Home of some of the most promising and sought-after young talent in Europe, Eredivisie, continues, year after year, the tradition of selling its players to bigger clubs playing in bigger leagues.
Born in Rotterdam, the 20-year-old has been with the club since 2008 and has steadily grown through the ranks, all the way to the first team for whom he made his debut in December of 2017, at the age of 18, in a UEFA Champions League win, against Napoli.
This scout report will look to break down the style of play, strengths and possible weaknesses of the young Malacia. The tactical analysis will also try to assess if the 20-year-old full-back is ready to make the jump to a bigger stage, and if so, why.
A left-footed player, Malacia has settled in as a full-back on the left side of the formation. After making his debut in the 2017/18 season, under the supervision of the former manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Malacia moved into the following year with some serious chances of competing for the starting place as the left-back of Feyenoord.
2018/19 saw the young Dutch player make his way into the starting lineup a total of 17 times in Eredivisie only, most of them in the first half of the season, before being hit injury. With the former Barcelona player at the helm, Malacia was slowly starting to secure his spot in the starting lineup.
The current season started with van Bronckhorst leaving the club, and in his place Jaap Stam was installed, the former Manchester United centre-back. Under Stam, Malacia made a total of zero appearances in the new Eredivisie season and had only featured twice, in Europa League fixtures – once in qualifying, once in the group stage.
Stam was followed by Dick Advocaat, a much more experienced Dutch manager. Under Advocaat, Malacia made his way back to the starting eleven when the then-starter Ridgeciano Haps suffered an injury.
Since then, Malacia made 12 consecutive Eredivise starts, as well as 2 appearances in the final games of the Europa League group stage. With the emergence of the 20-year-old, Advocaat was convinced enough that he eventually moved Haps, one of the most talented full-backs in Dutch football himself, to a more advanced position, keeping Malacia at left-back.
To start the actual analysis of the player, we will now begin to look at how the 20-year-old is fitting in Feyenoord’s tactics and how good his level of play is, in possession of the ball as well as out of possession.
The keyword that could sum up most of what Malacia offers as a defender, and as a player overall, is speed. Simply put, Malacia is fast. He possesses good burst and great long-line speed, so much so that he can disrupt a play even if he has to make up ground, and he knows this.
As a runner, Malacia’s style resembles that of a more natural long-strider, typically a style more found in taller athletes than the 1.75 m full-back. With great acceleration and explosion in his feet, he is able to cover ground quickly with fewer steps. This makes the 20-year-old a threat of running down any play the opponent is looking to set down the wing.
Let’s look at the frame above, as an example of what that speed of the Dutch full-back looks like. Malacia is the highlighted defender.
He runs towards his own goal, as he tries to catch, from behind, the play evolving around the two PSV attackers breaking on a counter and trying to force a two-on-one favourable situation.
Above is the end result of that play, as Malacia is able to track it back effectively and intercept the pass just before it could reach the box.
The Dutch full-back started considerably behind the play and the two attackers of PSV, and he finished it catching up to it and able to intercept the ball for his team and prevent a very dangerous situation.
Let’s look at another situation, in the example above. It looks much like any full-back’s worst nightmare, being caught behind the opposing winger and having to track him down from behind, as he attacks the penalty box.
The distance isn’t as big as in the previous play we looked at, but the two players are going full speed towards Feyenoord’s goal, and Malacia is visibly behind as the play starts.
And above is the end result of that play. Not only was Malacia able to effectively run down his opponent and win the tackle, but he also did it in a very smart way.
The 20-year-old ran so much faster than the opposing winger that Malacia was able to effectively turn all the way to face his opponent head-on.
This is smart because instead of trying to force a tackle from behind and risk committing a foul inside the box, the Dutch full-back took a safer route and used his speed and patience to win the tackle cleanly, and clear the ball away.
However, speed is not enough to make a great defender. There are other factors we need to consider before giving a verdict, and up next in this analysis we will try to look at some of them.
Positioning and play recognition
If speed is what allows a defender to be an effective tracker from behind, good positioning is what allows a defender to not have to worry about it in the first place.
Good positioning and good awareness and play recognition often go hand in hand. In order to properly position to defend a play, a defender would first have to understand what is going on and how the offence is looking to attack.
The two are highly important traits for a defender to have in his game, the speed and then the play recognition and the proper positioning. I can’t call them equally important because different people will argue or search for different traits in players, and play situations would often dictate a need for different ways of defending.
Therefore, it’s not only important, but crucial, that a defender is equipped to handle everything that can be thrown at him. To see what Malacia’s level of play recognition is and how he positions himself to defend most effectively, we will look at a few game situations.
Take the above example. The opposing winger is receiving the ball on the wing, just outside the box. Malacia reacts accordingly, by facing him frontally before he could figure out what the attacker is trying to do, as if he’s ready to take him on in a duel.
At the same time, however, a supporting attacking player is starting an overlapping run to free himself up for the lateral pass inside the box.
And here we can see how Malacia is reacting to that overlap. He opens his hips all the way to the goal line, because he understands what’s happening and that he will need to effectively defend two players at once.
