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.
With a rare entire week off, here are two talking points to tide you over between games. Going through my notes and some numbers, I’ve come to the conclusion that Eduardo Camavinga has been one of Real Madrid’s best players this season. Meanwhile, Dani Carvajal, on the decline, sparks discussion on one of Raul Gonzalez’s wing-backs:
Eduardo Camavinga remains one of the constants
It’s been a turbulent season for many Real Madrid players as they try to find their feet and find their form consistently. Camavinga is one of the few who settled quickly and stayed settled. I put him as one of the pillars of Real Madrid’s season — one of the most important performers. That’s remarkable given he’s also been all over the place from a positional standpoint.
Carlo Ancelotti’s lineups have had variance this season but Camavinga has been involved in most of the variances, and has played 1500 + minutes — already surpassing his entire tally from last season. Among all Real Madrid players who have started more than 11 games this season, Camavinga has the highest On-Off (team success xG). Those +/- stats in football are largely irrelevant compared to how they’re used in basketball, but, they’re brought up here mainly because Camavinga has helped on both ends. He’s helped increase offensive output while also being vital defensively.
From last season until now, Camavinga hasn’t played in a stable role. As a teenager, he was inserted into the team and asked to sink or swim. He was thrown into multiple fires, with Real Madrid on the verge of Champions League elimination, and acted as a floatation device for the team. His interventions and tackles are second to none, and few can stop his ball-carries. We already knew he was elite in his progressive plays and defensive actions, but there is a new found impetus with him offensively now: He currently ranks in the 89th percentile of midfielders in the world in shot-creating actions — thanks in some part to what he does in the final third as a left-back.
Camavinga has unlocked so many transition opportunities for Vinicius Jr and Karim Benzema (I wrote about how he did that against Liverpool here). Having him on the field in the biggest moments of the season is going to be important in maximizing the two-way output. Against Barcelona in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals, it was his signature Cobra Tackle ™ that led to Karim Benzema’s disallowed goal:
That’s the most aesthetically-pleasing tackle in football. It is the defensive equivalent of Luka Modric’s outside-of-the-boot pass / Zinedine Zidane’s roulette. I jump out of my seat every time it happens. He did that more than once vs Barcelona, and because it looks so unlikely he can win the ball cleanly there, it catches the entire line of the opponent off guard. Real Madrid can break free just from Camavinga’s ophidian legs.
Vinicius Tobias has talent but he is not ready
One of the most discussed items on Real Madrid’s ‘struggle list’ this season has been the lack of offensive production from the wing-backs. The left side is not as dire as the right for two main reasons: 1) Eduardo Camavinga has provided some solid offense on the left filling in for Ferland Mendy; and 2) Fran Garcia is on his way in this summer.
But on the right, Dani Carvajal is a shell of his former self. His dribbling has dissolved as his career has progressed. He’s had zero carries into the penalty area this season (down from .77 per 90 in 2018), and his ball-carrying numbers are at a career low. He ranks in the 35th percentile in successful take-ons among wing-backs and in the 17th percentile in progressive passes. His offensive ceiling is that of a diagonal deep crosser and not much else.
Carvajal has lost multiple steps, primarily dynamism and athleticism, which, at his peak, enabled him to dribble past opponents. As a result, many have posed the question: Is it worth giving Vinicius Tobias a look?
It’s never a bad thing to give a kid a ‘look’, but I will give my honest assessment of Vinicius Tobias after having watched him regularly over the past season: While Carlo Ancelotti has been guilty of not trusting young players over the course of his Real Madrid career, it’s hard to blame him on this one. The board has not reinforced the squad in key areas, which is out of his control and the right-back options in the squad he has to choose from aren’t great. Lucas Vazquez is not a pure right-back, Alvaro Odriozola isn’t at the level required, and Vinicius Tobias is extremely raw.
In some ways, Tobias is not dissimilar in his approach to his namesake, Vinicius Jr. The right-back has a tendency to accelerate at all times. He wants to take players on constantly and drive the ball forward relentlessly. On some level, that’s good — it provides Raul Gonzalez’s side with an extra burst of offense and athleticism rather than a safe, un-daring wing-back option. Tobias is more of a right-winger who plays right-back.
But that mindset still gets him into trouble. Though he’s improved on his decision-making since the first few games at Castilla, he can fall into old habits again (and did so as recently as the UEFA Youth League game against Salzburg’s U-19s). His constant desire to dribble takes him into trouble, where he’s helpless, blindly running into three or four defenders.
But Tobias is just 19, and has a ton of talent. With La Liga being all but mathematically sealed for Barcelona, it might be worth giving Tobias a look in some of these games to see how he’d do at the senior level. He has the athleticism, speed, and talent. Can he polish the decision-making?