Scout Report: Patson Daka

Last few days in the footballing world have seen some mind-boggling developments: from the abomination called European Super League (and the new UCL Reforms) to Hansi Flick going public about his discontent with the upper management of FC Bayern Munich.  A domino effect has been observed in Germany with clubs experiencing a mass exodus of managers and sporting directors alike leaving for greener pastures. It all started when Borussia Dortmund decided to approach Marco Rose, manager of their arch rivals Borussia Monchengladbach. A ruling in the German ownership/voting model; which is another hot topic in footballing world after the ESL fiasco, dictates the clubs to officially announce such incomings and outgoings to the shareholders/voting members who hold the upper hand in running of the club directly or indirectly-all thanks to 50+1 model. This midseason announcement derailed the campaign of Gladbach. A similar event happened at Eintracht Frankfurt who announced the departure of their influential Sporting Director Ferdi Bobic to fellow Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin and Gladbach then poaching Adolf Hutter from Eintracht Frankfurt. Same scenario has triggered the movement between Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig which saw the Bavarian club agreeing to pay a world record compensation fee for a boyhood Bayern Munich fan and current RB Leipzig’s manager- Julian Nagelsmann. 

This domino effect has now provided the talented American manager Jesse Marsch to take over from Julian Nagelsmann at the start of new season. This merry go round of managers and directors will eventually result in the movement of some talented players from one destination to another to get reunited with known faces at the new club. One such player who might be embroiled in this domino effect is Patson Daka, the talented Zambian international who currently plays for RB Salzburg and is managed by Leipzig-bound Jesse Marsch.


(Photo by Michael Molzar/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

Background

Born in the Zambian city of ChingolaPatson Daka provides an inspirational success story, going from the school playing fields in his native Zambia to now leading the attack at one of Europe’s most exciting teams.  Daka grew up with the benefit of having a father who played professional football – in fact Daka’s earliest memories of football are watching his father Nathtali taking on opponents out wide. Nathtali’s sad passing during Patson’s youth has provided a main source of motivation in his own footballing journey. The youngster was taking his school exams when trials to represent the local province were being held. Persuaded by a friend, Daka went along and made an immediate impression.

Less than 12 months after this trial he was captaining Zambia at youth tournaments and even earned a call-up to the senior national team aged just 16. Daka’s impressive performances for Zambia in the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations(AFCON) in 2015 captured the attention of former Mali international Frederic Kanoute, which eventually led Daka to RB Salzburg after a loan spell at FC Liefering.


(Photo by Lars Baron – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

2017 proved to be a breakthrough for Patson Daka. The Zambian was a pivotal figure in RB Salzburg’s surprising UEFA Youth League success, scoring in the semi-final and final against FC Barcelona and Benfica respectively. At International level, Daka earned individual honours when named the 2017 Under-20 Africa Cup of Nations Best Player, in which he was also its top-scorer, the 2017 CAF Youth Player of the Year and the 2017 CAF Most Promising Talent of the Year. The latter especially is a very prestigious award, previously won by the likes of Mohamed Salah and John Obi Mikel.

In this scout report, an in-depth analysis of player’s game and his usage by Jesse Marsch will be covered which can also solve one issue which RB Leipzig has faced this season – the lack of a reliable striker up front. We analyse how the 22-year old can solve this issue if he were to get reunited with Marsch and one of his close friends off the pitch, Dominik Szoboszalai, in Leipzig.

Player Analysis

After taking the mantle from Erling Haaland, who moved to Germany in January 2020, Patson Daka exploded becoming the team’s top scorer in the Austrian Bundesliga with 24 goals and 6 assists in 21 starts and 10 substitute appearances. The current campaign has seen him net the same amount of goals in lesser number of appearances (24 with 18 starts and 6 substitute appearances) – scoring a goal every 71 minutes – an exceptional goal scoring frequency no matter what competition and standard in terms of difficulty. Till now in his professional career at senior level, Patson Daka has scored 0.64 goals per 90 minutes, after amassing an expected goal (xG) ratio of 0.54 per 90 minutes- again proving that he can be a reliable player in a suitable tactical setup – no matter what the quality and standards of the competition.

