Valverde: Zidane's answer to Pogba

Zinedine Zidane had been missing a powerful box-to-box midfielder typical of the English school of football. He may have found him in Fede Valverde.

Valverde: Zidane's answer to Pogba
A. Perez Meca / AFP7 / Europa Pr

Zinedine Zidane, who generally likes to dodge praising his players individually, did not hold back after the 4-2 win over Granada.

“Fede has said ‘here I am’. He’s just very good,” he admitted. Fede Valverde’s performance thrilled the French coach and that was something he couldn’t conceal. The young Uruguayan midfielder, nicknamed ‘El Pajarito’ (the little bird), has decided to leave his shyness behind and battle for a starting position in Zidane’s XI.

Against Granada he recovered nine balls, more than any other player – two of which lead to the goals of Hazard (2-0) and Modric (3-0).

Fede Valverde in action against Granada as Zidane looks on.

Valverde: a box-to-box midfielder like Pogba

"I'm going to offer my thing, I'm a box-to-box midfielder," Valverde said of himself on Saturday. "I have the physique to press and whenever I can I will do it, until my legs burst."

That was music to the ears of Zidane, who was missing a powerful box-to-box midfielder typical of the English school of football. He had asked for Paul Pogba, but the club was unable to grant him his wish. Ajax’s Donny Van de Beek could have been signed, but the French coach was adamant that all efforts be focused on signing his compatriot.

Now Zidane may have what he is looking for in Valverde. At 21, he is young but experienced. This is his third season in the first team and he is ready to make the transition to having a regular presence in the starting XI.

Valverde: the ideal partner for Kroos and Casemiro

Toni Kroos has played 99% of the possible minutes this season and Casemiro, 96%. In other words, they need a partner, and Valverde has put his hand up for the role.

His averages are not out of sync: Casemiro recovers a ball every 11 minutes; Kroos every 12 minutes; and Valverde, every 13 minutes. He also wants to take risks. In fact, against Granada he gave the same number of passes in the opposition’s half as Kroos (18).

The key, of course, will be his stamina. He returned from international duty with Uruguay with a muscle injury in early September and the weekend before last finished the Madrid derby with a troubled calf muscle.

"This is the beginning, nothing more," Valverde assured on Saturday. Mallorca, Galatasaray and Barcelona all come in the space of a week after the upcoming international break. And with Kroos now injured and Casemiro running the risk of missing El Clásico through suspension, El Pajarito is set to demand more prominence.