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.
As we cross the four-game mark in this early La Liga season, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the fact that there have only been three outfield players who have started every single game this season. Two of them, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr, hardly bat eyes. The third, Aurelien Tchouameni, is perhaps more surprising — at least had you told us a month ago that he would be the third consistent starter.
But with Casemiro gone, the urgency of Tchouameni has increased dramatically, and lucky for the club, he’s not a raw teenager who needs to be coddled and massaged into the starting lineup. Tchouameni is 22 — already a starter for the French National Team — and was ready to contribute immediately.
And apart from looking a bit lost in the opening game against Almeria (a less-than-stellar performance in his first game in a completely new league? Unheard of!) the Frenchman has looked good-to-great. In his first game after Casemiro’s departure vs Celta Vigo, Tchouameni rose the call and had a nice two-way game from the anchor role, playing seemingly with zero pressure on his shoulders. Against Espanyol a week later, Tchouameni contributed to the attack in a fluid role, and on Saturday night against Real Betis, Tchouameni — deserved man of the match — had his best game yet.
When Real Madrid officially announced Casemiro’s departure and bid farewell to him in an emotional ceremony, they released several tear-jerking videos on social media (those always hit me the hardest). Among the footage was a breathtaking compilation (that I wish didn’t end) of his slide tackles. It was satisfying. The Brazilian mopped up Zone 14 like it was his own real estate, and frustrated several opposing superstars over the years.
I predict Tchouameni will have a similar compilation by the time he leaves Real Madrid. His defensive ability is too elite, his tackling acumen too rare. He was built to inherit the Casemiro torch. The numbers reflected that last season, and the eye test might as well be eye candy, because some of his tackles are just as gratifying. He showed a pin-sized-hole view of that defensive curtain against Betis, where he shielded Real Madrid’s backline and acted as a safety net whenever Manuel Pellegrini’s men passed the initial line.
Naturally, not all fans had warmed up to him yet, and I’m sure dips in form will come. No one’s career is smooth sailing. When Real Madrid signed Ruud van Nistelrooy in the 2006 - 2007 season, fans were not that enamoured with him right away. He was there to be the Ronaldo Nazario (well-loved) replacement, and was unfairly labelled as a symbol of Fabio Capello’s boring football. Writing it out feels silly, as does reading it, I’m sure — but it was real at the time. And it didn’t help that Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goals came mostly away from the Bernabeu.
But it didn’t take long for Pichichi Van Gol to win everyone’s hearts.
I have thought a lot of about the transition from Ronaldo to Ruud now, because the transition from Casemiro to Tchouameni in a way reminds me of that. Casemiro, beloved, left; Tchouameni, in Spain still somewhat unknown, was met with resistance by some fans.
But those who followed him closely in France knew his mentality and talent would leave its mark eventually. Perhaps fewer were sure he would be engraved this soon, and Tchouameni’s first home game at the Bernabeu was a resounding success.
Nothing about what Tchouameni does is subtle, and that’s part of what makes him so fun. He makes his presence known. It was clear to everyone watching on Saturday: Tchouameni was tracking runners, winning aerial duels with sheer physical dominance and will, and he covered ground all over the field. His tackling was perfect. And then after taking in the performance with your eyes, you check the numbers, and they reflect everything you see.
Oh, he won an absurd amount of his duels (the highest percentage of anyone since Sergio Ramos eight years ago)? Impressive. He had a game high in tackles, interceptions, and aerials won? Sounds about right. He had the most touches of anyone on the team? Yep — I saw it. His involvement was clear.
It’s too soon to make assumptions, and Tchouameni’s career can still go either way (though I know what I’d predict about him if I had a gun to my head), but going throughout Real Madrid history, the most important figures have always been the ones that impose their will and make their energy felt. Those are the players you want on the field in the big moments. I’d rather see a player’s importance, then look at it backed-up on the stat sheet — rather than barely noticing a player and seeing subtle good numbers afterwards.
Following Tchouameni’s Real Madrid career will be fascinating. The journey is off to a good start.