This analysis about Sergino Dest first appeared on Total Football Analysis, and was published with permission. All images in this article are property of Total Football Analysis.
Barcelona have managed to beat Bayern Munich to the signing of America’s next big thing, Sergino Dest. The 19-year-old full-back joins the Catalans after the departure of Nélson Semedo who made the switch to the Premier League.
The right-back position has been a huge area of concern for the Blaugrana and this signing should finally bring more balance to the squad and potentially solve a problem that persisted since the departure of Dani Alves.
This tactical analysis will give you a scout report on Sergino Dest and tell you how exactly can the youngster fit Barcelona’s tactics for 2020/21 and beyond. The analysis will dissect the player profile of Sergino Dest and see whether it’s compatible with Ronald Koeman’s vision of the Catalan giants.
The role of full-backs in Koeman’s Barcelona
Before actually starting the analysis on Dest’s best qualities and how they translate to Barcelona, we first have to establish what exactly is expected of a full-back at the club. Generally, the Catalans love their full-backs to act more as wing-backs – focused on the offensive and bombarding the final third with runs and/ or passes.
With that in mind, and regardless of the formation used, all of their targets and potential arrivals have to be competent on the ball and aggressive in their approach. However, with the arrival of Koeman, Barcelona have moved on from their traditional 4-3-3 and have adopted his favourite 4-2-3-1 system.
How does that exactly affect the full-backs? The emphasis will still be for them to push forward and attack, only this time, the width may exclusively be provided by them on that right side. Below, we can see Koeman’s preferred lineup so far in his tenure and the roles he expects the players to fulfil.
Note, however, that we are now focusing on the attacking phase of play. The 4-2-3-1 that Koeman prefers focuses mostly on inverted wingers, hence the need for attacking full-backs who provide width. Antoine Griezmann and Ansu Fati have been deployed on either side of the pitch so far and while the latter can provide the width and cut inside, the former is mostly occupying the half-space or the central areas.
Even if Koeman went with Francisco Trincão, the result would be mostly the same – the Portuguese gem likes to cut inside to the left as well, leaving the flank mostly unmanned. This is where the full-back comes in. The core principles they have to abide by in a 4-2-3-1 are supporting the build-up and the attacking phase, inverting when necessary to aid the double-pivot/ single metronome, offer support to the wingers and be able to overlap/ underlap when necessary.
You can see that relationship in the graphic below which emphasises the relationship the full-back can have with his teammates.
In the build-up phase, the full-back can combine with the goalkeeper, the ball-near midfielder, centre-back and the winger, pushing up to the middle third in an attempt to help progress the ball. This can be done to ensure the midfielders are not overcrowded and that the half-space is always occupied by multiple layered options, which can be seen in the second image where he has joined the middle third when moving up the pitch.
Depending on the type of winger in front, once entering the final third, the full-back can either overlap and charge forward or just ensure numerical superiority is achieved over the defenders out wide.
These are, of course, some of the general principles of the full-back’s role in a 4-2-3-1 formation and judging by Koeman’s system so far and personnel he tends to use, we can start gauging Dest’s role in it as well. But does he have the right skill set to do it effectively? Let’s continue with our tactical analysis and find out.
The attacking full-back
Dest’s best attributes indeed come to light once he starts attacking. The 19-year-old is an incredible ball-progressor and a creative outlet on the flank. By analysing his heatmap and one of Ajax’s pass maps from their Europa League clash with Getafe, both of which can be seen below, we get a better look at Dest’s player profile.
Notice his biggest connections on the pitch, as indicated by the thickness of the arrows. His average positioning was around the middle of the pitch with the most passes played between him and midfielder Ryan Gravenberch, centre-back Perr Schuurs and winger Danilo. These are the three main connections we can expect him to establish at Barcelona as well.
We’ve already concluded that the full-back in Koeman’s system will have to be able to support the build-up with the midfielders and connect with the winger in front, either overlapping/ underlapping or creating superiorities out wide. Both his heatmap and the pass map seem to indicate heavy involvement and a rather high position on the pitch. By all accounts, Dest is certainly a player who spends more time in the opposition’s half than in his own but is also someone who can help stabilise the possession phase in the middle third.
However, it will be his connection with the right-winger that makes or breaks the whole structure on that flank. Assuming both Griezmann and Trincão continue featuring in that position, we can fully expect Dest to be an overlapping full-back and provide the width for Barcelona.
Notice in the above image how this often played out at Ajax and how it might continue at Barcelona. Dest receives the ball in his own half but proceeds to run with the ball until he can connect with the dropping winger. Once the markers have been pulled out of position and space has been created, a simple one-two with his teammate deploys the American into the final third on an overlapping run.
These instances aren’t really an anomaly because this is what Dest can do and do it effectively. Bursting into space and combining with his teammates is where he feels at home. But one important aspect we have to take note of is how he progresses the ball. Even though he’s a technical player, he will rarely engage in intricate passing to get into the final third.
Instead, he excels when he’s given the licence to run with the ball, as we’ll see shortly through stats as well. Below, you can see a graph that depicts all full-backs from the top five European leagues up to the age of 25 who have played at least 500 minutes in 2019/20. We have also included Dest, Semedo, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto as well for comparison’s sake.
