As Paris Saint-Germain geared up for the second gameweek of the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season, Thomas Tuchel was not quite ready for what the game had in store for him.
With Neymar injured, Kylian Mbappe lined up alongside Edinson Cavani and Angel Di Maria to take on Stade Rennais and their sturdy five-man defence. Julian Draxler spearheaded the midfield as the makeshift no. 10, but all his efforts that day were undone by a 16-year-old.
Making only his 10th appearance as a professional footballer, Eduardo Camavinga started for Rennais as the defensive midfielder and gave the Ligue 1 champions a run for their money.
He registered an assist in the 2-1 home win, but his defining moments came as he showed his command on and off the ball. In almost Sergio Busquets-style fashion, the Frenchman turned and twisted his way around Marco Verratti and Marquinhos and ended the game-winning six fouls.
Further, Camavinga displayed elite ball retention, completing 97.6% of his attempted passes (40/41), 100% of his long passes (3/3), and losing the ball just thrice.
He also made quite the defensive impact as well, screening his defenders to perfection. He ran across to mark Draxler, Mbappe, and often Cavani brilliantly and also won three tackles.
Eventually, he was awarded Man of the Match for his efforts, and the hype of his performance flooded social media as one would expect it to.
“It was one of my first games as a professional,” he said in an exclusive interview with Onefootball. “During the week with Stade Rennais we prepared well to play against PSG.”
What made this game even more special for Camavinga was that it was redemption. A few weeks earlier, the two sides met in the Trophee des Champions final, and the French teenager had a nightmare dealing with Pablo Sarabia, Mbappe, and Di Maria. He was dribbled past thrice and was completely shut down by PSG’s midfield.
He got over both games quickly, though, unlike what one would expect from a teenager playing against the biggest club in the country.
“The next day, others told me, ‘What you did was crazy.’ But at the time, I didn’t realise what I had done. It’s true that in regards to other people, this game changed the way I was seen,” Camavinga said, speaking about his MOTM performance.
Then, as I said, it’s a game like any other. Of course, I had a big game, but that’s not something you can put in your head because after there are other matches, and you have to keep performing.”
That was just the start of his incredible season, though. Over the 2019/20 campaign, Camavinga was dispossessed just 1.24 times per 90, while averaging 1.28 shot-creating actions, primarily from defensive midfield.
A starter in the Rennes set-up that was playing in the Europa League in the 2020/21 season, and already in the mix with the French national team, 18-year-old Camavinga was carrying a hefty price tag.
While not nearly in as much spotlight, he quietly had a superb 2020/21 season playing in a more advanced, ball-winner position.
In 35 appearances through the league season, Camavinga averaged 4.91 tackles + interceptions. He also developed a knack for carrying the ball, registering an impressive 4,569 yards of progressive distance – 23rd best in the league.
While Rennais could not retain their podium finish this season, Camavinga’s versatility and prowess on both ends of the pitch was sure to attract a ton of suitors, and with it, a gold suitcase of cash for the team.
PSG were said to be circling the midfielder for a few months before Real Madrid eventually decided to shell out €40 million (including add-ons) on the last day of the summer transfer window.
Talking about Madrid’s interest in him, and his reaction to the same, Camavinga said:
“The first time we heard that Real Madrid were after us… Or should I say after me! My agent came to my house, towards the end of the transfer window. My parents and I didn’t necessarily jump for joy, because we knew that in the world of football, nothing is certain, until it is. So we calmed our joy. But afterwards, when we saw that it was for sure, we jumped for joy.”
“It’s a club that everyone would like to play for. Afterwards, for sure that, from the moment you sign, you know you enter another dimension,” he added.
Camavinga arrived in Madrid with a reputation, sure, but with Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Casemiro at the helm in midfield and Federico Valverde as the first-choice backup, getting game-time would not be easy. Carlo Ancelotti is not a coach who rotates his team an awful lot, either.
Eventually, he got to make his debut in gameweek 4, coming off the bench to replace Hazard. With the game stuck at 3-2 in favour of Los Blancos, the Frenchman was expected to add defensive depth and carefully steer the game home.
However, within six minutes, Camavinga made a brilliantly-timed run into the box, converting a rebounded shot from Modric. Three days later, he assisted the only goal in a 1-0 win against Inter Milan. A goal and assist within his first two appearances for the biggest club in the world like it was nothing. Pressure? Never heard of her.
“Pressure? No, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s pressure. But it’s something that boosts you, because you know what you’re getting into, a club that has won 13 Champions Leagues. And you know the Champions League, it is a club goal.”
Ancelotti, despite not having Camavinga among his first-choice midfield trident, has used him to great impact. At times, he is employed to add legs to an otherwise static midfield, and at others, to provide a layer of protection and control.
In fact, an example of each can be seen in his last two games — vs Real Sociedad, and Paris Saint-Germain.
In the Sociedad game, Camavinga started on the left of the midfield trio in a traditional 8 role. He completed 3/3 of his long passes, made three progressive carries, and was on the receiving end of seven progressive passes through the 90.
His passing network is indicative of his incredible work rate in that game, too, with passes from multiple areas in all directions.
Camavinga stuck to his roots and did not unnecessarily try to progress the ball in the final third when there were better options available. He dropped deep to collect the ball and start moves like Modric and Kroos do, and also covered for Ferland Mendy and Daniel Caravajal during defensive transitions.
“There’s Casemiro playing here, and I’m trying to learn a lot from him tactically. Before games, when I start, Casemiro tells me to play simply, and to be efficient,” Cavavinga said.
“Then there is Luka and Toni. I learn from the trio, because I could play in all positions in midfield, and I have to learn from everyone to be ready when the coach puts me on the pitch.”
