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Iker Muniain of Athletic Bilbao and Spain

Iker Muniain - only 19 and already playing third full season as a starter. Picture taken from Goal.com

Iker Muniain is the jewel of Athletic Bilbao. Despite being just 19 years old he has been starting for the club since 2009, making the current season his third as a vital part of the team.

Muniain’s talent has many admirers, but the boy from Osasuna hasn’t rushed away from the Athletic Bilbao and probably will not do so in very close future, even if it would be fair to say no club in the world would say “no” if you asked them “would you take Muniain?”.

The diminutive forward could potentially cover any role in the front three as well as the position of an attacking midfielder. He’s yet another one of Spain’s technically superb talents who also has a really good mentality.

Report on Iker Muniain

Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Iker Muniain Goñi
Date of Birth: 19.12.1992 (age 19)
Nationality: Spanish
Height: 169 cm
Current Club: Athletic Bilbao (contracted until 30.06.2015)
National Team: Played in Spanish senior, U21, U20, U19 and U17 teams

Playing Information:

Main Position: Left Forward
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Athletic Bilbao / Spain / Spain U21 – 49 games, 9 goals, 8 assists, 10 yellow cards, 3940 minutes played
2010/2011: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 / Spain U19 – 50 games, 5 goals, 3 assists, 7 yellow cards, 3288 minutes played
2009/2010: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U17 – 41 games, 6 goals, 3 assists, 3 yellow cards, 1680 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Athletic Bilbao – Real Sociedad 2:0 (Liga BBVA, 04.03.2012)
2. Manchester United – Athletic Bilbao 2:3 (Europa League, 08.03.2012)
3. Osasuna – Athletic Bilbao 2:1 (Liga BBVA, 11.03.2012)

Key Individual Match Statistics (WhoScored.com):

1. 26 passes (81% success rate); 1 long ball (accurate: 1); 2 crosses (accurate: 0); 1 through ball (accurate: 1); 1 shot taken (accurate: 0); 2 successful dribbles; fouled 4 times; 4 tackles; 2 interceptions; 0 fouls
2. No detailed statistics
3. 19 passes (79% success rate); 0 long balls; 0 crosses; 2 through balls (accurate: 1); 2 shots taken (accurate: 1); 0 successful dribbles; fouled 1 time; 1 tackle; 0 interceptions; 4 fouls

Picture taken from Footballfancast.com

Analysis of Muniain’s Performances:

Iker was one of the main clogs in the Athletic Bilbao attack in all those games I saw and he was a constant menace to all the defenders marking him.

He showed great technical skills, awareness, commitment and determination, but obviously he is far from the finished article and could still struggle in a different environment, as his low-key performance against his home-town club Osasuna showed.

Overall he scored one goal in those games, it came against Manchester United. He used his pace to burst into box as United’s Rafael thought he had all the time in the world to get to a rebound from a David de Gea save. The finish itself was nothing difficult or precise, Muniain simply smashed the rolling ball under the crossbar.

Tactically he showed a tendancy to drift inside as the full-back came up from his side (left).

Leaves defenders biting dust

Muniain’s tiny size is a blessing to him, it allows him to be incredibly hard to mark as he has a low centre of balance, he is light and can accelerate as well as change direction at speeds which are unreachable for defenders.

His running style is very intense and he takes a lot of tiny steps when sprinting. I don’t remember him being outsprinted once, even against Ashley Young he managed to be a worthy competitor. Running at high speeds obviously requires him to have a good ball control and that is something which he has developed into near perfection over the years.

One of the most remarkable things about him is that he requires almost no room to turn around, he could turn 180 degrees with a blink of the eye while staying in the same place and his brilliant touch would make sure that the ball stays perfectly in front of him.

He doesn’t rely only on his speed and touch to be a threat – hard work also plays its part. He has very good stamina plus great amounts of grit and determination. He was looking to get at the end of rebounds and get behind the opponent line. He also had no problems getting back to near his penalty area and then back up again without taking a rest for even a second.

Although… tactically, for example blocking opponent passing paths, he could do better and potentially preserve some energy.

This stamina is clear when you see the amount of games he has played already this season (over 50). You’d think he feels a bit tired, but that is not the case.

He did show tiny signs of tiring in later stages of league games however as in the later minutes he lost a yard of pace and that allowed defenders to get more physical with him and then things become quite difficult for Muniain. But it is hard to demand a player to be at his sharpest for full 90 minutes of the match.

This is a pseudo-problem if he improves technically and tactically.

Could he be forced to make mistakes?

I was impressed with the quick thinking and vision of Muniain as he rarely lost the ball and always had an eye on what was happening on the pitch. He doesn’t do “panic passes” to no-where in hope that it finds a team mate. He rarely seems to get himself into such situations, he knows what to do before he gets the ball.

He tries tricky things like dummies, chips, backheels, outside of the foot passes and some difficult to execute through balls but pretty much all of the times, when he made a decision in favor of the audacious, it was a right one to make and showed his good vision rather than a need to show of his skills.

To finish the analysis part on a usual note of criticism, I’d have to start off with his end product which is maybe not as top quality as the other parts of his game. I think he could score more, against Manchester United he had many chances and although you could say David De Gea made some great saves, I’d say that the very best of the world wouldn’t have given De Gea a chance to save. Muniain needs to be more calm with his finishes.

But that is not the biggest issue. I wonder if La Liga managers have noticed that Muniain only dribbles with his right foot. I saw very minimal amount of touches with left foot – only one I actually remember was a blocked cross.

He always keeps the ball on his right foot and this could make him very inefficient against an intelligent defender who knows how to close the angle for him to cut inside from the left flank. Things could become even more difficult should some teams decide to double him up.

He wouldn’t be the last very good player who excessively uses only one foot, but it still makes him vulnerable and slightly easier to force into errors.

What level do I think he is:

I think he is good enough to go with Spain to the European Championship. I guess the best player to compare him to at this moment is Dortmund’s forward Mario Götze. I don’t see very much difference in terms of quality, although I’d lean towards choosing Götze for being more of a finished product.

Muniain would be an asset for any club. A starter for the very best teams? Not sure yet, because the game against Osasuna seemed to hint that he could turn to be less efficient against teams that give away little space.

What level could he reach:

He is definitely one of the better youngsters in the world of football at the moment and has potential to become one of the best in the world.

Quality of the superhuman Leo Messi might be too much to hope for, but a notch below, definitely.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 10/10

I think what I said before is sufficient for this rating so I don’t need to repeat myself. He is already playing above 10 million euro player level and will most probably grow to become worth a lot more. Besides, as young player, he wouldn’t command a huge wage at this moment and he could offer a lot of years.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Mikel San José of Athletic Bilbao and Spain U23

22-year old Mikel San José is showing signs of becoming a good international quality defender. Picture taken from zimbio.com

Athletic Bilbao players are improving fast under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa and amongst those getting play time in the side of Bielsa is a young centre-back named Mikel San José.

22-year old who was born in Pamplona was part of Bilbao’s academy at young age, but spent 3 years of his career in the youth and reserve teams of Liverpool before moving back to his old club.

Since 2009 he has been a starter for Bilbao and he has had a good season so far and he is attracting the interest of some top teams of Europe.