One of the main reasons he has such a great clinical streak in front of goal is the intelligence of his movement and how he positions himself before receiving the ball creating plenty of space for himself in optimal shooting positions, giving himself the best possible opportunity to convert his chances. Additionally, it does often seem as though the ball literally just finds him, due to how he often ends up on the end of a pass, loose ball or rebound in very favourable positions but this is a result of his excellent positioning and movement before the ball reaches him which creates such favourable conditions for the striker.

This intelligent movement and positioning go hand in hand with intelligent shot selection when it comes to Daka. He rarely takes on long-shots, with just one of his 19 shots at goal in the league this season coming from outside of the penalty area. He is a ‘fox in the box’. The benefit to this intelligent shot selection is seen in how often he hits the target with his shots. Daka has taken 4.69 shots per 90 minutes in the league this term, hitting the target with 56.22% of them. For reference, Haaland took 4.54 shots per 90 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga last season, hitting the target with 48.08% of them. The 22-year-old is very two-footed and scores almost as many goals with his left foot as he does with his right foot, the latter being his alleged stronger foot. This two-footedness makes him even more difficult to defend against, especially in these central areas he likes to position himself, as he can shoot very effectively from either side and he’s an agile dribbler that can quickly shift the ball onto either foot when a potential shooting angle opens up.

Daka is strong enough to back into a defender and hold the ball up in these situations, which he often does, but he’s also quick and agile enough to potentially spin out and get around the defender on his own in this type of situation. On this occasion, Daka’s receiving the ball with one teammate running towards goal inside of him who he could potentially pass to, but with so much more space on the outside and no teammate out there, he opts to collect the ball and go alone and the Zambian reaps the benefits of this decision. He intelligently uses his body positioning to keep the defender guessing as the pass comes to him, initially feinting forward on his left leg before quickly switching his weight onto his right leg, receiving the ball and spinning in behind, exploiting this space and creating a good shooting angle.

Daka has an impressive defensive work-rate for a striker. Daka keeps himself very active without the ball both when his team are in possession and when they’re without possession. Without possession, whether he’s required to track back into deep areas or whether he’s trying to help his side to win the ball back high up the pitch, Daka generally works hard and performs his required role diligently. He could never be described as a lazy player by any means. He’s also diligent at helping his side to defend against a counter when the ball is further up the pitch and tracking back is not a problem for Daka, with his pace also coming in handy there.

Conclusion

Jesse Marsch plays a high octane version of 4-4-2 which can take the shape of an expansive 4-2-2-2 (which Ralph Hasenhuttl deployed at RB Leipzig during his successful tenure) in attacking transitions. But RBL have struggled in the attacking department this season. With the departure of Timo Werner to Chelsea and their new recruits in Hwang Hee Chan (who played with Daka at RB Salzburg) and Alexander Sorloth taking time to settle in, RBL lacked a reliable #9 who can take the mantle of goal scoring. With the talks of Yusuf Poulsen, Marcel Sabitzer looking to find new challenges and Hwang Hee Chan apparently to be put on the market (with interest coming from London based West Ham United), RB Leipzig will need some firepower in their arsenal. Even though, they have secured the Bosman signing of another talented youngster- Brian Brobbey from AFC Ajax, his inexperience at senior level will end up putting excessive pressure on a youngster leading a side as competitive as RB Leipzig. An able partner and senior player in Patson Daka (whose current RB Salzburg contract ends in 2022) and Alexander Sorloth will enable RB Leipzig and Jesse Marsch to build his new tactical approach and perfect it with signings of his choice-which RB Leipzig can provide with ease given their healthy financials and also avoid a pretty inexperienced yet talented youngster in Brian Brobbey being ‘thrown under the bus’.


