Real Madrid hearts were in mouths when Eduardo Camavinga limped off against Getafe in La Liga on Saturday, ahead of their Champions League showdown with Manchester City.
The 20-year-old French midfielder has become a key figure for Carlo Ancelotti’s reigning European champion and an injury would have been a big setback for the semi-final second leg at the Etihad on Wednesday.
Ancelotti soothed Madrid fears in his post game news conference, saying Camavinga twisted his knee but it would heal quickly and was not a worry.
Spanish media reports since have reflected that Camavinga will be fit, with the tie on a knife edge after the first leg finished 1-1 last Tuesday.
Camavinga played a key role in Vinicius Junior’s brilliant strike in that game, charging up the pitch from left-back to help Madrid take the lead in the first half.
The Frenchman exchanged passes with Luka Modric to break free of City’s press and carried the ball down to the other end, before feeding his Brazilian team-mate.
However Camavinga was also partly to blame for City’s equaliser, with his pass intercepted before Kevin De Bruyne hammered home.
Playing on the left of the defence, instead of his natural centre-midfield position, means Camavinga does occasionally make mistakes, but is becoming more reliable game by game – even if he would prefer to be deployed elsewhere.
“The most important thing is to help the team, and today I did that again, but no, it still isn’t my position,” he said, after helping Madrid see off Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Ancelotti lately in big games has simply tried to get his best 11 players onto the pitch in his line-ups, which has resulted in Toni Kroos playing in holding midfield, and Camavinga used at left-back.
That versatility has helped him become a regular for Madrid, instead of battling with Kroos and Aurelien Tchouameni for a start in the No 6 role.
Even that is not Camavinga’s best position, having operated further forward in midfield at Rennes, but Modric and Fede Valverde are holding those spots down in the key games.
Learning on the job at left-back, Camavinga’s positioning has occasionally cost him, particularly in his first matches there, but he is improving quickly and does not receive a lot of defensive help from team-mate Vinicius.
Last season Camavinga was important for Madrid as they clinched their record-extending 14th Champions League title, but mainly as a substitute in the final phases of games.
The midfielder brought energy to the team and helped them make it through extra-time periods against Chelsea and Manchester City in the semi-finals.
However as Madrid hit the home straight this season, Camavinga has become far more central to the team’s success – despite playing out wide, making 54 appearances across all competitions.
Camavinga’s Madrid career moved slowly at first after arriving in the summer of 2021 in a deal worth up to 40 million euros ($44 million), despite his exciting breakthrough in professional football at Rennes.
In 2019 he became the French side’s youngest ever player at 16 years, four months and 27 days old, and in 2020 he became France’s youngest debutant since 1914.
In the Spanish capital he has slowly gained importance but also been moved further back down the pitch. It is clear he will play a big part in Los Blancos’ future, but not in which role.
As well as Tchouameni and Valverde, Madrid have also been linked with a big summer move for another midfielder in Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham.
“I’m surprised how quickly he’s adapted to Madrid because it’s a very big club and it’s not easy,” said former Madrid midfielder Claude Makelele earlier in May.
“I see him as a footballer with a great future.”
Man City may view Camavinga as Madrid’s weak link after his first-leg mistake, but he also emerged with the most tackles made and duels won, keeping Bernardo Silva quiet.
If Pep Guardiola’s side target him, Camavinga has shown he can rise to the challenge.