Report on Mikel San José

Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Mikel San José Domínguez
Date of Birth: 30.05.1989 (age 22)
Nationality: Spanish
Height: 186 cm
Current Club: Athletic Bilbao (contracted until 30.06.2015)
National Team: Played in Spanish U23, U21 and U19 teams

Playing Information:

Position: Central defender
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U23 – 29 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards, 1833 minutes played
2010/2011: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 – 38 games, 3 goals, 1 own goal, 10 yellow cards, 1 red card, 3230 minutes played
2009/2010: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 – 32 games, 3 goals, 1 own goal, 1 assist, 10 yellow cards, 2658 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Athletic Bilbao – Real Sociedad 2:0 (Liga BBVA, 04.03.2012)
2. Manchester United – Athletic Bilbao 2:3 (Europa League, 08.03.2012)
3. Osasuna – Athletic Bilbao 2:1 (Liga BBVA, 11.03.2012)

Key Individual Match Statistics (WhoScored.com):

1. 45 passes (73% success rate); 5 long balls (accurate: 1); 1 tackle; 2 interceptions; 6 clearances (effective: 2); 1 shot blocked; 1 foul (1 yellow card); 1 shot taken (on target: 1); dispossessed 1 time
2. No detailed statistics
3. 42 passes (63% success rate); 6 long balls (accurate: 2); 3 tackles; 4 interceptions; 9 clearances (effective: 3); 0 shots blocked; 0 fouls; 1 shot taken (on target: 0); dispossessed 2 times

San José is strong in the air, but bit slow against the faster forwards.

Analysis of San José’s Performances:

San José is a player who seems to have good understanding of his shortcomings. Bielsa’s high energy tactics require a lot from his defenders and San Jose will be well prepared to play at high pace if he should go to a big team.

He was decent in the games I watched him in, but he was still a distance off the best defenders in European football. He doesn’t mess up, but he doesn’t have the ability to completely nullify players either – or to put it simply, he doesn’t do anything special.

Strong in the air, struggles on the ground

San José is a strong defender with a good physical presence in the box, I don’t remember him getting beaten even once in the air, although in fairness, there weren’t too many real challengers either. Osasuna’s two goals were from headers and San José was thereabout when Raul Garcia scored the 2:0 goal, but it was rather the mistake of another player defending against Garcia.

On the negative side, he is not the fastest of player. He can just about keep up with the faster forwards running with the ball, but sometimes he is forced to make a tiny pull or use his strength a bit excessively in order to slow down opponent. But to praise him, he does get close enough to do that, he does it in safe areas with no big recuperations and it is better that he gives away the little foul rather than let the player go.

His statistics also seem to indicate that he has gotten more intelligent with his fouling over the past years with his yellow card amount on the course for a slight decrease this season.

He doesn’t slide into tackles too often and prefers to stand tall, not rush into winning the ball. This I feel to be  useful in most situations. He was poor in the case of Manchester United’s first goal against Athletic Bilbao where he did slid into a challenge on the edge of the area and failed to get the ball away from Ryan Giggs, who passed it to Javier Hernandez, whose shot was saved, before Wayne Rooney tapped in.

When he is forced to defend one on one, he is often side-stepped or burned for pace if he doesn’t stand very far off the player. But standing far off is a problem, it allows opponent a lot of time to make a pass and at times also opens up an angle for a shot, this is something which happened against Osasuna for example, when he allowed one curling shot from the edge of the area which went just a bit wide.

His reading and positioning skills are solid for his age and with more experience, he should become even more intelligent to make up for his speed issues. He doesn’t get caught out of position and he has the awareness of what to do – for example he managed to force opponents to non-dangerous areas when defending during counter-attacks.

Comfortable on the ball

One sign of a Bielsa trained defender is that San José does try to pass the ball out of defence and doesn’t smash it forward. He is very calm on the ball.

In the latest games his passing success ratio has been quite poor, but over the course of the season it has been a bit better. Still, I could see he’s not entirely comfortable when passing and sometimes he takes poor quality efforts which tend to bobble and are not easy for a team-mate to control. His long balls and clearances are often aimless and far from precise.

Finishing with his technical assessment, his running on the ball seemed a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Once he tries to break forward the ball tends to get stuck under his feet or goes half a yard too far in front of him, forcing him to make an unprecise pass or putting the ball out.

What level do I think he is:

He is a good defender, I like him and I think he does the minimum of what you expect from a defender of a team challenging for a Champions League spot.

And when you consider he’ll only turn 23 in the end of May, then you’d have to say he could even be considered to be amongst the better young defenders in Europe.

With most top teams have aging defenders or quite erratic youngsters, he could be quite a useful addition.

What level do I think he could reach:

I imagine that he’ll improve quite rapidly and could have a real break-through season within next couple of years, depending on where he is playing.

His speed is not that big a problem because he seems to be an intelligent defender who might learn how to get around this problem by using his strength and becoming better at reading opponents.

Young defender like him needs to be in a team that can offer a calm working environment with no instant pressure. At this moment Athletic Bilbao can offer it and if they get to Champions League for next season, he should definitely look to stay there.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 5/10

A good rating for a young defender. He is not a 10 million euro defender just yet, but will probably become one worth more. Could even give him a 6/10 rating, but with defenders the risk is always quite big and depends a lot on the manager I’d have in charge of the team I’m buying him into.

I think he’d fit well into Premier League for example if he was to move in from Athletic, but I see him doing well in other top leagues outside of Spain too, once the language barrier has been overcome.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Japan

Shinji Kagawa's contract runs out in 2013. Picture taken from Recklinghaeuser-zeitung.de

Japanese football has really come alive over the last 5 or so years. What once was a country that produced an occasional top league player has seen Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Yuto Nagatomo and many others become very well-known names within the footballing circles since 2010.

It is Kagawa who is the cream of the crop, a player who signed with Borussia Dortmund in 2010 as a virtual nobody for European football fans. In Japan he was known, having played for the national team already by that time. He took no time to win over the Borussia Dortmund faithful and soon whole footballing world followed.

His debut season was wonderful, but he is showing this season that he can take his game even further. His form in 2012 has been nothing short of fantastic and he has really been able to step up when Dortmund needed him during Mario Götze’s injury.

Kagawa who’ll turn 23 next month, is someone who most top clubs in Europe have their eye on and his situation at the moment is a bit complicated. He has announced that he wants to extend his deal lasting until 2013, but considering the fact that there is just a little more than a year remaining of his contract, Dortmund will have to take into account the possibility that some big team could make Kagawa change his mind and he might move in the summer.

Report on Shinji Kagawa

Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Shinji Kagawa
Date of Birth: 17.03.1989 (age 22)
Nationality: Japanese
Height: 172 cm
Current Club: Borussia Dortmund (contracted until 30.06.2013)
National Team: Played in Japanese senior, U23, U20 and U17 teams

Playing Information:

Position: Attacking midfielder / Wide forward
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Borussia Dormtund / Japan – 35 games, 14 goals, 9 assists, 2711 minutes played
2010/2011: Borussia Dortmund / Japan – 37 games, 15 goals, 5 assists, 3 yellow cards, 2835 minutes played
2009/2010: Cerezo Osaka / Japan – 15 games, 7 goals, 1 assist, 1 yellow card, 1120 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Borussia Dortmund – Hoffenheim 3:1 (Bundesliga, 28.01.2012)
2. Nürnberg – Borussia Dortmund 0:2 (Bundesliga, 03.02.2012)
3. Borussia Dortmund – Bayer Leverkusen (Bundesliga, 11.02.2012)

Picture taken from sbnation.com

Analysis of Kagawa’s Performances:

2012 has been a great year for Kagawa and so were the three games I watched him play in. He started all those games as a central attacking midfielder behind Robert Lewandowski.

He seems to have a relative amount of freedom in the Jürgen Klopp team as he sometimes exchanges positions with Lewandowski even while at times also dropping deeper than the two central midfielders behind him. He also drifts freely from one side of the pitch to another.

He scored three goals in those games, including a double against Hoffenheim. His impressive performances made him the man of the match in my eyes in all of those games where he was clearly the most talented player on show.

Messi-esque dribbler

Kagawa is small player and this gives him an advantage when it comes to balance and he uses his this very well.

His dribbling and movement is very similar to Argentine superstar Leo Messi who he has also be compared with. He has shrugged off those comparisons himself, but they are not far off. He needs to show far more consistency, but in a single game he is very capable of being almost unplayable.

