Real Madrid: 50 million well spent on Militão
The Brazilian central defender put in a brilliant performance against Athletic Club, but it couldn't stop Real Madrid from bowing out of the Copa.
Despite the result and as a consequence, Real Madrid's elimination from this year's Copa del Rey, one player excelled in Thursday's quarter final against Athletic Club - Eder Militão. The Brazilian defender was superb from start to finish, dealing with Athletic's aerial play, covering spaces for his team mates… he even managed to match Iñaki Williams' pace and kept the striker contained when he faced him one-on-one.
Militão, who just a few days ago was rumoured to be on Chelsea's radar, gave yet another masterclass at the back. A player who enjoys going forward, this time he focused more on making sure Madrid were tight at the back. With Alaba switched to right-back, it was Nacho who partnered him in Bilbao - the same pairing that ended the 2020-21 season, when Ramos and Varane were both out injured. That centre-back pairing thrived in key games such as the Champions League ties against Liverpool and Chelsea as well as the Clásico played in Valdebebas.
The new Pepe
Slowly but surely, Militão is turning into the new Pepe. There cases are similar - Pepe arrived from Porto in 2007 on a 30 million euro deal. At the time, Madrid were looking to strengthen their defence but other names were doing the rounds - such as Cristian Chivu. Pepe initially struggled to connect with Fabio Cannavaro in the Madrid back four. But eventually, he turned into one of the team's most reliable and consistent players. He showed how much he had come on by keeping Messi at bay in the 0-1 win at Camp Nou in December 2007.
Likewise Militão's signing surprised madridistas. He joined in March 2019 for 50 million euros - the biggest fee Madrid have ever paid for a defender. Had the club waited until the summer, the operation would have cost 75 million euros. Madrid had been following the player and his defensive partner Felipe (who joined Atlético Madrid) to give cover for Ramos and Varane - both of whom left the club last summer…
Madrid were convinced by his physical attributes, his speed, youth (he was just 21 when he arrived), his ability to adapt to the Spanish game and to a big club. Like Pepe, he struggled to enter into the team's dynamic at first. His first performances left a lot to be desired and even raised questions as to whether the club had made the right decision. Madrid lost both of Militão's first two games - 3-0 to PSG and 1-0 away at Mallorca. The results in the following season were equally as bad - just two wins and four defeats in his first six appearances. The turning point was the Champions League game against Atalanta in March 2021 - he came on as a sub to replace Ramos on 64 minutes and all of a sudden, everything clicked. Since then, he has been a first choice starter.
This season, Militão has forged an extraordinary partnership with David Alaba. He has missed just two games so far - he was on the bench against Granada and was suspended for the Copa del Rey tie against Elche after being sent off in the Super Cup final against Athletic. He has come to Courtois' defence several times this season. Against Athletic the other day, he anticipated four attacking moves by Iñaki Williams, recovered countless balls, dished out eight long passes, made 10 headed clearances and ended with a 100% success rate in tackles. On Sunday, he will return to the back four as LaLiga resumes with Granada visiting the Bernabéu.