In this tactical analysis scout report, we will take a look at Eder Alvarez Balanta. He is a 26-year-old Columbian central defensive midfielder, currently plying his trade for Club Brugge; who sit atop the Belgian Pro League. In this article, we will investigate how he fits into Club Brugge’s tactics.
Balanta is a pacey, versatile, defensive midfielder who is very good in the air. He gained plaudits as a youngster garnering high praise from several places; even being labelled as one of the most promising youngsters to come out of South America, of his generation anyway!
A full Colombian international, Balanta has made eight first-team appearances for Colombia; even appearing once in the World Cup for his country.
He is currently valued in the transfer market at around £4m, however, there don’t seem to be any transfer rumours surrounding him. This is most likely since he only moved to Club Brugge, from FC Basel, in the summer. Could he make the step up to a bigger league, such as the Premier League or Bundesliga?
Éder Álvarez Balanta has played many different positions in his career, starting at River Plate in Argentina, he began his footballing life predominantly as a centre-back. He fluctuated between centre-back and defensive-midfielder while playing for FC Basel, but has now settled in as a fully-fledged centre defensive-midfielder for Club Brugge.
He is most often deployed in Club Brugge’s 4-1-4-1 formation, which they utilise 24% of the time. Their favoured formation is a 3-5-2, used 40% of the time, which doesn’t always make use of a defensive midfielder. This could explain why Balanta has seen somewhat restricted playing time; only making 12 appearances so far this season, amounting to 50% of available minutes.
Balanta is a relatively tall, physical, player, who also possesses a good amount of pace for a defensive midfielder. He utilises these attributes to his benefit and relies on them whilst performing his defensive duties.
As his heat map, above, suggests, Balanta is a fairly defensive-minded player, often drifting to the left of the pitch. His heat map is likely skewed by his seasons playing as a left-sided centre-back, but he is beginning to make his name as a deep-lying playmaker.
As mentioned, Balanta is reasonably tall, standing at around 5’11, he’s definitely on the taller end when compared to some attacking players. Whilst not a giant, he uses his height and athletic ability to win aerial duels for his team. In fact, he wins 53.4% of all his aerial duels; with an average of 4.7 aerial duels per 90 minutes, and most of these occurring in the middle third of the pitch.
Not only this, his height and aerial ability lead to him being a threat from corners, especially if left unmarked. The image below shows Balanta, while at Basel, left totally unmarked near the edge of the box at a corner; it’s just a simple case of jumping and directing the ball into the back of the net, which he does here.
Balanta has a mean left foot, and can really pick a pass. It seems as though he likes to play deep in the hole, as a deep-lying playmaker. To do this it’s an absolute must that he has an excellent range of passing; his stats prove that this is the case.
The Colombian international’s preferred pass to make is the short, simple, pass. He averages an impressive 43.28 simple passes per 90 minutes, with a whopping 91.5% accuracy rate. It goes without saying that this is very impressive in itself, but when you realise that it means he only misplaces roughly 3.5 passes per game, that’s even more impressive!
The vast majority of his passes are forward passes. In fact, around 65% of his short passes go forwards, with an 89.1% success rate. This demonstrates a desire from Balanta to push the attacking movement of his team forward, always looking to try and play his teammates into attacking positions; as shown in the image below.
It isn’t just shorter, simple, passes where Balanta excels, however. He has shown that he certainly has the range of passing required to be a deep-lying playmaker. He averages 5.56 long passes per 90 minutes, with a 78.8% success rate; an incredibly high success rate for long passes, especially with the margin of error that is present when making cross-field passes.
Balanta has the highest success rate with long passes which are horizontally cross-field, with a huge 90.5% success rate. This is a huge boost for any team he plays in as they can rely on him to be able to consistently switch the play; switching the flank where the danger is coming from and can be extremely important to teams who play a wing-based system.
Not only does he find success with horizontal long passes, but he also has a very good success rate with long through balls. Balanta finds the target 80% of the time when sending a lofted through ball to an onrushing forward. This is a high percentage, especially when we consider that the ball is only considered “accurate” if the forward runs onto it; which can be influenced by more factors than just whether the ball lands where Balanta wanted to kick it. Below is an example of one of the many successful lofted through balls that Balanta is known for.
To put it simply: Balanta is extremely talented at passing, and can utilise this ability to open up defences; creating space for his teammates. He has extremely high pass success rates and rarely misses.
Not only is he a skilled passer, but Balanta is also a pacey and skilful player, who is good in the dribble. He has been described as possessing a good amount of pace, especially for a defensively minded player. This can help him when recovering balls or chasing down forwards making a break.
It also allows him to beat other players with the ball at his feet, especially when combined with his quick feet and skills. Balanta averages 2.04 1v1 dribbles per 90 minutes, with 55.1% of these occurring in the middle third of the pitch. He wins 74.8% of his 1v1 dribbles, which is a huge amount; and assures his teammates and gives him confidence in himself that he can win dribbles.
We know that Balanta is defensively minded, in the sense that he plays a holding role on the pitch, but how is he defensively? Well, there’s some improvement needed in terms of Balanta’s defensive work.
In defensive 1v1’s Balanta doesn’t do awfully well. In 3.54 defensive 1v1’s per game, Balanta only wins 26.9% of these. To put it lightly, this is abysmal, especially for someone who is deployed with the expectation to mop up at the back and act a bit like a barrier.
He does even worse in defensive duels. He averages 9.94 defensive duels per 90 minutes, winning only 26.4% of these. Not great stats at all. In fact, the only opposition positions where he wins more defensive duels against is against the opposition’s centre-backs.
One of the reasons that Balanta struggles defensively is his positioning, in my opinion.
As seen in the image above Balanta has made a successful tackle, however, he almost got sold by the forward. He takes a good position initially, but as the forward moves to the left, he commits his body that way. A split second later, the forward jinks right, leaving Balanta out of position. Luckily for him, he manages to stretch his leg out and just knock the ball out of the forward’s possession.
Balanta possesses the attributes that should make him an excellent defensive player, he possesses strength, speed and agility; he just needs to work on his positioning to take his game to the next level.
In conclusion, Balanta is an accomplished, and impressive, passer of the ball. He is a player who can really make a difference in a side who require a playmaker. He’s still on the younger side, but at 26-years-old, he can’t be considered a “young player with potential” anymore. However, he definitely can improve, and if his success rate in defence was to improve then he would certainly increase his standing among defensive midfielders.
He has only appeared in 50% of available minutes for Club Brugge this season, missing four games through injury and one through suspension. Once he has more games under his belt, he may find he is more settled at the club, having only moved in the summer. After this, his performances may improve.
Balanta showed flashes of huge potential in his youth and arguably hasn’t lived up to his hype quite yet. Having said that, as mentioned, parts of his game are incredible, just some other parts need work.
He is an experienced player, winning a cabinet full of silverware so far in his career – with international and champions league experience to boot.
Personally, I think he would be able to make the step up to a bigger league – comfortably fitting into some mid-table Premier League sides, especially those who rely on wingers. Perhaps he could even be deployed slightly further forward, in a position that didn’t rely on his defensive abilities as much; allowing him to focus on where his strengths lie – the playmaking aspect of his game.