Dani Ceballos should have a future at Real Madrid now

Real Madrid, Dani Ceballos (Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Dani Ceballos (Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Dani Ceballos’ relationship with Real Madrid could have been over before the season started. After arriving from Real Betis in the summer of 2017, Ceballos couldn’t cement himself as an important player. Ahead of the 2019-20 season, he was loaned out to Premier League club Arsenal, where he spent two seasons. But his performances weren’t convincing enough for the Gunners.

He returned to Real Madrid at the end of the 2020-21 season. While on international duty with Spain at the Olympics, he suffered an ankle injury, which meant that no team would go after the Spaniard, not back then at least. It looked like it would be another season of struggle for Ceballos, as he was way down the pecking order and deemed surplus to requirements.

Ceballos has made just 12 appearances this season. He has played only 184 minutes, according to FBRef. That is the second-lowest number of minutes played by a Real Madrid first-team player, only behind Jesús Vallejo, who has featured for only 17 minutes.

It should be taken into account that the ankle injury forced him out of action for almost five months. He returned from his injury and has made sporadic appearances for the team since then. However, I think Ceballos might have just given his Real Madrid career a new lease of life.

Dani Ceballos was one of the best Real Madrid players against Osasuna

On Wednesday night against Osasuna, coach Carlo Ancelotti decided to field a second-string side in order to rest players ahead of next week’s all-important UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Manchester City. Dani Ceballos earned his first league start this season, which was also his first start this season in any competition.

Let’s talk about Ceballos’ performance. I’ll begin by saying that for someone who hadn’t played as much football, he justified the start that he was awarded by Ancelotti. He was great, and totally made the most of the chance he was given. If people thought Ceballos would be the weak link in midfield, he responded by being the best midfielder on the pitch.

He was the orchestrator as much of the tempo was controlled by him and the game flowed through his feet. Ceballos would often drop deep to collect the ball and do two things: either cover some portion of the ground himself or distribute it to another player. It was a proper central midfielder performance.

According to WhoScored.com, he completed 92.7 % of his passes, also managing one key pass. He had 86 touches on the ball; only Lucas Vázquez had more for Real Madrid. He also attempted a team-high of six shots, which was one more than Karim Benzema. That stat there is amazing in itself.

But it’s not just the stats, though. For David Alaba’s goal, which came after Real Madrid were awarded a free-kick, Marco Asensio chose to pass the ball to Ceballos instead of crossing it in the box. Ceballos, who was 10-15 yards away from the edge of the box, lofted a ball into the path of Benzema, who squared it for Alaba. After his initial shot was saved, the Austrian found the back of the net off a rebound. That sequence began with Ceballos’ using his vision to find Benzema. It was pleasing to watch.

He played a part in the second goal too. Ceballos met Eduardo Camavinga’s lofted through ball in the box, but his toe-poke was saved by Osasuna goalkeeper Sergio Herrera. The goalkeeper parried it away, but Asensio was there to capitalise and put the visitors ahead just before half-time. Ceballos had a key role to play in both the Real Madrid goals

Ceballos had two interceptions and a clearance, showing his work-rate and willingness to contribute in defence. The 25-year was simply impressive. It was an encouraging performance, without many negatives.

To be frank, this was not at all surprising. I have been eager for Ceballos to be handed a start since a long time. In the 11 appearances prior to his start against Osasuna, Ceballos had done very well. His brief cameos were positive and had “I deserve more minutes” written all over it. In the 113 minutes before the Osasuna game, Ceballos had registered one assist too.

After the game against Osasuna, which Real Madrid won 3-1 comfortably, Ancelotti was full of praise for the 25-year old Spaniard, even going as far as to say that he was Los Blancos’ best player:

"“He played a very good game, he may well have been the best in the team. He has a lot of quality. He has suffered a lot. He has had a season with a lot of problems at the start. In the Olympic Games, he had a slow recovery. The Ceballos everyone knows played.”"

So, has Dani Ceballos given himself another chance to make it at Real Madrid, where he has always wanted to succeed?

“I am much more prepared, I am more mature in every way and I have a lot of ambition to prove it. I want to succeed in Madrid,” said Ceballos in an interview with AS prior to the Olympics in 2021.

The ambition and desire to become a relevant player for Real Madrid has always been there. It’s just that the consistency wasn’t there. But this season, Ceballos has shown that he has actually matured and is ready to have more responsibilities in midfield as the old guard (Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and Luka Modrić) begin their descent.

In a future midfield consisting of Fede Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga, having Dani Ceballos could complement the playing styles of the other two.

Well, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though. For now, Ceballos has done just enough for Real Madrid and Carlo Ancelotti to count on him next season.

Next. Predicting the futures of Real Madrid's wingers. dark

The Real Champs
The Real Champs /

Want your voice heard? Join the The Real Champs team!

Write for us!

What Ceballos expected four or five years ago may happen next season. He could become a crucial piece in rotation in midfield, and could even fight for a starting role beyond the 2022-23 season. All things said and done, Ceballos will be hoping that he gets some continuity in the team and, more importantly, that he can fulfill his dream of succeeding at Real Madrid.