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Real Madrid Season Preview 2018/19: Defenders

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Real Madrid’s defense remains one of the best in the world and Lopetegui will have a very competent unit at his disposal for the upcoming season.

Juventus v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Quarter Final Leg One Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Real Madrid’s defense has evolved into one of the most competent units in world football over recent seasons supporting the often action-packed and offensively biased systems coaches have put into place. The richness in terms of technical quality and athleticism helped propel Madrid’s defense into an incredible fortress that did more than guard the net. The back four have been instrumental in helping implement a more controlled style of play while also critically supporting offensive schemes. Significant changes haven’t been made for the 2018-19 season but questions around sufficient depth remain. That being said, despite the unfortunate loss in the European Supercup resulting in part from a poor defensive showing, Lopetegui will be thrilled to have the services of of an experienced group at his disposal.


All statistics are for the 2017-18 Real Madrid season for all official competitions.

Sergio Ramos

Games Played: 42

Minutes Played: 3,873

Goals + Assists: 6

Most frequent defensive line-up: Marcelo-Ramos-Varane-Carvajal

Age: 32

El capitán. The unquestionable leader and head of the dressing room after Ronaldo’s departure. Ramos completed another great season overall ascending to new heights in his partnership with Varane. While not as productive with set pieces, he managed to provide a foundation for the rest of the team with stability, reliability, and dynamism in defense. There were fair questions about his consistency but it wasn’t any worse than during most of his career with exception for his absolute peak (such as periods in the 2011-12 season).

His tendency to be overly aggressive and display questionable decision-making will no doubt persist but his good qualities far exceed these flaws. His composure in possession, reading of the game, anticipation, command of the backline, and leadership will be very important and crucial if the team is to achieve major success in the upcoming season.

Raphael Varane

Games Played: 44

Minutes Played: 3,934

Goals + Assists: 1

Most frequent defensive line-up: Marcelo-Ramos-Varane-Carvajal

Age: 25

The revelation that is no longer a revelation. Varane comes off an absolutely stunning and dominant World Cup performance leading a defensively sound France to glory. His Russia exploits follow an exemplary season at the center of Real Madrid’s defense in 2017-18. The Frenchman recorded one of his best seasons and easily staked a claim as the best defender in the club last season. His patience, mature technical skills, and awe-inspiring speed and athleticism made him as complete as a defender can be.

Varane’s height helped form a towering force along with Ramos to deal with aerial threats while his speed, touch, and passing ability allowed him to support the midfield in building possession schemes and covering space. Despite an underwheling showing in the Supercup, the Frenchman will be one of the most important figures as Real Madrid try to add more silverware to their cabinet.

Jesús Vallejo

Games Played: 12

Minutes Played: 1,035

Goals + Assists: 0

Most frequent defensive line-up: Marcelo-Vallejo-Varane-Carvajal

Age: 21

The extremely promising youngster had a mixed season at the Bernabeu. He showed signs of what make him such an incredible prospect and the reason he won the trust and faith of his coaches in Zaragoza and Eintracht Frankfurt. However, injuries and lack of consistent playing time meant the young defender couldn’t shine as much as had been hoped. He was prone to mistakes and didn’t exert the same influence that his reputation held. All signs point to the defender staying within the ranks for 2018-19 but he may well be faced with the same challenges given Ramos/Varane’s stronghold on center back positions and his injury record (currently suffering from a left leg muscle injury).

Marcelo

Games Played: 44

Minutes Played: 3,790

Goals + Assists: 16

Most frequent defensive line-up: Marcelo-Ramos-Varane-Carvajal

Age: 30

The swashbuckling left-back is one of the team’s most prized assets. His exuberance and animated playing style on the field are only matched by his bright smile and charming personality. Everything that can be said about Marcelo has likely been said. He is a somewhat polarizing figure (less so in recent seasons) and the same player with the same traits will be marauding down Real Madrid’s left flank in the new term. His offensive productivity and influence is almost unparalleled as a player (let alone as a defender).

The left-back’s connection with Ronaldo (and Isco in some ways) has been an incredible source of joy for all Madridistas - the two were a lethal weapon that most teams found almost impossible to contain. It will be interesting to see how Ronaldo’s departure affects the Brazilian as he adapts to a new winger and potentially a new configuration. In addition to this transition, Marcelo’s notorious rusty starts, defensive lapses, and tracking back issues will continue to be key areas of concern.

Dani Carvajal

Games Played: 41

Minutes Played: 3,596

Goals + Assists: 7

Most frequent defensive line-up: Marcelo-Ramos-Varane-Carvajal

Age: 26

Arguably the best right back on the planet, Carvajal will be aiming to cement his status as the undisputed starter after the arrival of Odriozola. The former had an uneven 2017-18 season. A significant injury layoff as the season was taking off undermined the player’s campaign as he needed some time to regain his form upon his return. While some of the criticism levelled against the player appeared to be exaggerated, there were very valid observations about his lack of sharpness.

At the end of the day, Carvajal did enough to remind everyone why he is so special. The balance he provides on the right side is immeasurable at times. His stamina, strong skills on the ball, and defensive intensity combine to give the team an added advantage that they have fully leveraged to great success. The Spaniard will likely have an even stronger showing in 2018-19 as he will be very keen to assert himself.

Nacho

Games Played: 42

Minutes Played: 3,397

Goals + Assists: 4

Most frequent defensive line-up: Marcelo-Nacho-Varane-Carvajal

Age: 28

The Jack of all trades himself. Nacho is the ultimate utility man. His ability to play across all four positions in defense has been invaluable for the team especially as a means of coping with injuries and layoffs. His best qualities have served the team extremely well and especially last season when he had to fill-in extensively for others. His confident passing, underrated speed, and versatility means he is able to minimize the drop-off from starters for a number of positions.

However, in the past, this has not proved overly sustainable as the absence of Ramos, Varane, or the primary fullbacks begins to be felt if Nacho has to deputize for extended periods. This is simply down to the reality of having to compensate for four of the best defensive players in the world who have each in their own ways reached the pinnacle of the game. 2018-19 is likely to be similar for Nacho as he could very well be the first option off the bench for central defense and left-back but the presence of Vallejo and Odriozola will certainly make minutes distribution interesting.

Álvaro Odriozola

Games Played: 41 (with Real Sociedad)

Minutes Played: N/A

Goals + Assists: 5 (with Real Sociedad)

Most frequent defensive line-up: N/A

Age: 22

One of Real Madrid’s key signings of the transfer window, Odriozola joins the club to close the chapter on a heavily covered pursuit. The right back is admired by many for his reportedly astounding offensive impact. Several analysts have suggested that he was one of the most vital pieces of Real Sociedad’s entire offense and helped carry it on his own in certain moments. This is high praise for such a young player. Following his dream move to Real Madrid, the Spaniard will be eager to delight the Madrid faithful and force Lopetegui’s hand with any opportunity that presents itself. Overtaking Carvajal may be too much to ask or hope for but competing and perhaps establishing himself as the first rotational option will be one of his primary goals this season.