Real Madrid have looked like a completely different team with Fede Valverde in the lineup, and it’s time the young Uruguayan is considered a crucial starter.
After defeating Leganes 5-0 on Wednesday, Real Madrid must be disappointed with their 0-0 draw against Real Betis at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday. While Eden Hazard, who had a goal disallowed in the eighth minute for offsides, and Karim Benzema created some dangerous chances, Real did not convert their chances. They were also exposed more often than they would have liked defensively in midfield, as Casemiro finally started to show signs of fatigue due to all the minutes he’s accrued.
Fede Valverde was notable for his absence in this game. Instead, Zinedine Zidane decided to give Luka Modric a shot at starting, as the 34-year-old played well in back-to-back substitute appearances, including against Leganes after recovering from an injury over the October international break.
But Modric was poor, failing to show consistency in attack. He’s become a liability defensively with age, making him a less-than-ideal center midfielder option for the full 90 minutes. Modric’s technical quality and vision are still very much there, but at this stage of his career, it’s debatable if he’s a better option than Valverde.
What isn’t debatable is that Valverde has more of a future with Real Madrid than Modric. Unlike Modric, Valverde has years left to give to Madrid, as he is one of the organization’s top prospects at the age of 21.
Furthermore, Valverde brings something to the table that Real Madrid need. Defense. Valverde’s effort on the defensive end is remarkable, and he is the necessary box-to-box midfielder for Los Blancos. After his dominant performance against Granada last month, Valverde has slightly cooled off, but he’s still looked like a solid option in the middle of the park.
Right now, Real Madrid’s most optimal midfield trio is Toni Kroos, Casemiro, and Valverde. Casemiro will start needing more rest, so if Real were to place him on the bench, then Valverde would be the lone player capable of filling that deeper lying role. Kroos is world-class, but he is better in a more advanced role. Modric can no longer provide defensive cover, while James Rodriguez is also much, much better as an attacking midfielder.
Basically, not only is Valverde the only “star of the future” in Real Madrid’s center midfield, but he’s also the only midfielder who can conceivably spell Casemiro in a defensive role.
Sealing Valverde’s place as a locked-in starter for Real Madrid every week are the results on the pitch. Real have never lost a game this season when Valverde is in the starting lineup, recording a clean sheet in four of the five games that the Uruguayan has started this season. That is incredible and speaks volumes to the importance the box-to-box midfielder holds.
Valverde’s energy, upside, and all-around play make him a unique asset for Zinedine Zidane, and after watching his team’s performances against Mallorca and Betis without Valverde, it’s becoming clear that the 21-year-old is already of starting quality. He’s been a legitimate breakout star this season, and it’s time Real look to the future by giving Valverde more of Modric’s minutes.