The graph measures dribbles and progressive runs per 90 minutes. With 4.84 dribbles and 2.39 progressive runs per 90, Dest comfortably outperforms every Barcelona full-back in the analysis. However, we have to take into account the difference between the Eredivisie and LaLiga in terms of quality and competitiveness.
It remains to be seen whether the 19-year-old can translate those achievements into a bigger league. Still, even with that being said, his tendency to consistently combine with his teammates up front has to be taken into account and will certainly offer Barcelona an extra outlet on the right.
Even though we don’t have a large sample size as of yet, Koeman’s Barcelona have been attacking strictly down the left flank where Fati and Alba operate. The right, however, despite Roberto’s occasional ventures, is mostly deserted. In fact, 45% of their attacks have gone down the left with only 25% on the opposite side. The difference is huge despite the sample size.
But another thing that Semedo lacked and Dest can provide is the interplay with the teammates combined with his pace and dribbling abilities and positional awareness in attack. The Portuguese is a prime physical specimen but couldn’t get used to the demanding rules of positional play. His replacement, however, should fare much better. Below, we can see some examples of Dest’s movement and interplay in the final third.
With Ajax’s attack being very dynamic and fluent, players exchanging places was a common occurrence. We’re seeing a similar thing at Barcelona under Koeman, albeit mostly on the left side. With the introduction of Dest, however, we can expect the right to come to life as well.
In the above example, as soon as the winger drops deeper and hugs the touchline, the American knows he has to shift wide and confuse the backline with his run. This type of movement is something we will often see from him in the Barcelona shirt as it’s a great tool to both create and exploit the space. He starts from the half-space and then he can either cut inside or burst out wide.
And that’s exactly the aspect that’s also praise-worthy – his versatility. Not only is he capable of playing as a left-back when needed as well but he has the skill set to operate as an inverted full-back too, as we’ve partially seen in the previous example. Even though Barcelona don’t necessarily utilise inverted full-backs in general, we have seen Roberto be much more involved and acting as support for the midfield when needed. Dest can do exactly that while occupying the half-space and then bursting forward as well.
Above, we can see him tuck in centrally, receive the lay-out from the forward and then combine in the final third. Eventually, he recognises the space that’s available on the flank and proceeds to reposition himself once again. This shows his flexibility, involvement in the attack and positional awareness all in one single action.
Presence in and around the box
The final aspect we have to analyse when it comes to Dest and his skill set is the presence in and around the box. Generally speaking, this is an area Barcelona are really struggling in since their full-backs – with the exception of Alba – don’t offer a big enough influence in the danger zones.
However, with the addition of the 19-year-old, this could finally change. Firstly, we’ll start with some statistics and comparisons. Below, you can see the graph with the same player pool as the previous ones, only this time, we’re measuring shots and touches in the box per 90.
Compared to Barcelona’s full-backs and young full-backs across Europe, Dest is ranking quite high. Only Alba can match him in touches in the box per 90 but no one shoots as often as he does. Another thing we’ve included here is the xG per 90, which is shown by the size of the dots – the bigger the dot, the higher the xG.
Dest is clearly a much bigger threat to the opposition than any of the Barcelona full-backs with impressive numbers in all three categories. But let’s look at this more closely and compare him to Semedo directly since that’s exactly who he’ll be replacing.
Below is a radar comparing the attack and creativity of both players in some of the main categories. The results are shown in percentile rank as opposed to the per 90 values.
The only categories that favour the Portuguese right-back are the ones concerning smart and through passes and dribble success but the latter with a slight caveat of fewer dribbles attempted in the first place.
However, when it comes to passes into the penalty area, key passes, xG and touches in the box as well as dribbles per 90, Dest is outperforming his counterpart. While Semedo can run with the ball and dribble past his opposition with pace, he still doesn’t have the final product. The American, however, does, and it’s visible from this graph already.
One major weapon Dest also has over Semedo is the crossing ability. With 2.9 crosses per 90, 0.54 crosses to goalie box and 0.75 deep completed crosses (a cross that is targeted to the zone within 20 meters of the opponent goal), he outperforms the Portuguese in all three metrics (1.46, 0.16 and 0.32 respectively).
Even though Barcelona don’t necessarily utilise crosses as much, we can expect lots of cut-backs from the right side with Dest’s introduction. But it’s not just about the crosses and cut-back passes. This works best when it’s combined with other weapons in his arsenal.
We can see above how Dest first recognises the space to run into, exploiting the half-space channel as he often does, and then proceeds to sprint into the box and deploy a pinpoint cross to his teammate.
Being a right-footed right-back plays a major part in this aspect. He often lets the ball roll over his body when he receives and can quickly change pace to beat the opponent and then get into a prime position to cross.
Needless to say, despite not having to progress the play through passing nor passing excessively in general, he seems like an upgrade for the Catalans’ right-back position.
We have to remember that Dest is only 19 years old and still pretty raw. Additionally, with the right side becoming more involved in attack, the double pivot will have more defensive responsibility by drifting wide once Dest starts bursting forward at all times.
However, it shouldn’t take the young American too long to take over the position and become Barcelona’s first-choice right-back.