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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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Christian Eriksen of Ajax and Denmark (One Game)

Christian Eriksen is the hottest property in Eredivisie. Picture taken from: devilsofmanchester.com

Christian Eriksen enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame in the year 2011, but he started the newest year with the KNVB cup game against AZ Alkmaar, the leaders of Eredivisie. I watched him in that game to give a report of what level is the 19-year old currently on.

Eriksen is a playmaker who broke into Ajax’s first squad already in 2009/2010 and into the Danish national team for the 2010 World Cup, but it was the next season when his influence on the team, as well as interest from abroad, in the Danish player grew.

Now, Ajax’s no. 8, who has already represented Denmark for 20 times, has become the hottest property in the Dutch league full of talents. And Premier League and Serie A clubs are paying the most attention.

Before you read, I would like you to understand, that this report is based on one game so it might not provide perfect accuracy of the players level, even more so when taking into consideration that it was the first official game after the winter break in Netherlands. But then again, they had played some friendlies, so he was not completely out of form.

One Game Report on Christian Eriksen

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

Name: Christian Dannemann Eriksen
Date of Birth: 14.02.1992 (age 19)
Nationality: Danish
Height: 177 cm
Current Club: Ajax (contracted until 30.06.2014)
National Team: capped for senior, U21, U19, U18 and U17 national teams

Basic Playing Information:

Position: Attacking midfielder / Left winger / Central midfielder
Preferred Foot: Right

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

2011/2012: Ajax / Denmark – 29 games, 6 goals, 13 assists, 1 yellow card, 2324 minutes played
2010/2011: Ajax / Denmark / Denmark U21 – 61 games, 10 goals, 20 assists, 2 yellow cards, 4105 minutes played
2009/2010: Ajax / Denmark – 21 games, 1 goal, 1 assist, 1 yellow card, 1028 minutes played

Game Watched To Make The Report:

Ajax – AZ 2:3 (KNVB Beker, 19.01.2011)

Game Description:

This was the cup game which was originally abandoned due to an incident with a fan. It was played in front of kids as no older fans were allowed into the arena.

Eriksen was part of a 4-3-3 midfield, often chasing positions with his midfield partners. The game was balanced with Ajax dominating, but AZ holding their defence reasonably tight.

Eriksen played whole 90 minutes and had his role in both of the Ajax goals. In first one he sent a ball over the top to Siem de Jong and in second case his weak long range shot fell from the goalkeeper onto de Jong’s feet who put it into an empty net.

Christian Eriksen with Denmark. Picture taken from: sportsstarclub.blogspot.com

Performance of Eriksen:

Eriksen was very involved with Ajax’s game in the final third and he looked like a very typical Dutch-school playmaker. Although presented pre-game as a part of a flat midfield trio, he looked as if he spent a lot of time in the position of an attacking midfielder.

He was easily Ajax’s most quality attacking player, but he was far from perfect either, making a few mistakes and showing some shortcomings.

Needed more speed & strength

Eriksen is very similar in his style of play and role to a former Ajax product Wesley Sneijder and therefore it offers a good possibility to compare Eriksen with another world-class player in his position.

Much like Sneijder, he is a player with not that much natural speed, which is probably the reason why he is not a winger or a forward, instead taking up a position in the midfield. He probably lacked a bit of form due to the winter break, but even when taking that into account he seemed to lack of explosion as well as pace. It was most evident in one situation in second half in which he took on a player on the wing for pace and failed miserably as the defender easily got ahead of him.

Eriksen will definitely have to work on his speed if he wants to go to a league like Premier League and become a big hit. It’s not just pure straight-line speed that seemed average. Also his speed when changing direction was not great, and that is something that Sneijder manages to mask his lack of pace with.

He could also become much stronger and better at using his body, there were a couple of occasions where he was outmuscled by opponents and this is something that would happen to him many more times in a better league with a big club.

An incident which perfectly summed up both of his shortcomings in this game happened in the second half. He had the ball in front of the defence with quite a lot of time, but one AZ midfielder came charging from behind to win the ball – Eriksen couldn’t get away from him and ended up being robbed off the ball despite having his body between the ball and the opponent at first.

