So far the search for young talents in Croatia was mainly limited to Dinamo Zagreb or NK Osijek players. In this scout report, we will discover another exciting and ambitious club from the capital, NK Lokomotiva Zagreb. Their charge for the Champions League qualifying place was cut short by the lockdown but they were a joy to watch. The team builds on young talents in attack and one of these prospects excelled in 2019, Marko Tolic.
A versatile attacking midfielder with tons of natural abilities, Tolic’s first season in 1.HNL will be in the focus of this tactical analysis. We will examine how he fits into Lokomotiva using match footage, and determine what teams could expect from him in the future with the support of statistical data.
The season by the numbers
Tolic featured in 22 league games, 13 of them as a starter, accumulating 1134 minutes on the pitch. Even with limited playing time, he scored eight goals and assisted once, producing a strong campaign in 2019. The 126 minutes per goal contribution (goals and assists) stood out in the Croatian League, as well as in his team.
Lirim Kastrati enjoyed a prosperous season with nine goals and six assists in 2189 minutes. However, the pacey winger will likely return to Dinamo in the next season from his loan spell at Lokomotiva. Behind him, Myrto Uzuni (nine goals and four assists in 2007 minutes) was another driving force for the club but within the team, nobody beat Tolic’s efficiency.
Position in the team
As it was said in the analysis before, the backbone of Lokomotiva consists of young and extremely talented players from Croatia and Albania. Goran Tomic’s favoured formation is a 4-2-3-1 (64.3%) with additional rotations into 4-4-1-1 (26.6%) and 4-4-2 (7.8%). In the middle, 22-year-old Kristijan Jakic lines up next to a defensive midfielder, Enis Cokaj. In front of them, three attacking midfielders roam using the full width of the pitch. Kastrati, Uzuni and Tolic are all capable of changing their positions according to the tactics. However, with the loan move for Iyayi Atiemwen, Tolic often found himself on the bench in the last five games so he has to compete for his place later.
Roles in the build-up
For an advanced player like Tolic, his contribution to the build-up could be well measured by xGBuildup. xGBuildup is a good indicator of how efficient a player is in advancing the ball to the opposition’s half and how much he is involved in the early phases of the development. As an attacking-minded player, Tolic’s 0.17 xGBuildup per 90 minutes can be considered an average contribution to the team’s movement.
If we take a look at his ball progression map we can see that from time to time he is used as a passing outlet, dropping deep to receive passes around the halfway line. He is undoubtedly a multidimensional player who enjoys himself the most when he plays with freedom on the field.
This observation is supported by league statistics as well. His ability to move the chains and progress through the midfield stands out among the other attacking midfielders in 1.HNL. This makes him an interesting prospect for teams who would like to acquire a versatile player with considerable upside in the attacking third.
When analysing match footage, we can see that even though Lokomotiva prefers positional rotation, he is usually the closest player to the central midfielders out of the attackers. As a result, he ranks second in received passes per game with 30.51. He has the intelligence to make himself available between the lines during the second phase of the build-up.
Outstanding in the final third
The young talent put up a highlight reel season, whenever touching the ball, he posed threat on the opposition goal. He was already outstanding last season when he joined NK Sesvete on a loan move. After scoring 15 goals in 24 games, Lokomotiva decided to bring him back and they could not be happier with his integration into the first team.
Let’s talk about his off-the-ball movement first since this is not something that can be addressed through statistics. When looking at the footage, however, Tolic has impressed. Already discussed above, he can make himself open and understand the basic principles of space. In the attacking third, these principles change according to the compactness of the defence. He does well noticing defensive line shifts and as a result, he can exploit the unoccupied territory whether against a stationary block or beating the offside trap.
On the ball, he deserves even greater recognition. Tolic is an amazingly skilful player whose aim is to be as direct as possible towards the goal. This shows up on the chart below which describes his attacking contribution compared to the league’s median. It is worth highlighting his 0.36 expected goals and 0.28 expected assists as well as his 7.5 dribble attempts per 90 minutes.
When Tolic gets isolated on the left-wing, he cuts inside onto his preferred foot, dribbling away from his marker. Then he either plays a quick one-two with his partner upfront or follows up with a shot. We can see on his dribbling map that he is as effective on the right as on the left. From there, he tends to run by his defender and drive low crosses into the box from the byline.
An amazing figure
His off and on-the-ball movements are coupled with a ridiculously strong frame, something that can get him into bigger leagues in the future. He is 189 centimetres and 82 kilograms, which enable him to be a target for long balls as well. His teammates search for him so he can solve one-on-ones and not to just simply hold up balls. As a result, he has gradually become a multidimensional player who moves surprisingly well with the ball despite his size. He has good balance and refuses to go down in any duels.
Tolic plays an active role out of possession to get the ball back. His effective defensive work is concentrated on the left-wing but when he commits to high pressing he can do so all over the pitch. He will retreat to help out teammates deeper on the pitch.
In the context of the league and more importantly in the group of attacking midfielders, he stands out in interceptions but much less in attempted tackles per game. We can see that this is the case for his teammates, too with Sammir, Uzuni and Kastrati all on the lower end of the chart. It indicates the playing style of Lokomotiva as well, leaving more defensive work to the central midfielders and defenders.
Marko Tolic is an exciting prospect to look at. In the scout report, we combined data and video analysis to prove he has what it takes to step up onto the bigger stage in Europe. In a team stacked with youngsters, he finally received the opportunity to play in the first division and he took his chance. The 23-year-old prodigy defies the belief that only shorter players can be versatile, effective dribblers. He could become a more complete version of former Juventus and Bayern Munich striker, Mario Mandzukic. He contributes to the team’s chance creation while he can always be on the finishing end also. Even though having an active role in build-up and defensive work is usually a less common task of a winger, he contributes significantly in those areas as well.
Inexperience is something that could hold interested clubs back in a potential transfer discussion. He hasn’t secured a firm place in the starting line-up and only has 22 games by his name in the 1.HNL. It will be interesting to see how Lokomotiva develops him going forwards and how he could perform in a more determined tactical shape in the future. Tolic could be a high-reward type of player now, but for him, the best would be staying in Croatia for the next season.