Karim Benzema leads Real Madrid’s Champions League charge but Eduardo Camavinga could be key against Liverpool

He is just 19 years old and has started only one Champions League game all season but Eduardo Camavigna might just be Real Madrid’s most important player at the Stade de France on Saturday.

The French prodigy, a £34m signing from Rennes last summer, does not attract headlines quite like Karim Benzema or Luka Modric but he has been Madrid’s game-changer on their run to the final.

When they have been staring at defeat in their knockout stage second legs against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City, Carlo Ancelotti has turned to Camavigna every time and every time he has been rewarded.

Madrid’s powers of recovery stem from their extraordinary record in this competition – “it is the history of this club that helps us keep going when it seems that we are gone,” says Ancelotti – but they owe a lot to a player who represents their future too.

Image: Camavigna celebrates with Real Madrid team-mate Rodrygo against Man City

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In all three games, Camavigna brought quality and composure on the ball and tenacity off it, demonstrating maturity far beyond his years and providing the impetus needed to tilt the momentum irreversibly in Madrid’s favour.

Against PSG, his introduction for Toni Kroos, when Madrid were trailing by two goals, provided the platform for Modric to push higher up the pitch, from where he was able to link up with Benzema to devastating effect as they overturned the deficit.

Against Chelsea, his pressing forced the turnovers for both Madrid goals and he was there in the key moments against City too, providing the cross for Benzema to set up the first, then winning the ball back to launch the attack for the second. He even played the crucial pass before the penalty for the third.

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Camavigna is an outstanding all-round midfielder, the breadth of his talent reflected by his touch and heat maps in the competition this season. But his contribution to Madrid’s presence in the final does not jump out in the statistics.

He is yet to score in the competition this season. His only assist came in a group stage win over Inter Milan back in September. He has played fewer Champions League minutes than Lucas Vasquez.

And yet, Jurgen Klopp will be acutely aware of what his introduction might mean for his side – even if Liverpool are in front when it happens. In fact, especially if they are in front when it happens.

Camavigna could change the course of Saturday’s game but, for his part, he knows his chances of playing anything more than a substitute’s role are minimal.

Kroos and Modric have started every game in the knockout stages and Casemiro is a similarly undroppable figure behind them. All three will be aiming to win the competition for the fifth time on Saturday. That experience is irreplaceable.

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  • The story of Camavigna’s rise to Real Madrid

But Camavinga has embraced his supporting role – even if it is an unfamiliar one to him.

He joined Madrid at 18 having already amassed 88 senior appearances for Rennes. He remains the youngest player in his former club’s history at 16 and four months. In late 2020, he became France’s youngest player, and goalscorer, in over a century.

His prodigious talent earned him a long list of suitors at Rennes and the expectation among many when he arrived in Spain was that, with Modric turning 36 and Kroos 32, his signing would signal a changing of the guard in Madrid’s midfield.

A goal on his La Liga debut, just six minutes after stepping off the bench to replace Eden Hazard in a 5-2 win over Celta Vigo in September, gave credence to those expectations and left Ancelotti impressed by his character as well as his considerable talent.

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Real Madrid are greeted by fans at the airport ahead of their flight to Paris for Saturday’s Champions League final against Liverpool

“We all know the quality he has, physical and technical,” said Ancelotti. “Then on the pitch he’s shown his personality. We didn’t know about that. What happens in games doesn’t worry him, he’s confident.”

By Christmas, though, Camavigna had only started six games, Ancelotti opting to ease him in slowly. Fast forward another five months and that number still only stands at 15.

Camavigna has had to show patience but he remains central to the club’s plans – and to Ancelotti’s. “Camavinga is the present and the future of this club,” the Real Madrid manager said in March. “This is quite clear for him and for us.

Image: Camavigna celebrates with Karim Benzema, a player he regards as a mentor

“The day that Modric, Casemiro and Kroos are older, we will have Camavinga, Federico Valverde, and the youngsters who are in the Castilla, like Antonio Blanco. We have the ideal relief for these legends of the club.”

And in the meantime, they have someone capable of changing the game from the bench. Camavigna is already well known to French audiences. But Saturday at the Stade de France could be remembered as the day he announces himself to the world.

If Madrid find themselves in trouble in the second half, if Modric and Kroos are tiring and Ancelotti needs something special from someone else in his midfield, Camavigna will be ready and waiting.

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