Real Madrid: The young talent are still key to winning titles this season

Real Madrid, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Real Madrid are very much in the league title race despite a slow start to the season, and the youth are the key to the club reaching its lofty goals.

Before the 2020-2021 season started, we knew Real Madrid would have to ask a lot from its young players. Luka Jovic, Eder Militao, and Rodrygo Goes joined the team in 2019 with the expectation that they could become future starters. And the year prior, Vinicius Junior officially got his start in Madrid and turned heads in the Champions League.

So far this season, only Vinicius and Rodrygo have made much of an impact for Los Blancos. They both have five goal contributions despite playing fewer than 1,000 minutes; Rodrygo has not even hit the 600-minute mark across all competitions.

Militao and Jovic have found it even more difficult to hit the field, partially due to COVID-19 and injury. Neither of them has even appeared in 250 minutes this season. Mariano Diaz seemed to be preferred to Jovic at one point, and Nacho Fernandez got more minutes at center back than Militao.

Then there are the midfielders Martin Odegaard and Fede Valverde. We do not need to spend much time discussing the latter of the two. Valverde, injury aside, has picked up where he left off last season and has even become a bigger goal-scoring threat for Los Merengues. He is world-class and is even valued as the top center midfielder in the game.

Odegaard has shown his talent in glimpses this season, but, like Militao and Jovic, he has unfortunately been forced to miss time. As we saw last season, Odegaard can be one of the very top players in La Liga. Zinedine Zidane brought him back to the fold this summer as Real’s only actual additional in the summer for a reason; he knows Odegaard can be a difference-maker creatively in the final third.

Real Madrid can’t guarantee minutes for Jovic and Militao, but they may have roles to play. But the others – Valverde, Rodrygo, Vinicius, and Odegaard – are sure-fire contributors. We know for a fact that they will be asked to start in important games later this season. The health of the wide forwards, specifically Eden Hazard, is not guaranteed. Valverde is already a weekly fixture in the lineup and one of Real’s best players. And then Odegaard is a great matchup nightmare, especially when Real want to use him as an attacking midfielder with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric behind him in a double-pivot that has proven effective multiple times in 2020-2021.

Martin Odegaard, Vinicius Junior, and Rodrygo Goes could be the key trio for Real Madrid in 2021

In lieu of signings, Real Madrid have the youngsters in attack. Jovic is a wild card who could burst onto the scene if needed, but expectations with him must be tempered. And his path to playing time is more dicey, given Karim Benzema’s importance with 13 goal contributions this season.

The trio of Rodrygo, Vinicius, and Odegaard is where the money is. Odegaard is like a signing for Real Madrid, and he is a signing Zidane hasn’t been able to fully use due to injury. When healthy and fully integrated into the team, Odegaard should be one of La Liga’s best attacking midfielders. He was last season, and there’s no reason for him to get worse in Madrid.

As for Rodrygo and Vinicius, there is a lot to be excited about with both of them. Vini has his ups and downs like any young player, but when he’s been in form this season, he’s provided matchwinners for this team. Look no further than Sevilla, Levante, and Real Valladolid. Rodrygo’s minutes have been limited, but whether a starter or substitute, he’s made the most of them. Look no further than his winning goal against Inter Milan, provided by Vinicius’ assist, as an example.

Real did not sign any forwards in 2020, which was their biggest need, but perhaps further growth and development from Vinicius and Rodrygo in the second half of the season can prove to be a sufficient upgrade. More efficient play from Vinicius and more confidence from Rodrygo could yield returns that match or even exceed Real Madrid making a splash signing.

There is a young core in Madrid just waiting to break out, as Valverde did in 2019-2020. Rodrygo, Vinicius, and Odegaard are a trio that can help run Madrid for a decade, and maybe the heat of a difficult title race in the league and the grind of a Champions League knockout stage can coax the absolute best out of these future world-class stars. Playing alongside seasoned veterans like Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Karim Benzema who have been through it all can’t hurt either.

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If Real Madrid are to play to the standard they have set under Zinedine Zidane, the youth of this team will have to raise the bar. It is challenging to expect so much from young players, but they are all fully capable of finding a new level to their individual games as a means of helping the collective achieve something greater than what was expected before the start of the campaign.