(Photo by Peter Lottermoser/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

What will happen to RB Salzburg? Their extensive scouting network will again enable them to find capable replacements without compromising on competitive streak at domestic and continental level. Best bet will be the promotion of talented 17-year old Slovenian youngster Benjamin Sesko who has come to life at FC Liefering this season with 15 goals and 5 assists in 26 outings. Current FC Liefering manager and successor to Jesse Marsch, the 33-year old Matthias Jaissle clearly prefers the Slovenian youngster and looking at the model RB Salzburg follows, there are high chances that the young striker will be promoted to first team. German youth international Karim Adeyemi is also knocking down on the door as first choice winger/striker. A potential strike force of Megrim Berisha, Sekou Koita, Karim Adeyemi and Benjamin Sesko can replicate the consistent goal scoring record of Patson Daka if he were to depart in coming summer, without losing any competitive edge and providing a win-win situation for every party involved in such a complex situation, made easy by the Red Bull Sporting Model. 


. (Photo by Markus Tobisch/SEPA.Media /Getty Images)

Scout Report: Anel Ahmedhodzic

According to reputed Italian journalist Fabrizio Romano, English Giants Chelsea and Manchester United have extensively scouted this talented Bosnian center back but it is the underdog Italian side Atalanta who are in advanced talks with him, beating their local rivals AC Milan along the way. The player under spotlight today is Anel Ahmedhodzic of Malmo. 

Background 

Born in Malmo, Sweden to parents of Bosnian heritage, Anel joined the youth academy of his hometown club which he left to play abroad, eventually landing at Nottingham Forest in January 2016. He made his professional debut against Newcastle United on 30th December, 2016- at the age of 17. This was his first and last start for the English side. He returned to Malmo FF in the winter window of 2018-19 season for an undisclosed fee. He made his first team debut for Malmo FF against their arch rivals- Helsingborg on 2nd June, 2019. 

Anel joined Danish Superliga side Hobro IK in a loan arrangement for 2019-20 season. He made his first start for his new club against fellow Superliga side Esbjerg on 21st July, 2019. He was called back to Malmo in January 2020 since his presence was deemed necessary at first team level and he has never looked back ever since. He extended his contract with Malmo FF until December 2023 and already has won the league with his home town club.

Ahmedhodzic has represented Sweden at all youth levels and even won his first senior cap for the Swedes in 2020 but he always had his heart set to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina. With the latest change of ruling by FIFA when it comes to representation at international level, this made Ahmed’s dream come true since his application for change of representation was accepted and he has now 2 caps for Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Playing Style

He is a right footed center back with a good built and height for a center back. He is the epitome of a modern day center back with underlying principles of those old school ‘no-nonsense’ center backs. Malmo’s head coach and former English Premier League and La Liga striker, Jon Dahl Tomasson, prefers a 4-4-1-1 formation. Ahmedhodžić (#15) is deployed at right centre-back in a back four. The majority of his touches, as you would expect for a defender, are in his team’s half of the pitch.

His tall built (6’4”) gives him an advantage over his opposition and it is reflected in statistics too. He has a success rate of 73% when it comes to aerial duels, the highest in Allsvenskan. But Ahmedhodžić is not quite as dominant in the air in his team’s penalty area. In this area, he wins 62.1% of his aerial duels.

Anel is a good ball playing center back too, boasting a good accuracy of 91.9% successful passes and most of his passes are forward passes, progressing into wide areas of the pitch. His progressive pass accuracy is 79%. Ahmedhodžić is competent at both keeping possession safe and playing forward into attacking areas.

The above image shows the moments after Ahmedhodžić has received the ball from LB. As soon as he receives the ball, he tries to attack the vacant space in front of him. Despite having easier and safer passing options available, he takes the responsibility of looking for an opening and tries a line breaking pass. By dribbling into the space in front of him at speed, he causes disruption to the opposition. Travelling up the pitch also makes a through ball easier to complete due to the shorter distance the ball will have to travel. Whilst being pressed, he has the awareness and ability to break the opposition’s press and pick out his striker’s clever run. This play is typical of the young defender. He doesn’t run away from responsibility. His first thought, even when receiving the ball in his own half, is how to put the opposition on their back foot and create a goal-scoring opportunity for his team. Not only does he possess an aggressive attacking mentality but also has the technical ability to pull it off.

