Real Madrid has always been a hub for the superstars of the world. Cristiano Ronaldo, Marcelo, Modric, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema, Angel Di Maria, Mesut Özil, Kaka, and David Beckham are just some of the big names that have gone through and played for the club. In recent times, however, it has lost the shine and glamour of the big names. With a struggling team in a transition season, the club finds itself in a position for building the future.
Young names like Brahim Diaz and Vinicius Junior have been the club’s attempt at building a superstar squad for the future. Recently, the club has signed Éder Gabriel Militão from FC Porto, for €50 million. The club harks the youngster as the new superstar for the club’s future. But is Éder Militão Real Madrid’s next superstar? In this piece, we will aim to answer that question through the use of tactical analysis and statistics
Positioning and tactical awareness as a centre-back
A key trait of a central defender is his/her ability to anticipate and position himself accordingly.
“If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake”. – Paolo Maldini
Militão is a living example of this quote. The Brazilian is constantly anticipating attacks, key passes and runs. Often times, through anticipation and proactiveness, Militão can get into intelligent positions which allow for interceptions of passes or runs. This anticipation and positioning have resulted in 2.2 interceptions per 90 minutes, a number which is significantly higher than Raphael Varane or Sergio Ramos. One way he accomplishes is his constant communication and scanning of the pitch. As such he is constantly aware of attackers, his position in relation to the team, and potential holes in the defence. He is decisive to act on this knowledge, either instructing others or going there himself to defend space.
Another way Militão is tactically aware and anticipates is through the knowledge of the preferred foot of the attacker. Early on in the game, Militão will try to know and learn the preferred foot of attackers. This knowledge is critical as it tells him how he should position and defend. For example, when the opposition striker attacks the halfspaces, he will let the attackers dribble through. In doing so, however, he will not allow the person to get and dribble with their preferred foot. Slowly but surely, the attackers have no choice but to keep dribbling and going further and further away. Ultimately, their attacks are snuffed out for a goal or corner kick.
Another way Militão showcases his positioning is in defending blindside runs and crosses. For these situations, Militão stays ahead of the situation, using his body and constant eye checking, and orients himself to block passing lanes and clear danger with ease.
Here we can see that Militão stays in the middle of the two attackers and as such blocks passing lanes to both of them. This is further aided by the trailing Porto defender, who to some extent, keeps a check on the Porto defender. Additionally, by staying in the middle, it also allows him to keep a check on Salah’s blistering run. Since both of them are going towards the central corridor, Militão can defend him and cause a fluffed shot. Another thing to notice how Militão defends Sadio Mané’s blindside run. Through constant turning of the head (not shown in this picture) Militão runs with his body positioned to block andy passes to Mané. In this positioning, his head is towards Salah while his body is forward in a vertical manner. This allows him to deal with the blindside runs.
In another case of positioning, Militão stays ahead of Roberto Firmino. While this allows him to control Firmino, Militão can also deal with any type of cross that comes his way. The example above shows us that he is already anticipating the run of Firmino, blocking off the area where the cross would come in. This will allow him to head/kick clear any dangerous crosses.
This positioning has other benefits for Real Madrid. Not only does his excellent positioning allow him to defend excellently, but it also solves some of the issues present at the club. The Brazilian is adept at playing fluid defence. In a fluid defence, there are no set positions in the sense that a traditional centre-back can find himself at left back position and vice versa. He will allow his teammates to push up filling their positions. In such conditions, Militão becomes a versatile centre-back as he is able to cover his teammates in various situations. This aids Real Madrid as Marcelo, their current left-back has a tendency to leave tons of space behind him. As such, Militão can fill in that space which allows the rest of the team to retain their positions and as such brings stability to their back line.
The advantage of this positioning and tactical awareness is the aftermath of the defence. Often times after the defence, the ball lands into the feet of the opposition. Other times it will go out of play. What makes Militão great is that the initial reaction is not to panic. Rather he is calm and decisive. Many times, his headers do not drop into stray spaces. His interceptions end up with one more pass that gets played to a nearby Porto player. These small actions add up in the bigger picture of the cohesiveness of the team.
Defending 1v1s and blindside runs
If there is anything that defines a defender, it is defending runs they cannot see and defence against 1v1s. The Brazilian is adept at both of these types of attacks. Blindside runs are those runs are that happen behind your field of vision, including peripheral vision, and are notoriously difficult to track and defend. One of the ways Militão can stop the effectiveness of blindside runs is through, as mentioned before, anticipation. An important aspect to his defence against blindside runs and 1v1s is his nature of defending. Militão is very aggressive in his defending.
