Multiple rumours had linked him to Valencia during this transfer period, but Denis Suàrez had finally ended up at Galicia. The Spanish midfielder is back to his native city and will be again part of his childhood club. “He will add much to the team,” some supporters may say. This can make sense knowing the quality of the ex-Barcelona player.

It can also be true thanks to the possible connections that Denis can create with other Celta highly skilled players. On the other hand, the midfielder had gone through some quite difficult moments over the last two seasons.

I will try in this tactical analysis article to discuss, using statistics, the role that Denis Suàrez could play at Celta Vigo.

Why is this quite a risky transfer?

Denis Suàrez spent most of the last two seasons either on the bench or recovering from injuries. The Spanish midfielder played only 1480 minutes over the two seasons. It’s quite low given that on average a player can have between 30 and 40 matches a season and so if he takes part in just 50% of the matches he will complete a total 3150 minutes in two seasons. Thus, when just looking at the minutes he played we can assume that last season was not Suàrez’s best.

Furthermore more, most of the Spaniard’s participation came through Domestic Cup matches. He played 360 minutes of his game time over the two seasons against lower-division teams. More interestingly he did contribute, during the same period, 10 goals: five of these 10 contributions came against these second/third division teams.

Last but not least, the rare entries that he made last season either for Barcelona or Arsenal did not convince much. He often looked hesitant and gave away a quite high number of balls to the opponent. He attempted, in four matches with Barca, a total of 31 passes. Only 22 of these passes were correct. This constitutes a success ratio of 70%, which is way less than all other Catalan midfielders.

Seen like this, it seems quite a bad idea to sign such a player….

But also one that might pay off

Though, it’s important to relativise and contextualise the numbers cited below. It’s obvious that you need to play continuously to have any impact on your team’s matches. It’s even more difficult when you are in Barcelona and Arsenal. Such teams always look to establish rather complex structures with multiple connections between players in order to break opponents’ blocks. This makes it harder for a substitute to understand his own role and those of his teammates in each action.

In addition to this, the fact that Ernesto Valverde likes to see Suàrez as a winger can make you tolerate some of his inconsistency. Suàrez is clearly not an intense winger who can make countless runs on the sideline or ball calls to the centre. He likes to have the ball at his feet and initiate attacks either by eliminating opponents or by running with the ball and looking for passing lines. It’s mainly for this reason that fans compare him to Andrès Iniesta, Barcelona’s legendary midfielder.

Thus, Suàrez had little time playing as a midfielder in Barcelona. These minutes are of course way less than sufficient for the player to acquire the needed reflexes in different situations.

What can Denis add to the Celta Squad?

Denis Suàrez is seen as a midfielder with great technique and passing skills. In some way, he embodies the ideal of the modern attacking Spanish midfielder. The 25-year-old Galician man measures 170 cm, averages over 85% of pass success ratio in his best seasons. He does also attempt a high number of dribbles while being still. I can assume that there is almost no doubt about his technical abilities.

Suàrez is also tactically interesting to watch despite not experimenting much. One of the main characteristics that I like the most is his tendency to play balls towards the centre of the pitch. This says that often when he receives the ball, either close to the sideline or in the half-spaces, he tends to play forward balls to zone 14/ penalty box rather than getting it to side backs or wingers. He prefers, for example, to offer the ball to a teammate who is running in the direction of the goal no matter other options around him.

In the pictures below, for example, there are pass lines which are ‘safe’ but which could also take the attacking phase a step further (the ones in green). Denis will always make the choice to get the ball to the man running towards the goal.

Denis Suàrez at Celta Vigo 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics Denis Suàrez at Celta Vigo 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

He is that kind of player that has no fear to attempt, and sometimes force, risky forward passes to teammates who are often marked but who do also attract opponents and so they give the opportunity either for him or for a third tier to make use of the space. The pictures below are examples where Suàrez tries to take advantage of the dropping out of his team’s attacker. He makes a forward pass in order to get a one-touch back pass and get into the space behind the defender who marks his teammates.

Denis Suàrez at Celta Vigo 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics Denis Suàrez at Celta Vigo 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

The common thing between all the pictures and remarks above is that in the pictures below you can see that Suàrez always chooses the difficult passing channel. Of course the riskier your pass the bigger the chance to get a concrete result from the opportunity. We can say that he is a part of the narrow circle of players who can imagine the full play in their minds before executing the pass. He acts in the way he had imagined it in his head. This quality is often present among extremely gifted and tonic players like Lionel Messi. They imagine the play first and then execute it.

Speaking of his ability to read the sequences of passes well, I do like a couple of other things in Suàrez’s play. The Spanish man does have an amazing ability to receive the ball with the interior of his left foot, with his back turned to the goal, and then to return and start running with it with his preferred foot. Few players have the ability to control the ball that well while pressed and then orientate themselves in the direction of the goal. Even fewer ones do have enough courage to do so.

Denis Suàrez at Celta Vigo 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics Denis Suàrez at Celta Vigo 2019/20 - tactical analysis tactics

In the above pictures, Suàrez tries to get one step ahead of his opponent by noticing elements that surround him. He identifies the distance that separates him from his passer but also from his opponent. He also takes a look at the space where he will make his run. This effort of identification gives the new Celta Vigo player the chance to act faster than the others. He makes a quicker first step that permits him to go past his direct defender.

This quality could be of great help for the Galician team. Their side midfielders/wingers, like Sisto and Boufal, are more likely to stick to the sideline. They prefer to get the ball to their feet and start running towards defenders. Even though both of them are highly skilled they prefer getting the ball in a comfortable situation rather than being close to defenders. You will rarely find them positioned between the lines making quite a few touches to get out of the pressing.

Conclusion

Three years ago from now, Denis Suàrez made his return to Barcelona. He was then a 22 years-old rising star with a lot of potential and ambition. Since then, ups and downs have occurred for the ex-Citizen player. Today, he is 25. He has gained experience but has also known the difficulties you may encounter to prove yourself as a quality player.

Suàrez knows well that this transfer could be the one that determines the rest of his carrier. At Celta, there are different profiles in his sector. Sure, he can propose new solutions, but at this point in his carrier, he will need to work harder than ever to show his class.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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