SOCCER

Monday Musings: Should Real Madrid sign a new right-winger?

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Matt’s Monday Musings: a series with no rhyme or reason – just coherent thoughts on all things real Madrid published every Monday. Some weeks can be long, others are just short anecdotal thoughts. Either way, I will be posting reflective content about current, past and future club events:

It looks like Real Madrid’s transfer activity is over unless late market opportunities arise. The debate for many is whether the right should see further strengthening, especially if rumors that Marco Asensio is looking for new pastures come to fruition. Retiring his playing time as a central midfielder, the Spaniard played 2,000 minutes on the right wing last season. He has played in this position more than any other player in the Real Madrid team. Asensio gobbled up around 40% of the available right wing minutes which were split between 5 different players:

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Including extra minutes from the European Super Cup and Club World Cup, there will likely be around 5,300-5,500 minutes available on the right flank this coming season, with fluctuations depending on progression of the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League. Given their growth and importance to finishing the season, it’s safe to assume Rodrygo Goes and Fede Valverde will both see an increase in those minutes percentage.

If Rodrygo is asked to take on a bigger role, increasing his minutes by 30% – or just over 600 minutes – for the new season, he will play a total of 3,000 minutes. The argument can be made that Rodrygo will not only be the de facto starting right winger, but the first-choice backup left winger should Vinicius Junior go down. Carlo Ancelotti has asked Rodrygo to split his time 75/25 between the right wing and the left wing. If this ratio changes to an 85/15 increase in minutes played on the right wing, it will consume 2,550 of the 5,500 minutes available on the right wing.

The other big component of the right wing minutes will be Fede Valverde. The Uruguayan carved out a role for himself on the flank and thrived from that position in the UEFA Champions League final. It’s become kind of a mandatory role when the big games come around. The versatile midfielder saw his minutes swapped between right wing (27% of the time) and central midfielder (73% of the time), but we can probably assume an increase in those wing minutes right after his season-ending performances. If Fede improves his overall minutes to 3,000 and switches to a 40/60 split between right wing and central midfield, he will play 1,200 minutes on the right flank.

There is no way of knowing if these assumptions will be accurate, but they are conservative estimates based on historical data. Using these assumptions for Rodrygo and Valverde, that leaves Madrid with a potential 1,750 unaccounted minutes on the right wing. If World Cup injuries, suspensions and fatigue start to enter the fray, the argument can be made to push that number from 1,750 to a round of 2,000. From a games played perspective, those 2,000 minutes are equivalent to 22 games in a full 90 minutes.

Do those minutes pass to a reinvigorated Eden Hazard? The Belgian’s right-wing experiment has largely failed so far. Numerous reports suggest that Hazard will be deployed as a replacement for Benzema in a false role of nine, rather than returning to the wings. And Lucas Vazquez? Does he return in the final third with the return of Alvaro Odriozola? The soon-to-be 32-year-old played 92% of his games at right-back last season and it’s unclear if Odriozola has a long-term future at the club.

The debate in Madrid circles has largely revolved around whether 21-year-old Rodrygo can make the leap or maintain the form he produced at the end of the season over a 9-month horizon. Real Madrid have been in this position before, in fact, they have two examples from the same season to refer to. In the summer of 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus. His departure left a huge hole in the team. The transfer market was drawing dead ends and Madrid opted to trust Bale, Asensio and Isco to pick up the slack. A big bet has been placed on Mallorca youngster Asensio to make the jump. At that time, he was considered one of the best young talents in the world alongside Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe. The minutes came for Asensio, but the jump never happened. Madrid have had one of their worst seasons in recent memory.

The only bright spot in this dark season was Vinicius Junior. At just 18, the Brazilian exploded onto the scene. His call came out of a desperate need to fill the vacant left-winger role with a bit of creativity and verticality. Despite his outburst, Real Madrid spent €120m on Eden Hazard and €45m on another young Brazilian who also played on the left wing. This new competition added Isco, Asensio, Bale and Brahim who could theoretically all feature and compete for the left wing. The club had no qualms about stopping Vinicius’ progress. It would be a heavyweight battle for minutes.

The Brazilian, like many others, would quickly find that real competition is a by-product of being at Real Madrid. Gonzalo Higuain said so in a recent interview with TyC Sports“The first year Cristiano arrived I scored 27 goals and he scored 26. I went on vacation and saw that they [Madrid] signed Benzema and Kaka. I called the club and told them that if I was to come back, what should I do? But this is Madrid, they constantly bring in the best players and you always have to compete. This is what makes Madrid the best club in history, you have to face the best in the world.

The best are always in competition and the cream always rises to the top. Despite the arrival of Eden Hazard, Vinicius won the battle for the left-winger position. His talent, work ethic and performance made him indispensable in this position. Rodrygo Goes must now do the same no matter who is recruited. If Serge Gnabry – a natural right-winger who scored 17 goals and provided 10 assists last season – is available with one year remaining on his contract, that makes sense for Madrid. to explore the signature. If wages or transfer fees become a stumbling block, that’s a different matter than waiving a signing for fear of reducing progression, introducing competition or ‘overbooking’ for a position. These latter options will be sorted by football’s natural selection.

If Marco Asensio leaves, Real Madrid should sign a right-winger. Let competition and performance decide who goes first.

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