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Analysis

Should Barcelona pursue Dani Olmo?

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo by Uwe Anspach/Poo

Dani Olmo could soon join Gerard Piqué and Cesc Fàbregas on the list of players that returned to Barcelona after leaving at a young age. New reports have surfaced revealing that the Spanish international is a primary transfer target for all of Barça’s presidential candidates. Given Ansu Fati’s long term injury and Olmo’s world-beater-esque potential, should the Blaugrana pursue him?

Olmo spent seven successful years at La Masía before making an unexpected move from Barcelona to Dinamo Zagreb in 2014. The then 16-year-old was yet to make his Barça B debut and moved in search of more playing time. Suffice to say, the decision worked in his favour.

He became the youngest foreign player in the Croatian club’s fabled history, debuting at 16 years and nine months old. In the 2018-2019 season, the wonderkid would make a name for himself, earning Best Player of the Hrvatski Telekom Prva Liga and winning the 2019 European Under-21 Championship. He scored in the final and was awarded the Man of the Match for his sensational display.

Olmo moved to RB Leipzig in early 2020 after a dominant spell with the 21-time Croatian League champions, totalling 34 goals and 28 assists in 124 appearances.

Style of Play

Olmo is comfortable on both wings; however, he is most often utilized in the number ten role, behind the striker. At Zagreb, he was the catalyst for their offence at centre-attacking mid. At Leipzig, he’s been used in more varied positions, which mostly boils down to Julian Nageslmann’s tendencies to experiment with his XI.

You can always expect Olmo to try courageous yet smart moves. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

Across 15 appearances this campaign for club and country, the Spaniard has played at central-attacking mid, centre-mid, centre-forward, and on both wings. His versatility and tactical intelligence make him invaluable as he can be plugged into almost any role in the attack.

Olmo offers speed, exceptional dribbling ability, and a keen passing eye. The 22-year-old is a nightmare for opposing defences as he can tear them apart with his intricate ball carrying or deadly passing.

Olmo’s pace and quick decision making work perfectly for teams who prefer to sit back and counter-attack, and his steady passing work for more patient and possession-oriented teams. Above all else, he is extremely comfortable on the ball and does not easily crack under pressure. To top it all off, Olmo is an absolute workhorse, and does not shy away from dropping deep, or relentlessly pressing his opponents.

“He has exceptional abilities and is very safe with the ball. When he gets put under pressure, he knows how to provoke a foul.”

RB Leipzig coach, Julian Nagelsmann, 2020 

Statistics

In 26 appearances for the German side, Olmo has five goals and four assists. This season, he already has three assists in seven Bundesliga games.

In 2020-2021, the Spaniard is completing 29.1 passes per game at a completion rate of 74%. The majority of his passes are short (between five and 15 yards), highlighting his tendencies for obscure plays and passing in tight spaces.

He’s averaging 2.72 passes per game into the final third and 5.80 progressive passes per game, these values being attributed to Nagelsmann’s high octane style of football. The ex-La Masía player is completing 7.53 passes whilst under pressure from opponents, underlining his composure.

In the final third, Olmo always has his eye on goal and is a league leader in many relevant statistics. He sits tenth in the Bundesliga this season in total shots per 90 minutes and also ranks fourth with 15 passes into the penalty area. Impressively, the midfielder is first in goal-creating actions and second in shot-creating actions per 90 minutes. Of course, this stems from him playing in roles as advance as centre-forward or false 9.

Playing at RB Leipzig requires a lot of defensive responsibility in the form of pressing, and Olmo is well suited for that. He’s averaging 6.3 successful pressures per match during his time with Die Roten Bullen, with most of his actions coming in the attacking third of the pitch.

The following graphic compares Olmo’s performance in relevant stats against the top five players in his position. It compiles information from his last two seasons in the Bundesliga with Leipzig and the Champions League with them and Dinamo Zagreb.

Pie chart courtesy Football Slices.

The graphic highlights Olmo’s passing and dribbling abilities (yellow and green slices), and his successful pressures rate is astounding. Nevertheless, he has room for improvement with turnovers.

So, should Olmo return to Barcelona?