The winger is now not the more imminent threat, but rather the supporting player that could receive the pass in open space inside the box.
By opening his hips, Malacia can now keep in his sight both of his opponents, and he is in a good position to break for the secondary attacker if needed, to tackle him.
By doing so, he eliminates the passing option down the wing. This forces the winger to improvise and attempt a cross on his own, that gets cleared away by the Feyenoord defence.
Let’s have a look at a different setting, somewhat similar to what we highlighted earlier but different in the approach of the attacking side.
Instead of having an overlapping player, Fortuna Sittard, Feyenoord’s opponent, is attempting to have a player sneak in behind and through the defenders.
On the play, Malacia is marking the running winger, while having to keep an eye on the ball carrier as he is progressing towards the box. As he tracks back, he senses there is an attempt of a run behind him, and in the frame we can see how he even turns his head to look for the opponent.
It’s a little unusual for a defender to turn his head like that, away from the ball, as he tracks back. However, the distance between the two allows Malacia to effectively check for the opponent in his back without being exposed.
By understanding he is already in good position to take away the pass in the box, he can now turn his attention towards the ball carrier.
He plants his feet to effectively change direction quickly and he closes out the space between the two in a hurry. Forced to improvise, the Fortuna player is attempting the pass anyway. Malacia blocks it, and he is able to win the possession on the loose ball.
The 20-year-old Dutch full-back is using his good positioning, his quickness and his speed to force an impressive average of 9.34 defensive duels per 90 minutes played. He is winning those duels at a 63.9% rate.
On top of it, Malacia also averages, in the 2019/20 Eredivisie season, an average of 4.63 interceptions per 90 minutes.
To sum it up, Malacia is a defender with an impressive range of action due to his speed. He is also aware enough to understand the intention of the offence, and he is using it to properly position his body most effectively. He is almost always crunched closer to the ground to be able to explode out of his stance if needed, and his hips are always open to effectively track and change direction.
He is a high effort and high-intensity type of defender, resilient and determined, which is highlighted by the high number of duels he forces and the impressive rate at which he wins those duels. He might be prone to occasional mistakes in positioning, due to his young age and lack of experience, but it helps to have that type of speed to make up for it.
As a prospect, Malacia shows all the tools to effectively continue to develop into a feared defender as a left-back. We will now start to look at what he offers in terms of offence.
On the ball, as an attacking player, Malacia doesn’t jump as much out of the tape. His 80.8% passing accuracy is not a high number, and neither is his 47.3% offensive duel win rate.
His cross accuracy on 2.51 attempts per 90 minutes played is of 31.3%, which is a far more respectable number. He has also tallied 3 assists in 12 Eredivisie games played and an average of 1.2 key pass per 90 minutes, which could indicate that while he is not yet ready to offer high-volume playmaking, he has grown into a more efficient one.
However, it’s his off-the-ball presence that is most threatening. Due to his speed, he is always dangerous when attempting to attack pockets of space, and that is something that Advocaat’s Feyenoord has learned to implement more in their tactics.
It’s instances like this, above, when Feyenoord looks to make the most out of Malacia’s impressive speed.
With the pocket of wide-open space up in front of him, the Dutch full-back begins his run as he knows he will be targeted with the pass and he can then use his athleticism to attack the defence from a favourable position.
Take a look at this other example. In what seems like a schemed play, the left-winger of Feyenoord, Ridgeciano Haps, tracks back as if he looks to receive the pass from his centre-back.
This movement of Haps draws in the highlighted right-back of PSV, and it therefore opens space behind the defence that Feyenoord can exploit.
Both the centre-back and Malacia, positioned near the sideline and highlighted in the top of the frame, seems like they were waiting for this exact situation, as the centre-back lets go of the long pass and the left-back is already starting his run towards the open area.
Given his high speed, it’s no wonder that Advocaat saw the potential of using that in building up threatening attacks down the flank and using it to expose the defence.
With movement patterns like that above, Feyenoord will look to involve multiple players into forcing the defence to jump and using the opportunity to play the pass for Malacia behind it.
And while it’s true that his on-the-ball game might need a lot of improvement if he were to make a jump to a bigger competition, his increased number of playmaking stats such as assists and key passes offers encouragement. At the same time, his speed can never be counted out. He will always be a threat, on a team that understands how to manipulate defence and space, when running down the wing.
At just 20 years of age, it’s evident that Malacia still needs to improve certain areas of his game. However, his defensive presence, his speed, effort, positioning and play recognition look to recommend him as a very interesting young prospect to follow.
As this scout report intended to show, he has benefited from the second chance he received at a starting job, and he used it to convince Advocaat that he is worth keeping, while pushing one of the best full-backs in Eredivisie, Haps, into a more advanced position.
He offers countless potential, both as a defender and as an attacker. With a coach that is now dedicated to finding ways to use him more and more on the offensive side of the ball as well, all that’s left is for the Eredivisie to resume so he can continue to use playing minutes in his development. For now, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on and an ear out for the 20-year-old Malacia.