Fede Valverde’s reputation among Madridistas is one of a cult hero thanks to his heroics. He has been a part of some iconic moments in recent years that have made him a fan favourite. His self-sacrificial nature and the will to run himself into the ground when the team needs him will always resonate well with the fanbase.
While the first part of the 2021/22 season for Valverde raised some eyebrows about his development hitting a small plateau, his performances in the recent weeks have looked increasingly more encouraging. In his recent performances Valverde has had a positive impact every time he has taken the pitch.
Valverde brings young legs to an old and visibly tired midfield. The Garra Charrúa mentality of being tenacious and daring in the face of adversity while never giving up coupled with what Valverde brings on and off the ball make him a very able deputy in the middle of the park. One of the key-facets of his game is his ability to carry the ball and drive the team forward.
Only Vinicius Jr. has carried the ball more times (78) into the final third than Fede Valverde (41) in the team. Looking at the kind of carries the Uruguayan likes to make, we can mainly observe two types of carries. The first of which are his trademark long lung-bursting runs with the ball at his feet. A lot of his carries originate in Madrid’s own half where he is picking the ball up with space in front of him to run into.
The other major type of carry that Valverde likes to make come from the wing where he hugs the touchline. These are short bursts that are usually followed with a 1-2 with another midfielder or Karim Benzema in behind the fullback. These carries stretch the opposition lines horizontally, allowing Madrid to exploit channels and space in behind.
While Vinicius offers the same on the left flank by being an excellent outlet who can help move the ball up the pitch, Fede translates that onto the right flank with subtle differences in style. While Vini is excellent at tight 1v1s, Fede uses his long strides and pace to exploit the space in front of him very well.
While Kroos is the team’s main ball progression outlet, he does so increasingly via his majestic passing ability. There isn’t a ball carrying outlet from midfield with a similar impact to Valverde. It’s usually Alaba bringing the ball out from the back before playing a forward pass, having a driving presence in midfield can add a form of variety in Madrid’s build-up phase.
Among players with 900+ minutes at Real Madrid, only Vinicius (14.14m) carries the ball over longer distances more on average than Fede Valverde (13.83m) while nobody carries the ball forward for a longer distance on average than him — thus underlining how his ball carrying helps Madrid gain valuable yards over their opponents.
Vinicius Jr is a ball carrying monster while both Alaba and Militao feature in the top 5 as well, highlighting how they help in the buildup phases for Madrid in bringing the ball out from the back.
Looking to quantify the threat created via ball carries in La Liga this season for Real Madrid, the value of his ball carries is highlighted yet again. He is constantly carrying the ball into more threatening areas after receiving it in deeper zones. Valverde ranks the highest among midfielders for threat created via carries.
Vini Jr is easily the most threatening player via his carries, while players such as Rodrygo & Benzema accumulate a high value owing to the fact that most of their ball carrying action occurs high up the pitch in the attacking third.
It’s not just the runs he makes with the ball at his feet that makes him a prized asset for the team, but the disruptive runs he makes into the channels behind the defensive line opens up avenues for dangerous cutbacks. This is also a reason why at times Zidane experimented with him on the right wing.
Against teams with non-coherent pressing schemes or huge gaps between their forward, midfield and defensive lines, Valverde’s qualities could shine and offer a new dimension to how Real Madrid attack.
Beyond a very able ball carrier, Valverde is adept at passing as well. His short, crisp exchanges in the attacking third lead to some quick combinations allowing Madrid to gain advantage.
What adds to the Uruguayan’s appeal further is his versatility. He can be deputized in the midfield 3 or as a wide midfielder in a 442 from where he can help advance possession while also doubling up as an auxiliary right back while defending. We can observe the same from his defensive action map, where a large volume of his ball recoveries and tackles occur in the vicinity to the right back spot. His tenacious and tireless nature without the ball helps provide coverage for different positions and adds in a much needed balance to the side. His pace allows him to close down opponents quickly and his engine lets him do that all game long making him a valuable piece in Madrid’s pressing plans as well.
The agile midfielder has never ending stamina. The “legs” he brings to the midfield is an umbrella term for all the factors discussed above.
While Valverde will have to play out of necessity in the UCL round of 16 tie against PSG on 9th March with Casemiro out due to suspension, the case for him to get more minutes is valid. With the holy trident of Modric-Kroos-Casemiro looking visibly tired since the Super Cup, it’s in Madrid’s best interest to manage the minutes among the midfielders in the business end of the season and Valverde’s unique qualities make him Madrid’s not-so-secret weapon.