Brand new from Espanyol this summer, Real Betis invested heavily into a Spanish striker, Borja Iglesias. The 26-year-old enjoyed a stellar season at rivals Espanyol last campaign, scoring 17 goals in 37 La Liga appearances. In this tactical analysis scout report, we will look into the striker’s key link-up play with the midfield, his excellent physicality and hold-up play, and his top-class movement resulting in great chances and plenty of goals.
Borja’s link-up play is crucial to the way that Espanyol play. With two strikers up-front, both have the responsibility upon them to not only score goals but to create space and chances for one another. As a striker, therefore, when the ball is on your side, you have the responsibility to drop deep and support the midfield while simultaneously opening more space for your strike partner.
As we can see below, the ball comes across to Borja’s left side, therefore, he drops into the midfield and passes away from the goal to ensure that possession is retained. Meanwhile, the centre-half is dragged away from his defensive line, creating space for Borja’s strike partner, Facundo Ferreyra.
Dropping into these areas is a huge part of Borja’s tactics, as we can see this movement again in the match against Sevilla. Iglesias is up against a high pressing defensive line in this game and uses his linking ability well, as his drop to the halfway line to meet the ball allows for an abundance of space in-behind. Espanyol can launch the ball up toward the inside-forward and results in a 2-on-2 goalscoring opportunity for his teammates.
As we can see below, Iglesias predominantly takes his position in deeper areas to receive and continue possession, while attacking the channels to reach the back post, which brings us onto the Spaniard’s next greatest strength.
Iglesias is excellent at dropping into the deep areas of the pitch, and from the heat map above, we can see that he will come from those areas to attack the back-post as the play circulates wide. Iglesias is fond of peeling from his marker at the back stick, creating space for a shot or a pass across goal. Either way, the defence is exploited brilliantly by Borja’s movement.
Below, we can see his movement in action against Bilbao in La Liga, as Iglesias positions himself behind the back-three and into the blind spot of the left-centre-back. As the ball goes toward the back-post, Iglesias pulls away from his marker completely and meets the ball in the air. This gives him the choice between passing or shooting; this time he took his chance to give Espanyol the lead.
Below we can see once again that Borja’s movement inside from the wide areas is a crucial part of his game. Here we see him in action against Leganes, spinning by his marker in anticipation of a long ball to his strike partner. The positioning of Iglesias against a back-three is crucial, as the pass goes toward the central area, two defenders go for the ball. This leaves Iglesias with just one body to deal with, a test which he ran straight past before the move even began. Iglesias continues his run inside, completely un-marked and is ready for the rebound which he fires home.
Striker role at Betis
In contrast to his time at Espanyol, Betis tend to set-up in a one-striker formation. This season began in a 4-2-3-1, with Nabil Fekir playing in at number 10, with Cristian Tello and Joaquin occupying the wide areas. The support that Iglesias has behind him means that he will not move into the wide areas quite as much and will predominantly link his play with Fekir. This limiting of Borja’s movement could be a muzzle on the attacking intent of Betis, as Iglesias was significantly less active on his Betis debut than he was in matches previous.
Iglesias played just 48 minutes before coming off injured, but in comparison to other matches, Iglesias was far more involved in matches up to the 50-minute mark. On average, Iglesias would have had 26 recognised involvements in the game before half-time, but for Betis, he only had 16 recognised involvements in the game against Real Valladolid. Meanwhile, the success rate of these actions dropped from what is usually 30-40% to 25%. Furthermore, Iglesias left the field without a shot, and his passing attempts and success dropped significantly. A bad game, or a sign of what is to come? It remains to be seen.
Among his fellow striker partners is Lorenzo Moron. The 25-year-old scored just six league goals last season. Moron had many stats similar to Iglesias from last season, other than the most important stat: goals. Last campaign, Moron had an expected goals ratio of 0.41 per game, very similar to Borja’s 0.45 expected goals per game in La Liga. Despite these similar numbers in clear-cut chances, Iglesias scored 17 league goal last season in comparison to Moron’s six, a clear superiority in finishing for Iglesias. However, it was Moron who replaced Iglesias in the last game, and, arguably, Moron was the better fit. Moron had 41 recognised involvements with play, 18 of those successful, while Moron completed six from eight attempted passes.
In addition, last season’s heat maps show that Iglesias was far more active in on-field involvement and movement on the pitch.
Overall, Betis have invested in much-needed power, height and ruthlessness up-front. Borja’s link-up play with a talented midfield containing the likes of Fekir and Tello makes for a possibly deadly force. Iglesias has all the creative support he needs to score goals in La Liga, while their focus on working the ball in wide areas makes for an excellent attacking set-up at Betis.
On the other hand, with less space for Iglesias to work in as the lone striker, Betis’ tactics could be a limiting role for the Spaniard, as his debut suggests. However, this is only one of many games and only time will tell if this move paid off for Betis and Iglesias.
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