He is able to shrug off a lot of challenges, the ball sticks to his feet, he has a fast turn and his acceleration is superb, all those things apply even in the later stages of the game when you’d forgive him for being a bit tired.

It was this acceleration and brilliant close control that played a part in his goals. For his first goal against Hoffenheim, he left one defender for dead with a few steps in the box and for the goal against Leverkusen, he got the ball 25-30 yards from goal, sprinted past one defender and then stopped suddenly in the box to take out another defender before finishing with left foot.

Opponent defenders simply could not handle his acceleration as he constantly left them chasing shadows with or without the ball. He was always looking to get free and find as much free space as possible. His determination and work-rate also seems to confirm the stereotypes about hard-working and disciplined Japanese once again.

Coming back to physical side, the small stature does create a few problems. When he loses his concentration, he sometimes lets the defenders closer than he should and then he is weak against the incoming challenge. Playing in a league where defenders go through the back more often than in Germany could require some adapting time.

Another thing on the negative side is that he should challenge opponents with the ball more often. At times it is better that he chooses to stand off and look to block the passing opportunity, but there are moments when you’d want him to challenge for the ball and get closer to the opponent. He is fast enough to nick the ball away from an opponent if the opponent miscontrols the ball even slightly.

Good passing and vision

Kagawa is also an intelligent player. While he does an occasional dribble, he only does it when he has calculated the situation. You don’t really see him trying to get through a wall of 3 players, in such a situation he calmly tries to find a way to pass the ball to someone, even if it means going back.

There were at least two occasions in the box where he had a ball in a reasonable shooting position but with lot of opponents ahead of him. Many players would have blocked their brain from receiving any new information and tried to get the shot away, but he calmly understood what was going around him and rather than trying to squeeze the ball through the tiniest crack in the wall of players ahead, he passed the ball to a completely free player who opponents had forgotten about as they all chased down Kagawa.

His passing is top quality, especially quick short passing. He is also capable of seeing and executing the more difficult passes. He played a few incredibly well-executed through balls that split the opponent defence and were also perfect for the players chasing them down as they could take the ball in their stride.

Kagawa is capable of playing with both his feet, but when dribbling he tends to use his right foot quite excessively. For his size, he also has good heading technique. He might not jump very high, but he is not afraid to play with his head, giving precise flick-on’s or heading down the ball perfectly for a team-mate.

Kagawa’s constant movement and determination to get rid of defenders sees him get a lot of chances in the box and luckily for Dortmund, he is also a good shooter. He doesn’t have a rifle on his right, let alone left foot, but he gets his shots on target and doesn’t snatch at them.

What level do I think he is:

I think Kagawa is a top class player who, in this time with top teams lacking quality, could walk into starting line-up of all teams expect the two Spanish giants. But even in there he wouldn’t look out-of-place.

He could become more prolific and time will show whether his brilliant series of games since last December is good form or is this now the standard of Shinji Kagawa.

What level do I think he could reach:

There is not room for improvement for Kagawa in terms of future, but time will show how he reacts to new challenges and if he keeps up this performance level.

He has potential to be the player to build a top team around and will be interesting to see whether he will stay in Dortmund or go to some richer side outside of Germany (or Bayern).

I see in him a player who could score as many as 30 goals per season from attacking midfield position behind a lone striker like he is now at Dortmund. Or even better, he could play the so-called “fake number 9” role.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 10/10

Kagawa is a young player with brilliant ability and technique. And on top of all that, he is the best player from a country with a very passionate and big market.

If he leaves Dortmund, whoever signs him and keeps him for a long period will reap the financial benefits even when he has been gone. And who knows, maybe with the growing number of quality Japanese players, that club could look to sign another Japanese starter to cement their place as number one club in the Japanese market.

Here is a player who is as good as the likes of Eden Hazard or any other young player the big teams of Europe are chasing, he is potentially cheaper (although more than 10 million euros surely) and his marketability is far bigger.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Ciro Immobile of Pescara and Italy Under 21

Ciro Immobile? Ciro Mobile more like it - energetic, sharp and with great work-rate. Picture taken from Seriebnews.com

Ciro Immobile is a Juventus youth product who has blossomed this season playing for the Serie B side Pescara. It’s hard to find a better club for a young attacking player than one managed by a certain Zdenek Zeman as Immobile has enjoyed himself in the ultra-attacking Pescara side and is currently getting hotter with every week.

He has racked up 17 Serie B goals in 22 games and only 2 of them have been penalties. It’s not just his goal count that deserves the attention, but also the way he plays and how he scores.

You would expect Juve to have him in future plans, but some reason (financial?) they recently sold 50% of his contract to Genoa for 4 million euros, a deal that I believe has only two winners in a long run – Immobile himself and Genoa. Genoa is bound to get their investment back by 2-3 times and Immobile can adapt to Serie A football from next season without very big pressure.

Report on Ciro Immobile

Personal Information:

Name: Ciro Immobile
Date of Birth: 20.02.1990 (age 21)
Nationality: Italian
Height: 184 cm
Current Club: Pescara (on loan, co-owned by Juventus and Genoa, contract length unknown)
National Team: Played in Italian U20 and U21 teams

Playing Information:

Position: Striker / Forward
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons:

2011/2012: Pescara – 22 games, 17 goals, 4 assists, 4 yellow cards, 1738 minutes played
2010/2011: Siena / Grosseto – 22 games, 3 goals, 1 red card, 1209 minutes played
2009/2010: Juventus – 4 games, 39 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Pescara – Hellas Verona 3:1 (Serie B, 16.01.2012)
2. Pescara – Modena 3:1 (Serie B, 27.01.2012)
3. Crotone – Pescara 1:2 (Serie B, 31.01.2012)

Individual Game Descriptions:

1. Pescara – Hellas Verona 3:1

Immobile started as the striker in a 4-3-3 formation and the game was open as usual for Pescara. They dominated and created far more chances.

They ended up winning the game 3:1 and Immobile scored the last two Verona goals. First one was good left foot finish from a low cross and second one he showed great speed to get to a Lorenzo Insigne through ball during a counter attack and finished it off with right foot.

2. Pescara – Modena 3:1

Similar game to the one against Hellas Verona in terms of almost everything. 3:1 win, Immobile plays full 90 minutes as striker and Pescara dominate.

This time he only scored one goal however, a header as he was at the end of a cross from the left.

3. Crotone – Pescara 1:2

Immobile started and played full 90 minutes again, but this game was bit more difficult for Pescara.

The game was quite balanced with Pescara probably creating a bit more, but also leaking a lot in defence.

Immobile finished with another goal as he had to bounce to put in a ball that had dropped in the area. Also hit the bar with a long-range right-footed shot.

Young Immobile training with Juventus. Picture taken from: juventus1897fc.blogspot.com

Analysis of Immobile:

When I started watching Pescara, I had seen them and Immobile play once, against Torino in a game which ended with Torino’s 4:2 win. Immobile scored twice in that game and I was sort of expecting to see more of a poacher in him than an all-around striker when watching him with intent of writing a report. And to be very honest, I was more interested in his Napoli-owned team-mate Lorenzo Insigne.

However with Immobile I got surprise after surprise and he left a bigger impression on me with every game, enough for me to be bit puzzled at how Juventus view him when seeing them give 50% of his ownership away.

Almost complete striker

If I’d say he reminded me of anyone, there is a bit of Diego Milito about him. He showed great versatility and great work ethic. And he is almost the complete opposite of what his surname means in English…

As you could read from the individual game descriptions, he showed to be a very multi-functional striker. He scored with either feet, showed to have ability in air, strength and good speed as well as a decent long-range shot.

His finishing has come a long way under Zeman and most of his shots either are on target or only slightly wide.

His goals and chances seem to have no connection to luck and are all down to the work rate he has. He tries very hard to get into good positions, fighting for his space in the box and moving, turning sharply. In Serie B he is too good for defenders to handle.

