Real Madrid fans have been enjoying the performances of an unlikely hero this season. So much so, he did not make his first La Liga start until September 25th.

When Zinedine Zidane first took over as Real Madrid manager back in 2016, Casemiro was largely credited as a major influence in the club’s upturn in fortunes after Rafa Benitez’s ingenuous attacking midfield.

The second time around, it’s the Brazilian’s new central midfield partner, Fede Valverde, who has helped instigate a return to form for Zidane’s side.

In the 13 matches the Uruguayan has played in alongside him, Madrid have yet to lose; they’ve won nine matches, including the Supercopa final against Atletico Madrid in Jeddah. 

The biggest compliment that can be paid to the 21-year-old is that Paul Pogba is still at Manchester United.

A player who cost €5m when he moved to Spain’s capital from Peñarol, based in his home town of Montevideo, Uruguay, could have saved Florentino Pérez over 20 times that.

Indeed, his regular inclusion has benefitted Toni Kroos, too. The German has been able to operate freely in the midfield, dropping deep or pushing forward as he pleases, without the burden of tracking back. The same goes for Isco.

And fans of Real Madrid who were angered by the summer sale of Marcos Llorente to Atletico have had their minds changed.

He has been the pillar of stability – even as such a young player – that Madrid has needed. When his teammates’ performances have wavered, he has remained consistent. In the latest edition of El Clásico, he was a shining beacon at Camp Nou.

After three consecutive Champions League titles gave way for an 18-month period of instability, the Supercopa became the ideal opportunity to draw a line in the sand for both Zidane and his aging squad, with captain Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Luka Modrić, and Karim Benzema all the wrong side of 30.

So as former player Álvaro Morata raced towards goal with only a few minutes to go and looked certain to put Atletico ahead, Madrid fans could be forgiven for accepting defeat.

But Valverde saved Madrid, scything down the Spaniard as he shaped to shoot. His red card was of little consolation to Atlético and Diego Simeone, as Ramos’ penalty sealed a shootout win after the score stayed level.

It took until the sixth La Liga match of the season, a 2-0 win against Osasuna, for Zidane to start Valverde alongside Casemiro. He looks unlikely to be displaced – apart from the 2-1 win over Sevilla when he served a one-game suspension for his crucial professional foul on Morata.

With Zidane’s side struggling for goals as Eden Hazard settles in Spain and Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo gain experience, few partnerships on the pitch will be more pivotal to Los Blancos’ season than the South American pair’s – in their time together, their side have scored 30 goals and conceded only four.

He’ll be raring to go for El Derbi madrileño on February 1st.

RP