Tackling is one of Ahmedhodžić’s mains strengths and at the same time one of his biggest liabilities. There are moments, usually when covering for a teammate, that he is able to use a slide tackle to recover the ball in a desperate situation. These challenges are perfectly timed and have often prevented clear goalscoring opportunities for the opposition.

However, too often when the situation requires patience, Ahmedhodžić is too eager to regain possession and dives in. This has cost his team by conceding freekicks in dangerous areas, showing his brave and aggressive streak. This is one area where the talented Bosnian has to improve and try to keep a calm and level head in such heated situations. His slide tackles are a good attribute to have but too often they are used as his first choice rather than a last resort. Should he go on to play at a higher level, going to ground so readily will have him found out quickly.

Overall, Ahmedhodžić’s movements off the ball are good. When keeping possession, he is aware of where the ball is and where he wants it to go next. He adopts a good position and body shape to achieve this. As covered in the previous section, when progressing the ball, he is aggressive with his runs and creates and joins in counter-attacks.

Conclusion

Given his ability on and off the ball, he comes off as a typical modern day center back who can play in a very high defensive line and try to build the attacks from the back, shuffling possession from central to wide areas and vice versa. This is the reason why teams like Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan and Atalanta have extensively scouted him. 

All those teams have an extensive scouting network in Scandinavia, all 4 of those teams have a playing style which will complement his strengths and also nullify his weaknesses in longer run. If we were to go by chatter in the media, Atalanta lead the race for his signature and even the player prefers a move to the Lombardy based side which will be the best possible move for him. Atalanta may lose out on their star player Cristian Romero (who is currently on loan from Juventus) but they will get a good and reliable replacement in Anel Ahmedhodzic who can take the mantle from Romero and play in a system which will suit him very well and playing in a league like Serie A will hone his technical ability as well. 

Another brilliant example of Atalanta’s scouting who not only have the one of the best (if not the best) youth setup in Italy but their scouting model in Scandinavia and other fringe countries is also the best among Italian clubs- getting cheaper yet first team ready replacements, sell them for a great profit and again repeat the cycle whilst not losing the competitive edge. 

Scout Report- Yusuf Demir

The player under radar today is the one who Football Manager players must know inside out with a sure shot potential ability to become one of THE BEST on the game. But in real life, this ‘wonderkid’ is also making strides which has now attracted the attention of all European footballing superpowers to win his signature. We will take a deep dive to cover the up and coming Austrian Yusuf Demir.

Background

Yusuf Demir is a product of Rapid Vienna youth academy. In 2019, he signed his first professional contract with the club aged only 15. He made his first-team debut for Rapid in a 3-0 Austrian Bundesliga win over Admira Wacker Mödling on 14 December 2019. Yusuf is of Turkish descent, but he is a youth international for Austria. On 15 September 2020, Demir scored a goal for Rapid Wien in 1–2 defeat against KAA Gent in the 2020–21 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round, at 17 years, 3 months and 13 days old, to become the youngest Austrian scorer since Gerd Wimmer in 1994, aged 17 years, 10 months and 27 days. He was the first name in the Guardian’s Next Generation: class of 2020 list, touted as Austrian ‘Messi’ by the panel of journalists who shortlisted him along with 59 other players around the world who have the potential to become one of the best in coming years.

(Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Playing Style

Demir can play in a number of positions across the frontline due to his versatility. He is also very adept at playing as an attacking midfielder, predominantly when his side utilize the 4-2-3-1 formation. The youngster has been utilized as a creative number 10 in 40% of the games he has featured in throughout his career, whilst he has played in any position variation on the right flank  40% of the time, with the other 20% being positions from anywhere off the left and even as a deep lying midfielder, dictating the gameplay from deeper areas of the midfield. However, this season, Rapid Vienna’s manager Dietmar Kühbauer has preferred to play this prodigy as an attacking midfielder mainly as it gets the best out of the 17-year-old, featuring in total of 22 games this season, quite a good number of games under the belt for a kid of his age at senior level. The most notable aspect is that Demir still prefers to operate slightly off to the right and in the right half space so that he can cut inside on his preferred left foot, which is where the youngster can be most dangerous.

