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 Valencia
For all the institutional and sporting catastrophes Valencia suffer from, they put up a resilient show against Real Madrid last month and held them to a draw in the semifinals of the Spanish Super Cup.
Having fired Gennaro Gattuso less than 48 hours ago, Los Che will be under the command of an interim coach at Santiago Bernabeu in the hope of repeating their feat from Saudi Arabia.
After all, they are struggling this season with just 20 points in 18 league appearances.
Valencia may not be the top team it used to be a couple of seasons ago, but there is a fighting spirit to the squad that makes them special.
As Real Madrid looks to make amends for their dropped points against La Real, some important considerations cross the manager’s mind regarding the clash against Los Che.
Madrid Universal brings you three talking points ahead of Real Madrid vs Valencia.
1. More names at Ancelotti’s disposal
Real Madrid’s long injury list has been a thorn in Carlo Ancelotti’s feet for a long time now. While the manager has had close to five players unavailable through fitness concerns, two names were considered irreplaceable.
Daniel Carvajal is the first on that list. The Spanish International’s presence gave the club hope after Lucas Vazquez’s injury last month, but almost as if planned, the 30-year-old immediately suffered a blow in training and was forced to sit out.
For four games, Ancelotti was thus forced to field Nacho Fernandez as his right-back. The centre-back did a good job at covering out of position, however, will be pushed back to the bench on Thursday as Los Blancos celebrate the return of Carvajal.
The defender is not the only one making his way back, as Aurelien Tchouameni also received the medical all-clear earlier this week.
The French pivot hobbled off an hour into Real Madrid’s league clash against Villarreal in the first week of January and has been sidelined for close to a month.
His absence pushed his coach to try numerous permutations in midfield, but it was finally Eduardo Camavinga who stamped his authority on the position.
With Tchouameni back roaring, his place in the starting lineup seems to be written in stone. One can expect the Frenchman to be deployed alongside Toni Kroos and Dani Ceballos for his return to action on Thursday.
2. Concern shifts from right to left-back
The Merengues will finally have a natural right-back available to play against Valencia midweek. However, that does not signal the end of the Italian tactician’s trouble-riddles period.
Just when one full-back position returned to a state of normalcy, Real Madrid now have a crisis at left-back.
Ferland Mendy picked up a thigh injury earlier this week and will miss the team’s next two months of action at least. To say that this is a big blow to the club’s plans would be an understatement, for Mendy was the only natural left-back available in the squad.
David Alaba would appear to be the best-placed alternative, but the Austrian is ruled out through injury himself. Placed at a lack of options, Ancelotti confirmed in his press conference earlier today that Eduardo Camavinga would play there against Valencia.
The youngster has played in the defensive position earlier but will face the heat going up against Jose Luis Gaya at Santiago Bernabeu.
Given that Valencia’s right flank put up a memorable display when the two teams met last month, one can be certain that Camavinga’s performance can make or break Real Madrid’s night.
3. No margin for error
Less than halfway through the league season, Los Blancos already find themselves five points behind Barcelona. The wide gap is not a consequence of the defending champions’ poor form but the sheer consistency of Xavi Hernandez’s men, who cannot stop winning.
Having won the Supercopa de Espana last month, the Catalans are currently riding high on confidence. With their season heading from strength to strength, Real Madrid must hold on and wait for the right opportunity to topple the tables.
The Galacticos‘ draw against Real Sociedad added two points to the gap between the top two sides last week. At this stage, Ancelotti’s men cannot afford any further slip-ups for a larger gap would be too much for the men in white to compensate.
Every game henceforth will be a final for Real Madrid in La Liga. Three points are the bare minimum the club can walk away with from any fixture, and that mission will start from their game against Valencia.