20-year-old Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig branded “the next Iniesta” draws many technical comparisons to the Barcelona legend. Silky close control and an eye for a pass have seen him break into the Barcelona squad on occasion, but does the La Masia product deserve more minutes with the first team?
This tactical analysis will take a look at what technical qualities he has demonstrated while playing for the Barcelona B side, while also discussing how he could potentially improve certain aspects of his game.
Always looking to go forward
Puig specialises in progressing the play. His first thought when receiving is to play forwards into players in more advanced positions. However, the mentality to play forwards alone isn’t enough, to be able to regularly progress the ball, a midfielder needs to possess certain qualities of which Puig has in abundance.
Evidenced by his 1.95 deep completions per 90 and 6.27 progressive runs per 90, 12th and second highest in Segunda División B respectively, Puig excels at receiving from deep before carrying the ball up the pitch to drive his team towards goal. This skill begins before he has even received the ball.
As demonstrated above, Puig will frequently scan just before receiving the ball. This brief glance is all he needs in order to know where the opposition players around him are, and therefore where there is space to dribble into.
Now he has a clear picture of the game around him, he is able to quickly process that information and use it to evade opponents looking to press him. If an opponent attempts to press him as he receives the ball, Puig will look to beat them using his first or second touch of the ball.
Here, Puig is facing towards his own goal as he receives the ball, with his back to his opponent. While most players would take the safe option and control the ball back infield, Puig’s awareness enables him to beat his marker with his first touch.
With one touch, his marker is beaten, meaning one player has already been taken out of the game. As discussed earlier, he is only able to perform this due to his awareness of the players around him.
The most common way to beat his presser, however, is by getting past them with his second touch. He uses his first touch to control the ball with his back foot to open up his body while luring his marker closer towards him, shown in the image above.
Once they are close, he takes the ball past them with his second touch, thus taking them temporarily out of the game. His second touch tends to go where the space is, again enabled by his awareness of the situation around him, in order to be able to drive forward.
Ability to carry the ball
Puig’s close control allows him to carry the ball into congested areas, thereby drawing players towards him, before releasing the ball into the created space for a teammate.
Here, Puig manages to stay in control of the ball despite being surrounded by four players. He waits for the opposition to be drawn towards the ball, before releasing it to a teammate in the space.
Thanks to this, he has now freed up a teammate in the final third, who will now be able to drive towards goal.
His ability to dribble in tight spaces is aided by his low centre of gravity which allows him to change direction quickly to evade the challenges made by opponents. This excellent aspect of Puig’s game is exhibited by his high dribble completion rate of 61%.
Furthermore, Puig is able to break through opposition lines by accelerating into a gap between opposition players.
Puig scans the pitch and spots a gap between two midfield players.
Thanks to his short running strides, Puig is able to accelerate quickly enough to exploit the gap before the opposition can get across to close down the space. His technique to be able to accelerate rapidly while dribbling with the ball is one reason why he is such a stand out talent.
Earlier in this scout report, we mentioned Puig’s forward-first mentality in possession, and that doesn’t stop at his dribbling. Puig is excellent at playing the ball forwards into players in more advanced areas to progress play; this is firstly down to his capacity to play the ball with all parts of his foot. The result of this is that he possesses a great variety of passing angles, allowing him to thread balls into players positioned in between the lines. For instance, he can wrap passes into midfield with the inside of the foot, or flick passes around the corner with the outside of his foot. This is exhibited by his 9.68 progressive passes per 90, which is 19th highest in the league.
The pass above isn’t able to be played along the ground due to the positioning of the defender. However, Puig uses his creativity of technique to lift the ball over the defender’s leg and play his teammate through on goal.
As shown above, Puig lifts the ball with the top of his boot to make a pass that most players wouldn’t be able to perform.
Puig’s teammate receives his pass and is able to convert the chance to give Puig the assist.
The image above displays a pass that Puig can only complete because of his ability to play the ball with any part of the foot; in this instance, he plays the pass with the outside of his foot. However, if he was only comfortable passing with the inside of his foot, the pass would not have been possible. This is another example of how his creativity in terms of technique has enabled him to play through opposition lines. Despite his already wide variety of passing angles, he could improve this further by developing his left foot. Some passes in certain situations can simply only be played with one foot, and when that happens to be the left foot, Puig will tend not to attempt the pass due to his lack of confidence in using his left side.
Finally, we must discuss perhaps his most preferred pass to play: the pass from the left half-space to the opposite flank. Puig operates for the majority of the match in the left half-space due to the Barcelona B tactics, so, since he favours his right foot, he will often carry the ball infield before switching play to a runner on the far side.
In the example above, we see Puig in the centre of the pitch having carried the ball infield. He spots the player on the far side making an overlapping run, who he is then able to sweep the ball out to.
His precise weight of pass allows his teammate to take the ball on the run to exploit the space behind the opposition defence.
One skill that Puig could add to his game in situations such as these is spotting reverse passes back inside the pitch, rather than brushing it out to the opposite flank on most occasions, as this would reduce his predictability.
Playing ahead of the ball
The final aspect of Puig’s game that I want to discuss is his willingness to play ahead of the ball. Everything so far mentioned in this piece of analysis has been about Puig receiving deep in order to progress play. However, he is also apt at receiving behind the opposition’s midfield line, mainly due to the quality of his spacial awareness.
Above is an example of how Puig is able to create passing lanes to receive between the lines. He will position himself between two opposition midfielders in order to be as far away from any opposition player as possible, thus reducing the probability of the pass being intercepted.
Once again, Puig receives a pass from deep while being positioned behind and between two opposition midfielders.
To conclude this tactical analysis, Riqui Puig has demonstrated a number of qualities that would be required of a Barcelona midfielder. This would suggest that Puig is ready for a greater number of first team minutes, however, there are aspects of his game that he could look to improve to boost his chances of getting into the first team squad. For instance, Puig has contributed just two goals and one assist this season for Barcelona B. If he can better his output in the final third, there is only a matter of time until he is given the chance to prove himself in La Liga.