One of the most difficult things to say as a fan is that a player you admire and appreciate is not able to play to the standard required at your club. Because Real Madrid expect to win a trophy every season, there is an additional expectation that every player regularly appearing in the starting XI is one of the best players at their position in European football.
Although he has never been a key starter for Los Blancos, Nacho Fernandez played at a high level at the end of the 2020-2021 season. Sergio Ramos’ injury issues left a talent and leadership void at the heart of defense, which Nacho so ably filled for months. Whether it was the Champions League or LaLiga, Nacho was on top of his game, playing out of his mind on and off the ball. Nacho played with intelligence and tenacity, producing the best defensive work we have seen from him.
But to start the 2021-2022 season, Nacho has been far from this kind of player. Call it regression to the mean, call it what you want. But what you have to admit is that this level of performance is simply not good enough.
There are a number of reasons why Real Madrid have struggled this season defensively. Some of the blame goes to injuries in midfield, some goes to Carlo Ancelotti still needing to find the right system/balance, and, well, some of it goes to the players.
Nacho has value, just not as a starter in every match
And when it comes to portioning out the blame to the defenders, Nacho, unfortunately, has been the most culpable.
Whereas David Alaba and Eder Militao have been tremendous at center back, Nacho has been overly aggressive and less than assured in this position. He has been even worse at left back and right back, which is to be expected. He simply cannot provide the attacking thrust necessary on the flanks, and his poor positioning and lack of pace are even more exposed in these wider defensive areas.
Nacho has a lot of value to Real Madrid. He is the kind of utility backup and team player every top club would love to have. In a pinch, he can make an impact, and even at his worst, he is a better emergency option than most.
But that’s what he is at this point. Heck, that’s what he has always been to Madrid. Nacho is a backup plan. He is not someone who has the quality to play at the highest level game-in and game-out for a full year. At some point, his weaknesses will be exposed by opponents, and that is what we are seeing right now in the 2021-2022 season.
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Carlo Ancelotti and Real Madrid must admit that while Nacho has benefits to this team and is someone who must be respected by everyone affiliated with this club, he is not someone who can start every match. He is not in the Marcelo territory where his presence on the pitch actively hurts the team, but he is very much not Real’s best player at any of the positions in the back four. In the case of the fullback positions, he is not even the second-best option.