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Valverde’s goals and spiritual energy are back

Valverde carried Real Madrid’s right wing before the World Cup and covered so much ground in addition to scoring. After an understandable dip, his mojo is back.

Real Madrid v Al Hilal: Final - FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2022 Photo by Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

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Just minutes after Fede Valverde scored his second goal of the night — and third in two games — Mina Bonino, his partner, tweeted that she had some complications with her pregnancy with the baby the two are expecting together, but that all is ‘normal’ now. Just prior to the tweet, Valverde celebrated by sucking his thumb — exuberant that he is expecting another child and matching his happiness with high-level performances on the field.

A slight glimpse into his personal life revealed a lot about his dip in form after the World Cup. No doubt the uncertain health of a child would weigh heavy on anyone. Fede was also candid and transparent just before the Club World Cup that Uruguay’s elimination in Qatar hurt him significantly on a mental level.

“The World Cup elimination affected me a lot,” Valverde said. “When you’re so keen to try for an objective and when you have so much optimism, but then you get knocked out, it hurts you and makes you sad. You feel that all you fought for was for nothing. Hopefully it can help me to keep getting better, physically and how I see things.”

Valverde’s dip in form hurt Real Madrid significantly too. You may not realize how important he is until you either have to play without him or see him suffering on the field. He carried Real Madrid’s right wing before the World Cup when Karim Benzema was out and Carlo Ancelotti was getting little from his right-backs. His ball-carrying was second to none in Europe, and he was scoring or hitting the cross-bar every time he let fly.

On a spiritual level, it hurt just as much. Valverde helps lift your ceiling, but he also beats his chest and leads the team. He fights, backs up his teammates, and is a pillar for so many players that surround him. During his funk, it felt like the team wasn’t just missing goals — it was missing a voice.

“In football, it won’t always be good things,” Valverde explained. “Before the World Cup I was in really good form and now it’s not the same, but having good and bad periods of form is also part of football. The key players are able to manage that well. I need to just keep the same attitude that I had before the World Cup. This will help me become an important player for this club again. I’ve always wanted and I still want to become a captain here. I’m convinced that I can get back to my good form before long.”

Fede has returned to pinging shots in the back of the net and tracking runners defensively at a level that’s so reliable, that there’s little opponents can do against him when he’s in that mode. Against Al Hilal in the final, there was one particular sequence that stood out beyond his offensive contributions: In the first half, the Saudi’s tried to do a 1-2 behind him, and Valverde read the whole thing and won the ball. He’s so physically and mentally imposing in those moments that it demoralizes opponents who have to guard him.

“He is contributing a lot,” Carlo Ancelotti said of Valverde after the game. “He’s not just useful because of the goals he can score, it’s because of all the energy he brings.”

Valverde’s four key passes were a game high, but he also had three interceptions — the second most on the team behind Toni Kroos (four). As Ancelotti alluded too, there were sequences that don’t show up on that sheet. His energy, electric, has returned.

“I’m really pleased and feel comfortable after so many games,” Valverde said after the 4 - 1 win over Al Ahly in the semi-final, where the Uruguayan had one goal and won 80% of his duels. “I’m enjoying it more. I’m mentally prepared and I value this tournament so much because of all the hard work we’ve put in to make it this far.

Real Madrid need Fede to be at his best if they’re to have a successful season, or have any chance in cutting into the La Liga deficit. It’s worth remembering that he’s still fourth in La Liga in goal-creating actions, third in successful take-on percentage and second in percentage of aerials won. Valverde rounding back into form — and hopefully even coming back stronger — will be key.

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