Revealed: 5 under the radar talents worthy of replacing Modrić at Real Madrid
Whether they’d like to accept it or not, Real Madrid will soon have to face a huge transitional period. Some of the biggest stars at the club are approaching retirement or are simply too old to play at such a high level that Los Blancos require every week.
The same may be true for Luka Modrić, their midfield maestro, Ballon d’Or winner and recently also World Cup finalist. The Croat is now 35 and despite his age putting him deep into the experienced category, he seems as crucial as ever, dictating play and dominating the opposition whenever selected.
Of course, Zinedine Zidane is well aware that a player of 35 may have some limitations when it comes to constant activity so he’s been dosing him across the 2020/21 season, resulting in 1660 minutes in all competitions. These statistics suggest Modrić is as key as ever to Zidane’s tactics and further analysis will confirm that thesis.
However, he’s only completed the full 90 minutes in 10 games out of the 23 he’s played so far, indicating that he may not have enough in the tank to sustain a full season of high level, hectic performances.
For that reason, as painful as it may be for Real Madrid and their fans, the time is ripe for them to look how to replace Modrić or simply fill in the huge void that’s bound to be created with his inevitable departure.
To accomplish that, this data analysis will use Total Football Analysis’ exclusive tool called xGold to find players whose profiles match Modrić’s so we can find similar options within the top five leagues and beyond.
We have also adjusted our data to only show players with at least 1000 minutes played in 2020/21 and up to the age of 28 since we want both young players and players in their prime but not veterans.
Note, however, that this is a data analysis and not a tactical analysis so these players will match Modrić’s output in statistics primarily. Still, we have also scouted them to determine whether the eye-test confirms what the data had initially suggested.
Also, the five players we’ve chosen are mostly under the radar options that clubs, Real Madrid included, may not be fully aware of or may not have initially considered. Listing the best midfielders in the world would be easy but we’ve decided to compare Modrić’s profile to other midfielders and see whether we can uncover an outside the box option.
So this is not a list that will give you a perfect Modrić replacement, not least because such a thing may be close to impossible, but will serve the purpose of revealing players with similar profiles to him.
Let’s dive straight into the analysis.
Determining the profile of Luka Modrić
Luka Modrić has such a unique player profile it’s almost impossible to replicate. Above is a graphical representation of his statistical output in the 2020/21 La Liga season, compared to the other midfielders in the league. Note, however, that these are percentile ranks and not per 90 figures.
The principle remains the same – the higher the value, the better the player in that respective category or rather, the higher his percentile ranking. For example, a score of 80 in any given category would mean the player in question is better than 80% of the other players in that category.
So when looking at Modrić’s profile, it’s undeniably obvious the Croat is among the elite in almost every category imaginable when it comes to attack & creativity and passing & progression. Some of his most notable traits include unlocking a low block and getting the ball into the danger area efficiently, as suggested by above 90 percentile ranks in deep completions per 90 and passes into the penalty area per 90.
This season, he’s deployed 1.56 deep completions per 90 and 3.5 passes into the penalty area per 90, all while registering high expected goals and expected assists values as well. When it comes to attacking output and creativity, it’s almost impossible to match him, as we’ll also see later in the data analysis.
Without further ado, let’s meet the candidates.
Top picks: Youri Tielemans, 23, Leicester City
Interestingly, the 23-year-old Youri Tielemans is the player whose profile is incredibly close to Modrić’s according to xGold. With the data we’ve decided to include, Leicester City’s young midfielder has come in as the number one choice and upon taking a look at the statistics, it’s fairly easy to see why.
While the young talent isn’t necessarily dominating the Premier League as much as Modrić is dominating La Liga, the statistics do suggest he’s offering a similar output to the Croat. Tielemans excels in unlocking a low block through his smart passing and through balls, both of which put him in the top 20% of the Premier League midfielders for those respective categories.
His heatmap also implies a fairly busy player profile as the 23-year-old roams the pitch to assist his teammates. He is also heavily involved in Leicester City’s attack as a whole and registers high expected goals (0.14 per 90) and shots per 90 (1.31 per 90) figures as well.
It has to be noted, however, that while Tielemans may be a great progressor, as indicated by impressive passing & progression figures as well, he tends to use long balls much more often. This could also be due to the Foxes’ style of play but considering how involved he’s in the build-up, it’s possible it would translate well to Real Madrid’s tactics.
Above is a statistical comparison between the two in terms of attack and creativity and clearly, Modrić is still in a world of his own. However, considering Tielemans is only 23 and is already matching (and outperforming) the Croat in some of these statistics, the future bodes well for him.
A similar thing could be said for his passing and progression. Yes, Modrić is a much more complete player but Tielemans isn’t lagging too far behind the 35-year-old. The difference between Real Madrid’s and Leicester City’s tactics is visible, however, and should be taken into account.
