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.
It is rare to watch Eduardo Camavinga take to field without seeing the Frenchman affect the match in a multitude of ways regardless of what position he’s deployed in. Camavinga’s game has strengths and weaknesses at every position — with the strengths heavily outnumbering the minor blips — but he is talented and intelligent enough to knock any tiny debility out of his game the more he matures and his experience and brain takes over.
We often joke about Camavinga playing every position on the field, even goal-keeper and striker — but it’s clear it comes down to three main roles: central midfield, single pivot, and left-back. Those are the three positions he will play the overwhelming bulk of his minutes.
Against Las Palmas on Saturday, Camavinga played as the team’s anchor, right at the base of the midfield — the position he naturally takes when Aurelien Tchouameni isn’t on the field. As I wrote about last week, Camavinga’s defensive positioning and elite tackling ability make him great on defense in that role as he shields Real Madrid’s box, but he can struggle in the build-up phase under pressure in that role too.
But that can be mitigated somewhat by having Toni Kroos next to him. When Real Madrid are on the ball, Kroos and Camavinga switch, with the German dropping between the center-backs to play quarter-back while Camavinga takes up positions between the lines a bit higher up the pitch.
But that’s not always possible, depending on the team’s shape — the positioning of individual players — and the opposition’s potential counter-press.
Still, Camavinga’s overall dribbling ability and press-resistancy is enough for him to figure it out. As I wrote about last week, his press-evasion from left-back is reliable — he dives into his bag of shoulder drops, cut-ins, and ball-carrying. Again Las Palmas, Pimienta’s men had no choice but to hack him down and foul him — either that or let him eel through lines unscathed.
Camavinga is a line-breaker. What he did against Las Palmas in the first half was what Real Madrid needed more of from Brahim Diaz and Dani Ceballos — drive the ball forward and take players on to get into better positions centrally. It hurt that Fede Valverde wasn’t on the field for that same reason.
What’s often missing from Camavinga’s game is his progressive passing. He can do everything else, but those longer vertical passes are still not frequent. He is among the 69th percentile in progressive pass among midfielders. (That number jumps to the 90th percentile when comparing him to full-backs.)
It’s still a reality that Carlo Ancelotti faces: The best way to fit all his best players in a starting XI in the biggest games of the season is probably to put him at left-back, despite that not being the best news for Camavinga himself. Benching Fede Valverde or Toni Kroos is impossible with the level they’re playing at; and Jude Bellingham is untouchable. That leaves Tchouameni or Camavinga — and the former is the best pure defensive midfielder in the team. Camavinga is a better two-way left-back than both Ferland Mendy and Fran Garcia.
“I didn’t know the left-back position before, but it’s where I’ve adapted, whether it’s with the French national team or with Real Madrid,” Camavinga said back in October. “But I don’t particularly like that position. I think everyone knows that, but if I have to play there, I will, even if I don’t necessarily enjoy it. I’m still a midfielder.”
Camavinga, when deployed at left-back, gives defenders an extra threat to deal with and creates more space for Vinicius Jr to puncture holes in the left half-space.
“When I have had to play, it hasn’t been too tough,” Camavinga said of the left-back slot. “I spoke with the coach , but as I’ve always said, the most important thing is the team. Someone had to fill that position, and since I’m a team player, I played there even though I don’t like it too much. The best thing is to give everything for the club and the team. You don’t always get what you want in life, and you have to focus on the positive,”
But where Camavinga is still at his best is neither left-back nor single pivot — it’s the left central-midfield role. If you station him on the left-side of a pure anchor, you get the best of all his strengths: An extra defensive tracker in midfield, a marauding off-ball mover that creates outlets for the back-line, a dribbler who can take players on and make natural overloads and underloads parallel to Vinicius, and, seamlessly, he can drop in behind the left-back to cover for him.
That last bit is why there is a strong case that playing at left-back, over time, has made him a better central midfielder. Camavinga now fully understands how to act as a natural wing-back, and when he plays on the left side of midfield, he can, in-game, shift into left-back if needed. Defensively, he provides the wing with a safety net when he’s not the team’s left-back on paper.
Camavinga can punish you in a variety of ways. The elite Cobra Slide Tackle™ is breathtaking, but his ability to read passing lanes is underrated:
It’s a subtle, two second clip to illustrate Camavinga’s ability to cover shadow — to station himself between the ball-carrier and the man behind him while blocking the pass. He may not get interception stats for those plays, but they are important regardless of if they show up on the analytics sheet or not.
Ancelotti’s concern with Camavinga in the past has been about has tactical knowledge, rather than his talent and physique. Last April, he stated Camavinga “needs to improve his tactical acumen”. Earlier this season, Camavinga said himself that he needs to be “more focused” at times on the pitch. It’s safe to say he’s made great strides.
Still, he may not crack Ancelotti’s Gala XI this season. In both Clasicos, he has come off the bench. “He is not going to play left back on a regular basis,” Ancelotti said of Camavinga earlier this season. “We have two full-backs who give us a lot of confidence in Fran and Mendy. This position is well covered… and that includes Camavinga.”
If he does end up coming off the bench with the season on the line, it’s hard to think of a better substitute in world football.