Real Madrid were frustrated to miss out on signing Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe in the summer but it may have proved a blessing in disguise.
The Spanish and European champions have utilised Federico Valverde in a right wing role for much of the season and the Uruguayan midfielder has gone from strength to strength.
“Fede Valverde, top three in the world right now,” wrote Los Blancos midfielder Toni Kroos on Twitter on Sunday, after Madrid swept Barcelona aside in the Clasico.
Valverde scored the hosts’ second goal at the Santiago Bernabeu and followed it up with an even better strike against Elche in midweek to ensure Madrid stayed top of La Liga, ahead of Saturday’s clash with Sevilla.
The 24-year-old is having a stunning impact this season, combining power, energy and a hammer blow of a shot, which is keeping Italian coach Carlo Ancelotti in a job.
Ancelotti joked he would tear up his coaching license if Valverde didn’t score 10 goals this season and less than three months into the season, he already has six.
“He has a rock in his foot,” said Ancelotti, after Valverde’s powerful strike broke the deadlock against RB Leipzig in a narrow Champions League win in September. The coach praised Valverde again on Wednesday.
“He’s a player that’s surprised me a bit, at the moment he is doing everything well, attacking, defending, shooting,” said Ancelotti. “If you think about a modern midfielder, you think of Valverde.”
Record 14-time winners Madrid have already qualified for the last 16 of the tournament, in stark contrast to their rivals Barcelona, who are on the cusp of another group stage elimination.
Against Elche, Valverde played in central midfield with Rodrygo on the right flank, another player benefitting from Mbappe staying in Paris.
The 21-year-old forward’s game time would have been significantly more limited, and he has started this season well after playing a key role on Madrid’s path to Champions League victory last season.
Rodrygo set up a goal for Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema with a brilliant back-heel against Elche and then crossed for Marco Asensio to bag the third in a 3-0 win.
“I don’t even read about (Mbappe) now,” said Madrid president Florentino Perez at the Ballon d’Or gala in Paris on Monday. “The forwards at Real Madrid are progressing at a spectacular rate.”
They come up against an improving Sevilla at the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday, where Benzema can present his award to the supporters.
Jorge Sampaoli’s visitors intend to spoil the party and build on a spirited, albeit frustrating, draw with Valencia in midweek.
Player to watch: Edinson Cavani
Valencia’s Uruguayan hitman Cavani has burst into life in recent games, following up a brace against Elche with the opener against Sevilla on Tuesday.
The 35-year-old is not just a poacher in the box but is participating in Valencia’s build-up play and looks in good form as the World Cup approaches.
Javier Aguirre’s Mallorca are a tough team to break down but Cavani is a player who has the skill-set needed to find a way through.
0 – Bottom side Elche are still without a single win in 10 games.
3 – Real Betis have been shown three red cards in their last four matches in La Liga.
42 – Defenders find it hard to stop Athletic Bilbao playmaker Iker Muniain fairly – he’s the most fouled player in the division.
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