Yusuf Demir’s heat map for 2020-21 season in Austrian Bundesliga

Demir’s all-round play is very impressive. He has a brilliant balance and pace along with exquisite technique and ball control for a player of his age. The teenager has been given quite a free role in the Wien side when he plays for them, especially as an attacking midfielder. This is reflected in his dribbling stats which put him among top 5 of Austrian Bundesliga with 10.62 dribbles per 90 minutes out of which he is completing 5.26 dribbles per 90, roughly completing 1 dribble out of 2 attempts. When in a 1v1 situation against an opponent, Demir’s natural instinct is to try and get himself into a central position which is where he is most dangerous on a football pitch. He does this by using body feints and a drop of the shoulder, combined with rapid changes of direction to ease past opponents. Demir’s preferred movement is from outside to inside on the right-flank as he can use his left-foot in the central areas providing he gets by his challengers.

Cutting in and trying to find space to hold the ball

A text book move for Demir when playing for his club or country is to look to receive the ball between the lines with his back turned to the goal. Receiving his back turned to goal allows him to receive the ball on the half-turn and drive forward with the ball at defending players and combine it with his brilliant balance, agility and low center of gravity to beat the defenders with ease. From the above image, you can see that Demir has dropped into the space between the opposition’s line of pressure and midfield in order to receive the ball to his feet. By dropping deep, he has given his backline an extra option to deliver a line-breaking pass and exploit the space created by Demir with his off the ball movement. From here, the Austrian likes to receive the ball on the half-turn on his backfoot and drive forward, attacking onrushing players in 1v1 and sometimes even 2v1 duels. One of the most impressive stats from the teenager is his offensive duels per 90. Demir currently has the highest number of average offensive duels attempted per 90 in the league with 20.6 offensive duels per 90 minutes.

Dropping deep to hold up the ball and eventually free up space for others

Whilst he likes to drop very deep at times in front of the opposition’s midfield, his preferred area on the pitch to operate in is between the lines of the backline and midfield line, which allows him to put his attacking instincts to better use than in deeper areas. Demir generally opts to receive the ball in the right half-space, try to cut in with his stronger left foot and provide ample space for marauding fullback to stretch the opposition’s defense and provide overlaps for better crossing angles. Receiving in the right half space in between the lines allows him to have space to take the ball on the half-turn – as he loves to do – and drive inside before hitting curling shots outside the box. This only mainly applies when Demir is deployed as a number 10 or a right-sided player but since he has been used in these areas 80% of the time, receiving in between the lines in the right half-space is a very important part of the 17-year-old’s overall game.

Yusuf Demir’s Shot and Goal Creation Action Analysis

In terms of creative ability, his best comes from the left flank. The reason for this is because he excels at getting into the left half-space and cutting the ball backwards. As Demir is a left footer, pulling the ball across the box is more natural for him on the left side of the pitch. This is an example of an excellent chance created by Demir in the assist zone on the left side of the box. He receives the ball in the left half space again and drives towards the by-line. By being naturally left-footed, he is more suited to putting the ball across the box in these situations as opposed to the right side where he needs to cut back onto his stronger foot. Playing as a number 10 also gives him the freedom to roam into these types of positions at times to create as well as drifting towards the right – his preferred side.

Yusuf Demir trying to cross the ball into the 12 yard box with his stronger left foot

Demir is also well able to carve a defence open when the opportunity arrives as he has quite an innate ability of playing through gaps in an opposition’s defence to find running teammates. The Austrian’s creative stats are very solid for a player of his age Demir has averaged 0.71 key passes per 90 in all competitions and also currently averages 0.33 expected assists (xA) per 90 for current calender year.

Yusuf Demir attempting a line breaking pass to marauding winger

Conclusion

For a 17-year old teenage footballer, Yusuf Demir’s game is very mature and there is a reason that all of Europe is extensively scouting him, ever since he has broken into Rapid Vienna’s first team. Teams like Manchester United and Juventus have had scouted him in the past but their interest has been rekindled with his recent performances. On one hand, it is quite natural to give into the temptation when Europe’s most prestigious clubs are chasing for your signature but Yusuf is in that age category where experience at first team level without any added pressure is crucial for development, both physically and mentally. Players of his age group must strive for a healthy competitive environment.

