Coming into the 2021-2022 season, Real Madrid fans were very nervous about the defense. And it did not help matters when Real struggled to keep opponents under wraps to start the season, with the most concerning match being a 3-3 draw with Levante.

On the surface, a casual observer of Real Madrid would assert that the defense has taken a step back this season. They would say that Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane have been sorely missed and that the defense has taken a step back with David Alaba and Eder Militao in central defense.

However, the truth is the opposite. Los Blancos are averaging more goals per game (0.94 vs. 0.76 last season), but they are also scoring more goals (2.31 per game vs. 1.76 last season). So if you look at it, Real is allowing 0.18 more goals per game, but they are scoring 0.54 more goals per game. Their attack has improved by three times more than their defense is allowing more goals.

There is one more thing to consider. Real Madrid’s defense did not improve until later in the 2020-2021 season. They actually played some of their best football when Militao started! To this point in the season, Real have given up more than one goal on four occasions. At the same point in the calendar last season, they gave up more than one goal seven times. Injuries are no excuse, given Dani Carvajal, Ferland Mendy, and midfield controllers Toni Kroos and Luka Modric all missed time to start the current campaign, too.

Alaba and Militao are a big reason why Real Madrid sit first in La Liga

So to say the defense has regressed would be disingenuous. The reality is that the defense, specifically the center backs, are being stressed even more due to Carlo Ancelotti’s different philosophy. And yet, as you can see above, they are more than holding up to the high demands.

Zinedine Zidane held the belief that he needed to stay structured defensively and focus on keeping the opponent away from goal, believing that they just needed to find one breakthrough to win if they held the opposition to zero goals. Meanwhile, Ancelotti is fine with conceding about a goal every game if it means Real Madrid gun for it offensively and score two or three of their own. So far, the strategy has paid off for Carletto. Los Merengues are first in La Liga.

And they aren’t just first because they have two of Europe’s leading scorers and assist providers in Vinicius Junior and Karim Benzema. They also have one of the finest center back pairings in Eder Militao and David Alaba.

The former was stellar to close the 2020-2021 season, and he is reaching a new level this season. Militao put on a defensive masterclass in a massive clean sheet victory at the Anoeta this weekend. We have not seen an individual defensive performance of that caliber – a perfect 10 out of 10 – in years. And that was not Militao’s first standout defensive display.

Alaba and Militao are both very helpful to the attack, too. Militao has created goals with long balls and quick outlet passes. Meanwhile, Alaba’s ability on the ball has always been held in high regard. He has three assists already this season and a pass completion percentage of 92.3. And who can forget his screamer in his first Clasico?

Real Madrid have also gotten younger at CB

Whereas Sergio Ramos is struggling for fitness at PSG, Alaba has been a weekly rock for Real Madrid with his goal-line clearances, interceptions, and attacking contributions. Los Blancos clearly do not regret the events of the summer, even if Ramos’ quality when healthy is undisputed.

On the other side, Raphael Varane is having a good season for Manchester United with his usual quiet, competent brand of defending. However, Militao has surpassed him if we compare them head-to-head. Not only does he clean up so many plays with his closing speed and tackling, but he is a lot more active. Militao has 1.7 tackles per game and 1.9 interceptions per game, whereas Varane is at 1.5 and 0.7, respectively. On top of that, Militao offers so much more to the attack with his teasing passes from the back.

Varane and Ramos are legends. At their peak, they were the best tandem in the world and one of the best of all time. Perhaps nobody will replicate what they did during Real Madrid’s three-peat era, and they will always be honored for that. And now, they are still top players, especially Varane at the age of 28.

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However, Real have gotten younger at both positions. Based on what we have seen this season, they have also gotten better. Militao and Alaba allow Real Madrid to get away with a lot of risks, and Madridistas who actually watch this team aren’t letting this wonderful duo get taken for granted. They have truly stepped up amidst no shortage of doubt before the start of the season.


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