Tielemans has room to grow and is a great out of the box pick for Real Madrid should they wish to make a cheeky attempt at luring him to Spain. Their player profiles are similar despite Modrić outclassing the youngster almost across the board.
But that is to be expected from the best midfielder of the last decade.
Top picks: Marcelo Brozović, 28, Inter
Our next choice is another Croatian international, Marcelo Brozović of Inter. The 28-year-old is generally considered as a defensive midfielder, often positioning himself deeper on the pitch to dictate play and distribute passes. However, as indicated by the data you can see in the graphic above, Brozović has an impressive output going both ways too, which makes him a great candidate.
For a defensive midfielder, ranking around the 70th percentile or above in all of deep completions, through passes, passes to the penalty area, expected assists and shots is truly impressive. Not to mention that Brozović is among the best progressors in Serie A, let alone within his squad under Antonio Conte.
Similarly to Tielemans before him, however, the Croat prefers to go long from the deep when the opportunity arises and he’s not necessarily utilised in a positional setup similar to the one Modrić thrives in at Real Madrid. Still, when looking at the passes per 90, passes to final third and forward passes ratio, it’s visible that Brozvić is not only heavily involved in the build-up phase but his first instinct is to advance play as much as possible.
Another standout trait of his is just the sheer lung capacity and the power of his engine. Brozović’s peculiar heart anomaly means he recovers faster than an ordinary player would, enabling him to run longer and more often. It’s an advantage Inter utilise as much as possible and Real Madrid would surely do the same considering how much of the pitch Modrić regularly has to cover with his all-encompassing role in the team.
But let’s see how do the two compare in terms of player profiles. Below is a statistical comparison between thm when it comes to attacking and creativity.
Again, as will generally be the theme of this data analysis, Modrić is clearly superior across the board. However, the graph does suggest the profiles match up nicely, albeit Brozović could be considered a slightly toned-down version of his compatriot.
Still, at 28 years of age he is in his peak and could offer an immediate contribution to the team should Modrić leave within a year or so. Looking purely at passing and progression abilities below, we finally see Brozović’s skills outshine the Real Madrid star in some of the statistics.
Inter’s midfielder is an elite distributor and progressor of the ball, always proactive and positive in possession.
As mentioned, his average pass length is longer than Modrić’s but he can be used for a short, patient build-up as well, which is usually showcased when he plays for Croatia rather than Inter. All in all, Brozović isn’t a like-for-like replacement, no one is, but is a heavily underrated midfielder in world football and would be a great option for almost any team out there, Real Madrid included.
Good picks: Jordan Veretout, 27, Roma
Jordan Veretout from AS Roma is next on our list and definitely fits the category of players not many clubs are aware of at the moment. The 27-year-old is a true box-to-box midfielder that offers a lot going both ways. Using our xGold tool, we’ve concluded Veretout’s profile matches Modrić’s in many aspects, albeit like many other options, his output is still not on that level.
However, looking at the graph above, we can see that there’s quality there for sure. Some of his biggest strengths are deadliness in attack and progressiveness, two of the categories Modrić ticks himself. Out of all the options we’ve listed, Modrić included, no one gets close to his expected goals output as the 27-year-old midfielder has already bagged 12 goals from 8.16 xG, as indicated by the statistics above.
We can also see that he shoots far more often than the average Serie A midfielder and is even around the best 35% of midfielders when it comes expected assists per 90, suggesting he can be a creative force when needed. However, the other metrics in the attacking category don’t seem to be as impressive and mostly hover just below the average.
Veretout is an elite progressor though and this is exactly where his player profile shines the most. While his passing tendencies are not always positive, as indicated by the below-average forward passing ratio, he tops the charts and bests around 80% of Serie A midfielders in almost every other passing & progression category.
This does come with a familiar caveat, however, and that’s long balls. While Modrić progresses the play through short passing and quick interplays, Veretout, similarly to Tielemans and Brozović before him, seems to prefer long passes instead. This, again, has a lot to do with Roma’s playstyle and the tactics of the league as a whole.
Comparing the 27-year-old with Modrić in terms of attacking and creativity, we can see the difference is still pretty big in most metrics.
However, with his impressively high xG values and a well-rounded profile across the board, which is clearly not on Modrić’s level yet, signs of quality can already be noted down. This is even more true when we take into account that Roma and Real Madrid are not on the same level, meaning Veretout could well improve when playing in a better team.
When it comes to pure passing & progression stats, however, we can finally see his quality come to light. With multiple metrics now either matching or even surpassing Modrić’s, Veretout can be seen as an elite progressor and a midfielder who’s truly comfortable on the ball.