Ideally, he should stay in Rapid Vienna and try to become a regular first team player in coming years, try to break the domestic domination of RB Salzburg and also help his hometown club to make a deeper run in Europa League and then take it one step ahead by switching to a side fighting for European places in Germany who also don’t hesitate to play younger players (preferably Borussia Dortmund or Borussia Monchengladbach since these 2 clubs can do with a player of his quality given the tactical setup they use complements his strengths). Once, he is mature enough, both physically and mentally- he can easily take the challenge to make a name for himself at the grand stage, both at club level and international level.

Yusuf Demir has the potential to become one of the all time greats for not only Austria but one of the all time greats of upcoming generation of footballers. But, with talent, you always need hardwork, dedication and the most important thing- Patience.  

(Photo by Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Sensible Targets: Nikola Milenkovic

The Balkans are known to have some of the best hidden gems in the footballing world. The Croatias, The Serbias of our world have given us many footballing prodigies in the last 2 decades. One such prodigy found his way to Italy at a very young age, right under the noses of European Giants. Now, mature enough to make a big switch- we will take a look at La Viola’s Serbian Centre Back- Nikola Milenkovic and how he can be a good partner to Harry Maguire in the long run and provide healthy competition to current centre back pairing at the English club. 

 

(Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images)

Background

Nikola Milenkovic was born in Belgrade in October 1997 and spent his entire youth career at Partizan Belgrade who are known to unearth many talented youngsters in the Balkans (one such player which Manchester United were seriously interested in was Filip Stevanovic, who eventually chose Manchester City). After spending some time on loan at Teleoptik, Milenkovic made his debut for Partizan in the Serbian SuperLeague in the 2015/16 season. He appeared four times, largely because of a four-game suspension following a red card. He still managed to score his first goal for the club that year. 

The following season, 2016/17, saw Milenkovic establish himself as first choice option at centre back as he made 32 appearances in the league, scoring twice, as Partizan completed a domestic double. At the end of the season, Fiorentina’s sporting director Pantaleo Corvino, famous for snapping up budding players in the Balkans, brought the defender to Firenze. Milenkovic had a good debut season in Italy with 16 appearances in Serie A. His performances also earned him a spot in Serbia’s World Cup squad where he played all of their three games at the heart of defence.

Playing Style 

Nikola Milenkovic has been one of only a few standout performers for Fiorentina this season. The Serbian is a right-footed defender, who stands at 6 ft 5 and was initially signed from Partizan Belgrade for £4.5m in 2017/18. The Serbian has played in over 3,000 minutes in each of his last two Serie A campaigns, highlighting his importance to the team. Fiorentina often rely on Nikola’s defensive ability. Milenkovic often lines up as the right centre-back and has also played as a right back in the past for La Viola and Partizan.  The Serbian ventures very less towards the left-hand side of the 18-yard box, fixed to the central area and the right-hand side wide space.

 

Nikola Milenkovic’s heat map for the season 2019-20

The heat map also implies that Milenkovic is comfortable advancing with the ball when Fiorentina are in possession, a confident user of the ball who can often be found looking for a progressive pass to break the lines of the opposition’s defensive structure.

Defensive Aspect

Milenkovic is kind of an old school, no-nonsense defender, combining the old school centre back principles with modern day approach; amalgam of the intelligent reading of the game and positioning with strength and superb aerial ability. His height and physical built helps him to dominate in the air, last season the Serbian won 77% of all aerial battles, a figure which positioned him in the 95th percentile of centre-backs in Serie A.

 

Nikola Milenkovic’s 2019-20 season breakup

This season also, he is averaging upwards of 80% in successful aerial duels, putting him in topmost percentile in this metric, not only in Serie A but in top 5 leagues of Europe. One aspect of Milenkovic’s impressive defensive game is his individual defending. He’s got a very good technique when defending on his own and for his age shows a great wealth of experience in terms of his decision making. Milenkovic possesses an innate sense of positioning with the ability to angle his body perfectly to cover passing options while also maintaining the balance needed to defend against the opposition attacking players.