HOWEVER (I needed to make this stand out), I have to admit that when it comes to speed, he seemed to be faster on some video compilations I watched after the game to get a bit better understanding of his physical form in cases where he hasn’t come back from a month without a competitive game.

Another criticism I have is that when it comes to defending he was too passive. He looked as if he only did the minimal work in defence, no real interceptions or tackles in that game. When chasing back he lacked motivation and energy to win the ball and at first opportunity he looked to give his duties away to someone else.

Amazing one-touch pass

The biggest part of Eriksen’s game is his passing range and easily the most impressive part of his passing portfolio is the one-touch pass.

He does it with incredible ease, playing one-two’s off him is like hitting the ball against the wall. If the ball is passed to him for one-two, it will almost certainly find its way to received in a way that the latter can continue his run without slowing down. His good control of the ball is also evident with great first touch.

His short-range passes and long-range passes are of good quality too. It was his very clever pass which created the opening goal of the game as he sent a chipped ball from midfield position over a few players to de Jong who had a free way into the box.

He also gave a few corners, which were decent.

Prefers right foot too much

On a technical, what could disturb his manager tactical, is that if there was a chance for him to use his right foot, he always preferred it, even if it meant he had to slow down the game. He did not look comfortable with the ball on his left foot.

He made a few passes with the left, mostly shorter one’s. Indeed he can and does use his left foot at times, but an hour or two extra work with it on the training ground every week would help him.

This constant preference of the right foot paired with average pace and strength might hold him back by a level. If he could use his left foot the way Sneijder uses, he could become much more unpredictable and he could speed his game up by a notch, a notch necessary for making an impact on the very biggest of scenes.

Would have to note that he did take one shot with his left foot and it ended up creating the other Ajax goal as his weak and low effort from the edge of the area was somehow spilled by AZ’s goalkeeper.

What I did not see in this game from his technical side was the lovely skill and nutmegs that have made him a bit of a YouTube hit and which have helped him get past players in previous games in his career.

Mistakes grew as the game went on

At the start of the game he was very calm on the ball, making just a couple of bad decisions, but in second half there were more as the tiredness started to affect him.

He did seem to have decent vision, as shown in the assist for the first goal, but there were times where he misjudged the situation badly, trying to make passes which were never going to come off and maybe at times not re-calculating a difficult situation, trying to put a ball over the top for a team-mate who was moving back from a offside position for example.

Also amongst the very poor decisions you could list the aforementioned try to take on an opponent player for pace despite him probably knowing very well that he was not going to win the race.

Eriksen has many suitors, amongst them Manchester United. Picture taken from: forzaitalianfootball.com

What level is he now:

I do not think he is actually starting material for a top team just yet. He looks like a player who would only fit into a certain system as his playing style really makes the only position available for him the one of a playmaking attacking midfield.

For now, he might struggle in a top team in a top league because of all the shortcomings I’ve mentioned and this is taking the fact that it was the first official game after the winter break into consideration.

I think it wouldn’t be bad for him to stay in Ajax for another season after this because he can still learn in Eredivisie where he does have decent challenges with games against solid teams like AZ, Twente, PSV and Feyenoord in addition to European matches. I think a half-starter role in a big team would not benefit him much.

I think he might struggle to make an impact in a physical game of Premier League and also in both Spanish giants, almost definitely in Barcelona. For his technical ability, he would easily fit into one of the high possession, high tempo teams, but his work-rate when defending and also when attacking might not be enough.

What level might he reach:

He could and probably will become a top class player in the same mould as Sneijder with not such great two-footedness and set piece ability, but with bit more technical skill as he has some good tricks in his locker.

He will turn 20 in February so he has a plenty of time to go. His problems can be fixed or at the very least covered up.

It could also be possible that someone converts him to a deeper playmaker role in the future as he often seemed to like to get onto the ball around the central circle rather than between opponents defensive and midfield line. Something similar to the likes of Paul Scholes and Andrea Pirlo.

If I had to pay 10 million euro’s rating: 8/10

I imagine he could be a player worth 30 million euros in a few years time, but for now, such price tag would be overrated. It’d be reasonable to give him a price of around 15 million, more would be a robbery. I was torn between 7 and 8 rating for him, but I gave him the benefit of doubt because of the fact that it was the first game after a long break.

 
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Posted by on January 21, 2012 in One Game Reports

 

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