The Debutants: How did Real Madrid’s young players fare in their maiden Champions League final?

Real Madrid, Champions League (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Champions League (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images) /

After a wait that seemed like an eternity for a team so accustomed to consistently reaching this stage, Dani Carvajal, Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, and Karim Benzema started a match on Saturday night which as little as four years ago had felt like it had become an annual routine for them. Thibaut Courtois and David Alaba, who also weren’t strangers to this fixture, returned to it with the excitement of achieving glory with their new club.

However, there were as many as four players in the starting lineup against Liverpool who were in completely uncharted territory: Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Fede Valverde, and Vinicius Jr each played their maiden Champions League final, along with Eduardo Camavinga and Rodrygo Goes who came off the bench. Let’s dive into how they all fared.

Real Madrid, Eder Militao (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Eder Militao (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

CB Eder Militao

Militao managed to shake off some early nerves in the first half to put in a rock solid performance that was vital in allowing the team to keep a clean sheet. His 70% rate of success for pressures was the highest of any player on the pitch, and he had a perfect success rate for both tackles and aerial duels. The Brazilian also added 4 interceptions and blocked 2 shots to punctuate a strong defensive showing in the most important match of the season.

Real Madrid, Ferland Mendy
Real Madrid, Ferland Mendy (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images) /

LB Ferland Mendy

Mendy was faced with one of the most difficult duties of the game, as he was the one tasked with having to face star Liverpool attacker Mohamed Salah whenever he charged down the wing. He did a good job of keeping Salah at bay out wide, showing fine composure. His composure on the ball to not lose possession against Liverpool’s well-known press was perhaps even more impressive, as the Frenchman managed to complete 97% of his passes – the most out of anyone on the pitch.

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

CM Fede Valverde

Back in February, when Ancelotti was having trouble deciding whether his preferred starting right winger was Rodrygo or Asensio, I wrote a piece about how giving that spot in the lineup to Valverde instead was an outside option to consider. Surely enough, that ended up coming to fruition, and Valverde found himself starting in the Champions League final.

The Uruguayan once again displayed his endless energy tank by putting in a strong defensive shift to help Carvajal guard down the right flank, and he was a force offensively as well, leading the team in progressive distance carrying the ball. Of course, above all, he played the beautifully angled low-driven cross that turned out to be the assist to the goal that won the final.

Real Madrid, Vinicius Jr.
Real Madrid, Vinicius Jr. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images) /

LW Vinicius Jr.

Not much needs to be said about this guy. If there were any doubts about whether or not Vinicius has finally entered the top tier of attackers in Europe this season, surely those doubts have been erased after this match. The 21-year-old has already etched his name in Real Madrid history as the scorer of the goal that secured La Decimocuarta. A perfect way to cap off the first-ever season in which he’s scored more than 20 goals in all competitions. Not bad for someone who scored just 6 last year.

Rodrygo, Eduardo Camavinga, Real Madrid
Rodrygo, Eduardo Camavinga, Real Madrid (Photo by Angel Martinez/Getty Images) /

RW Rodrygo Goes, CM Eduardo Camavinga

Camavinga and Rodrygo only completed a combined 6 minutes as late substitutes, with their introductions into the game almost feeling like a ceremonial gesture from Ancelotti. That being said, they certainly deserved to be on the pitch for that full-time whistle after what they’ve done this season, particularly in the previous rounds of this competition.

The two have been prime examples of ‘supersubs’. Camavinga has proven to be so reliable in giving the midfield much-needed boosts by energizing the team with his pace and passing when it mattered, and Rodrygo is seemingly addicted to scoring goals in the Champions League. His heroic brace in the semifinal second leg against Manchester City alongside his quarterfinal goal against Chelsea to send each of those ties to extra time will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Next. The 5 players Real Madrid should have never sold. dark

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For a team deemed by fans and analysts to be in a transitional period, what better way to smoothly transition than for the core of the past to combine with the core of the future to become Champions of Europe in the present? In a few short years from now, the value of the 14th will be strongly felt when Militao, Mendy, Valverde, Vinicius, Camavinga, and Rodrygo return to the Champions League final, without Benzema, Modric, and co., but being able to rely on their personal confidence that they’ve been given the opportunity to build up on their own by having had the comfort of playing with them on their first trip to this stage.