 

Nikola Milenkovic’s 2020-21 season breakup

Ball Playing Ability

In modern day football, the ball playing and ball progression ability of centre backs is becoming a necessary trait in order to thrive at elite level since teams, rather than sitting deep and counter-attacking from flanks, now try to press/counter-press higher up the pitch and try to dominate the possession in half wing spaces. There has been a myth in the scouting circuit that Nikola isn’t very comfortable with ball playing and ball progression due to his “athletic built” (just like Harry Maguire). 

Here, we see an example of how Nikola Milenkovic is with the ball at his feet in the image taken from the game against Udinese below.

The opposition are well organised and their press has closed all forward passing lanes, leading to Fiorentina playing the ball back towards their own goal. As soon as Milenkovic receives the ball in this position his first thought is to drive forward at the opposition.

This movement of the central defender towards the opposition forces the opposition to move out of their positional slots to close Milenkovic down. This movement towards the ball opens a forward passing lane, allowing Nikola to progress the ball into the opposition’s half to the feet of Patrick Cutrone.

Another example of the Serbian’s confidence on the ball and vision to breaking opposition’s lines with his passes with the ball can be found against Sampdoria. I Bluerchiati, led by Mister Claudio “Dily Ding, Dily Dong” Ranieri, are known to deploy a low block with two banks of four spanning the width of the penalty area, and pressing the opposition’s centre backs through their strikers.

This movement creates an opportunity for Milenkovic to get a shot/pass off on goal, in this circumstance Patrick Cutrone reads the play like any good forward and is able to get on the end of the ball from Nikola.

Conclusion

In the above data driven and eye testing tactical analysis, we have seen that Nikola Milenkovic has all the traits to thrive at an elite level in modern day game, he has the physical build, the aggression of an ‘old school’ Centre Back, intelligence of a ‘modern day’ centre back and ability to play lots of games into the season (the Serbian has missed less than 10  matches in his entire career due to injury concerns till now). Given Manchester United’s defensive woes are more due to underlying structural issues which leave their centre backs without any good cover during transitions and the initial pairing of Harry Maguire-Victor Lindelof is also suspect at times: the Swede’s inability to impose himself on opposition’s attacking players sometimes add extra load on his English partner to do extra dirty work. A fast paced and aggressive centre back who can easily do the dirty work on and off the ball during transitions and also has the aggression and physical build to impose himself on the opposition is required to partner Harry Maguire in the long run. Nikola has all those traits and all the eye test and data analysis point out that he can be a good option to buy because of following factors: 

  • The Serbian’s contract with Fiorentina ends in 2022, with him being at a stage in his career where he wants to progress as a footballer at a bigger stage and contest for trophies- this may force Fiorentina to cash in on him during the summer window of 2021. A price between 20-40 million pounds will easily force Fiorentina to cash in on him. 
  • Manchester United do require a centre back but even before buying a Centre Back, they need to sort out the future of their back up Centre Backs first: Eric Bailly’s contract is ending in 2022 and Axel Tuanzebe needs regular playing time at his age too.  
  • Moreover, Manchester United need to buy a defensive minded versatile midfielder first who can play in multiple formations, complement the current midfield roster, try to take the load of creation from Bruno Fernandes and most important thing, don’t leave the centre backs exposed during transitions. With multiple loopholes in the squad and Manchester United’s inability to do the transfer business efficiently in comparison to their arch rivals (Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC), a cheaper alternative like Milenkovic may prove to be a bargain buy in longer run and also leave funds to strengthen the positions which require immediate and instant fix. 

Scout Report- Facundo Medina

According to RMC Sport Correspondent Sacha Tavolieri, Facundo Medina is drawing interest from Manchester United who have been scouting for potential targets to bolster their Centre Back department. Facundo Medina has attracted the attention of English giants with his stellar performance with French side RC Lens. The report further states that while Manchester United have registered an interest in Medina, he is among a number of names on their shortlist and is not their main target as at the present moment. 

