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The Timely Rise of Éder Militão

A mid-season analysis on Real Madrid’s best center-back of the season so far.

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga Santander Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Éder Militão’s entrance into Real Madrid’s galactic universe was strange and somewhat unfortunate. The former Porto center-back almost lost his consciousness during his first press conference as a Real Madrid player. At the start of his career, he was merely a backup to one of the best-center duos of the last decade: Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Militao got the chance to show his quality during the second half of the 2020-21 season when both of the aforementioned starters were dealing with injury issues. Many thought Militao would start the 2021-22 season from exactly where he finished in the last season. Reality is often disappointing. The Brazilian had a difficult start to the campaign under Carlo Ancelotti. But as time progressed and a solid partnership with David Alaba was forged, Militao is showing true quality once again.

Militao is the Real Madrid player with the second-highest number of tackles won, ball recoveries, and blocks made this season (behind Casemiro). Militao tops the list for interceptions made and aerial duals won. He is also the player who has drawn a lot of fouls in favour of Real Madrid (second on the list behind Vinicius Jr). From a young player struggling to find his feet in the team, Militao has morphed into one of the most significant players on Ancelotti’s starting lineup.

Militao has clusters of clearances and aerial duals won in some critical areas inside the box. Apart from this, the volume of recoveries in the mid-third of the pitch is also remarkable. These recoveries have not only stopped opponents in transition but also created transition opportunities for Real Madrid.

Screening of an opponent’s run ahead of time, and adjusting his own positioning, was one of the great strengths of Raphael Varane. On the other hand, Sergio Ramos went into difficult tackles, in difficult moments with surgical precision and devastating strength. Militao seems to have inherited these qualities quite well.

In the first two sequences below, Militao starts to move, screens the advancing forwards and Real Madrid wins the ball back on both occasions due to his anticipation:

In this sequence, he comes off his line with a classic no-nonsense tackle and calmly wins the ball back for his team. Some vintage Sergio Ramos in this tackle right here:

Although not as shrewd as his defensive partner Alaba, Militao has also contributed decently enough with bringing the ball out from the back. His progressive passes and carries are mostly focused towards the right flank. Militao plays as the right-center-back for Real Madrid, unlike Ramos who used to operate from the left. Still, Militao does well with the diagonal balls towards the advanced players on the right flank.

Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos left gigantic shoes to fill for any Real Madrid center-back who were to follow their path. Militao has shaken off the early-season jitters and is now on his way to making a mark. Statistically and technically, the Brazillian has been Madrid’s best defender of the season so far. A big 2022 awaits him.