Although his primary job is to score goals and create havoc in the penalty area, he also deserves praise for his all-around play. He does very well to link-up with everyone around him, he is very involved in the game, often coming deep to offer one-two passes to midfielders. He is also not afraid to move away from central position when necessary.

Shortcomings could show in Serie A

However one has to take into account that he is doing all this in Serie B and certain things might not be so easy against better defenders of Serie A.

It’s hardly important, but his dribbling ability is not great. He does have one or two successful dribbles in a game, but most of the times when he tries, he fails and loses the ball. His dribbling looks more like forcing his way through a player or two rather than elegantly leaving them for dead.

But as I say, it is not important for him. As long as he can beat defenders for pace for the through balls, win the duels in air, link-up with midfield and finish with precision, he is fine.

It’s his passing passing that could draw criticism in Serie A level. He’ll have to improve in that area of the game as he makes too many bad passes and most of the successful one’s are very simple and would be very hard to mess up. He should be quicker when passing, more precise and maybe learn to do to do more difficult passes which require vision.

Technical part is probably the only part which comes between him and the better strikers of Serie A – his passing, first touch, dribbling is not too impressive. But with his finishing ability I’d still fancy him being capable of scoring around 15 Serie A goals in a full season at his current level.

Would also like to add about his physical attributes that his speed is good enough to beat most defenders, but a level below players like Samuel Eto’o, Alexis Sanchez or Alexandre Pato.

What level do I think he is:

As I mentioned, I think he is capable of playing in Serie A level and scoring 15 goals a season. He could easily start for one of the stronger Serie A mid-table teams, much like Genoa who bought half of his contract.

He is probably the best young Italian striker at the moment behind a certain Mario Balotelli and ahead of the likes of Fabio Borini and Mattia Destro.

What level do I think he could reach:

There is potentnial in him to be a 30 goal per season player. I think he could and will probably end up in a big team of Italy within 2 or 3 years (probably back to Juventus).

He is bit different from the other young strikers of Italy, far more versatile. Once he improves at his technical side and gains the experience against better defenders, Italy could finally have a young goalscorer who could be considered amongst the best in the world at that role, something which they have been lacking for a long-long time.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: N/A

I was close to putting in a 6/10 for it, but decided to give him a talent rating instead as he hasn’t really played at the higher level. I would say he is worth around 10 mil right now, as shown by Genoa paying 4 million for half of his contract.

Talent rating: 9/10

One of the better young strikers I’ve seen in last years, a bit of a refreshment too as most of the shine-out young players seem to be dribblers and small wide forwards lately. There are rough edges he needs to remove from his game, but from what I see on the pitch, he has his head screwed on right and he’ll work hard to improve.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Joe Allen of Swansea and Wales

Joe Allen is player with a very good footballing brain and technical ability. Picture taken from: mirrorfootball.co.uk

21-year old Joe Allen has been one of the main components in a Swansea team which has dazzled Premier League with some very good possession based football.

With good performances in Premier League this season, he broke into the starting line up of Wales national team under the late Gary Speed and for now, it looks as if his spot should be very secure.

According to WhoScored.com statistics based ratings, he has been Swansea’s best player this season with rating of 6,92 in fifteen Premier League appearances. He offers Swansea’s manager Brendan Rodgers very good flexibility in midfield as he is able to cover both defensive and attacking roles.

In a recent statistic, he was placed 7th in a table of passing accuracy for European top league players with over 1000 passes made (see the table here). His team-mate and once very highly regarded Leon Britton was first in that table ahead of Xavi, but for me Allen looked like the better player and talent in the game against Arsenal where they played together as a pair.

There have been reports of Liverpool and Manchester United interest in him but in media, a lot of the attention has actually gone to other Swansea players, but is that right? I don’t agree.

Report on Joe Allen

Personal Information (according to Transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Joseph Michael Allen
Date of Birth: 14.03.1990 (age 21)
Nationality: Welsh
Height: 168 cm
Current Club: Swansea City AFC (contracted until 30.06.2015)
National Team: capped for under 17’s, under 19’s, under 21’s and senior national teams

Basic Playing Information:

Positions: Defensive midfielder / Central midfielder / Attacking midfielder
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics Of Last 3 Seasons (according to Transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Swansea / Wales – 24 games, 2 goals, 3 assists, 1 red card, 1667 minutes played
2010/2011: Swansea / Wales – 50 games, 2 games, 1 own-goal, 6 assists, 6 yellow cards, 3688 minutes played
2009/2010: Swansea / Wales U21 – 27 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 3 yellow cards, 1533 minutes played

Games Watched When Making The Report:

1. Wales – Switzerland 2:0 (Euro 2012 qualifier, 07.10.2011)
2. Swansea – Tottenham 1:1 (Premier League, 31.12.2011)
3. Swansea – Arsenal 3:2 (Premier League, 15.01.2012)

Joe Allen playing for Wales. Picture taken from: sportinglife.com

Individual Game Descriptions:

1. Wales – Switzerland 2:0

Allen played as a central midfield, he was bit more held back than Aaron Ramsey who had more attacking responsibilities.

The game itself was balanced in the first half, but at the start of the second half Wales played well and also Switzerland fell down to ten men with Reto Ziegler getting straight red card. After that Wales took complete control of the game and scored twice.

Allen played whole game and had his part in the first goal where his pass created an opening in the Swiss defence which resulted in a penalty for Wales.

2. Swansea – Tottenham 1:1

Allen played as a deep playmaker in a 4-3-3 formation for Swansea. Most moves went through him but he didn’t get very high up the pitch.

Swansea dominated most of the game and deservedly got a draw with a goal late in the game. Allen was involved in the goal as his fabulous pass allowed Swansea’s full-back Rangel to get into good crossing position to put the ball into the box.

3. Swansea – Arsenal 3:2

This time Allen was used in a 4-2-3-1 formation and while he was deep playmaker in the game against Spurs, he showed his versatility by moving to a position behind the strikers.

Swansea and Arsenal played an open game as the result would suggest. He was involved in two of the Swansea goals – giving two great passes to Nathan Dyer in different situations. In first case Dyer earned a penalty and in second case scored from about 12-13 yards out.

Analysis of Joe Allen:

I knew little of what to expect when watching him, but I assumed he was a decent central midfielder who does a lot of passing but not much defending, but I was left very surprised at his ability.

He seemed to do well on either side of the ball and in all games, he was one of the best players on the pitch. While in Wales he was maybe bit less involved, for Swansea he was the key to everything. When other Swansea players seem to be bit more about physical side and are bit raw elsewhere, he is what made the team tick with his very good playmaking skills and intelligent play.

Good physical level for his role

He is a small player, less than 170 centimeters, but he has done a good job in making sure this is an advantage rather than something that holds him back in the physicality of Premier League.

Allen is not a player who will win many 100 meter runs, definitely not against team-mates like Scott Sinclair or Nathan Dyer, but his feet are reasonably quick with a good turn.

He is no sprinter, but he can still break fast for counter attacks and his ability to change direction, to stop almost immediately at high pace makes him very hard for defenders to get near to without fouling him. And he manages to cover the ball very well with his body when he has got someone on his back.

Allen is also capable of playing with a lot intensity. He seems to have an abundance of energy when running. He is constantly in movement, with or without the ball, almost never waiting for the ball to come to him or taking a breather. And he can keep it up for 90 minutes.

A clever player in the attacking phase…

Using his size to his advantage and intelligently positioning himself between the ball and the opponent is not the only things that indicate this player has got a good footballing brain.

On the ball he is incredibly calm and made only 1-2 passes where he tried to put the ball through an area where it was impossible to get it through.

He has incredible vision of what goes around him on the pitch, he reads his team-mates movements and on most occasions he seems to pick the best pass. That even in situations where he is in a very tight area with little time. But to praise him even more, he rarely gets himself into a situation where he can be rushed into a pass.

