Let’s start this article with a quiz question: the answer might have been given away by the headline, but this is still a very relevant question when it comes to how Real Madrid’s season has played out.
Which player has featured in the most games in all competitions this season for the European champions? Vinicius Junior? No. Rodrygo? Still no. Eduardo Camavinga? Correct! The young Frenchman has played 52 times so far, once more than Rodrygo. It’s an unbelievable achievement for one of the squad’s newest arrivals, and there could be four more games ahead for him in LaLiga and as many as three in the Champions League as Madrid prepare for their huge, two-legged semifinal clash with Manchester City.
Having started out at the Bernabeu as a promising squad player and impact substitute in the 2021-22 campaign, Camavinga has swiftly become the player Carlo Ancelotti relies on most this season. Since the World Cup, where the 20-year-old reached the final with France, he has been one of the most important members of the team and one of its best performers.
Whether it is in midfield, as we saw against Liverpool in the Champions League quarterfinal, or at left back, like against Barcelona at the Camp Nou for example, “Cama” has been outstanding. He’s even played at left-back in his last seven games for Madrid: the last time he started in midfield was in March in the Clasico against Barcelona.
His switch to left-back — a far cry from his typical deep midfield role — is interesting, too, a shift that dates back to the World Cup. After Lucas Hernandez tore his anterior cruciate ligament in France’s first group game against Australia, Les Bleus manager Didier Deschamps needed an alternative option to his presumed replacement, Theo Hernandez. Camavinga had never played the position, but Deschamps saw all the qualities in him — pace and industry, physical strength, awareness and a very good left foot — that could help him thrive there.
Defensively, there was work to do — and there still is, as we saw in his first game in defense against Tunisia at the World Cup — but he has improved massively to the point that he is probably Madrid’s best left-back option after some stunning performances in that position.
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The most fascinating in all of this is the fact that he doesn’t even like playing left-back! After Real Madrid cruised past Liverpool in the Champions League quarterfinals, he was pretty clear about how he felt when interviewed post-match by French television. “No: it’s not my position, it’s not for me, but I do it to help the team,” he admitted.
What would it be like, then, if he actually liked playing left-back! In a role that he doesn’t like and that he’d never really played until December, Camavinga has excelled; in fact, he’ll almost certainly play there too against Manchester City and will be expected to blunt City’s productivity from wide positions.
“He’ll do anything for this team and his manager,” explains a source close to the player. “[Camavinga] has so much respect for Carlo Ancelotti that he could tell to play anywhere and Eduardo would. He has benefited massively from Carlo’s advice and guidance this season to take his game to the next level.”
The former Rennes wonderkid, who made his debut in Ligue 1 at 16 before moving to Spain in the summer of 2021 for €30 million, has understood that playing at left-back will make him a better midfielder in the future. Defensively, he is developing his strength and balance, traits that are always vital when playing in midfield.
“He is working very hard and improving all the time,” said Ancelotti recently. “I’m so happy with him, whether he plays at left back or in midfield.” Such is the frequency of rotation between the two positions that Camavinga is one of the first names on Ancelotti’s team sheet with Karim Benzema, Vinicius or Thibaut Courtois.
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In becoming so important this season, Camavinga changed a few things following the end of last season. He stepped up his off-the-field work when it comes to his fitness, drawing inspiration from Benzema, who he is very close to, and his worth ethic. While Camavinga still wants to play in midfield regularly for club and country — he starred there against Ireland in Les Bleus‘ most recent game, a 1-0 win in Euro qualifying — and maybe deputise at left back, rather than the other way around, it’s all part of the process.
It’s also fair to say that his flexibility and effort are paying off, both for the team and him as an individual. After Real’s Copa del Rey triumph last weekend, he has now won every title he has played for at the club, also claiming the UEFA Champions League, LaLiga, the UEFA European Super Cup, the Club World Cup, and the Spanish Super Cup — all before the age of 21.
There could be more to come this season if Real can get the better of Man City in their Champions League semifinal, which won’t be easy. Such is the fluidity and versatility of City’s attacking play that Camavinga & Co. will have their hands full trying to stop Kevin De Bruyne, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez finding Erling Haaland around goal. If they’re to get it done, expect Ancelotti to again count on his French midfielder/left-back to hold things down on his flank.