These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.
Across the top five major leagues, only three teams — Real Madrid, Napoli, Paris Saint-Germain — remain undefeated both domestically and in the Champions League. It’s taken some time, but what Carlo Ancelotti and his squad are doing is starting to get noticed, in part because they’ve gotten this far with some Fede Valverde golazos that are unmissable on Sports Center; genius plays from Vinicius Jr, Luka Modric and Rodrygo Goes; and Toni Kroos playing what might be the best football of his entire career.
They’re also doing this with heroics from everyone in the backline, led by a refreshed Eder Militao and a defensive depth chart that goes a long way. Most of it, of course, has also been done without Karim Benzema, and a significant amount of it without Thibaut Courtois. And that’s where some optimism also stems from: There are gears yet to be hit yet.
And even if some of those new-found gears will be balanced out with Fede Valverde’s ‘normalization’ on offense, the Uruguayan does so much good on the field on both ends that he still raises your baseline even if he’s not scoring bangers.
The obvious stars of the campaign until now are discussed at length. Last week I highlighted Rudiger’s quiet but impressive season. I think it’s worth noting on another under-the-radar contributor: Aurelien Tchouameni.
I had decided that I would give Tchouameni a six-month sample size before getting too carried away about his performances either way. Asking to fill in for one of the greatest defensive midfielders in Real Madrid history, Casemiro, was a tall task. Tchouameni was initially expected to ease in with Casemiro as his mentor, but with the Brazilian gone, there was no time for Tchouameni to be anything other than the team’s immediate firefighter.
He’s impressed, and reminded everyone that he’s not an up-and-coming rising star, but already a 22-year-old who was a starter for the French National Team before even arriving to Madrid.
Tchouameni has already taken the Casemiro mantle in minutes played. Only three players in the squad — Vinicius Jr, David Alaba, Fede Valverde — have played more minutes than the Frenchman in La Liga. That’s in part down to Tchouameni having a skill-set as the single-pivot anchor that no one else on the team has.
But the other side of it is also clear: Tchouameni is really good on both ends of the field. Where Carlo Ancelotti rightfully wants the Frenchman to improve is his positioning in ensuring Zone 14 gets locked down (no one did that better than the best ball-winner of this generation, Casemiro); but Tchouameni’s tackling and ability to intercept passes are both elite, and his ability on the ball is visible every game. He has slung the most through balls in La Liga, and ranks top-10 in both passes into the final third and goal-creating actions.
Where he has been really encouraging is his ability to resist pressure:
This play against Sevilla (below) was a personal favourite. He keeps himself in the vicinity of where he anticipates the ball will be played, then pounces before combining with Luka Modric for some magical ball-progression:
On offense, Tchouameni often flips roles with Toni Kroos. The German drops as the deep-lying playmaker while the Frenchman takes up advanced positions on the field to help funnel possession and receive vertical passes. Tchouameni has never been shy showing for the ball, and currently ranks eighth in La Liga in pass targets, being the recipient of 525 passes.
On defense, Tchouameni hovers between the defensive line and the rest of the midfielders, rotating and stepping up when he needs to:
There is no question that though Tchouameni has been one of the ‘quieter’ player this season, he’s part of Ancelotti’s ‘Once de Gala’, and provides invaluable defensive balance and ball progression to the team.