In this tactical analysis scout report, we will take a look at Peter Žulj. He is a 26-year-old Austrian central midfielder, currently plying his trade for R.S.C Anderlecht; who sit 8th in the Belgian Pro League.
Žulj has had a reasonably successful career so far, having won the Austrian Cup, and being named Austrian Bundesliga Player of the Year in the 17/18 season, before moving to Anderlecht in January of 2019.
A full Austrian international, Žulj has already made 10 appearances for his country, assisting four goals in these appearances. He has recently seen limited playing time internationally. Have his recent performances been worthy of a recall to his national side?
Žulj was singled out in a previous article with praise of his play in both directions on the pitch. This scout report will analyse him at a deeper level. We will explore how he fits into the tactics at R.S.C Anderlecht; and whether he would be able to make the step up into a bigger league.
He has spent most of his career floating around the Austrian top division, before his switch to Belgium. Although Fulham was reportedly interested in him during their bid to remain in the EPL in 2019; however, the move never materialised. He is currently valued at around £2.20m and could be a shrewd signing for a club looking to keep their top-flight status.
Peter Žulj is most often deployed by Anderlecht as a defensive midfielder, occupying the deep-lying playmaker role on the pitch. However, it can be seen from his heatmap that he doesn’t really conform to a singular role on the pitch. He’s not afraid to venture far forward, or stay back and do his defensive duties; he can be even found popping up on the wing on occasion! What this tells us is that Žulj is incredibly hard-working, and certainly has an engine on him.
Anderlecht often operates a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Žulj sitting in the left-defensive midfield position, alongside another defensive midfielder. They’re also known for using a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Žulj operating as the lone defensive midfielder. This demonstrates that he’s capable of playing in the heart of midfield with a partner; and that he is also comfortable holding the midfield lines on his own, showing his versatility in this position.
Operating as a deep-lying playmaker requires a player to be exceptional at picking out a pass; finding opportunities to turn a passage of play into a goalscoring opportunity through 1 pass. Žulj has demonstrated his phenomenal ability for this time and again so far this season in the Belgian Pro League.
The frequency and accuracy of his passes make him an asset in the middle of the park. He averages 46.58 short passes every 90 minutes, with them being accurate 90.2% of the time. It’s easy for a midfielder’s passing accuracy to be padded with lots of back-passes, and passing it around without threat. This isn’t true for Žulj, however, with over half of his short passes this season being forward passes.
In fact, he averages 20.75 forward passes per 90 minutes, compared with 11.91 backwards passes per 90. He’s also not afraid to send long balls forward into the box, as shown in the picture below; where he demonstrates his ability to cut open defences with a single pass.
His passing statistics are also a testament to his positioning. Almost the same number of his passes occurred in his own half as in the opposition’s half. This backs up the notion that he is a player who roams the whole pitch, and isn’t tied down strictly to one position; and backs up the theory that he is as good going forward as he is defensively.
As previously mentioned, range of passing is extremely important to players operating as a deep-lying playmaker, and so this is an element of Žulj’s game that we must closely examine. Žulj attempts around 3.12 long passes per 90 minutes and sees a success rate of 89.1% when doing so. We can see that he doesn’t particularly attempt many of these passes, but a success rate that high is hard to ignore, especially when the margin for error with such passes is so high.
This begs the question as to why he doesn’t attempt more if he is so good at finding the target? I can’t say I can particularly answer that question; however, if he was to attempt more and continue with this success rate his game would surely be raised to the next level.
His most favoured type of long pass seems to be the horizontal long pass; where he sprays the ball from the centre of the pitch to meet an advancing winger or full-back. Of the 192 long passes, he has attempted this season, Žulj has performed 115 horizontal long passes, almost 60% of his long passes are vertical! He performs these with a ridiculously high success rate too, finding his target 95.7% of the time – outrageous figures!
Žulj’s ability as a passer isn’t limited to merely just driving play and progressing up the pitch. He has shown his ability to create goals, as well as instigate build-up play.
He has produced 4 assists in the league this season, in 22 league appearances. This gives him an average of 0.24 assists every 90 minutes. This may not seem that high, but when we consider his position is quite deep, and his expected assists figure is only 0.16 assists per 90, he is doing well. The fact that his actual assists figure is better than his expected assists shows that he is getting in much better positions, and feeding in better balls than he is expected to; he is outperforming expectations. Below is an example of Žulj utilising his passing ability to play a short through ball into his teammate making a run, resulting in a goal.
As mentioned, Žulj often operates in a role where he tries to drive the team forward, and he is not afraid to push on from this defensive midfield role. This was displayed in his heat map, and also would be necessary seen as often Anderlecht play without centre midfielders; opting instead to operate with 2 deep midfielders, requiring Žulj to push forward at times to fill the gap.
This is displayed in the fact that he averages almost 2 progressive runs forward per game, and also is successful with his dribbling, winning 70% of his 1v1 dribbles. This proves that not only is he not afraid to run forward, he is also very successful with it; be that running forward with the ball, or making an off the ball run to provide an option.
It’s safe to say that Žulj is a decent outlet going forward, but he is just as solid defensively as he is offensively. He has shown that he is a very cerebral player, in the sense that he has exceptional positioning, and doesn’t commit too early in the tackle. In the image below Žulj merely jockeys the opponent, never actually making a tackle; instead forcing the opponent to turn and pass backwards toward his own goal.
This is reflected in the fact that he doesn’t tackle that much every game, only averaging 2.52 tackles per 90 minutes, however, he averages over 7 defensive duels per game. This shows that he battles with players forcing them to either retreat or make a mistake, instead of committing to the challenge. This is a good way for a defensive midfielder to play, as it means he can never overcommit, and miss a challenge, putting himself out of position. Especially as he has no particular need to dive in and win the ball back, as he has cover from his whole backline still.
Not only is he handy at defending, but he’s a great sweeper too. He averages almost 3 interceptions every 90 minutes. This is perfect for the position he plays in, as he has proven that he can drop deep. When dropping deep he can just mop up any loose balls or misplaced passes, helping out the defence in that regard alongside traditional defensive play. In fact, just over 50% of his interceptions come from a wayward pass from the opposition.
To conclude, Žulj is a fine player, offering just as much going forward as he does defensively. This, coupled with his exceptional passing ability, and his desire to drive his team forward and initiate an attack makes him very useful. He has shown he has an excellent range of passing; and also the ability to slice open defences with a single pass at times. If he added more goals to his game he would really step up to the next level.
At 26 years old he’s still got a lot of years left in the game and is likely beginning to enter his peak. Taking his ability into account and the fact he could still improve, it would certainly be remiss of Franco Foda to not at least consider him for a recall to the Austrian national side.
If he is valued accurately at around £2.20 million then he would certainly be a bargain, and a very shrewd signing for a lower, or mid-level, Premier League side, or even an ambitious Championship side in their bid for promotion.