Having been in transition following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, one positive sign for the club has been the stellar performances of their 21-year-old Uruguyan Valverde. Not only has he emerged as a fan favourite, but the Montevideo-born midfielder has also been a key player under Real's last two managers in Julien Lopotegui and Santiago Solari.
Valverde has dreamt from the age of 11 that he would one-day step foot on to the Santiago Bernabeu pitch as a Real Madrid player, according to his mother Doris. Not only has he done that, he is continuing to show why Los Blancos need him. With each performance, he further cements his place within the group and belies his tender years.
"He was four years old and he got up in the morning and said: mum, dad, I dreamt I was in a stadium and everyone was screaming for me. They were all dressed in white and spoke differently to us," she told Marca.
"But it didn't end there. When he was 10 or 11 he dreamt again and said: mum, that team I dreamt of is Real Madrid. They are Galicians - in Uruguay, we say Galicians for all Spaniards."
Bringing a controlling presence to the midfield, he is expected to step into the boots of 34-year-old veteran Luka Modrić in the next year or two, for good. This was evident in the group stages of the Champions League when Modrić, Ballon D’Or winner and Croatian international, was replaced by the youngster, usually, it would be the other way around.
This season has seen Los Blancos have a 67% win rate with the Uruguayan in the team and 33% without him, as opposed to 57% win rate without Modrić. In his 20 La Liga games so far this season, Zidane’s side have won 12 of them when he has been in the team, with six draws.
With El Clásico around the corner, Valverde is expected to sit alongside Toni Kroos, the latter will have more freedom to express himself knowing Valverde will be behind with great pace and awareness to offer cover and plug any gaps.
This season has seen the midfielder net twice, away against Eibar on matchday 13 in the 4-0 victory, and a week later in the 2-1 home victory over Real Sociedad. The win over Los Armeros uncovered one other aspect of his game that could take him to an even greater level. Ratting the ball inside the oppositions net with a brilliant strike from around the edge of the box, it was only his fifth goal in the white of Madrid. The more he plays the more confidence he gets, and maybe, the more strikes on goal.
Fans are keen for him to express himself more in the final third when give the chance to. This season has seen Valverde register 0.9 shots on average, and for that reason, it doesn’t come as a surprise that he doesn’t score much, or at all. Back in 2018/19, that figure was even lower with 0.4 shots per game but also suggests a certain growth that shouldn’t be disregarded. Perhaps he could be an unlikely goalscorer this weekend?
Zidane has previously hailed the impact of him, saying after the 4-2 victory against Granada in October of last year: "It's true that I'm happy for him. He's very good and he's always shown that. He always moves forward, he wants the ball and he's been key for two goals [against Granada]."
The Real Madrid coach will be hoping he can count on his prized asset as Barcelona come to town. Valverde brings a lot to the team when playing and even though Modrić is a huge figure at the club, Valverde is the future and is expected to have a successful career at Los Blancos. With Barça slightly ahead in the LaLiga standings, Real need to add their scalp to move to the forefront. The Blaugranes midfield has an ageing Sergio Busquets and the talented Frenkie de Jong still finding his feet, so maybe, Valverde, with home advantage, may just be the difference.
Stats and numbers don’t lie - Real Madrid are better with Valverde and if they want to continue this successful trend going forward, they would be wise to keep the Uruguayan in their starting XI.