While it was a very tough season for Real Madrid in terms of injuries, there were a few positives that arose from the lack of personnel crisis suffered by Zidane and his men throughout the season. One of these positives was the performances of Miguel Gutiérrez once he was called up to play with the first team near the end of the campaign.
With Ferland Mendy struggling with calf issues and Marcelo also working through injuries and a poor run of form, Zidane had very few options for the left back role at the end of the season. Even Nacho was unavailable to fill the hole since he was being deputized at centre back due to Rafael Varane and Sergio Ramos’ injuries.
All of these injury issues created the perfect storm for Miguel Gutiérrez to arrive on the first team scene. The 19 year old Spaniard received his first callup to the first team in mid-February, when Marcelo was sidelined due to an unspecified muscle injury. Gutiérrez was named on the bench for three consecutive matches in February, but didn’t make his debut during that time.
It was when Ferland Mendy’s calf injury occurred in April that Gutiérrez finally got his chance. He made his debut on April 21st in Real Madrid’s 3-0 win over Cadiz, coming on for Marcelo in the 74th minute of the match. From there, he’d go on to play in all of Real Madrid’s final five La Liga matches, starting in the last three.
While the 336 minutes that Gutiérrez played in La Liga this season isn’t much to go off of, it’s just enough to give us some idea of what he can bring to this squad in the future. We also have all of his Castilla matches to use as references, but that brings up a curious point: Miguel Gutiérrez wasn’t given a shot with the first team due to his performances with Castilla, his chances were derived from a shortage of available first team players in his position. This isn’t to say he’d been performing poorly with Castilla, just that there was nothing to suggest he’d excel with the first team like he has.
From what we’ve seen, Miguel seems to possess all of the traits needed to become a Real Madrid-style fullback. He bombs forward in attack and likes to cross the ball (he was actually attempting more crosses than Marcelo in his few games with the first team, 5.36 per match compared to Marcelo’s 4.96), though the quality of his crosses could definitely use some work. Gutiérrez is also progressive-minded, with his first thought always being to move the ball up the pitch, though quite a bit of his passes (23.9%) end up going backwards. He’s solid defensively, and his efforts to track back and defend when he’s high upfield are what’s to be expected from an academy player trying to prove themselves. He’s also a bit one-footed (favoring his left foot) at the moment, but that should clean itself up with a bit more experience.
As can be seen above, Gutiérrez tends to hug the touchline quite a bit when playing, more so than both Marcelo and Mendy. However, since he stays wider where he’s less likely to be crowded by opponents, he gets on the ball quite a bit more than Real Madrid’s other left backs, averaging 91.7 touches each match, compared to Marcelo’s 84.4 and Mendy’s 70.2 (via FBRef.com). This wider positioning also explains the abnormal amount of crosses that Gutiérrez was attempting during the final run of the season.
We’ve also seen Gutiérrez flex his creative muscles once or twice during his short stint with the first team. He assisted Luka Modric brilliantly in Real Madrid’s 4-1 win over Granada, placing a chipped pass right over the Granada defense into Modric’s path for him to slot it past Rui Silva. He’s averaging 1.14 passes that result in a shot as well as 1.99 shot-creating action each match, ranking ahead of Mendy and behind Marcelo in both aspects.
While I fully expect Ferland Mendy to start at the left back position for Real Madrid next season, Marcelo’s future is a bit harder to predict. With his decline in both fitness and the consistency of his performances, there’s a good chance that he could be on his way out of the club this summer. If this is the case, I don’t believe that the club needs to look outside of its current ranks for a replacement; Miguel Gutiérrez is that man. In what little time he’s played for the club, he’s already proven that he’s capable of putting in good performances on the left side, and that the future manager can trust him in that role.
On the off-chance that Marcelo does remain with the club for the 2021/2022 campaign, the Real Madrid coaching staff and board should try and secure a loan move for Gutiérrez. They have a gem on their hands with this one, and he should get as much experience at the top level as possible to try and cultivate his skill and potential. I wouldn’t say he’s above playing with the Castilla squad next season, but if Real Madrid wants to get the best out of him, he needs to be playing with a team where he can play first team football and experience intense competition within the squad and on the field.