Would he be the ideal player to plug Real Madrid’s Modrić-sized hole in the team? It’s difficult to tell but all points towards him being a solid under the radar option. If he continues improving, however, he won’t be under the radar for too long.
Wildcards: Leonel Miranda, 27, Racing Club
The final two picks in his data analysis are wildcards for reasons we’ll explain shortly. Leonel Miranda is a 27-year-old midfielder currently playing at Racing Club in Argentina. When scouring the xGold tool, he popped out as one of the players whose player profile matches up perfectly with Modrić’s.
However, there’s an obvious caveat here – he’s never experienced top-flight football and it’s always a big risk betting on players who are yet to prove themselves on the big stage. But even with that being said, and looking at his player profile above, we can see why our tool has marked him as an interesting prospect.
Miranda is not a youngster anymore but rather is in his prime years and completely dominating the Argentine Primera División. As we can see from the data, his output and performance on the pitch match what Modrić usually does for Real Madrid – he’s deadly and effective in attack but also assists the build-up and aids the progression immensely.
This is evident by him outperforming nearly 80% of the league in certain attacking & creativity metrics and 80-90% of his league’s midfielders in passing & progression. When it comes to pure build-up involvement through passes per 90, rarely anyone comes close.
But despite being used as a pivot as well, Miranda also offers a huge presence around the opposition’s box, as we can see through deep completions per 90, smart passes, through passes and expected assists per 90 as well, all of which put him among the best in the league.
Of course, directly comparing him to Modrić is a tough task, especially since the quality of the league is not the same, but Miranda is one of the few that actually come close in attacking & creativity, as can be seen below.
The 27-year-old cannot outperform the Croat in any of the categories but he comes close to matching him as well as showing a well-rounded repertoire of abilities. The only downsides here are that he comes from outside the top five leagues and that he’s already 27, which limits how much he can improve in the future.
But even with that being said, if Real Madrid were looking to scoop a bargain who’d potentially turn into a world-class player, Miranda could be the solution. Looking at their passing & progression below, we can see that the Argentine’s profile matches the Croat’s almost perfectly.
He’s even used to advancing play through short passing and seems to be able to perform a myriad of roles, covering almost the whole pitch with his movement. Of course, he’s still a wildcard and further scouting would be needed before making the final call.
Wildcards: Sofyan Amrabat, 24, Fiorentina
The final choice on our list is likely the riskiest one. Sofyan Amrabat from Fiorentina is a big talent and still fairly early in his career. However, to say that 2020/21 has been tough on the 24-year-old would be a major understatement.
Before arriving in Serie A, the Moroccan was a big hit and his transfer to Fiorentina was supposed to take the team to the next level. Unfortunately, they keep struggling even with him in their ranks and Amrabat’s stats have taken a hit as a direct result as well. Looking at his player profile above, that much becomes evident and so do his strengths and weaknesses.
The 24-year-old is an elite progressor of the ball despite playing in a weaker side and ranks around the 80th percentile and above in most of the analysed metrics. He too tends to go long but his accuracy and involvement in the build-up are impressive to say the least.
He will undoubtedly get the ball into the final third and advance play effectively. However, if 2020/21 is anything to go by, Amrabat is also very limited offensively. According to the data gathered for the ongoing campaign, the 24-year-old fails to impress in almost every important category in attacking & creativity, which is the main reason why he’s a big wildcard on the list.
Of course, a lot of it can be prescribed to a bad season, both for him and the club, but this output certainly puts a huge question mark over his head. Comparing him to Modrić then makes for sour reading.
It’s reasonable to believe Amrabat would have a much better output in normal circumstances and playing for a higher calibre team but that is no excuse for his current standard. His player profile is close to Modrić’s but the two are still worlds apart when it comes to actual execution on the pitch.
Luckily, however, Amrabat can hold his own when it comes to passing & progression, which is also very important for this particular role. Here, finally, we get to see some of his best qualities and here, he even surpasses the Croat in certain metrics, according to our data.
We also have to remember he is 24 years old, which suggests there’s a lot of room for improvement. How high is his ceiling? We’ll have to wait and see but for now, he’s a very big wildcard option on this list.
This data analysis aimed to uncover five under the radar and out of the box players whose profiles are akin to Modrić’s. Again, it’s important to note these do not represent perfect replacements nor are we trying to say Real Madrid should sign these players immediately.
However, looking purely at the statistics and the metrics analysed, there are similarities and there’s potential for these players to assume roles similar to the one the Croat holds at the Santiago Bernabeu.
With his time slowly running out, it’s likely Los Blancos go hunting for their next maestro. But it should also be pointed out that a complete tactical overhaul may be more likely than Real Madrid find the next Modrić that easily.
Only time will tell.