A lot of times, a player’s apparent downfall isn’t because of himself only. He does have a role to play but a manager’s usage can’t always bring the best out of him. Correct usage of a player can work wonders, and this is something Daniel Carvajal can certainly identify with.
Not long ago, the Spaniard was one of the best right-backs in the world. He had helped Real Madrid win the Champions League thrice. He was also part of the Real side that had won the La Liga under Zinedine Zidane.
But his so-called fall from grace coincided with that of Luka Modric and many others from the group. In all competitions last season, Carvajal featured 30 times. He got one goal and three assists.
But what stood out was the number of times he was dribbling the ball. Under Santiago Solari, Carvajal completed 0.5 dribbles per game in the La Liga. He would complete 0.6 dribbles per game in the Champions League. That’s the lowest tally he has ever had in his career – that includes his time at Bayer Leverkusen.
But when it comes to key-passes per game, Carvajal had a very good tally. He played 2 key passes per game in the Champions League so far and came up with 1.7 key passes per game in the league (via Whoscored). That is the highest of his career.
In a structured system, the idea for Carvajal was not to zoom forward too much. It was to pick out passes and conduct play. A style like that never brought the best out of him, considering how he has always relied on dribbling with pace.
A full-back like him needs the freedom to execute things with his acceleration. That was deficient under Solari.
Not just that, but Carvajal’s struggles in other departments were evident too. He completed only 1.7 tackles per game- the second-lowest he has ever done in a league competition. He made only 1.1 interceptions- the lowest in any league season (via Whoscored).
This season hasn’t been as good as Carvajal was 2 years ago. But it is still better than last season, as he looks a bit more like himself.
In Real’s recent game against Paris Saint-Germain, Carvajal did well. He completed one dribble, while also making three tackles in the game. He also made two interceptions, winning one aerial duel too.
Against Galatasaray, he got dribbled past five times but got an assist. He came up with two key passes, playing the third-highest number of total passes in the game (via Whoscored).
He isn’t dribbling as much as he used to. But he picks his moments to do just that. He has improved, when it comes to knowing when to stay back and when to bomb forward. In the 2016-17 season, he was dribbled past once every game. The same happened last season.
This season, he has been dribbled past only 0.6 times per game – the second-lowest in a single season for him.
These numbers show that the Spaniard isn’t that prolific dribbler anymore. He is maturing as a player and is now smarter than he used to be.
The fact that he had to miss games due to injuries didn’t help him last season. It is arguable whether it has slowed him down, but the first impression is that it definitely has. He isn’t as quick as he was two seasons ago.
Having said that, he is still a very good player. On his day, he can still be the old Carvajal. But he can’t do that in every game and on a consistent basis. Because with age and wear, things change with everyone, and Carvajal is no exception.