This post originally featured on our comprehensive world football analysis sister site, totalfootballanalysis.com.
Barcelona’s La Masia continues to produce players who have immense potential. In the past few years though, the number of players leaving the club has increased. Navarro to Monaco, Garcia and Bernabe to Manchester City and Pablo Moreno to Juventus are just some of the biggest losses of La Masia. This year, Manchester City had their eyes set on 15-year-old midfielder Ilaix Moriba. Moriba is now 16 and is close to renewing with Barcelona.
This was a new step for La Masia. Sporting incentives were always given. However, this is the first time a huge economical offer has been put forth. For this huge turning point, Moriba was one of the main incentives. This tactical analysis looks into what made a historic club like Barcelona take this huge step using the statistics of Moriba.
Moriba was born in Guinea on 19 January, 2003. He is a right-footed central midfielder, but can also play as an attacking midfielder. According to his age, Moriba should be playing with the under-17 teams. However, he was always ahead of his age group.
At 15 years of age, he started playing two stages above his level. Instead of doing Cadete A, Juvenil B and then Juvenil A, Moriba went directly up to Juvenil A. Getting minutes in the UEFA Youth League, he has proven he can play at a much higher level.
Moriba rapidly rose to fame because of his hat-trick against Real Madrid. Scoring a goal directly from kick-off, he was years ahead of players his age. He has even been compared to Manchester United’s Paul Pogba.
Moriba is very tall for his age. Very strong and with great ability to recover possession, he is physically superb. Many players who are tall are not very agile. However, Moriba has maintained that agility. He acts as an excellent asset in midfield.
Winning 40% of duels, Moriba is excellent at stopping counter attacks before they start. In the example shown below, we see why that matters. The opposition have the ball and are on the counter, but Moriba is very aware of the threat. He makes an excellent sliding tackle to stop the attack, and regains possession. As he does so, the opposition are caught off balance and he has many options to pass to as we can see.
This ability to regain possession easily is strengthened further with his excellent slide tackles. He has a success rate of 66% when attempting them, despite being one of the most difficult skills to master. This ability reflects his possible defensive capacity.
Moriba also uses his physique in a smart way. He combines it with his good positioning and awareness. In the example shown below, the ball is bouncing and is in open play. Here, Moriba sees his teammate closer to the ball and opponents closing in on him. But he positions his body so as to not have the opposition reach the ball before him. This positioning helps Barcelona keep possession.
As a player for Barcelona, Moriba is bound to have great passing. He is very comfortable on the ball, as his 87.4% passing accuracy clearly shows. He also makes an average of 2.33 through-balls per match, although the success rate of 40% is not very convincing.
We must keep in mind that he plays with players who are three years older than him as he develops. Considering this, his 6.53 passes to the final third per match are impressive. What is even more impressive is that he makes four passes on average into the box with a high success rate.
A key part of his technique, mainly the mental part, is his pressing. Wherever he plays for the Barcelona under-19s, he always plays aggressively and looks to press immediately. He makes 6.5 recoveries per match, out of which 80% are in the opposition’s half. Combining his recoveries with his passing ability, it is safe to say Moriba has the potential to play as an advanced playmaker as well as a defensive midfielder.
Moriba has phenomenal shooting ability with long shots his specialty. He generates great power with his right foot while maintaining balance, too. His accuracy has not been the best recently, but he has had moments where he showed incredible accuracy.
Here, we have an example of his long shot from some way out. However, he has the time and space to shoot. He is aware that the passing options are not very progressive, so he goes for goal himself. His very powerful shot hits the underside of the bar and goes in. This is another example of his excellent ability and why he is compared to Paul Pogba.
In another image below, Moriba again scores with an excellent strike. Here we can observe some similarities. He tends to shoot at a specific angle that allows him to wrap his right foot around the ball. If the opposition has a defender who is tactically sound and has good positioning, stopping these chances on goal will be possible. They are possible only when there is enough time to generate the power.
Assuming Moriba becomes a world-class player, the opposition would always be sure to limit him by studying his shooting very well. He must become more versatile with where he has great shooting accuracy from. This problem in versatility causes him to have only 50% shooting accuracy.
Dribbling and agility
As mentioned earlier, Moriba has impressive agility for his height. Below, we have an example of his dribbling. He receives the ball and is immediately pressured by the opposition. Moriba knows that he can not dribble past them as they outnumber him.
He can’t pass without positioning himself better, either. Thus he turns quickly, putting one player off balance due to his momentum. Now he is no longer outnumbered and can dribble past the remaining player. It is an impressive show of decision making and quick thinking.
Tactical awareness and defensive responsibility
If a player is to play at the highest level, he should be tactically sound. Moriba is well equipped with this. In the example shown below, he demonstrates that along with his passing ability. The right-back has moved up the pitch and has passed the ball to Moriba. He knows that holding the ball up or passing it back will be dangerous as the right-back has moved up the field. It could cause the counter-attack to break down. So rather than taking his time, as usual, Moriba plays a sublime one-touch pass through the opposition.
Moriba has great defensive understanding. In the image below, he has fallen back to the edge of the box. He sees a player from the opposition standing on the edge of the box and immediately looks to cover him. This smothers the pass and Barcelona regain possession.
Another example is when the midfield is not covered well. Below, Barcelona don’t have many players ready to tackle. Moriba recognises this and positions himself accordingly. The player tries to get away from him, but he uses his strength again and makes sure he can’t pass.
Had Moriba allowed this, the opposition would have had a very good attacking chance. His positioning here is even better when you consider he has his back to the player who was open and could not see him. He was still able to prevent the pass.
Barcelona don’t have a midfielder who is very physical, agile and excellent at long shots. Moriba fits the description. It would be very unlikely that he does not make it to the Barcelona first team, as he has immense potential and a very high footballing intelligence.
For Moriba, it is a question of when rather than if he will become a great player. Now, all that remains to be seen is just how great he can be.
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