The Croatia midfielder has hit his stride again after a slow start to the season and was the fulcrum of Real's derby victory over Atlético.
Luka Modric’s stuttering start to the season has been consigned to memory and the Croatia midfielder has found his feet at the perfect moment for Real Madrid, coinciding with the trickiest section of the fixture list to date.
After showing signs of the form that saw him crowned the 2018 Ballon d’Or winner in January against Sevilla and Betis, Modric put in a vintage performance in the Metropolitano on Saturday as Real beat Atlético 3-1 in the derby: nobody completed more passes or had a better accuracy rate, only Casemiro recovered possession more often and Modric laid on the ball that Gareth Bale drove past Jan Oblak to seal victory late in the game.
After a gruelling World Cup campaign, Modric’s influence in the early stages of the season was less than Madrid have become accustomed to and when Santiago Solari took over at the Bernabéu he set about fashioning a plan to hand the 33-year-old as much rest as possible to recover.
Although he has started all of Solari’s 13 Liga games, Modric has been reserved where possible elsewhere, being spared five Copa del Rey encounters and two Champions League fixtures. Of those 13 Liga games, Modric has been substituted in five, which has also helped him to rediscover his peak condition.
Modric on song at perfect time for Madrid
Against Barcelona in Camp Nou, where he completed 94 percent of his passes and recovered the ball five times, and against Atlético Modric played the full 90 minutes without any sign of the fatigue that plagued his early season performances.
After his assist on Saturday, Modric has been involved in nine goals this season, behind only Karim Benzema (24), Gareth Bale (17), Sergio Ramos (12) and Vinicius (12).
With Madrid facing Ajax in the Champions League, Barcelona in the return leg of the Copa del Rey semis and potentially tricky Liga fixtures against Girona and Levante before the Liga Clásico on March 3, Solari’s management of his midfield maestro will continue to be key to Real’s season. The Ballon d’Or will miss the game against Girona through suspension after picking up a fifth yellow against Atlético, leaving him free to play the full 90 in the Johan Cruyff Arena on Wednesday and to then have a 10-day rest before the trip to the Ciutat de Valencia.