In this scout report, we will look at how he has fared in his career and if he can sustain his stellar output in a better side. 

(Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Player Profile

Facundo Medina is a left footed centre-back and equally capable of playing as a left back. Born in Buenos Aires, he joined his boyhood club River Plate as a youngster, rising through the ranks over the years and breaking into the reserves team in 2017. He, then got called up to first team too but failed to make an appearance for the club. Soon, fellow Argentina Primera Division side Talleres came calling for him. Getting consistent first team opportunities at first team level, Medina started growing as a player and his talent slowly started attracting attention of some European sides- mainly from France with OM, OL sending their scouts to watch him on a number of occasions. But it was Ligue 1 newcomers RC Lens who snapped him up before the start of 2020-21 season, in a deal worth 3.15 million euros. Him along with young French Defender Loic Bade make up the crux of defence which is one of the best statistically in Ligue 1 this season. This has catapulted the newcomers to 7th place in the Ligue 1 table, level on points with AS Monaco with a game in hand- an unexpected fight for European Competition spots.

(Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Playing Style 

Medina’s defending is different from most of the centre-backs in the league. He possesses natural quickness which allows him to make risky decisions at times. Along with his aggressive style of play, he tends to apply a lot of ‘pressures’ and contest for duels with wingers/strikers of the opposition. His agility and speed compensate for his aggressive style of play, but not to the full extent. When he puts pressure on the opponent, it becomes vital that he must have the right body positioning to limit the passing angles through which the opposition can dictate the game. This proactive style of defending requires great spatial awareness and quick decision-making because every mistake might be costly. The centre-back needs to read the game well, limiting the passing options and the opportunity for an attacker to turn and change direction.

Credits: Wyscout

Credits: Fbref/Statsbomb

Medina’s mobility and awareness of where the next pass might be played become the key components when it comes to interceptions. Facundo averages 1.2 interceptions and 12.5 recoveries per 90 mins in Ligue 1 this season. Getting in the way of the attackers creates a lot of trouble for the opposition and provides Lens with an opportunity to start a counter attack, in which he plays a vital part. His forward passes break opposition defensive lines and help his teammates create opportunities within a couple of passes. He can release the attackers with a pinpoint pass. He averages 6.5 progressive passes per 90 minutes and has covered a distance upwards of 180 yards per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 this season.

Credits: Fbref/Statsbomb

Credits: Fbref/Statsbomb

At the age of 21, Medina already has the kind of dominating presence you would expect from an experienced and commanding centre-ack. Despite being only 5’11’’, he has a great jump and takes off the ground really well, which helps him tremendously in aerial duels. Along with his aggressive playing style, he is adept at contesting and winning ground duels too. He boasts a rate of 61% when it comes to winning aerial duels and 70% rate when it comes to winning tackles, one of the highest in the league. He likes to gain some advantage over his opponent by getting in front of him. His agility and balance allow him to coordinate himself in this manner. His anticipation and reading of the game help him to prevent through balls, passes into penalty area or crosses, may it be from Centre Back or Left Back. He is getting a consistent amount of playing time at a fairly good level in Europe too, which has attracted attention of even better clubs.

Credits: Fbref/Statsbomb

Conclusion

Facundo Medina is still very inexperienced at the top level. His aggressive playing style can easily leave the defence wide open, thus making him a more system specific player at the moment. But these things can be worked upon since he is still young. For a centre-back with an aggressive style of play, blessed with quickness, agility and good positional awareness, Facundo Medina promises to become an asset for any team if groomed well. Such a playing style is an embodiment of the modern-day Centre Back. This playing style is what has been missing in United’s current CB roster. This is the reason the red devils have been scouting players of similar style with scouts sent on assignments to Portugal to watch Sporting Braga’s David Carmo in past months. 

With BBC Sport Correspondent Simon Stone also breaking the news that United is sporadically looking for such low-risk high reward buys, it shows that there has been a change of direction at the club when it comes to transfer dealings.

Percentile rank (Scope is Ligue 1 defenders with 8+ appearances)