His intelligence is not only shown in playing with the ball. He always manages to make himself an outlet for team-mates with the ball – be it high up the pitch or dropping back to pick the ball from his defenders. He also works well to create space for others – on one occasion he and one other player could both go asking for a pass from Swansea defenders but he decided to move away from the ball, dragging an opponent with him and with that, creating free space and time for the other Swansea player who ended up getting the pass. And this was not one occasion thing, he did similar movement constantly to convince me that he does this for tactical reasons.

… and in the defensive phase

To add to this movement when Swansea has the ball, he is also good tactically when it comes to defending.

He keeps his discipline well and rarely finds himself out of position for the defensive phase. Even if he loses the ball in attack, he does his maximum to make sure the opponent cannot get a counter-attack. Against Arsenal Yossi Benayoun won the ball from him in the front of the Arsenal penalty area, but Allen managed to turn his back on Benayoun and block his run enough for his team-mate to get the ball before the midfielder. And it was not a blatant blocking in style of some old-school defenders but clever blocking as he picked the same trajectory for his run as Benayoun.

This vision to close down chances for opponents to run into space also showed in many other situations where it helped Swansea get the ball back and keep their high percentage of possession.

Another good part of his game shows itself when he faces player with the ball. He does well to force the opponent to play the ball into less dangerous area, often even making them pass the ball back to defence. He does well to close down passing options forward which could cause Swansea’s defence some problems.

One great occasion was against Tottenham when he forced Tottenham to start their attack all over by forcing them to pass back to defence on the right side of central midfield and just few seconds later, when Tottenham tried from the other side of the central midfield, he was there again forcing them to go back another time.

However at times he did show some headless running too, chasing opponents like a pit bull without actually ever looking like winning the ball. But he is usually very calm and calculated when defending and such incidents seem to be very rare occasions, maybe once in a game.

He usually prefers to stand one-two steps off opponents, forcing them to pass back by cutting options going forward or waiting for opponent to make the slightest of mistakes when trying to take the ball past him and then bouncing to win the ball. He makes a lot of good, strong tackles and interceptions. However on one occasoin, he was unlucky to see one of his interceptions fall onto the feet of a Tottenham player in case of Tottenham’s goal in the second game.

All this makes him a very useful player in defence but I could give him some criticism for the game against Switzerland in which he could’ve been better and more active in the defensive phase. There were some occasions when there was a too big gap between the defence and midfield of his team which player like him should potentially cover. Luckily it made no difference as the Swiss failed to utilise it.

Picture taken from: zimbio.com

Technically very capable

For all his good intelligence, quick thinking and vision, it’d be useless if he didn’t have a good technical side to gain maximum from those qualities and luckily, he does have a very good technical side paired with good confidence at the moment.

When he has the ball, it doesn’t get far from his feet, even when he is under pressure when making a first touch in situations like taking downs difficult balls from the air in a mix of players in midfield.

He can make passes and control the ball with both of the feet even if he does prefer his right foot if possible. His passing range is good, he can make short passes and give long diagonal balls with good precision.

He can play one-two’s, make difficult one touch passes, give long balls across the field and give very good through balls. He gets the ball through areas where there is only the smallest of corridor to get the pass through and on majority of the times, at the end of that pass which goes past 2-3 players, is a team-mate, who most players wouldn’t have noticed. It’s impressive how fast he can think with the ball and even more impressive how technically well-executed those quick decisions are.

He showed some signs of good skills as well, making one very impressive interception of long Arsenal pass with the outside of his foot. But good thing is that he doesn’t use any fancy tricks or moves unless it is the only option, he does what is necessary and most certain to succeed.

If there are questions in technical department then I’d say he needs to become more decisive, although he didn’t make many shots, it looked as if he could shoot better and maybe he needs to create more in attack for all his good ability. But for the later, I believe the team around him is of bit lesser quality than him, at least when it comes to players who are meant to put the final balls into the box and those who should find space in the box and score.

He showed to have a reasonable heading technique too but with his size he obviously won’t need it for more than an occasional knocking down the ball for a team-mate.

What level is he now:

I think he is on a very good level right now. I would even go as far as saying that if he’d be put into a possession-orientated big team, he wouldn’t look out of place, at least based on the games I saw in Swansea where he was the most important cog in the team, rarely making a mistake.

But that is only based on those games, it might very well be that he is still bit raw in some games which I have not seen, where he might play with less confidence. And maybe someone constantly pushing him would cause him problems. But if I was an opponent manager, I’d definitely tell my players to make sure to pressurize him as much as possible because otherwise he is going to create problems for any team.

As far as I’m concerned, this is a player that could be ready for a big team, the interested Liverpool and even Manchester United could definitely improve with him in midfield, but playing in Swansea won’t harm him either.

What level might he reach:

If he is to move to a big team, I think he could prove himself to become one of the best playmakers in whichever league he moves into.

I do not think there is much missing from his game and under Rodgers he will get better. But for player like him, it is obviously hard to predict as confidence plays very big part in a technical playmaker like him. If he makes a wrong move in his career, it might ruin him, but I think he has the capable ingredients to make an impact even under less than perfect circumstances.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 8/10

A bit of an incredible rating by me indeed, especially considering his real price-tag is maybe even less and he isn’t highly rated by the media, but I am a fan of him after watching him closely. He impressed me in almost every possible way, be it his passing, his technique, his intelligence, his defensive side or work rate.

He can play almost any position in central midfield minus a pure play-breaker role. I think he is worth a risk and could grow to be worth a lot, lot more. On top of that, for now he wouldn’t command a big wage.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Lucas of Sao Paulo/Brazil

Lucas is a big talent who has been left in the shadow of Neymar for now. Picture taken from: sousaopaulofc.com.br

While Neymar has gotten most of the hype, Lucas has been largely off the picture despite seemingly having as much potential to succeed in the big game.

Sao Paulo’s young attacking midfielder has broken onto the big scene parallel to Neymar (6 months older than Lucas) whose extravagant public personality has helped to make him a superstar in Brazil as well as rest of the world even before he stepped his foot in Europe or played in a World Cup.

A player of his talent hasn’t obviously gone unnoticed as far as the European big clubs are concerned but the interest in him isn’t as hot as it is in Neymar. The teams who seem to have very serious interest are Inter and Chelsea as well as Liverpool.

He has already established himself in the Brazilian senior team, taking part in the Copa America in summer, although only as a substitute.

There have been rumors and words from his representatives that there have been some bids rejected by Sao Paulo, but I would take them with a pinch of salt. The asking price of his currently stands at around 30 million euros, however, according to the media, Sao Paulo, who failed to qualify for the Copa Libertadores 2012, would be willing to accept less.

Report on Lucas

Personal Information (data from Transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Lucas Rodrigues Moura da Silva
Date of Birth: 13.08.1992 (age 19)
Nationality: Brazilian
Height: 172 cm
Current Club: Sao Paulo (not 100% reliable sources claim contract runs until 30.12.2015)
National Team: Capped for senior team

Basic Playing Information:

Positions: Attacking midfielder / Forward / Wide forward
Preferred foot: Right (left also very good)

Statistics Of Last 2 Seasons/Years (data from Transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011: Sao Paulo / Brazil – 35 games played, 9 goals, 4 assists, 7 yellow cards, 1 red card, 2497 minutes played
2010: Sao Paulo – 25 games played, 4 goals, 4 assists, 4 yellow cards, 1858 minutes played

Games Watched When Making The Report:

1. Brazil – Argentina 2:0 (International friendly, 29.09.2011)
2. Sao Paulo – Avai 2:0 (Serie A, 12.11.2011)
3. Sao Paulo – Santos 4:1 (Serie A, 04.12.2011)

Lucas scoring a great counter-attack goal against Argentina, sprinting from inside of his own half after a pass was put behind opponents defensive line. Picture taken from: sulekha.com

Individual Game Descriptions:

1. Brazil – Argentina 2:0

This was not a usual big Brazil and Argentina game. This was the “El Clasico Sudamericano”, a two-legged friendly tournament between Brazil and Argentina, using the players from their local leagues.