Dani Olmo is as talented as they come, and fits the mould of a Barcelona player, but can he reach his full potential with the Catalans? The answer is contingent upon what type of role the Blaugrana can offer him. If he’s behind in the pecking order to Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, Philippe Coutinho, Ansu Fati, and Pedri, his development would inevitably hinder. On the flip side, his versatility would allow him to be plugged in various positions.

Olmo likes to be in control, and if Barcelona cannot provide that to him, there is little to no point pursuing him. (Photo by Kai Pfaffenbach/Pool via Getty Images)

Olmo already left Barcelona once in search of more playing time, so it’s safe to assume he would need certain assurances. He is far too talented to be a surplus piece on the bench, and Barça should only pursue him if there are gaping holes in the squad and if he can be promised a pivotal role — one that he deserves.

Statistics from Fbref.

Throughout my life of constant change, one thing has never faltered: my love for FC Barcelona. Whether through watching every game, listening to pundits, or playing FIFA and Football Manager, I've always wanted an outlet to express my passion for the team. Barça Universal gives me the perfect opportunity to do so, as I can combine my love of writing with my love of Barça and the sport.

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  1. Avatar

    Dan Burcea

    15/11/2020 at 11:27

    Dani Olmo would be the right man in the right place!

    • Jan-Michael Marshall

      Jan-Michael Marshall

      15/11/2020 at 15:36

      He’s such a great player, I’d love to see him back at Barça!

  2. Avatar

    Lynese Pearson

    15/11/2020 at 14:10

    What an interesting, well written article by Jan-Michael Marshall! ⚽️⚽️⚽️

    • Jan-Michael Marshall

      Jan-Michael Marshall

      15/11/2020 at 15:32

      Thank you so much! Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Avatar

    Sunny

    15/11/2020 at 14:58

    WE have heard about his name last year already. Now, with new election coming up, anything is possible.

    • Jan-Michael Marshall

      Jan-Michael Marshall

      16/11/2020 at 12:20

      Yes, who knows what will happen! Very exciting.

  4. Avatar

    Greg

    15/11/2020 at 19:45

    Good player but where would he fit? Too good to be a rotation piece and would his addition stunt the development of Ansu, Kondrad, Pedri and Trincao. Only makes sense if Grizeman or Coutinho are sold and those funds flipped for Olmo.

    • Jan-Michael Marshall

      Jan-Michael Marshall

      16/11/2020 at 12:17

      I agree. The main question is, would he be given enough playing time to reach his potential?

Analysis

Erling Haaland — One for Barcelona to chase

Jan-Michael Marshall

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Photo via Getty Images

Erling Haaland is set to dominate the world of football for the next decade, and Barcelona will regret if they do not sign him in the next summer window.


Whenever Barcelona are linked with new players, one question always emerges: “Does he have the Barça DNA?” Although a vague term, Barça DNA has come to mean the traits that a Barça player should have, whether already at the club or a prospective transfer. These traits include everything from being technically sound to fitting a possession-oriented style — think of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Lionel Messi.

It’s natural for a club to want players that fit their ethos, especially Barcelona who have such a well-established identity, but where should the line be drawn? Should the Blaugrana miss out on top players because of an inhibition to change tactics, or should the team mould itself around them?

This is where Erling Haaland comes into play. At only 20-years old, Haaland has already solidified himself as one of the best young players in the world, and his position at centre-forward fills a dire need for the Catalans. And to the joy of Culés, the links to him have already begun, with Joan Laporta particularly interested in signing him for the club when and if he becomes President.

Rumours around his signing prop up two eternal arguments: He’s a world-class player that we need versus, he doesn’t fit our player profile.

How do Barcelona navigate this tricky situation?

Who is “The Terminator”?

Dubbed ‘the Terminator’, Haaland burst onto the world stage in the 2019-20 season with Austrian club Red Bull Salzburg, tallying 24 goals in 20 appearances. He also made headlines with the Norwegian international team in the under-20 World Cup, where he scored nine goals in one match.

