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.
When Fran Garcia departed Real Madrid Castilla in 2020 — leaving the youth ranks of his childhood club for good — Rayo Vallecano paid a measly €250k to take the left-back on loan. One year later, in what was a no-brainer deal for them, they signed Garcia permanently for €3m. Three years on, Real Madrid had the option to bring him back for €5m — peanuts irrespective of the rest of the market, but especially now that €5m costs less than the bag of peanuts Chelsea just bought for their staff room.
Garcia joined Real Madrid in 2009, and went through virtually every stage of the club’s academy before graduating. But bringing him back has more than just sentimental value. Although, having kids who bleed for the badge is always a plus, Fran Garcia is more than a cute story — he’s one of the best left-backs in Spain, and has been for the better part of two seasons now. This season he’s in the top-10 in La Liga in both interceptions and crosses into the penalty area. He is in the 98th percentile of full-backs in shot-creating actions stemming from defensive actions. He rarely gets dispossessed.
Garcia will come back, not now, when the club could really use him, but this summer. There are two main reasons for this, both of which need unpacking: 1) As Rayo Vallecano stated what was widely-known, the two clubs have a good relationship, and letting the left-back stay in Vallecas (as oppose to letting Bayer Leverkusen pry him away mid-season) is a sign of respect; and 2) Real Madrid believe Fran Garcia needs to play and develop — something that wouldn’t have happened at the Bernabeu.
Ferland Mendy’s major injury was not enough for Real Madrid to exercise a last-minute trigger on Garcia, which would’ve left Rayo in a difficult spot without much time to replace him. They took the long-term play instead — hoping the array of makeshift left-back options can help keep the team afloat while Mendy’s return perhaps gets accelerated.
“Fran Garcia could have been an option,” Carlo Ancelotti said in Wednesday’s press conference. “But, there were two reasons not to make that move. One, Mendy can recover quite soon, and, two, we believe it’s good for Fran García to stay with Rayo Vallecano right now to keep gaining experience.”
One key player in this entire operation has been Bayer Leverkusen. It’s not the first time a third-party forced Real Madrid to make a quick decision on a player. In 2018, Sevilla attempted to sign Mariano Diaz from Lyon. Real Madrid still had a first right of refusal on the striker, and opted quickly to sign him — leaving both Lyon and Sevilla without the striker they wanted and Mariano at a club that shouldn’t have brought him back.
Will the same fate exist for Fran Garcia? On the surface, the left-back is too good for that to happen to, but, as a reminder, Mariano had just scored 18 goals in Ligue 1 and arrived at a time where Real Madrid needed a goal-scorer. When Fran Garcia returns this summer, he will have Ferland Mendy as a barrier. When Ancelotti says it’s better for Garcia to gain experience, how much changes for the Spaniard next season? Will he be trusted enough to play the required minutes with Mendy still there?
Despite those concerns, there is tremendous upside in having both Fran Garcia and Ferland Mendy in the squad next season — a luxury that the club doesn’t have right now.
From the notebook:
Ceballos’s love for winning the ball — how does he do it?
One of the three main themes of Dani Ceballos’s explosion this season has been his unbelievable counter-pressing (with the other two quite simply being his impressive and reliable ball-progression and press-resistancy).
Every time Real Madrid loses the ball, regardless of where it is on the field, Dani Ceballos somehow pops up to win the ball back immediately. Benzema loses the ball in midfield? Ceballos pops up and wins the ball! Camavinga loses the ball deep in Real Madrid territory on the left flank? Ceballos pops up and wins the ball! Vinicius loses the ball near the corner flag high up the pitch? Ceballos pops up and wins the ball! Rodrygo loses the ball just outside the opponent’s box? Ceballos pops up and wins the ball! (Yes, all these are real life examples from the 0 - 0 draw vs Real Sociedad last Sunday.)
It’s mind-boggling how much energy and effectiveness Ceballos plays with. Watching him play makes me want to run outside and start doing sprints. You can sense the deflation in Real Madrid’s midfield when he’s not there. He’s been a revelation.
Eder Militao, invaluable
This author wondered what the signing of Antonio Rudiger meant for Eder Militao — a player who has been so impressive but also had severe dips in form last season while also looking shaky in big games with his passing out of pressure. Rudiger, on paper, was one of the best progressive passing defenders in the world, and good enough to walk into most teams.
(As a slight aside on the Rudiger point: It’s perplexing that his progressive passing has looked as poor as it has. I’m not willing to concede he’s a bad signing yet. He’s good and experienced enough that he should round into form eventually. His signing has also provided 1) good center-back insurance; and 2) healthy competition for both Militao and David Alaba.)
Militao has proven this author wrong. He’s been Real Madrid’s best defender until now. That may change, though, that’s not entirely the point, which is: Militao has been awesome. He’s read passing lanes well, his challenges both in the box and on the wings have been masterful (some of them on Yannick Carrasco and Antoine Griezmann in Copa del Rey absolutely crucial), and though he didn’t have many defensive duties against Real Sociedad on Sunday night, he had some impressive attacking sequences.
Militao also has the physical tools to compliment his defensive understanding:
If Griezmann gets that ball, he’s one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois. Militao not only intercepts Alvaro Morata’s pass, but then bounces of the Spanish striker — all 1.89 meters of him — before playing the outlet pass to Fede Valverde.
Militao has clamped down his position as Real Madrid’s right center-back. It’s Rudiger who’s struggled the most. It should be noted that both benefit from playing alongside David Alaba’s leadership in the defensive line — but all three do bring different things to the table which enable Ancelotti with added depth and options as the season wears on.