Just a quick update, you can find my scouting report on this season’s UEFA Champions League Group Stage available online at UEFA.com as well as in the print copy of Champions Matchday for January 2015.
Here is the link- http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/news/newsid=2202605.html , any feedback would be more than welcome.
Written by Chris Winterburn
If way back in August Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno would have dreamt of how he wanted his upcoming season to play out then I doubt it would have differed too much to what reality had in store for the Seville born full-back.
Making twenty eight La Liga starts, playing a key role in winning the Europa League and to top it all off being named in Vicente del Bosque’s provisional 30-man Spain squad for the upcoming World Cup finals in Brazil were just three of the main positives to come out of Alberto Moreno’s twenty first year.
Moreno’s outstanding performances over the last eighteen months have not gone unnoticed further afield that Spain however with Premier League giants Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool all harbouring an interest in prising the young full-back away from his childhood club.
Alberto Moreno Perez as he is known officially will not be an easy transfer target for a whole host of England’s top flight due to the fact the full-back signed a significant new contract as recently as October 2013 which was set to keep him at the club until at least 2018. However as we have seen with even more regularity over recent seasons signing a new contract often just means your transfer fee will be a few million higher.
Moreno has caught the eye through his enthusiastic way of playing the full-back position. All the instances of marauding forward and impressive technical ability that saw the continent stand up and take notice of Jordi Alba not too long ago are prominent in Moreno’s game too. Moreno is perhaps more suited to playing a defensive position than Alba and his crossing is a lot better too however he lacks the explosiveness which made Alba Barcelona’s main transfer target when it became apparent Eric Abidal’s career with the Catalan giants was coming to an end.
In order to evaluate just how far Alberto Moreno has progressed this past season we must go back to last summer when Moreno first caught the wider European eye. Whilst the Spanish national team were away in Brazil competing for the Confederations Cup the Under-21 team were in Israel competing for the European Championship.
Much of the press attention was on Thiago Alcantara who captained the side. It was widely expected at that time that Thiago was going to the first of many new signings of the post Alex Ferguson era at Manchester United, this was not to be the case. As a result Moreno escaped attention, Alvaro Morata took the majority of the headlines with his goals whilst David de Gea was outstanding in goal.
What did become clear however is that Alberto Moreno missed just one game throughout the entire tournament. Spain won every match they played and Moreno was a sizable part of that success.
His marauding forward runs ably supported the likes of Isco, Morata and Thiago in attack, he often beat the right sided full-back for pure speed and was able to produce a quality delivery into the penalty area when asked.
He may not have been the media’s star of the tournament but the people that mattered could see his progress.
Although he had been fully promoted to the Sevilla first team the previous February it was his performances in Israel which convinced the Sevilla management to utilise him as first choice at left-back for the 2013-2014 campaign. Moreno went onto impress during Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial at Old Trafford with a confident defensive display down the left.
Fast forward nine months and we see a completely different Sevilla and completely different Alberto Moreno.
After a summer of financial woes placated only by the sale of the club’s two prized assets, Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo, Sevilla looked set for a season in the wilderness. Then came the reprieve. Due to financial issues at Malaga resulting in a UEFA suspension, Sevilla qualified for the Europa League. Unai Emery’s side had a challenge to aim for as well as a much needed financial boost to get the necessary talent in to move forward.
Moreno despite being just twenty one, has had to mature quickly. The pressures of regular first-team football are huge and Moreno has dealt with them very well indeed. The full-back has handled the press attention which comes with being the next star in the Seville crown whilst maintaining the levels of performance which earned him recognition in the first place.
From a footballing perspective Moreno is everything you would want in a full-back. He is quick, although not blisteringly so like a Gael Clichy or a Jordi Alba but quick enough to ghost past an opponent nonetheless however he is also strong.
On countless occasions this term Moreno has been forced to cut infield whilst in possession in order to play a clever slide rule pass in behind to either Bacca or Gameiro. When doing this Moreno has been faced with physically stronger central midfielders and defenders but he has an uncanny ability of being able to shake them off.
The styles of Moreno and Luke Shaw are eerily similar in that regard. Playing regular La Liga football from such a young age like Shaw, Moreno has been able to develop physically in a way which allows him to more than match adversaries, he can keep control of the ball when dribbling forward through his ability to come out the better of shoulder to shoulder challenges and the like.
