Dani Carvajal’s resurgence has come at just the right time for Real Madrid

In last weekend’s victory in El Clasico, two moves — one in Real Madrid’s penalty area, the other in Barcelona’s — summed up Dani Carvajal’s key role at both ends of the pitch this season.

Before the half-hour mark, Joao Felix found himself with a clear route to goal and had a chance to make it 2-0 to Barca. Carvajal got in his way, overtook him and prevented the Portuguese forward from extending his side’s lead with a last-ditch challenge.

Then, after Carlo Ancelotti’s side had equalised and held on until stoppage time, the 31-year-old Spain international broke down the right flank and delivered a cross which Luka Modric deflected into the path of Jude Bellingham to seal a crucial win against Madrid’s arch-rivals.

Few seemed to notice Carvajal given Bellingham’s two goals on his Clasico debut, but he was everywhere along the right. It was just the latest fine display from Madrid’s longstanding right-back since Ancelotti’s switch to a 4-4-2 diamond system this campaign.

Carvajal challenges Joao Felix (left) in Saturday’s Clasico (Photo by Eric Alonso/Getty Images).

This is something that has been highlighted by the Italian himself. In the absence of two pure wingers, with Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo playing more centrally, Madrid’s full-backs are crucial and Carvajal is given more space down the wing.

“He has increased his role in attack,” Ancelotti said after the 1-1 draw with Sevilla last month, in which Carvajal scored a header from a free kick. “He’s very clever inside the box, so we’ve changed his role a bit on set pieces. Now he comes into the box, and before he stayed back to just watch.”

With him on the pitch this season, Madrid are undefeated with 10 wins and a draw. Carvajal has scored a goal and provided two assists in his 965 minutes played. He is averaging more assists per 90 minutes (0.23) than in any of his past five seasons, which puts him among La Liga’s top five full-backs for assists, while he ranks in the top seven for goals and assists (0.34).

Carvajal’s stats in La Liga this season





Games played


Goals per 90 minutes


Assists per 90 minutes


Minutes played


Tackles won per 90 minutes


Possession won per 90 minutes


But he has not neglected the defensive side of his game. Carvajal averages 5.22 recoveries per game in La Liga and has kept his fouls down (1.33 per game). He has also helped Madrid cut down on goals conceded from the flanks, a recurring problem for his side. Ancelotti’s team conceded from his side against Sevilla, but that own goal by David Alaba resulted from a coordination error in the backline rather than Carvajal’s mistake.

Madrid looked shakiest down their right side in the 3-1 derby defeat to Atletico Madrid — but that was when Carvajal was out with a muscle injury and was replaced by Lucas Vazquez.

That and the previous game against Union Berlin are the only two Carvajal has missed despite playing a much more demanding role this season. It is a stark contrast to last year, when he was struggling with persistent injury problems, so what has changed?



Carvajal: Real Madrid’s quiet ‘animal’ who refuses to go away despite injuries

“Last season there was the World Cup and then a month’s holiday with no diet or anything. That’s the difference,” his nutritionist Itziar Gonzalez tells The Athletic.

Since Carvajal started working with Gonzalez last year, he has followed a gluten-free diet which he often cites as one of the reasons for his physical improvement. Within the club, the defender is seen as an obsessive when it comes to physical work and taking care of his body in general.

“Beyond the overload I had against Real Sociedad (which meant he missed the Union and Atletico games), I’m in fantastic shape. I’m very happy,” Carvajal told reporters after Madrid’s 4-0 win against Osasuna at the start of last month.

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Joselu (right) and Carvajal are married to twin sisters (Photo by Antonio Villalba/Real Madrid via Getty Images).

He regularly wears the captain’s armband for the club — he is Madrid’s third captain but Nacho and Luka Modric have tended to start on the bench this season — while the arrival of his old friend and brother-in-law Joselu on loan from Espanyol means Carvajal is even happier at the club where he came through as a youth player.

Within the dressing room, he is viewed as an introvert who is not talkative but who is direct and calm. That is why his voice carries such weight and why he has become one of the team’s leaders after successive farewells to legends such as Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Karim Benzema.



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Carvajal’s own exit seems a long way off. He has a contract until 2025 and, according to sources in his entourage who wished to remain anonymous as they do not have permission to comment, he would love to spend the rest of his career among the elite at the Santiago Bernabeu.

There have been no talks over a renewal, although these are considered on a year-to-year basis for players over 30 at Madrid. Even so, his deal was extended two years ago with the idea that he would be at the club for many years to come.

As Carvajal told former striker turned pundit Jorge Valdano in a recent interview on Movistar Plus: “You see Valdebebas (Madrid’s training ground) and you say: how am I going to leave here?”

(Top photo: David S.Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

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