After the first leg ended 0:0, Lucas was used in a quite attacking formation of 4-3-3. Lucas was initially shown to be a central midfielder, he often switched the positions with Ronaldinho who was supposedly one of the three forwards.

Brazil dominated the game and ran out deserved winners. Lucas stole the show from the likes of Neymar and Ronaldinho, being the best player on the pitch until he was taken off. He also opened the scoring with a good goal in a counter-attacking move.

He was taken off after 69 minutes.

2. Sao Paulo – Avai 2:0

Sao Paulo approached the game with a 3-5-2 formation (Lucas as a “trequartista”) or that was at least what the TV screen showed ahead of the game. In reality it was more of a 3-4-3 formation with Lucas given a very free role, he often switched flanks.

Sao Paulo was all over the poor opponents (who finished the Serie A season at the bottom of the league). The game wasn’t a particularly good viewing, slow-paced and with a lot of cheap give-aways from not just Avai but also Sao Paulo.

3. Sao Paulo – Santos 4:1

Sao Paulo had to win the game in order to have any chance of qualifying for Copa Libertadores for next season. Meanwhile Santos, with the World Club Championship ahead, was resting a lot of their stars – Danilo, Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso not playing for example.

As the score suggest, Sao Paulo played a good game against Santos’s reserve side. The win could’ve and should’ve been a bigger. But that didn’t matter as they failed to make the necessary top 5 finish anyway due to other results.

Lucas managed to score with a long-range effort with his right foot.

Analysis of Lucas:

I did not put much effort into specially picking the games on this occasion as I took the ones that I could. I had heard a decent bit about him but not much of his playing style as I have recently started to avoid watching the videos of players on a certain video streaming website to make up my mind on young players. I had actually previously tried to catch the Sao Paulo – Santos game live, but the stream was so poor that I stopped watching after about 10 minutes.

He was good in the two league games and impressive in the match against Argentina where he seemed to be near his best.

Amazing explosion and speed

One of the first notes I made was to continue checking his speed and explosion through-out the games because it seemed very impressive from the first time.

And it continued to be impressive. There are a lot of fast and explosive players in the game but not many are in similar class to Lucas. When he starts running he almost instantly seems to hit top speed.

It’s one of the most important parts of his game and he uses it very well, his preferred way to do it seems to be by luring defenders in towards him before putting the ball ahead into a bit of open space and then take the defenders out of game with his acceleration.

However it must be noted that he doesn’t require that much space to hit the ball into. He seems to hit into open space in a very calculated way, usually more than enough to get there and take the ball past the next defender who had come after the free ball. He does sometimes seem to run out of ideas once he faces more than three players because by then he has very little room and isn’t as light footed anymore. On some occasions he’ll have a calm head, finding a pass out of it but on some occasions he tried to take on the fourth as well and gave the ball away.

Strong and good balance

His amazing ability to pick up speed very quickly is impressive but he excels in other physical areas too. To be a great player in Europe just speed isn’t enough and for Lucas, there are no problems.

When you think of a fast player barely over 170 centimeters then you imagine him to be a skinny lad who cannot get into a physical battle, but Lucas is a very different story as he has very good balance and great strength.

In that way he is similar to Lionel Messi, although his dribbling style is bit less elegant and bit more explosive. Low centre of balance, great acceleration, good control of the ball and strong body build helps him come out of most challenges with either a foul or the ball.

Lacks in discipline or simply given a lot of freedom?

If there is anything that screams for a need of improvement then it must be the slight lack of discipline and “self-motivating” when playing.

I understand that in San Paulo he is probably given freedom to move as much he likes and given no big defensive duties but even then you could say he doesn’t try hard enough.

In Brazil national team game where he was supposedly the midfielder for about half of the playing time, he didn’t really get back too much although he did had some discipline by tracking a couple of runs from deep of Argentina in the first half. But all in all his defending was too minimalistic in all games.

Even the most talented need to help to defend in the modern game and that might be his big challenge when he moves to Europe as it is very likely that he is not going to be granted a free pass from defending. I wouldn’t demand him to go back to his own third of the pitch, but he does need to be a bit more energetic and intelligent with his defending.

What seems to give away his slightly slack attitude without the ball was the intensity with which he opened up for passes in the attacking phase. When in middle of the field, a player needs to work hard to get himself on the ball against teams which sit quite deep, but he seems to be more about waiting for the ball to come to him. The less talented players around him showed more eagerness to offer passing options to the team-mates.

While playing in South America he can afford being bit lazy against defenders who are often not that good or defences that are not well organised, but in Europe he’ll have less room and such attitude might make him disappear in some games.

Also he is not hundred percent ready to play big intense game for full 90 minutes as his movement starts to show signs of tiredness already at the end of the first half.

Tactical intelligence can improve

Connected to my criticism of him off the ball, his tactical intelligence is far from level with the greatest player in the world at the moment.

As someone who gets tired quite quick, he needs to be more intelligent with his movement. His tactical behaviour is erratic – for example for few times he decided to burst with full speed towards the player with the ball only to being left empty handed as the player had an easy passing option out of the situation.

He can position himself better in both attacking and defending phase as well as push himself to make those necessary runs to defence and to create openings for himself and team-mates. If he can constantly do them during a game, it’d increase his effectiveness to the team.

Also, he seemed like the player who always likes to go forward. When he gets the ball, most of the times he tries to get forward, even if he has to force it. A couple of times he ran into dead ends because of it and some times a forced pass or in one occasion a shot which didn’t come off well. He could do with a better overview of the pitch and more calm when on the ball but that should come with time.

Lucas with Neymar. Picture taken from: fanatix.com

Uses both feet with great comfort

Onto the technical side of the game then. The most important thing here is how comfortable he is with either of his feet.

When dribbling he takes touches with both feet and this makes getting the ball off him or knowing where he’ll move very difficult. Although he does prefer to move into the middle of the pitch as his main instinct is to get as close as possible to the goal.

Be it the right or left foot, the touch is brilliant and the ball is never far away from his feet when he is dribbling. Controlling the ball on the first try is not a problem for him even when there is a player at his back. Another plus side that his use of the ball is efficient and while he can do some brilliant things with the ball, he does no more than necessary unlike his compatriot Neymar.

When it comes to passing he prefers to keep it simple and low – they are precise and usually very well judged but there were a few situations in which he put the ball slightly behind his team-mates. When running he seemed to notice the very free players or a pass that not many would see and usually he pulled it off – be it a Xavi-esque clever pass between players to an empty zone or a difficult to execute pass against the direction of his run to a free player.

He doesn’t seem to get into too many wide positions so I failed to see him crossing expect for corner situations. He didn’t seem to have distinctive style how he hit his corners – sometimes low and near post, sometimes with a lot of height and to the far post.

The biggest questions remaining for me are his long-range passing and his heading ability because I didn’t see either in the three games. But heading is probably something he only actually needs once every 5 games in an unimportant situation. And when it comes to long-range passing, I predict that it’ll be good once I see it.

Didn’t have the chemistry with anyone

Usually a very talented player tends to find great understanding on the pitch with at least some of his team-mates but in case of Lucas he didn’t seem to have a player on same “wave-length” as him in any of the matches. He shined rather as a brilliant individual.

I never saw him build up a dangerous pairing with a team-mate who he feeds through on goal, who he exchanges passes with or who seems to understand his movement on the pitch.

Though the players he could form such pairing with didn’t seem to exist in those games, as people around him seemed to have a different playing style and quality compared to him. When he moves to a big team in Europe, he is more likely to find such team-mates. But one part of this is definitely down to his lack of tactical discipline as it is hard to know when and how he is going to move, also he needs to communicate more on the pitch.