With Liverpool looking for a better quality, long-term replacement for Jose Enrique this is a trait Brendan Rodgers is bound to view as positive. Continuing along the Liverpool centric line of argument, Moreno is also a clever footballer in that he knows when to use his pace to get into position to receive the ball.
With Liverpool’s passing game being based around short, quick tempo passes the opportunities for one two’s are significant. Moreno has shown an ability to initiate a one two pass with a teammate and then get into a position far ahead of the defender as a result of his speed before receiving the ball in a better attacking position. This would also pique the interest of Manuel Pellegrini whose Manchester City side too looks to kick start passing moves in a similar vein.
The attacking side of Moreno’s game was perfectly highlighted in Sevilla’s 2-0 victory over Real Betis in the second leg of the Europa League quarter-final in which Moreno recorded assists for both goals with exquisite, indefensible crosses into the penalty area.
Football wise Moreno is all but there, his talents are clear for all to see, as are his physical attributes and he is only going to get better. What is a worry however is whether or not a move to Liverpool or Manchester City will be a summer too soon for him.
The biggest game of Sevilla’s season was Wednesday’s Europa League final. The Andalusian club were victorious in a penalty shoot-out but rode their luck in normal time with Benfica under the spell of the Guttmann curse wasting numerous gilt-edged opportunities in front of goal.
Moreno struggled. Despite showing an innate ability to defend under pressure with a goal saving tackle on Lima early in the second-half the young full-back was in real trouble all evening long.
Admittedly he received little help from Jose Antonio Reyes just in front of him but Moreno’s positioning was inconsistent and at times wild. Early on in the second half it looked as if Moreno was trying to make too big an impact on the match and he ended up almost on the right side of midfield for one Benfica attack with the left midfield area left completely unguarded.
Several heavy touches and slips later and it looked as if the occasion was all too much for the highly rated Spaniard with it only through good fortune and the performance of Beto in goal that Moreno wasn’t punished for one of his errors.
This could very well have been a one-off but these are the slight measures upon which club’s make final decisions on purchasing a player. In Sevilla’s biggest match of the season, on the grandest stage available to the club, Moreno struggled. Of course he is young and it shouldn’t be a surprise but with both Manchester City and Liverpool looking at immediate first choice left-backs it is something to bear in mind from their perspective.
With the hype around Luke Shaw due to both his nationality and the price tag Manchester United appear willing to pay for him it is likely Alberto Moreno will not be the standout transfer of the summer should a move to England materialise however you would expect clubs to see the outstanding footballing ability Moreno possesses and how he has managed to hone his craft in such a short space of time.
With all this in mind it wouldn’t at all be a surprise to see Moreno move to pastures new this summer and with Liverpool and Manchester City believed to be assessing other targets it would take a brave individual to bet against Real Madrid attempting to secure solidity at left-back for the next decade with a late move for Moreno.
Scout’s Rating- 7/10
Follow Chris Winterburn on Twitter @Chriswin4
Tottenham Hotspur had surprisingly high hopes for the remaining rounds of the UEFA Europa League this season despite just scraping past Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in the first knockout round and with Tim Sherwood’s side having the perceived advantage of having the home leg first it was hoped Spurs would be able to take a lead to Lisbon in a weeks’ time.
Tottenham ended up being completely surprised by the Portuguese giants although admittedly Tottenham carried their poor form from Stamford Bridge on Saturday straight through to yesterday evening’s fixture. Benfica’s qualities should not have been a surprise to Tottenham, this was a team who failed to qualify from their Champions League group with ten points. To put this into context, ten points is usually the benchmark elite clubs set for qualification.
Benfica’s game plan for yesterday evening was based on being solid defensively against the home team who were expected to create much of the evening’s attacks whilst having enough quality on the counter attack to cause Spurs problems. Make no mistake however this was not a back to the wall job from Benfica, the visitors were more than adept at keeping the ball for long periods and making Tottenham do far more running than the home side were expecting.
Spurs were not just outclassed by a superior opponent but in what is becoming an increasingly worrying trend for Premier League teams in European competition, they were outthought.
Benfica’s pressing game was perfect. Like so many wonderful teams before them Benfica, after a ten minute period at the beginning of the match to take stock of the situation and team they were facing, simply gave Tottenham no time on the ball whatsoever.
