stock has multiplied by threefold, and he has become a fully-fledged member of  Los Blancos’ outfit.

Real Madrid’s depth in midfield isn’t far off world-class levels: Ballon d’or winner Luka Modric, 2014 World Champion Toni Kroos, Brazilian international Casemiro, Spanish international Isco, and Norwegian prospect Martin Odegaard. But what makes Fede Valverde a regular for the squad among these revered names?

This article is to help you understand and give you an idea of why Federico Valverde is crucial in achieving the balance that head coach Zinedine Zidane seeks.

Valverde fits in perfectly into Zidane’s midfield three, replacing Luka Modric on the right-hand side and playing alongside Toni Kroos and Casemiro. This position sees him in a box-to-box role, in a more advanced position than Luka Modric and being the midfielder with the most freedom to roam forward and attack.

Fede Valverde might not be the most technically gifted or the most skillful player in the squad, but what Fede might lack on the ball, he makes up for it in work ethic. A huge part of his role lies in bringing this energy to the midfield that the likes of Modric and Kroos once did.

Valverde’s greatest strength is his ability to read the game and his ability to play multiple positions without a drop in quality. The Uruguayan has impressed in a variety of positions at the Santiago Bernabéu, and to the extent that he has perhaps masked the deficiencies in Zidane’s midfield.

Fede Valverde, nicknamed “El Pajarito” or ‘The Little Bird’ because he used to fly around the field when he was younger, changes the dynamics of how Real Madrid play. His speed, tenacity, and work-rate are the much-needed additions to a midfield that has craved pace and directness. The 22-year-old Uruguayan provides value both in defence and in attack and provides the much-needed energy in the Real Madrid midfield.

Tall, agile, tough, aggressive, game awareness, exceptional defensive ability, and a box-to-box midfielder. Valverde is the archetypal midfield maestro.

Zinedine Zidane primarily opts for two formations: The 4-3-3 and the 4-4-2.

In the 4-3-3, Valverde plays ahead of Casemiro and alongside Toni Kroos or Luka Modric. This position sees him in the same role that Luka Modric operates, in the right-hand side and in front of Casemiro, but with more freedom to roam forward and attack.

In the 4-4-2 he plays a little wide on the right than usual and allows the fourth central midfielder to operate in the middle. He helps in ball progression and advancement from wide areas whilst still providing support to the other midfielders.

Valverde’s flexibility and versatility is a key part of what he brings to the current Real Madrid side. He has also stepped in for Casemiro for the holding midfielder role at times and has played out his part without much trouble. In Valverde, Zidane can fill several gaps in his squad in one. Being able to play multiple roles in midfield without a huge drop in quality is how Valverde sets himself apart.

His energy is essential in a tiring and aging Real Madrid midfield. He covers the gaping holes in the Real Madrid side in transition and has the engine to do this in a way that Modrić and Kroos no longer can.

This energy and pressing are crucial, given how Zidane’s Real Madrid set up and particularly considering how full-backs like to bomb into open spaces. Valverde is one of the first players to track back when the fullback is either caught out of position or struggling to catch up in transition.

Let’s take a look at Fede’s stats in the 2020/21 LaLiga campaign so far.

Out of the total eight matches played, Fede has already started six of them. He claims three goals and one assist out of the 536 minutes played so far. He has scored 3/4 goals from inside the box which highlights his ability of driving into the box. He has three big chances created and has averaged 0.8 passes per game this season so far. Valverde also has 1.5 interceptions per game, 1.4 tackles per game, only dribbled past 0.4 times per game, 0 errors led to a shot, 0 errors led to a goal, 1.3 successful dribbles per game, and 3.6 ground and aerial duels won per game (source:

Fede is the perfect box-to-box midfielder that Real Madrid have longed for.

Valverde keeps shuttling the up and down the pitch which constantly will disrupt the opposition shape, marking, and press. He makes intelligent runs off the ball and exploits spaces in the final third by providing a new passing option with his driving runs.  He creates spaces in the opposition penalty area with his movement/runs. Fede Valverde isn’t shy to take shots from outside the box as well.

In the 19/20 La Liga season, Valverde registered 1.09 shots per 90 minutes on average according to, and that figure was even lower with 0.69 shots per game in the 18/19 season.

Similarly, his expected goals output (xG) for the 18/19 season was 0.1 and it rose to 1.9 in the 19/20 – again, a clear indication of improving offensive involvement.

A complete midfield dynamo and checks all the boxes that a manager would dream of in a midfielder.

Valverde also excels defensively and performs his role with the utmost efficiency, commitment, and discipline. Fede Valverde’s role off the ball/when defending, largely remains the same. Valverde occupies the central areas of the pitch and his priority remains in providing support to Casemiro, the holding midfielder, whilst also supporting the right-back in case the opposition overload the flank.

Valverde’s emergence also means the need for Casemiro to be the sole ball winner in midfield is gone.

There is a tinge of excitement every time the 22-year-old midfielder is named in the starting XI. Real Madrid look more organized and disciplined in the centre of the field whenever he plays. El Pajarito is slowly growing into the midfield role and has already become a household name in the Spanish capital.

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The past season Fede Valverde has truly become a revelation, given a huge vote of confidence by Zidane. Fede has pounced on the opportunity and has redeemed himself into the starting birth, with head coach Zidane finally looking like he’ll finally scrap the plans of bringing in French international Paul Pogba, as the shy little boy from Montevideo looks destined for that role. His trajectory since the past season has multiplied at a rapid pace and if he keeps that up, it won’t be long until the name ‘Fede Valverde’ starts echoing in the Bernabéu terraces.

Federico Valverde isn’t ‘The Little Bird’ anymore. He’s already ready to fly with the big ones.