Ancelotti bet on Valverde pays off
Santiago Bernabeu celebrated Karim Benzema’s Ballon d’Or triumph before kick-off and found an unlikely goal-scoring hero by the time the referee blew his whistle to end the game on Saturday night.
The LaLiga giants were highly dependent on Benzema last season, as such the failure to lure either Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland this summer worried many fans that reliance on an aging forward for the second straight campaign – in addition to Barcelona’s acquisition of Robert Lewandowski – might hurt Los Blancos‘ title charge.
The Frenchman has had an injury-disrupted start to the season, Lewandowski is firing on all cylinders, but Real are on top of the table thanks to yet another masterstroke from Carlo Ancelotti.
The veteran manager bet on the goal-scoring prowess of Fede Valverde, who at one point appeared to lose the midfield battle to new arrivals Eduardo Camavinga and Aurélien Tchouaméni.
“I have told Fede Valverde that if he didn’t score at least 10 goals this season … I will tear up my coaching license and leave,” he said in September (via Fabrizio Romano).
Ancelotti, who has managed four different players in their Ballon d’Or winning seasons, certainly knows a thing or two about getting the best out of goal-scorers, and so far he is being proven right by Valverde.
The Uruguayan scored yet another goal in Real’s win 3-1 over Sevilla and became the side’s top scorer in LaLiga. The 25-yard screamer marked the third consecutive game in which he scored, and his impact in Ancelotti’s system isn’t just limited to scaring the opposition goalkeepers.
Valverde has been a key player in all phases of play, slotting in as right-back, midfielder, and right-winger depending on the game state.
Real set up in a 4-3-3 formation in possession, with the 24-year-old acting as a pacy outlet on the right flank. His passing ability from wide has always been impressive, but this season he has become a very serious attacking threat by adding goals to his game.
In their 4-4-2 out-of-possession shape, Valverde drops into the middle of the park to prevent central midfield overloads and regularly leads the press when Real defend in a high block.
Further, he often stays narrow to become a second No. 10 alongside Luka Modric, recovers or receives the ball, and uses his physicality and dribbling abilities to push his side higher up the field in transition.
The dynamic midfielder was involved in the build-up of Real’s second goal (counter) on Saturday. Against Mallorca in September, he received a pass from Dani Ceballos inside his own half, drove forward, and found the top corner from outside the box to open the scoring.
Valverde’s insane defensive work rate really comes into play when Real defend deep. He occupies the right-back spot in a 4-5-1 shape to create numerical superiority and cover the advancing full-back (Balde during El Clásico).
The Penarol prodigy’s tactical versatility, accompanied by his newfound confidence in front of the goal has made him as important a player as Benzema, and if he continues to develop at this pace, another Ballon d’Or might soon be presented in the Spanish capital.