In this tactical analysis scout report, we will look at Elias Cobbaut; a 22-year-old Belgian defender who currently plays for R.S.C Anderlecht – who sit mid-table in the Belgian Pro League. He is a versatile defender, consistently playing at either left-back or as a left-sided centre back so far in his career. He has made 18 appearances for the first team in the 2019/20 season, amounting to 72% of total available minutes.
Cobbaut has put in a number of impressive performances this season; this has resulted in him receiving his first national team call up from Roberto Martinez. He made his first appearance for the Belgian national side in a 6-1 win against Cyprus. This has seen his stock rise, where he is currently valued at around £3.15m; garnering speculation of a move to the English Premier League, with Sheffield United the reported interested party in a £10m bid.
Cobbaut at Anderlecht
So far this season R.S.C Anderlecht have played two main formations; a 4-1-4-1 with a defensive midfielder in 40% of their games, a 4-3-3 in 28% of their games, and 16% of their games made up of a 4-2-3-1. As previously mentioned, Cobbaut has been deployed as both a left-back and a left centre-back this season; with ten games at centre-back, and eight games at left-back.
This versatility is likely one of the reasons that Sheffield United are looking at him for a potential transfer. But it is not only this versatility that makes him stand out; he has many strong facets to his game.
Elias Cobbaut – the marauding centre-back?
Cobbaut’s heat map above is somewhat unusual. Even though he has played the majority of his games at centre-back his heat map would make it seem like he plays all of his games at left-back.
It’s interesting that he seems to have a tendency to play high and wide, even while at centre-back; it could have implications that he is more comfortable at left-back than centre-back. His heat map may have been skewed slightly as Cobbaut has been deployed as a left-sided centre-back in a 3 at the back defence at times this season.
Cobbaut’s heat map also could show signs of a hunger to get forward up the left-hand side of the pitch. This allows him to be somewhat of an attacking threat, alongside being very solid defensively.
The above image shows Cobbaut making an underlapping run for the left-winger, from left-back. This, again, highlights his desire to get forward and provide an attacking option for the team. The Belgian international’s stats show that he makes, on average, 2.33 progressive runs every 90 mins; considering he has played the majority of his games at centre back, this is an impressive stat.
A good offensive option?
Cobbaut’s offensive duels stat is reasonably low. He only wins 39.4% of his offensive duels so, whilst he looks to get forward, he isn’t overly successful at taking other players on. He averages one cross every 90 minutes, at a 31.6% success rate. This figure is reasonably low for a full-back, and if he wants to focus on his role in that position, this would need to be improved.
However, when he does make a successful cross, they are often inch-perfect and usually lead to a goal; as demonstrated in the image below. Cobbaut has worked into the opponent’s third. He delivers a perfectly fizzed ball across the box into the path of the forward; rewarding him with an easy tap-in.
The Belgian international averages 0.79 dribbles per 90 minutes, at a 66.7% success rate. This, alongside his progressive runs figure, implies that he likes getting forward, but mostly without the ball at his feet. When he does make a dribble, he is reasonably successful at this, often beating one or two opposition defenders in the process, but he doesn’t attempt it very often. If he wanted to play more often at full-back, he might be inclined to improve his comfortability running with the ball at his feet.
A threat from his own half
Cobbaut may not have offered an immense amount going forward so far this season; however, he has a phenomenal range of passing. He is extremely comfortable making cross-field passes from the halfway line, almost to the opposite corner flag. Below is just one example of him doing this, but it is something he frequently likes to do.
Cobbaut has great passing ability, and this is shown in his passing statistics. He averages 57.48 passes per game, with an 86.4% success rate. He also makes 6.66 long passes per 90 minutes, with a 46% success rate. This means that over 10% of all of his passes per game are long passes; showing a frequent desire to pass upfield.
