Real Zaragoza are finally fighting for promotion after almost seven years in Segunda División. The coach Víctor Fernández has found a perfect mix of experience and youth and the club currently sits in the second position. Alongside the likes of Kagawa, Zapater or Linares there are several youth prospects, and up to six academy players have made their professional debut this season. We will cover one of them in this tactical analysis, the 21-year-old defender Enrique Clemente.
Clemente, born in 1999, has come through Zaragoza’s academy. In 2015 he was declared the best U15 player in Spain after winning the league with Real Zaragoza. Barcelona and Real Madrid tried to tempt him away from his hometown then, but he made it clear that he wanted to play for Zaragoza’s first team, and this season he has achieved that.
Last season he played some games with Zaragoza B in the Spanish third division, but an ACL injury kept him on the sidelines most of the season. Fortunately, he recovered well and this season he has played 16 games for the first team (almost 1,500 minutes). He has also made his debut with Spain U21 forming a good centre-back partnership with Manchester City’s Eric García. His performances both for club and country have attracted the interest of several La Liga teams.
Clemente is a left-footed ball-playing centre-back. He’s not the biggest (180cm / 5’9’’), but he’s quick and reads the game very well. He always tries to recover the ball as high up the pitch as possible. His technique is great for a defender and he feels comfortable playing as left-back too. This tactical analysis will cover him playing in both positions.
This season he started playing as the left centre-back in a four, but he acted as left-back in his last four games. This mix of positions explains his heat map:
Clemente is a high risk-reward defender. He likes to leave the defensive line and press the attackers as high up the pitch as he can. He uses his quickness and reading to anticipate multiple times and recover the ball without even getting into duels. Clemente’s proactive defending style can be appreciated in the 5.27 interceptions/90’ he averages this season.
But this side of this game also has its risks. When he anticipates he risks being left out of the play and leaves huge spaces behind his back. These spaces are often covered by the defensive midfielder, but when they aren’t rivals can easily exploit them to create chances.
Above we see how Clemente leaves the left-back position to intercept a pass. He fails to get there on time and the rival controls the ball and faces forward. We also see how one of the defensive midfielders drops to the left-back position to cover Clemente’s attempt in a well-trained movement.
Even if he takes excessive risks at times, his anticipation is great and he’s usually successful in these kinds of actions. When he commits mistakes or loses the ball he has the pace to recover his position, minimizing the negative impact of his aggressive defending style. He usually recovers the ball higher up the pitch than other defenders. Below we can see his touches when playing as centre-back, a lot of them in very advanced positions:
When he doesn’t have the chance to push forward and intercept the ball, his defensive positioning is very good. Playing as left-back he tries to get close to the left centre-back and cover the far post when the attack comes from the opposite flank.
Clemente is great in one v one situations, keeping a good body shape and using his agility to react quickly to any movement. He rarely lets the winger make crosses and can use both legs to defend so he doesn’t struggle with inside forwards either. He’s not very strong for a centre-back and sometimes he has problems with very physical opponents. He still needs to toughen up and build some muscle, something usual in young centre-backs.
His height is a handicap, but once again he makes up for it with his positioning, reading of the game and good jumping ability. He averages 2.2 aerial duels/90’ and only looses 38.5% of them, which is a decent figure considering his height.
On the ball analysis
Clemente is a defender who feels very comfortable on the ball. He’s technically sound and doesn’t panic under pressure. He likes to play short forward passes and can advance the ball both from the centre-back and the left-back positions.
His passing technique and range are great. He averages 42.5 simple passes/90’ with a 92% accuracy. Those stats are even better when we consider 63% of these passes are forward. His long passes are also good, with 5.3/90’ and a 69.9% success rate.
He often starts counter-attacks and attacking transitions after recovering the ball. He rushes forward when not pressed carrying the ball at a good speed. Even if he doesn’t usually dribble past players, he’s good enough to avoid pressure with simple actions, especially faking passes or crosses to open up spaces. Stats support this analysis as 65.6% of his interceptions and 80.8% of his on the ball accelerations end in a pass.
When he approaches the final third he can keep possession playing with few touches and helping his team move the ball around to find spaces. He has good vision and reacts quickly to make good decisions under pressure. He also can spot the runs of his teammates and create some shooting opportunities from wide areas.
In the first image below we see how he receives the ball in a wide area near the halfway line, lets it run and finds his teammate with a great first-touch pass to put him in 1v1 vs the goalkeeper. In the second Clemente runs at the defender, fakes a cross to create space and assists a teammate in a better shooting position at the edge of the box.
His off the ball movements are another of his strengths when attacking. Clemente knows he won’t usually beat defenders in one v one situations. He prefers to wait for the space to appear and then attack it with well-timed runs. He does this both in attacking transitions and positional attacks.
In the first play below Clemente’s teammate beats pressure and has some time. Clemente sees the space left by Real Madrid’s right back and rushes forward to take advantage of it offering a passing line. In the second play, Clemente is already in the final third when his team is trying to play from the back. He spots how the right centre-back leaves his position to follow the striker and makes a run in behind to receive a long pass.
Even if he uses his skills well, Clemente is not a very creative left-back. Most of the times he cannot beat defenders and doesn’t cross often. His playing style is more conservative, recycling possession and distributing from behind instead of going forward and delivering balls into the box. With only 0.95 dribbles, 0.69 smart passes and 0.35 crosses/90’, Clemente is not a great threat going forward by himself. But he can help his team-building from the back and getting the ball to more creative players.
As we have seen in this scout report, Clemente is undoubtedly a very promising player. His proactive defending and his ability to play from the back make him more suited for a dominating team but he could struggle to adapt to a more physical league like the EPL. He’s growing in confidence and his experience with Zaragoza which will surely help him in the future.
At the moment he is more suited to a three-centre-back formation where it’s safer to leave his position and he doesn’t have to get in too many duels. But his intelligence and personality will probably attract the interest of teams who like to dominate and defend with a high line even in a back four. This adaptability to different tactics is very valuable.
He’s also a very professional and focused player, and he shows this personality and calmness on the pitch. He has already been linked to big clubs and the lack of left-footed centre-backs has opened the doors of Spain’s U21 side. He’s still very young but he’s made in the mould of Villarreal’s Pau Torres or Barcelona‘s Clement Lenglet who base their game more on anticipation and agility than in pure strength.