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

Matt’s Monday Musings: A series with no rhyme or reason – just consistent thoughts on all things Real Madrid released every Monday. Some weeks may be long form, others just short anecdotal thoughts. Either way, I’ll be posting reflective content on the current, past, and future on-goings of the club:

It seems Real Madrid’s transfer activity is wrapped up, barring any late market opportunities becoming available. The debate for many is whether the right wing should see further reinforcement, especially if the rumors of Marco Asensio seeking pastures new come to fruition. Removing his game-time as a central midfielder, the Spaniard played 2,000 minutes on the right wing last season. He played in that position more than any other player in the Real Madrid squad. Asensio gobbled up about 40% of the available right wing minutes which were divided amongst 5 different players:

Including the additional minutes from the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup, there will likely be around 5,300 – 5,500 minutes available to the right flank this upcoming season, with fluctuations depending on Copa Del Rey and Champions League progression. Given their growth and prominence to end the season, it is safe to assume that Rodrygo Goes and Fede Valverde will both see an uptick in percentage of those minutes.

If Rodrygo is asked to take on a bigger role, increasing his minutes by 30% – or a little 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 back-up left winger if Vinicius Junior were to go down. Carlo Ancelotti had Rodrygo split his time 75/25 between the right and left wing. If that ratio changes to an 85/15 uptick in minutes played at right wing, then he will eat up 2,550 of the available 5,500 minutes at right wing.

The other big component to the right wing minutes will be Fede Valverde. The Uruguayan carved out a role on the flank and thrived starting in that position in the UEFA Champions League final. It has become something of a required role when the big games come around. The versatile midfielder saw his minutes interchange between right wing (27% of the time) and central midfield (73% of the time), but we can likely assume an increase in those right wing minutes after his season ending performances. If Fede improves his overall minutes to 3,000 and moves 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 to know if these assumptions will be accurate, but they are a conservative estimates based on historical data. Using those assumptions for Rodrygo and Valverde, that leaves Madrid with the potential of 1,750 minutes unaccounted for on the right wing. If injuries, suspensions, and World Cup fatigue start to enter the fray, the argument can be made to bump that 1,750 number to a round 2,000. From a matches played perspective, those 2,000 minutes are equivalent to 22 matches at a full 90 minutes.

Do those minutes move to a reinvigorated Eden Hazard? The right wing experiment for the Belgian has largely failed up to this point. Many reports suggest that Hazard will be deployed as a Benzema replacement in a false nine role, rather than reverting to the wings. What about Lucas Vazquez? Does he rotate back into the final third with the return of Alvaro Odriozola? The soon to be 32-year-old played 92% of his matches at right back last season and it’s unclear whether 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 sustain 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 from which to reference. In the summer of 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo left for Juventus. His departure left a massive hole in the squad. The transfer market was drawing dead ends, and Madrid opted to trust Bale, Asensio, and Isco to pick up the mantle. A big bet was placed on the young man from Mallorca, Asensio, to take a leap. At that time he was regarded as one of the best young talents in the world alongside Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe. The minutes came for Asensio, but the leap never occurred. Madrid went on to have one of their worst seasons in recent memory.

The one bright spot from that dark season was Vinicius Junior. At just 18-years-old, the Brazilian exploded on to the scene. His call up was borne out of desperate necessity to fill the vacant left wing role with some creativity and verticality. Despite his explosion, Real Madrid went on to spend € 120 million on Eden Hazard and € 45 million on another young Brazilian that also played on the left wing. This newfound competition was in addition to Isco, Asensio, Bale, and Brahim who could all theoretically feature and compete for the left wing. There were no qualms from the club in regards to curtailing Vinicius’ progression. It would be a heavyweight battle for minutes.

The Brazilian, like many others, would quickly find that true competition is a by-product of being at Real Madrid. Gonzalo Higuain said as much in a recent interview with TyC Sport“The first year that Cristiano arrived, I scored 27 goals and he scored 26. I went on vacation and saw that they [Madrid] signed Benzema and Kaká. I called the club and told them that if I were to come back, what do I have to do? But that is Madrid, they constantly bring the best players and you have to always be competing. It’s what makes Madrid the best club in history, you have to be competing against the best in the world. ”

The best are always competing and the cream always rises to the top. Despite Eden Hazard’s arrival, Vinicius has won the battle for the left wing spot. His talent, work ethic, and performances have made him indispensable in that position. Rodrygo Goes now has to do the same, regardless of who is brought in. If Serge Gnabry – a natural right winger who scored 17 goals and provided 10 assists last season – is available with one year left on his contract, it makes sense for Madrid to explore the signing. If wages or transfer fees become a stumbling block, that is a different issue from exempting a signing out of fear of curtailing progression, bringing in competition, or “overbooking” for a position. Those latter options will sort themselves out through football’s natural selection.

If Marco Asensio does leave, Real Madrid should sign a right winger. Let competition and performance decide who should start.

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