Alongside this, his passes often put his team into dangerous positions. He makes, on average, 22 forward passes per 90 minutes, with a 79.1% success rate. Of these, 9.15 are passes into the final third, with a 73.4% success rate.
This demonstrates that, alongside his desire to run the ball forward and get himself forward as an option, he is also more than happy to sit back in defence and pass the ball forward.
It would imply that he is most certainly an offensively minded defender; he loves to try and help his team score, whilst protecting his own goal.
So he’s a decent offensive threat, how good is he defensively?
When looking at a defender, it’s all well and good noting how dangerous he looks going forward, and how he can play a killer pass to the winger from full-back; but if he can’t defend, then what’s the point? So, the question is, can he defend?
The short answer is yes, yes he can.
Cobbaut is a very solid defender, he is strong and disciplined, and has good technique defensively. He averages 6.4 interceptions, along with 3.75 clearances, per 90 minutes; highlighting how he does a very good job at preventing the opposition from playing the ball in.
Not only this, but he is also very strong in the tackle. He wins 62.9% of his defensive duels, and also wins 60% of his sliding challenges. So a good majority of the time he is on the winning end of a defensive battle, which is an immense boost for any team he would be a part of.
Cobbaut also is very good at recovering the ball too, making an average of 10.42 recoveries per 90 minutes, with 11.2% of these occurring in the opponents half. He does lose the ball sometimes, but the majority of these losses (50.6%) are actually in the opponents half; when he does lose the ball, more often than not he isn’t putting his team in direct danger. This is certainly a reassuring trait for a defender to have.
As well as being good at winning the ball back on the ground, he is also good in the air – it certainly helps that he stands at 6’2″. Cobbaut wins 57.5% of all of his offensive duels, often through good positioning at the back, and a good reading of the opponent, as displayed below. He sits just off the attacker and reads his opponent, and the ball, and makes a well-timed leap to head the ball clear.
Another positive regarding Cobbaut defensively is his discipline. So far this season he hasn’t seen a card of any kind, in fact, the last time he went into the book was in March 2018. This defensive discipline is a huge bonus for any team he would be a part of, as he can be relied upon to not make any rash challenges or risk being sent off.
Before we conclude this tactical analysis scout report, it does have to be reiterated that his offensive stats must be taken with a pinch of salt as he has operated mostly as a centre-back, and when we consider this, they are actually rather impressive.
However, it does seem like there is uncertainty over where his best position is. Having played almost an equal number of games at left-back and centre-back this season, with centre back slightly edging it, it might be argued that he is better suited at centre-back, but he does seem to possess traits that would make him a very good left-back as well.
This versatility in his style of play is a definite positive to his game, it allows managers more freedom with their system and gives them the ability to cover multiple positions with one signing. However it can be a drawback as well; it makes it hard to discern where his best position is, and brings the danger of playing him out of position – maybe he would still play very well there, but a manager could be getting even more out of him if they played him elsewhere!
Overall, it can be seen that Cobbaut is a good young player; very talented even right now, but he clearly has bags of potential for the future. His versatility at left-back and centre-back would make him a valuable player for a club like Sheffield United and their tactics (who are reportedly interested in him), especially as Chris Wilder is known to play a 3 at the back-formation.
Cobbaut would slot perfectly into this formation at left centre-back; his strong defensive ability mixed with his desire to play the ball forward making him a perfect option, especially as he has previous experience playing in a 3 at the back formation. However, if Wilder needed to shift to four at the back, he would still fit into the team.
At £10m he isn’t ridiculously expensive either, especially as he would immediately strengthen the side. And, given that he is certainly one for the future, with the prospect of selling him on for a profit; or the option of keeping him and watching him flourish is a massive selling point.
To conclude, Cobbaut is still very young, at 22, and already possess great ability, defensively and offensively. He has great potential and, under the tutelage of the right manager could certainly become an impressive player. It seems as though he would be ready to move to a bigger league and, very feasibly, become a first-team regular within a couple of seasons.