The Brazilian gives no time or space for the attackers to work out anything. As soon as the ball is received, maybe even a few moments before, Militão is right behind the attacker. The Porto defender repeatedly, utilizing his height, sticks his legs in and around the ball. This keeps the attacker on his toes which allows him to topple the attacker easier as the centre of gravity of the attacker goes past his support point.
This is an example of the anticipation displayed by Militão. Even before the ball reaches the recipient, Militão has already put the recipient in an unstable position. Moreover, with his back arched, he is ready to poke with his respective legs and pass to nearby teammates.
Pace in defending
While raw defending and intelligence are important attributes, physical attributes are also an important factor in defending. Without the right characteristics, defenders can be physically bullied and outpaced. Eder Militão’s physique, however, allows him to deal with all sorts of attackers. In this physique, it is his pace which his greatest asset. It allows him to traverse distances much quicker which allows him to close down gaps much faster. The pace also helps him in making recovery runs and counter-pressing any losses of the ball. Militão is quick to corner the possessor of the ball, aiming to repossess the ball and start attacking once again. After corners and set pieces, Militão makes quick recovering runs, often catching up with the attackers in minimal time.
Here his defensive run is tactically intelligent as well. He recognizes his other teammates covering the opposition’s teammates. With this knowledge, this allows Militao to run without worrying about the opposition.
Militão recognizes he can go in for the interception from behind as surrounding him are his teammates. As such, they will be able to obtain possession and he will not have to worry about the opposition getting the ball.
Passing skills as a centre-back
While Militão is excellent at defending, he is also just as great in his ball-playing abilities. Playing one of the defenders in a back three, Militão’s skills on the ball come to fruition. One of his excellent skills is his diagonal balls. The aim of a diagonal ball is more complex than that of a vertical or horizontal ball. The aim for all passes is to disrupt the shape of the opposition. This disturbance in the shape allows for space creation as the players take too long to get back into their former roles. A diagonal ball is the most effective at disrupting that shape.
The first thing to notice is the number of diagonal balls. Militão attempts 4.1 diagonal balls per game. Only Sergio Ramos, attempting 7.1 per game, makes more. Moreover, Militão’s diagonal balls are often directed at the wing zones, in the final third of the opposition. This jumpstarts Porto’s attack and places the opposition on the defence. Often times, a 1v1 is set up and the recipient of the ball will be a winger, thus allowing for an instant and potent attack. The number of these balls create numerous of these situations which put the opposition at maximum alert as they are unsure when and where the ball could come from.
This ability to attack the final third at a moment’s notice is a big strength of Militão. This is further complemented by his body posture during the balls. He will make his body parallel to the half-way line as if he will pass laterally. In a moment of brilliance, he will shift his body on a diagonal axis, allowing him to generate power and direction. This fools the opponent and achieves the goal of making the ball reach the final third.
This is an example of his fake sideways pass. At first, he orients the body for the ball to go on the red path but puts himself on a diagonal axis to have a diagonal ball, seen by the blue path, that will create a 1v1 situation.
An additional asset in his passing skills as a centre-back is his penetrating balls. Militão uses small touches and drops of the body to fool attackers. He combines this body language with slight movement on the ball. This opens spaces within and between lines. Ultimately Militão uses his great passing technique to get the ball to attackers or midfielders inside the central corridor
Here we can see slight touches and general movement has opened up a direct passing lane to the forward. This passing lane will bypass six players who make up almost half of the team. It is these passing lanes that are opened by and exploited by Militão on a constant basis.
With Ramos ageing and Varane needing a new partner, Real Madrid could not have gotten anyone better. A mix of Ramos and Marcelo, Militão brings grit, energy, and an aggressive edge that has been lost in Real Madrid’s defence. Along with that, Militão also brings tons of potential to become even better. As a defender, the Brazilian ticks off all the boxes. Young, ball-playing, aggressive, defensively smart, and fast. While some might feel he is overrated, nothing could be further from the truth. He is the perfect replacement for an ageing Ramos. With Éder Militão on board, Real Madrid continues their job of rebuilding and setting up for an era of excellence and domination. Real Madrid fans can rest assured that they have signed a potential superstar in the making.