Federico Valverde: A Real asset
Real Madrid's squad is massive. Spoiled for choice is the apt phrase. Every match, Zinedine Zidane faces a problem to find the perfect starting XI. However, the results keep coming. Los Blancos sit second in La Liga, only shy of Barcelona on goal difference. The duo holds a one-point advantage and a game in hand on Sevilla, the latter due to El Clasico's postponement.
Zidane can select numerous world-class options in the middle of the park. Toni Kroos. Casemiro. Luka Modric. James Rodriguez. Isco. Of all the names, its the academy product, Federico Valverde, who inspires the buzz in the Santiago Bernabeu terraces.
Transferred from Penarol to Real Madrid Castilla at the tender age of 18, the Uruguayan earned his way into the first team like any other academy graduate. El Pajarito is no longer a 'little bird'.
Against Granada in a 4-2 win, Valverde won hearts with his relentless pressing higher up the pitch. He made a few passing errors but compensated by setting up Eden Hazard's first goal of the season. He injects energy and mobility into Real's game.
Tall but agile, countryman Luis Suarez hails him as the Uruguayan Steven Gerrard. Fede displays terrific acceleration, sharp vision and tenacious ball-winning skills. He is the archetypal midfield maestro.
Embued with his country's characteristic determination, he never hesitates to put his body on the line to win 50/50 battles. On the rare occasion when he is dispossessed, Valverde transforms from a deer in headlights into a ravenous wolf in order to retrieve possession.
The 21-year-old reads opponents extremely well, looking for that telltale glance that telegraphs a pass. In tandem with Toni Kroos or Luka Modric, he turns the interception into a quick counterattack with a quick passing combination. Countless are the times he's dispossessed an opponent with Karim Benzema dropping back to pick up the garbage.
Versatile, Fede can drop deep, shield the ball, dictate play from the back and hold on the ball when given defensive responsibilities. He and Casemiro make an ideal double pivot.
The impact is visible at both ends when Valverde plays. A perfect box-to-box midfielder, he claims two goals and an assist in 520 minutes this season but is most influential in the buildup, averaging 0.9 key passes per 90. If there is anything to criticise, he can improve his decision making in possession and choose better runs into the box to support the attack.
The big winner as a result of Valverde's emergence is Casemiro. Restricted by his defensive responsibilities, the Brazilian now enjoys more freedom. Real will be profit from his dynamism.
Zidane's new project centres on youngsters taking the fore. Valverde is the perfect example. Real failed to get Paul Pogba from Manchester United in the summer. No worries. The Uruguayan solves Madrid's midfield troubles.
Dani Ceballos and Martin Odegaard return to Madrid next season with the Norwegian's debut eagerly anticipated. Odegaard and Valverde could forge a strong midfield partnership for years to come. For now, the latter is making his mark on his own.