The quick tempo of Benfica’s pressing game started from the front with Rodrigo and the quick Lazar Markovic giving the Spurs backline no time on the ball following a pass from Hugo Lloris. This continued right the way back to the Benfica back four who took an interesting tactic of squeezing high up the pitch when not in possession to ensure Spurs had absolute no time to work the ball Spurs’ main creative outlet Christian Eriksen.
With this tactic Spurs were encouraged to move the ball to the flanks and normally with the pace of Aaron Lennon it would be a huge advantage for Tottenham if an opposition’s defence pushes up so high, just look at the fixture against Arsenal at White Hart Lane in the 2012-2013 campaign. However Tottenham could not get Aaron Lennon in behind simply due to the speed of both Garay and Siqueira who were stationed on the left hand side and with that outlet closed and Christian Eriksen wasted on the left wing to accommodate the disappointing Harry Kane, Tottenham found themselves effectively throttled as soon as they took possession in the middle of the pitch.
Even more worryingly Tottenham looked bereft of ideas. Whether this comes from the manager or just is a reflection on the current state of the Premier League in relation to the rest of Europe, I’d point to a mixture of the two, Tottenham simply could not fathom another way of playing to the system which had failed from the beginning of the match.
At no point did Spurs think to move Christian Eriksen into his favoured number ten role where he could be more of a threat which could then see Harry Kane placed on the left where his speed could at the very least give Silvio a challenge on the flank.
Benfica on the other hand were always thinking, whether it was coming from Jorge Jesus on the sidelines or the players themselves, Benfica were always a move ahead of Spurs even if they didn’t really have to be. A key example of this on the job thinking as it were came throughout the ninety minutes with Benfica’s reshuffling of the defensive line.
Whenever Tottenham were on the ball it was a conventional back four with both central defenders guiding the more attack minded full-backs through the defensive side of the game, however whenever Benfica won the ball back the team knew they needed to push men forward to test Spurs and grab the away goal. Guilherme Siqueira marched up the pitch and became a winger, as did Silvio on the right whilst Benfica then switched to a flat defensive three.
Luisao moved to the right whilst Garay shifted to the left and Ljubomir Fejsa filled in as an auxiliary centre-half with the holding midfielder unlikely to offer much going forward. Luisao and Garay’s ability on the ball was put to the test here however both were excellent with the pair comfortable in possession and content to manoeuvre the ball within their own zone whilst the marauding full-backs returned to recreate the initial shape after an attacking move had broken down.
Benfica’s fluctuating defensive line was huge in the visitor’s victory, possibly not in the goals themselves but in the grander scheme of play. With Benfica retaining three at the back it meant the Portuguese team were still covered against a Tottenham counter attack however it also meant that Benfica could swarm the Tottenham half and outnumber the Spurs back four with the forward runs of Siqueira and Silvio.
Sulejmani and Amorim would move slightly closer together almost as a pushed up central midfield partnership when Benfica went to a back three and despite completely changing their shape at a moment’s notice throughout the night the team still looked competent and composed. This constant thinking was the difference maker in the match yet it is hard to see any English team possibly bar Mourinho’s Chelsea making such an on the fly change to win a match.
Tottenham didn’t make it unduly difficult for Benfica don’t get me wrong but it was clear to see that Tottenham were matched against a far superior team and this is a Tottenham Hotspur team let’s not forget who saw upwards of £100million leave the club’s coffers on transfer fees last summer.
Despite words to the contrary from the Tottenham hierarchy, Tim Sherwood’s future as Tottenham Hotspur manager looks bleak with the English coach expected to be replaced with Louis van Gaal in the summer. Whilst van Gaal may not be the perfect fit for a number of teams in the Premier League, even more so when you consider his disappointing end with Bayern Munich in 2011, the Tottenham Hotspur job looks perfect for him.
There are players in that team with unbelievable quality, Sandro, Paulinho and Christian Eriksen to name but three. With van Gaal at the helm you will never, ever see Christian Eriksen forced to play in a position where he is ineffective. Louis van Gaal knows the importance of creative talents such as Eriksen and at the moment it looks as if Tim Sherwood does not.
Whilst there is still a second leg to go, a 3-1 deficit looks rather difficult to overturn in Lisbon and with Benfica seeming to be so much better than Tottenham it looks as if Spurs’ continental adventure is over for another year.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @Chriswin4