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Fede Valverde: Real Madrid’s ace in the hole?

In Fede, Real Madrid have the makings of a midfield kingpin.

Real Madrid v Real Sociedad - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Fede Valverde, one of Real Madrid’s most underrated and precious talents, is the embodiment of versatility. The Uruguayan is a talent whose playing style involves relentless energetic runs, ball-winning, and the eye to open up spaces in the final-third – all while operating as a holding midfielder.

Santiago Solari nurtures the youth

The 2018 - 2019 season was one of transition. Santiago Solari did not last long in the dugout, taking charge of just 32 matches between November 2018 and March 2019. As he inherited a confused Los Blancos from Julen Lopetegui, Solari found it difficult to regain the glory Zidane left behind.

But nonetheless, Solari did make a difference. He promoted several youth team players who are now regulars at some of the world’s top clubs: Sergio Reguilon at Tottenham, Marcos Llorente at Atletico Madrid, Dani Ceballos at Arsenal, and Fede Valverde at Real Madrid.

“Very young, very talented players. The kids must fly, and the only place they can fly is on the pitch. I hope they are all here in five years’ time,”

- Santiago Solari

While three of the aforementioned four players are plying their trade elsewhere, Valverde has stuck on.

The golden trio

Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and Casemiro are three musketeers who have built an almost telepathic relationship on the field. They have been Madrid’s go-to midfield trio in a traditional attacking 4-3-3 setup ever since Zidane took over the reigns from Rafael Benitez.

This season, that aforementioned trio have been undisputed starters, again. While Kroos and Casemiro are 29 and 31 respectively, Modric is 35. However, the Croatian wizard is not showing any signs of slowing down in terms of his footballing brilliance and the same can be said of Kroos and Casemiro, and few performances this season speak otherwise.

The three have held their respective positions in Madrid’s starting XI for about half a decade now, averaging 40-45 matches each, per season. The bond they have developed through the years is an asset very few teams possess in Europe.

Time will arrive soon or perhaps it’s already here, when Madrid requires a change of taste in midfield – at least intermittently. And who better to rely on than Fede Valverde himself?

The midfield wunderkid

The Uruguayan’s box-to-box abilities, where he charges at opposition with terrifying speed while also tracking back to help his defensive line in times of need, make him one of the best midfielders in the world when he is in full stride. Valverde slaloms through defensive lines with utter ease and threatens more when he is played through the center of the pitch, rather than on the wings.

His directness and straightforward style of play can only be experienced, not explained.

Real Madrid v Elche CF - La Liga Santander Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Zidane has used Valverde in almost every position in midfield. The Uruguayan put in a masterful performance in the 3 - 1 Clasico win as a central midfielder earlier this season. He was used as an attacker in Madrid’s 3 - 1 victory over Athletic Bilbao and more recently made an injury comeback as a right midfielder in the 1 - 1 draw against Atletico Madrid.

While Modric is of a completely different breed of deep-lying playmakers, Valverde possesses the ability to carve out a memorable career of his own. Their playing positions may be similar, but the same could not be said of their playing styles.

As footballers, Kroos, Casemiro and Modric possess very few drawbacks. Valverde certainly does not replicate every aspect of Madrid’s golden trio, but what he does have is sheer will, tenacity and hunger to win. Not like the others don’t. But, he possesses something extra special.

The Uruguayan’s physique is an added advantage as it makes him a commanding presence, along with his ability to be an aerial threat. His dynamism allows him to be a well-rounded midfielder who can connect defense with attack with blistering runs or pinpoint through balls, making him highly efficient in attacking formations such as the one Madrid currently employ.

Defensively, Valverde is a beast. His ball interceptions and back-tracking runs widely benefit the the high line that Madrid so often fall prey to. Valverde is also an excellent presser of the ball, prompting the opposition to make quick movements and forcing errors. He operates with a no-nonsense style of play that allows him to be all about the action.

If one incident can prove the last sentence right, it has to be his ruthless 115th minute tackle on Alvaro Morata in the Spanish Supercup final last year.

If Valverde had not lunged in like he did, Morata would probably have comfortably slotted in the winner with five minutes to go in extra time.

What’s next?

This season, Valverde has been bothered by shinbone and muscle injuries that have seen him miss crucial clashes against Inter Milan, Sevilla, Valencia & Atalanta.

He has completed just six full matches throughout Madrid’s campaign this season and perhaps it’s time for Zidane to deploy Valverde more frequently than he has. He has made 22 appearances, scoring three and assisting one in the process.

With all to fight for in the UEFA Champions League and La Liga, Zidane can afford to rely and provide a platform for big-game experiences to the energetic midfielder.

Valverde is Real Madrid’s future in midfield and at only 22, he is destined for greatness provided he gets the minutes he deserves.

Forget Paul Pogba, forget N’golo Kante or any other midfielder on Los Blancos’ transfer wish list. A player of Valverde’s quality has a place in any top team in the world and Madrid are lucky to have him.

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