How can Real Madrid help Fede Valverde get back to his best?

Real Madrid, Fede Valverde (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Fede Valverde (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

It wasn’t long ago that Fede Valverde was labeled the brightest young central midfielder in football. From his match-winning tackle on Álvaro Morata in the 2020 Supercopa de España Final, to delivering in big games like the El Clásico, the Uruguayan has shown the world that he is Real Madrid’s golden boy, the perfect successor of the famed trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić, and Casemiro, the inevitable leader of the next generation of Real Madrid‘s midfield.

Having started the season strongly – as one of the key members of Carlo Ancelotti’s XI – the promise has started to fade for those who expected this season to be the one where the dashing midfielder took the next steps. For that matter, Valverde hasn’t managed back-to-back starts in La Liga since October. This surely is concerning for both the player and the fans who love him. It’s not every day that a player like him bursts onto the scene with such impact. He epitomizes the modern midfielder.

With questions being raised on the workload management of Kroos and Modrić (they are not being given enough rest by Ancelotti), can the Uruguayan midfielder fight back to reclaim his place among the most trusted personnel of Ancelotti?

To answer that question, or rather in trying to find an answer to that question, we must take a look at factors that are stopping Fede Valverde from producing his best form.

Fede Valverde of Real Madrid
Real Madrid, Fede Valverde (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images) /

Injuries have hampered Fede Valverde’s progress at Real Madrid

When Fede Valverde well and truly announced himself to the world in the 2019-20 season, he had suffered only one injury all season. He was a crucial part of Zinedine Zidane’s midfield that season and was a driving force behind Real Madrid’s successes. He made a career-high of 44 appearances that season. Valverde got injured just once that season – in September 2019, at the very beginning of the season.

Looking at how Fede Valverde’s season in 2019-20 went, it was expected that he would take the next step in the 2020-21 season. He began the season very brightly, scoring crucial goals in away wins against Real Betis and Barcelona. He displayed the same tenacity and desire that made him such an essential presence in Zidane’s lineups during Real Madrid’s triumphant 2019-20 season.

However, a shin bone injury in the 4-1 defeat against Valencia on November 9, 2020, forced him out of action for 32 days, missing 6 games in the progress. Since that injury, he has missed 19 games for Real Madrid due to further injuries or being diagnosed with coronavirus. He has not had the same injury problems this season (knock on wood). At 30 appearances, he is well set to hit the 40-appearance mark for 2021-22.

The Holy Trinity of Real Madrid’s midfield has been undroppable

When you are fighting for minutes against inarguably the greatest midfield trio of the previous decade/generation, you have an arduous task in front of you. It’s not at all easy to dethrone them from their starting spots. Toni Kroos, Luka Modrić, and Casemiro have been simply sensational after a rather dubious 2018-19 season (almost the entire team was below par that season in all honesty).

Fede Valverde has managed only 16 starts this season in 30 appearances (53.3% of games started). In contrast, he started 21 times out of 33 games he played last season (63.6% of games started) while in 2019-20, he started 30 games out of 44 (68.2% of games started).

As you can see, with each passing season, Fede Valverde has drifted further and further apart from the starting lineup. It’s a direct effect of the incredible form of both Kroos and Modrić, while Casemiro gets his starts as he’s the only natural defensive midfielder in the team and he has the ability to influence games (although it can be argued that his form has been patchy of late).

The stubbornness of Carlo Ancelotti to not rotate the squad

Fede Valverde has played 1619 minutes this season. 878 of those minutes (54% of the total) came during the first one and a half months of the season, from the 1st match of the season (August 14, vs. Alavés) to the 10th match of the season (October 3, vs. Espanyol).

Coincidentally, Toni Kroos returned to action for the first time just days before the Espanyol game on October 3, on 28th September in a UEFA Champions League game vs. Sheriff. He played 24 minutes after coming on as a substitute. He then made his first start of the season against Espanyol.

The above two paragraphs imply one simple thing: Fede Valverde hasn’t been used as much since the return of Toni Kroos. One could argue that I mentioned the Kroos-Modrić-Casemiro as being indispensable and a reason for the stagnation of Fede Valverde. But it’s also true that Ancelotti has shied away from using him as much as he should ideally have.

The fact that Valverde has played over half the minutes he has played this season during the first 50 days of 2021-22 is shocking. Since the game against Espanyol on Matchday 8 of La Liga, the Uruguayan has started just 4 times in the league.

The availability of the KMC midfield trio shouldn’t necessarily be a reason to opt against starting Fede Valverde. However, such has been the stubbornness of the Italian manager that Fede Valverde is almost as away from the starting XI as he possibly could be.

This needs to change, and change fast.

Fede Valverde of Real Madrid
Fede Valverde of Real Madrid (Photo by Silvestre Szpylma/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Fede Valverde’s recent performances: A sign of better things to come for Real Madrid?

The month of February might not have been the best one for Real Madrid and its fans, but it was definitely a good month for Fede Valverde on an individual level.

In the game vs. Granada, Valverde was brought in at halftime with the score tied at 0-0. But in the second period, Valverde created a big impact in midfield, helping Los Blancos progress up the field more effortlessly. Although it was Marco Asensio who scored the winning goal to decide the tie, Valverde’s influence was pretty evident.

He played the full 90 minutes in the 3-0 win against Alavés. And again, he was one of the better players on the field. In the 1st leg against PSG, he was brought on late in the 2nd half. But his introduction had a positive impact on how Real Madrid played. His mere presence was an indication of the energy and aggression Real Madrid lacked in midfield that night. He ended the month of February with another positive outing in a hard-fought 1-0 win against Rayo Vallecano.

This is how Fede Valverde can build on his recent displays

If there’s one thing about Fede Valverde that we can all guarantee, it is that the Uruguayan thrives on the big occasions. He is only better when he has a clear role within the team. Even though he is just 23, he is not far away from becoming one of the metronomes in Real Madrid’s midfield. I can bet that he is eager to show that he is ready to climb the ladder up and establish himself as one of the on-field leaders.

Toni Kroos’ hamstring injury comes as a blessing in disguise for Fede Valverde. He is all set to start against Real Sociedad this weekend and then against PSG in what can be termed the biggest match of Real Madrid’s season. Even if out of necessity, Carlo Ancelotti will have to entrust the 23-year old to thrive and decide games for the next few games.

However, Kroos’ return from injury shouldn’t demote Valverde to a bit-part role again, not when the likes of Kroos and Modrić have reached borderline burnout. They haven’t been able to emulate the magnificence that they put on show week in, week out before the turn of the year.

With the league season entering its final stages, and the UEFA Champions League only about to get trickier from here on – should Real Madrid progress to the quarter-finals – Valverde might just be the player who can win you the midfield battle single-handedly.

We have seen Real Madrid’s midfield being overrun quite easily in the UEFA Champions League in the recent past. Take the 1st leg vs. PSG, for example. Or the excruciating semi-final defeat at the hands of Chelsea last season. While Kroos, Modrić, and Casemiro are still capable of producing the magical, they just haven’t been able to impose their superiority over the midfield of equally strong or stronger oppositions in Europe.

Next. 3 tactical changes Ancelotti must make vs. PSG. dark

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Valverde should be a regular fixture in the starting XI from now to the end of the season because not only can he be the X-Factor in midfield, but also the player Real Madrid need if Carlo Ancelotti wants to end the season with more than one trophy. The Kroos-Modrić-Casemiro midfield has played a lot this season already, and it might be in the best interests of Real Madrid for Ancelotti to rotate this trio and reinstate Valverde as the nucleus of the midfield for the rest of the season.