In the modern era, where tactical nous is demanded from every area of the pitch, the fullbacks are perhaps more relevant than ever. The wide defenders, the wing backs, or whichever term we may regard them as; the two fullback positions — right-back and left-back — are extremely significant on both ends of the field. Unfortunately, the situation at Real Madrid regarding their fullbacks has been far from ideal. Dani Carvajal and Ferland Mendy — the two starting fullbacks for ‘Los Blancos’ — are evidently unable to respond to a variety of questions that opponents put in front of Real Madrid.
Since the beginning of the 2020-21 season, Dani Carvajal has missed a staggering 352 days of action due to health issues, per transfermarkt.com. Most of it was during Zinedine Zidane’s final season. His health improved over the 2021-22 season but it has never returned to an optimal level where he can physically compete with fast and agile wingers and wing-backs. How comfortably Alejandro Balde of FC Barcelona got past Carvajal in the recent Supercopa finale was nothing short of an embarrassment. Carvajal does not add as much as he used to — offensively in the previous seasons.
Ferland Mendy on the other hand has missed 81 days of action since the beginning of the last season. He is healthier than Carvajal but he remains a player who misses games at consistent intervals.
Real Madrid is a team that mostly operates on the independent decision-making of its players rather than a defined blueprint. Madrid’s ball progression heavily relies on how white shirts take such decisions on the flank and what they do with switches from one flank to the other.
As per FBREF, in terms of p90 stats vs. fullbacks of Europe’s top five leagues over the last 365 days, neither Ferland Mendy nor Dani Carvajal resides above the 31st percentile for Progressive Passes. But Carvajal still is a bit more reliable offensively than Mendy. Carvajal’s percentile rank for passes into the final third is 36. For passes into the penalty area, his percentile rank is at 63.
Ferland Mendy sends a lot of passes into the final third — he ranks in the 83rd percentile in this regard. However, for passes into the penalty area, Mendy’s percentile rank is at 19. This is very disappointing for Real Madrid’s left-back — a team that attempts to attack mostly from the left. Both Mendy and Carvajal are below the 50th percentile for shot-creating actions p90 and below the 70th percentile for goal-creating actions p90 over the last 365 days.
Fullback is a position that seems to have always fallen through the cracks during Madrid’s squad planning. Despite Carvajal’s recurring health issues, he was given a huge contract during the last renewal with no replacement planned. With Ozriozola completely out of favour with the coaching staff, Nacho Fernandez and Lucas Vazquez have filled in whenever needed but none of these solutions are ideal or sustainable for the trophies Real Madrid aspires to win every season.
Ferland Mendy himself was the last big transfer at fullback for Real Madrid. His defensive contribution has been immense during big games and he still has a lot of usefulness in that regard. In offense, however, he has been a major constraining factor for Real Madrid. Even after playing for more than three years together, Vincius Jr and Mendy have not been able to create a great sense of chemistry between them. Since David Alaba is reluctant to play as a left-back, Madrid does not have anyone else to play in this position at the moment. Switching positions between Alaba and Mendy on the fly during games is a patch at best, not a sustainable solution.
Mendy does not thrive in independent decision-making scenarios. He needs more rigid instructions (as seen in the recent wins vs. Villarreal and Atheltic Club). If the club decides to stick with him, a change of methodology is imperative otherwise, moving on to another offensive-minded left-back (i.e., Fran Garcia) won’t be the worst idea.