Of other qualities, it is worth noting that he occasionally gets a rush of blood. He might lack discipline, but once he gets something on his mind, like winning the ball from a defender, he doesn’t stop until he concedes a foul or gets the ball.

What level is he now:

He is ready for a Champions League side in Europe’s big leagues and would probably fit in immediately in a very direct side like Napoli for example.

But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t fit into a team like Chelsea, Liverpool or Inter either, he has technical qualities to play possession football or constantly face teams that sit very deep too. But he might need some re-programming and take a few months to adapt to play at his best level. If he were to arrive into any of those teams in January, he might not break into starting XI immediately.

What level might he reach:

He can clearly become one of the best players in the world. There is a potential of Ballon d’Or in him but at this moment he is far from it.

Even if he is starting material now and technically and physically as good as it gets, the flaws I brought out are often things that could keep a player like him from becoming a very dangerous, unpredictable player into one who puts in a brilliant performance nine games out of 10.

I honestly think if he makes the right choices and has got the ambition to be one of the best, he can also become a better and more useful player than Neymar.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 9/10

He is already worth more as a player than 10 million euros and the potential would make him great value for such money. Obviously his price-tag in reality is much higher but the rating system is as it is. For his proposed value of 30 million euros, the rating would be at best 5/10 in all honesty.

Signing like him would excite the fan and he has the potential to become not only someone who the fans love but also a fan magnet.

Initially I put in 10 for the rating but then I decided to lower it as he doesn’t have the immediate big financial impact on a team like like Neymar would for example, he has been on the picture for a short time and hasn’t gotten a chance yet on the very biggest scene.

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Kevin Strootman of PSV and Netherlands

Kevin Strootman is already a regular Netherlands international. Picture taken from: gawehawe.wordpress.com

KEVIN STROOTMAN is one of Netherlands’ highest rated young players. He has enjoyed a meteoric rise in last year, moving just last January from Sparta Rotterdam to Utrecht and half a year later to PSV.

Central midfielder has managed to fit quite comfortably into PSV. He has already broken into his national side, being part of Bert van Marwijk’s team on 10 occasions. In those games he has managed to score once, against Finland.

When taking into account the fact that the player is just 21 years old, then it is quite obvious as to why European football’s biggest names are already very closely monitoring him. The names associated with him are of quite wide range but they include the likes of Liverpool, Bayern, Inter and Arsenal amongst others.

Report on Kevin Strootman

Personal Information:

Name: Kevin Strootman
Date of Birth: 13.02.1990 (age 21)
Nationality: Dutch
Height: 186 cm
Current Club: PSV Eindhoven (according to Transfermarkt.co.uk contracted until 30.06.2016)
National Team: Capped for senior, U21, U19 and U18 national teams

Basic Playing Information:

Position: Central midfielder / Defensive midfielder
Preferred foot: Strongly left footed

Statistics Of Last 3 Seasons (according to Transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: PSV / Netherlands – 26 games, 4 goals, 11 assists, 5 yellow cards, 1 red card, 2191 minutes played
2010/2011: Sparta Rotterdam / Utrecht / Netherlands / Netherlands U21 – 43 games, 7 goals, 10 assists, 10 yellow cards, 3592 minutes played
2009/2010: Sparta Rotterdam / Netherlands U21 – 40 games, 4 goals, 9 assists, 6 yellow cards, 3384 minutes played

Games Watched When Making The Report:

1. Germany – Netherlands 3:0 (International friendly, 15.11.2011)
2. PSV – Groningen 6:1 (Eredivisie, 26.11.2011)
3. Feyenoord – PSV 2:0 (Eredivisie, 04.12.2011)

Individual Game Descriptions:

1. Germany – Netherlands 3:0

Strootman was used in that game as a central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation alongside Mark van Bommel. He played until the 64th minute (just before Germany scored 3:0) when he was replaced by Nigel de Jong.

The tempo of the game was not very high. Germany controlled the first half and scored two goals in the middle of it. Would have been more of a contest had Netherlands front men been bit sharper and skillful, but without Rafael van der Vaart and Robin van Persie they lacked the ability to keep the ball up very well or to create and put away opportunities.

Strootman’s role seemed to be in front of the defence and he did not get forward very often.

Kevin Strootman put PSV ahead. His goal was born from a powerful run from deep which saw him collect the ball behind opponent defence, taking it past the keeper and then smashing it into the empty net. Picture taken from: psv.nl

2. PSV – Groningen 6:1

Strootman was used in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation as a central midfielder alongside Georginio Wijnaldum and bit further forward Ola Toivonen. He played a full match and scored a goal.

As the scoreline suggests, PSV had the game under complete control and had it sealed pretty much at half-time already. Groningen team was all over the place tactically and seemed to consist of different groups of player rather than one team, making it easy for PSV to rip them apart. The scoreline could have been worse.

Strootman was the most held back of the central midfield trio though he did get forward.

3. Feyenoord – PSV 2:0

Strootman was used in a 4-2-3-1 formation alongside Georginio Wijnaldum although it could have been seen as a 4-1-2-3 formation too.

The game was quite even with Feyenoord capitalizing on some mistakes of PSV in defence. PSV could have scored a few goals themselves and could have conceded a couple more. At first the game was quite slow-paced, but eventually it picked up. Neither defence was particularly effective although Feyenoord’s managed to limit danger on their goal by getting bodies in the way at the very last moments.

Strootman was clearly staying back in the first half in a defensive midfield position as Wijnaldum seemed to have a lot of freedom to roam around the pitch, which he did with hot and cold bursts in terms of results. In second half Strootman moved into a more advanced position as PSV tried to turn the game around.

Performances Of Strootman In Those Games:

I particularly picked those games out of the possible ones because I preferred to see him perform when things are not going his teams way – I would have also watched one Europa League tie to catch as wide variety of games as possible but I did not have time for that. I ended up picking two big games in which Strootman’s team lost and one of those games where the Eredivisie stars tend to create their impressive statistics.

I have to admit he did not look as impressive as I expected him to be in any of those three games. Not even in the one against Groningen where he scored a goal.

Not enough intensity and energy shown

My initial view of Strootman was of a midfielder with quite fresh legs but I was surprised to see him move very lazily around the pitch at times.

I already noticed it in the game against Germany but against Groningen and Feyenoord it was even more evident. There was some sort of lack of intensity in the way he ran. To some point it was understandable that he might not try as hard in an Eredivisie games which often turn out to be walks in the park for a team as talented in attack as PSV is, one good example was the game against Groningen where he really took a breather in the second half it seems. But the fact that he already looked like lacking energy in a big international game is a cause for concern for clubs looking at him.

It showed when he got up to attack and took long time to come back on many occasions, leaving his defenders without cover when he could have gotten back much quicker. Even if it might be the result of some other player not listening to the orders the manager has given to him (for example: if Strootman goes up, you stay behind), he should have rushed back once he would have seen that team-mate is not going back.

Usually he seems to be quite disciplined, most evidently when he stays back when there is no need for him to go up but when he went he seemed to take too long to get back every other time I noticed. In one particular occasion he made a bad pass in midfield against Feyenoord which led to Feyenoord getting a counter but Strootman did not get back into his own box even if he should have followed a Feyenoord player (who was 10-15 yards further away from the goal). That Feyenoord player ended up being free and giving a good pass in the box which led to a dangerous shot being saved. Strootman at the time was still jogging back.

Strong but not quick

This lack of intensity is probably a bit of a physical issue as well as a mental one of not finding that bit of strength in himself to push himself to make an exhausting run back.

His legs do not seem as fresh and light as you might imagine a 21-year old having. This is something that might become a problem for him if he does move to a bigger team.

