The El Clasico will go a long way in deciding where Real Madrid or Barcelona finish in the La Liga table this season. While it won’t be the only decisive game of the season, losing to teams around oneself isn’t a good idea in football. And when it comes to losing to fierce rivals, it is always seen as a disgrace.

With both sides tied on points and tied at the top, it could be a very special game. And for huge games like these, midfield battles are very important. While Barcelona have Frenkie de Jong to dictate play, Real have a certain Federico Valverde.

Some months ago, the young Uruguayan would not have imagined of possibly starting for the Los Blancos against Barca, but the way he’s grown in stature over the last few weeks has made him a very important part of the side. So much so that if he gets going in midfield, Real will be closer to victory, while if he doesn’t, Real can falter.

Valverde has made many Real fans forget about missing Luka Modric. When he’s done well, Real have won games. He was average in the recent draw against Valencia and it ended 1-1. He racked up an assist against Espanyol and Real won 2-1 on the day.

In that game, Valverde completed two dribbles and had two key passes per game to his name. He won a single tackle while also winning one interception. He had an impressive passing percentage of 87 too.

In Real’s 3-1 win over Real Sociedad, Valverde was immense. He got a goal and instead of playing in place of Modric, he played for Toni Kroos. He had an impressive passing percentage of 92% and having two key passes to his name. He won two tackles too.

While Real couldn’t beat Paris Saint-Germain in the 2-2 draw, Valverde was crucial to the result. His ability on the ball stood out again, thanks to a passing percentage of 87%. He completed three dribbles and had two key passes to his name too.

He was constantly getting on the ball and making in-roads forward. He never looked uncomfortable and was key to getting the ball in the front areas of the 4-3-1-2 shape. These are the qualities that have made him such an important player.

Even in the big games, he remains calm and cool. He never gets overawed by the occasion and sticks to the basics, and he always gets the basics right. His passing is always very sound – something that helps him build confidence as the games go on.

Those abilities have made Real forget about signing a player like Paul Pogba or Christian Eriksen. Ahead of the El Clasico, Zinedine Zidane told reporters about Valverde:

“He is someone that is doing very well and that is the principle of this club, we’ve always had the best players.”

The club could have easily gone out to get an expensive player. But those failures have led to them using a youth prospect and making the most out of him. For a club like Real, that’s a very promising sign and as they step into a new generation, Valverde represents that generational change.

Against a club like Barca, getting control of that midfield will be hugely important. If they don’t they could well lose the game. And in the long-term, it could be the undoing of the season in the league. But if Valverde is at his best, Real will cause Barcelona many problems.