The equaliser from outside the box was the icing on the cake, sure, but it was 90 minutes of sensational control from the 19-year-old.
The former Rennais-prodigy was rewarded with a second-half appearance against PSG in the Champions League but was brought on as a screening midfielder.
Still 0-1 in favour of the visitors by that point, it might have been easy to miss Camavinga’s impact in those 33 minutes with Karim Benzema and Modric running the show.
But he was crucial as Madrid searched to regain control, completing all but one of his passes and adding a much-needed holding presence to Madrid’s team.
Camavinga sat as the anchor and dictated the circulation of the blow like a seasoned veteran. He made sure the ball switched flanks constantly, and his passing distance of 392 (in 33 minutes!) proves the same. Not to forget that five of his 13 completed passes travelled over 30 yards.
Even though game-time has been far and few in between for Camavinga this season, his ability is not in doubt. In fact, he has shown that there is a lot more he can do than what was initially believed.
For example, he is among the 90th percentile for touches in the penalty area compared to positional peers this season. He was in the 63rd percentile in the same metric last season.
Moreover, his output – or the chances of it – are on the rise now. Camavinga sits at the 70th percentile for xG + xA in 2021/22 vs the 45th percentile in 2020/21.
While his progressive carries and defensive actions have decreased (partly due to playing in advanced positions much more), other statistics like pressures (98th percentile now vs the 82nd last season) have risen.
Camavinga is the real deal, and it is incredible that at 19, he is already knocking at the door of one of the greatest midfield trios ever. He has the composure, tactical understanding, and drive to become the next Real Madrid great. It will happen with time, and the world will be his witness.
“I hope I’ll be remembered as a person who does not give up, who is always there. A good person, someone who won a lot of trophies. A very good footballer, a footballer who played with love for the shirt, and who scored a lot of goals and got many assists.”
Three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Napoli | UEFA Champions League
Fresh off their 3-0 win against Cadiz at the weekend, Real Madrid return to the field late on Wednesday night to take on Napoli in a critical UEFA Champions League fixture at the Santiago Bernabeu.
A lot has changed since the two teams last met. Napoli sacked Rudi Garcia not so long ago and appointed Walter Mazzarri as the new manager. The Italian got off to a great start in the form of a 2-1 win over Atalanta in his first game in the position.
Yet, he will face his first big test in the form of Real Madrid later tomorrow. The Naples-based side will have a lot to prove to their manager and the fans on the night, but it is clear that the Merengues will not treat the fixture lightly either.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Napoli.
The headlining clash
The UEFA Champions League leaves fans spoilt for choice, for it offers the highest quality of football between some of the world’s best teams on a regular basis. The headlining fixtures begin as early as the group stages and only grow in promise as the season progresses.
When Real Madrid were drawn into Group C in this year’s UCL, all eyes were on the team that would take the next highest-seeded spot. It was eventually Napoli that made the cut, making the Spanish-Italian clash the group’s most-awaited game.
Since then, the two teams have already faced off once at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium on Matchday two of the competition. The clash was evenly balanced for the most part, but Jude Bellingham’s masterclass enabled a narrow 3-2 Real Madrid win.
Close to two months on, the two European giants face off once more, this time at the Santiago Bernabeu. One cannot help but call the upcoming clash the title clash of the matchday, especially considering the two team’s recent history and what rides on the result.
Real Madrid’s place in the Round of 16 was confirmed after their win over SC Braga in the last matchday. Napoli, however, are yet to secure such confirmation and a defeat tomorrow could potentially reduce their gap over Braga to one point.
Napoli thus need the win to maintain security over their qualification, while Real Madrid hope to cement their place as group leaders with a win. With both teams having a lot riding on the result, the game will have no dearth of life on the night.
Carlo Ancelotti spent many a day in the recent international break plotting means to overcome his midfield crisis. After all, he was without the services of Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga had also suffered a gruesome injury on national team duty.
The manager thus deployed his best midfield quartet for the clash against Cadiz, hoping to improve the harmony between the four stars. Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde, and Jude Bellingham all started but the situation got ugly after the 38-year-old walked off injured in the second half.
Ancelotti thus now faces a bottleneck in midfield. Modric has been excluded from the squad after his latest injury, leaving the manager with just four options from the first-team in midfield. Needless to say, all four players are expected to start in Real Madrid’s 4-4-2 diamond formation on the night.
Bellingham will be deployed as the attacking midfielder while Kroos is likely to play as the pivot. The two interiors will be Dani Ceballos and Valverde, the former of whom has not started a single game all season.
The situation in midfield is thus grim, for the manager can not afford any further injuries in the department.
The man in form
The beginning of Real Madrid’s 2023-24 campaign was all about Jude Bellingham. The Englishman could not stop scoring goals for fun across all competitions and single-handedly won games even in situations where all hope seemed lost.
Rodrygo has stolen the limelight from the English protege in recent weeks, and his resurgence could not come at a better time for Ancelotti. After all, the Brazilian was enduring one of his worst-ever starts to a season but managed to find his footing exactly after Bellingham suffered the blow to his shoulder.
The 22-year-old has been nothing short of spectacular in Real Madrid’s recent games. His purple patch began against Braga when he scored once and assisted once to give Los Blancos three critical points.
In the team’s subsequent clash against Valencia, Rodrygo stole the show. In 90 minutes against Los Che, the youngster scored two goals and provided as many assists in the team’s 5-1 win. He added another two goals and an assist to his tally in Real Madrid’s most recent clash against Cadiz.
Needless to say, the spotlight will shine brightly on Rodrygo in tomorrow’s game. As the team’s most in-form player, the onus will be on him to find the required breakthroughs on the night and lead the attack from the front in Vinicius Jr.’s absence.