Real Madrid saved for years to sign Kylian Mbappe.
Martin Odegaard, Raphael Varane, Achraf Hakimi, Brahim Diaz and Sergio Reguilon were all sold in preparation for the French forward’s expected arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu. Internally, Real Madrid chiefs including president Florentino Perez talked about ‘The Mbappe Fund.’
Ultimately, Mbappe left Real Madrid standing at the altar, instead signing a new contract to stay at Paris Saint-Germain for another three years. Los Blancos could be forgiven for feeling disappointment, but they are actually stronger for not signing him.
A portion of ‘The Mbappe Fund’ was used to sign Aurelien Tchouameni from Monaco with the 22-year-old adding another dimension to Real Madrid’s midfield unit. Tchouameni’s signing allowed the European and Spanish champions to sell on Casemiro for €70 million and replenish their squad shrewdly.
Tchouameni has made an instant impact at the Santiago Bernabeu. This is evident in the Frenchman’s statistics: He is averaging 4.9 progressive carries per 90 minutes, placing him in the 77th percentile of players in his position. Real Madrid are built to play in quick transition and Tchouameni conducts many of their attacks from deep.
Casemiro made a name for himself as one of European football’s best midfield anchors during nine years at Real Madrid, but the Brazilian was limited as a ball-player and ball-carrier.
This is where Tchouameni offers Carlo Ancelotti something different: Not only is he performing well as an individual, he is getting more out of the others around him.
“Due to the characteristics he has, he is the most obvious player for that position, but [Eduardo] Camavinga has played there and [Toni] Kroos is very reliable,” Ancelotti replied when asked to assess his midfield options now that Casemiro is gone. “It depends on how we want to play, if you want more control, Kroos is very clean with his passes, if you need more energy, Tchouameni and Camavinga can do it better.”
With Tchouameni added to a midfield that already included Camavinga and Fede Valverde as options, Real Madrid have future-proofed their midfield for years to come. Luka Modric is still as influential as ever at the age of 37, but Los Blancos have built a support system around the Croatian that continues to harness him.
The rise of Federico Valverde also reflects how Real Madrid are evolving as a team. The Uruguayan has registered four goals and two assists in his last seven appearances for the club, but these numbers don’t fully illustrate his importance to Ancelotti’s side.
He’s a big reason why Real Madrid have started their 2022/23 campaign with nine straight wins.
Mainly deployed on the right side, Valverde’s energy and drive allows him to provide an outlet in the final third while also supporting the midfield. Indeed, the 24-year-old reinforces three primary areas of the Real Madrid team – the attack, who often have Valverde to draw an opposition defender, the midfield, who can count on Valverde to tuck inside, and the defence, who are stronger for having Valverde get back as an auxiliary right back.
Valverde’s presence allows Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo to stay higher up the pitch, although the former in particular contributes in a defensive sense. Valverde makes smart runs which offer another passing option and open up space for the likes of Karim Benzema and Vinicius in front of goal.
At the back, Real Madrid have replaced the physical presence that left with Sergio Ramos 12 months previously through the signing of Antonio Rudiger. The German is also comfortable on the ball, averaging 83.97 touches of the ball per 90 minutes (placing him in the 92nd percentile for central defenders).
While Real Madrid once had a reputation for spending more than any other club on the biggest names in the sport, the Spanish club has become smarter at picking up elite level players on the cheap in recent years.
Rudiger, for example, signed as a free agent just one year after David Alaba joined Real Madrid on a free transfer. Alaba has given Ancelotti great versatility at the back.
There are still questions over the long-term outlook at right back with Dani Carvajal now 30 years old. What’s more, Carvajal’s patchy injury record in recent times makes it difficult for Ancelotti to truly depend on him. Lucas Vazquez has been used as a deputy, but he is a winger by trade and lacks natural defensive instincts.
Benzema (34) and Modric (37) will need replacing at some point, but Real Madrid are better off for not signing Mbappe, a player who wouldn’t have had a natural place in Ancelotti’s team. Tchouameni, Valverde and others are thriving.
Real Madrid saw Mbappe as the face of the club’s future, but the future actually looks brighter without him.