There are few better stories in football than when someone improves against a wave of criticism and goes from being a player who holds the team back to someone who can be counted on. And Real Madrid have seen one such story emerge over the past couple of seasons.
Lucas Vazquez had already been a quality contributor in the squad, capable of coming up big when needed – most famously in a Champions League Final penalty shootout.
Madridistas may have forgotten all that in the 2019/20 season, when Vazquez was producing some very poor attacking performances offensively.
Then in 2020/21, with one year left on his contract, Vazquez found a new lease on life in Madrid after it once seemed like he was going to be pushed out the door. He earned himself a new deal through his performances at right back.
At first, Vazquez was terrible. He predictably had no idea what he was doing defensively, giving up easy goals with his positional errors.
Lucas Vazquez has quietly improved at right back
Over time, Vazquez got better. And the positives started to outweigh the negatives. Sure, he would continue to get out-muscled and was totally useless in the air. But his one-on-one defending was actually very good. His effort and attacking quality were major assets at right back, such that he was providing far more attacking verve and overall ability than actual right back Alvaro Odriozola. He was one of the best right backs in LaLiga at one point!
This season, Vazquez has received fewer opportunities since Dani Carvajal has been healthier in 2021/22 than he was in 2020/21. Quietly, though, he has been solid, showing better defensive positioning and instincts as a result of his experience at the position. Some give shouts for Odriozola to return, but the reality is that Vazquez might be better defensively than the Fiorentina man, despite not being a natural right back.
Vazquez has scored three league goals this season. He averages 1.1 key passes per game and 1.2 fouls drawn per game despite barely being dispossessed. Those are great numbers for a right back, though you would expect his stats to be strong offensively, given his background as a forward.
Defensively, Vazquez averages 1.5 tackles per game and is dribbled past 0.7 times per match. Those are not bad by any means, and for a backup right back, you could do a LOT worse, accounting for his well above-average offensive output.
Nobody is going to try to lie to you and say that Vazquez is a great right back or an ideal solution at the position. But he’s not bad. In fact, he is better than the LaLiga average. When he plays, Real Madrid know exactly what they are going to get from him. Effort, intensity, ball-carrying, fouls drawn, and the threat of a few chances created or even a goal.
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Vazquez went from being a disaster at right back – and even on the right wing in 2019/20 – to being someone Real Madrid can count on again. We tend to gloss over him, but Vazquez remains a player worth celebrating. As we saw in the first Clasico of the season, he comes up BIG in the most important matches.