His running style is quite powerful, but for now it lacks of explosion and also speed. I noted it in all three games. Many times he looked as if when he would have just one extra step over three seconds time in him, then the opponents would not get past him.  In three games, I did not see him beat an opponent for pace even once, if he did get past someone it was purely thanks to body strength or lucky break. One of the main praises I have for Strootman is that when he gets his body in, he is really strong and can hold off most players.

Best example came again in the Feyenoord game where he had a lot of room on the left flank to get a cross in but despite that, he was an easy meal for the opponent who he tried to beat for pace as he made a move towards the byline to put a cross in.

Kevin Strootman up against Mesut Özil of Germany. Picture taken from: daylife.com

Defensively insecure of himself

Defensively speaking this lack of intensity and quickness in his game is causing him some problems.

For starters he often seems to misjudge his speed, trying to cut passes by sliding but missing the ball, effectively taking himself out of the game for a moment.

But that is not the main issue I had with him in defence. I am not so sure if he is hundred percent certain of himself when going into challenges. Most of the times when he goes to take the ball or make an interception, he seems to be bit too weak, not very calculating and yet too cautious. He goes to win balls in situations where waiting another split second and going in with more conviction would probably stop the opponent. However, about half of the times he does not do it and he fails to get the control of the ball for himself or his team although he might get a little toe on it.

I guess this is partly caused by the lack of quickness or explosion in his feet so that he is afraid of being late and giving away a foul when he goes in too aggressively. Against Germany it was very evident, with the tiredness having extra effect.

Another area where his insecurity with his own speed seems to show is when he is faced one on one with a player with the ball. In game against Germany he constantly stood off Mesut Özil but when he doing this, he stood so far off that Özil could easily make a pass or a cross before Strootman came near to blocking it.

Tactically hot and cold

When it comes to him playing without the ball and him seeing what goes around him on the pitch, I think there is a bit of good and a bit of bad.

Starting off with the good, I would say he has a reasonably good vision of the pitch. He often manages to see a passing opportunity before he actually gets the ball and this is something I really like in a player and no-where is it more important than in midfield.

Also, as I have said, he does a good job in following discipline, he does not rush forward like a dog chasing a tennis ball. When playing as a defensive midfielder, he moves up once his team has control of the situation and can do a possession-based attack or when he has to move up in a counter-attacking situation where he is more further forward than his midfield partners and there is a possible free space to be utilised.

When he is with the ball in midfield, he seems to understand well if he can afford to make a risky pass and if he cannot. When he is the man ahead of defence and the opponents have closed the good passing opportunities ahead, he always chooses the option of giving the ball to a defender who is not under pressure.

Now to the bad side however. His off the ball movement in defence and normal attacking situation is not that helpful to his team.

When defending, I’ve already spoken about him going into challenges possibly bit early and giving an opponent a better chance to go past, also he is not very good at reading opponents movements and reading their passes.

He seems to switch himself off at times, going for players that are already being chased by someone much closer than him. This happened to play a little part in goals for both Germany and Groningen. Against Germany he went chasing in the middle (for a player who Ryan Babel was already chasing and was nearer to) and noticed too late that Mesut Özil was free on the flank – so he could neither cut out the pass or reach Özil who put in a cross for Miroslav Klose to score. Against Groningen he was too late to notice Pedersen’s run into the box which in my opinion he should have followed from the start. Once he started chasing him, it was too late and he could not poke the ball away from him.

Those are not the only times he seems to switch himself off as in box he seems to forget to mark players and sometimes lets the ball drop rather than clearing it at first chance possible. And at times he could do a little hoof the ball clear style defending.

In attack, he should really create more problems for opponents. Must be noted that it is the minority of times but he should work much harder to offer his team-mate a pass – he sort of tries to, but by making a tiny extra effort he would make it simpler for the player with the ball.

Also his movement does not create much space for his team-mates. It is of little help when he jogs into opponent half alongside a player wearing the other shirt. He should try to move a bit more – if the opponents do not follow him then he is going to find himself in space to receive a pass, if they do follow him, then it helps to break the opponent formation a bit to allow someone to break forward.

Right foot is only for standing on?

Now to the technical side of Strootman’s game… first the worst. He does seem to avoid using his right foot a lot, almost all of his more difficult touches (passing, taking the ball under control, shooting) seem to be with the left foot. Luckily for him the strong foot is quite good at doing those things but a right foot would add a lot of extra to his game.

Overall he is not bad on the ball but there is definitely room for improvement. His first touch is usually good and at least short, one touch passing is solid, I did not see more than a few long-range passes but of those two were very good.

He does not feel comfortable when under pressure. He seems to try an occasional trick but they do not come off as well as he would probably want them to. In all the times I saw him in a bit of a difficult situation and he had to have good feet to get out of it, he lost the ball. When turning he is slow.

I also noticed that there was a fair few rushed and not very well thought through passes – expecting to find his team-mate while there were about 3-4 opponents between him and the player he is passing to.

Also for a player of his size, he really needs to improve his heading ability. You would want a 186 centimetre player in the box, but neither Netherlands or PSV use him there because the few times I saw him head the ball (usually in midfield position) he seemed to do nothing other than put his head against the ball. When it came to actually directing the ball with his head, he did not really do it.

His shooting was okay, but a bit of practice and few tips from people like van der Vaart, van Persie and Sneijder from the national team would definitely help as he does not really control where his shots fly.

Kevin Strootman about to receive a red card in a match against Twente. Picture taken from: globalsportsmedia.com

Strong character

When it came to him as a character on the football pitch, I liked what I saw. The fact that he got the captains armband after Ola Toivonen left in the game against Feyenoord seems to show that PSV’s manager Fred Rutten agrees.

He is very high demanding of his team-mates and lets them know when he does not like them. That usually means that he is a player who wants to win, is ambitious and probably spends a lot of time working on his own footballing skills.

Neither does he mind bossing his team-mates around on the pitch, telling them where to go, who to mark and so on.

Bit worryingly though he is very aggressive at times and definitely someone who I see getting a red card or two or maybe more for misconduct in his career.

All those characteristics are nothing new though and seem to be very common in the best Dutch players, Wesley Sneijder being probably the best example of a player who gets a bit heated on the pitch.

What level is he now:

I would say that Kevin Strootman is not yet at the level to make much of a difference in a club which hunts for highest honors of European football. There are some flaws in his game in all areas and he needs to learn and train hard. His bit slack and not very mobile playing style would see him struggle in England and Italy at least in my opinion because in case of England cames are very physically demanding and in case of Italy the spaces are quite tight. PSV is a great place for him to be at the moment and I am sure he will be a valuable asset for Netherlands in the upcoming Euro 2012 which will be the big test for him, if he gets there.

However, if he had to move in the January window, I would say Germany is the best destination, at least for immediate playing time and good performances.

What level might he reach:

I see a very good future for him in the game. The flaws in his game are fixable. He will become tactically more astute with every passing game and I believe finding that extra step of pace and bit more explosion in the legs is not impossible for a soon to be 22-year old player.

I think in future he could become more of a box-to-box midfielder than he is now. Ideally playing for a quite direct team which I can only imagine plays somewhat similar style of football to the Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side for example.

Top sides of English Premier League, Italian Serie A and German Bundesliga would all be good fit for him in as soon as 1-2 years time if all goes right. Spain however might be bit too chaotic for him below Real Madrid and Barcelona and of those big two, I do not see him fitting too well into either even if he develops.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 7/10

I think for now, his playing level is just short of 10 million euros but considering the fact that he is only 21-years old and his issues are fixable, I think it would be a gamble with very good odds for that money. There is a potential top team midfielder in there who can help his team a lot in all phases of the game.

However there is some chance of him not improving much which has to be taken into account. He might need some patience, trust and belief in him by the team he is in, especially in a situation where he moves to a very big team as start might be bit difficult in there. On the plus side he has adapted very well and almost immediately with previous teams and that is a sign of a great player.

I must add I was quite torn between 7 and 8 rating.

 
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Posted by on December 31, 2011 in Big Reports

 

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