We are only three games into the season but it is quite evident that Fede Valverde and Rodrygo are going to be the two leading candidates to be Real Madrid’s third forward while Marco Asensio’s future at the club looks bleak.
The other two attackers in the front line, Vinicius Jr and Karim Benzema, do not leave any doubts about owning their respective positions. Vinicius is good everywhere on the left: both near the flank and through the half-space. Benzema is simply Benzema. However, the situation is not that straightforward on the right-hand side.
Rodrygo and Valverde offer different things in their respective interpretations of the roles demanded from them. (Real Madrid faced a similar conundrum last season as well, which I wrote about. In that piece I discussed the dissimilarities between Marco Asensio and Rodrygo at that time.)
Fede Valverde has begun the season as the starting right-winger but Rodrygo has now been declared fit to return to action. The Brazillian will also have his fair share of minutes since the club has been excessively reluctant to improve the existing forward-line this summer once they got betrayed by Kylian Mbappe. This may well be Rodrygo’s leap year. Rodrygo might get some minutes on the left as well if Ancelotti decides to rest Vinicius here and there. But our agenda today is the right-wing.
Fede Valverde played close to 3000 minutes last season. His minutes were divided between the midfield and the right flank. Fede dominates the right half-space. Even if he is playing as the right winger, he likes to attack the space closer to the central channel. If deployed as a right-winger, Valverde’s overall touches in the deeper positions of the attacking third could be a cause for concern.
Rodrygo on the other hand is more traditional. He attacks the box and stays close to the sideline to whip in crosses. However, his ultra-wide positioning can sometimes become too predictable, especially against low blocks.
To illustrate the same dilemma, we can look at three further visualizations depicting the take-ons, progressive carries, and expected threat of Fede Valverde and Rodrygo in LaLiga and the Champions League of 2021-22.
Take-ons: Rodrygo is naturally the more adventurous player inside the box.
Progressive carries: Rodrygo’s progressive carries go deeper than those of Valverde. However, Valverde is more dominant in interior locations.
Expected threat (xT): Rodrygo has a higher volume of threatening passes in the box which re-verifies his important touches in the penalty area and the final third.
Fede Valverde is a Rolls-Royce footballer with two lungs. His presence in the starting lineup gives the team defensive assurance and flexibility to change things around on the fly. However, Rodrygo provides a better offensive threat. Carlo Ancelotti must decide which one he will prioritize this season.