Haaland meditation PSG

His ‘meditation’ celebrations are among things Haaland has caught attention for. (Photo via Imago)

In January 2020, he made a mid-season switch to Borussia Dortmund and has been wreaking havoc ever since. Now in the midst of his first full season with the German club, Haaland has scored 33 goals in 31 appearances, winning the Golden Boy Award as well, looking set to dominate world football for the next decade.

Player Profile

Haaland is notorious for his finishing, goal-scoring instincts, and intelligent off-the-ball movement. He scores in a variety of manners, whether with powerful long-range shots or well-placed finishes. As aforementioned, his goalscoring record speaks for itself, having already scored 17 goals in 13 appearances this season.

At 6’4″, he is a menace for opposing defenders, boasting a natural ability in the air as well as blistering pace, a combination unheard of, and feared. Earlier this year in a match against Paris Saint-Germain, the Norwegian reached a top speed of 36 kilometers per hour.

The 20-year old tends to play off the shoulder of the defence, menacingly waiting for a through-ball or long ball from his creative teammates.

Below is Haaland’s heat-map from this season, representing his average positions on the pitch. Evidently, he lurks in and around the box, waiting for the right moment to pounce.

Haaland’s heat-map from for the 2020/21 BuLi season. (Courtesy Sofascore)

With the ball at his feet, his pace and physicality allow him to out-run his defender, and without it, his world-class positioning always results in him being in the best spot to score a goal. His movement also drags opposing defenders, putting his teammates in prime goalscoring opportunities. Haaland is a nightmare to defend and must be closely marked because all he needs is a sliver of space to score.

Though not his best attribute, he can link up well with his midfielders, playing small one-twos, then receiving the ball in the penalty box.

Haaland header

Haaland is a versatile scorer, who can do a lot with creators like the ones Barcelona has behind him. (Photo via Imago)

Haaland is a counter-attacking threat as he can use his pace to capitalize on regrouping defenders. He’s also adept at holding up the ball, fending off defenders with his physicality and laying the ball off to his teammates. He’s an old-school number nine, with drops of a brilliant, adaptable player who can score goals out of thin air.

With at least a decade in front of him, Haaland can still improve, and one can only wonder what his ceiling is.

“I’ve maybe been around too long but I have never seen a guy since maybe Messi or Ronaldo that developed at such a young age. That’s very unique and he has all the possibilities to become a really world class player.”

 Norway coach Lars Lagerback 

The Numbers Behind the Player

In his young career, Haaland has already established himself as one of the most lethal finishers in the world. He recently became the youngest and fastest player ever to reach 15 Champions League goals, as well as the youngest to score four goals in a single Bundesliga match.

The Norwegian-international has taken 91 shots on target in his professional career, and scored 72 goals, giving him an astonishing shots on target to goals ratio of 79%. He’s averaging 4.21 shots per 90 minutes this season and 2.59 shot-creating actions. Additionally, he comes up with 0.53 goal creating actions a game, showcasing how much of an all-around threat he is.

The following graphic compares Haaland’s statistics in the last two seasons with top-five league forwards.

Haaland barcelona

(From: footballslices.com)

His goalscoring attributes (red) clearly stand out and his creative stats (yellow) are promising too.

The graphic below compares Haaland’s stats in the Bundesliga over the last two seasons with Bayern Munich’s talisman Robert Lewandowski.

(Graphic from Understat)

The stats are eerily similar, albeit Haaland has played almost half as many minutes as Lewandowski, arriving not before January. The most noteworthy one being the G90 (goals per 90) and A90 stats (assists per 90), where he eclipses the Pole. A goalless outing today barely provides a dent to what has been a fantastic start to life in the 2020/21 Bundesliga season.

Should Barça sign him?

Haaland is evidently a world-class forward, yet questions about his fit persist. Some fans question whether his player profile suits the Catalans, and many are wary of his lack of “Barça DNA”.

While he’s not as much of a creator as Barça might want in the striker position, he’s by no means inept and still has so much time to improve. Furthermore, Barça’s front line is filled with creative players like Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann, and they desperately need someone who is lethal in front of goal. He may not be renowned for his passing or creating in tight spaces, but he excels in the most important duty of a goalscorer: scoring goals.

Erling Haaland PSG

The goal against PSG is testament of the plethora of goals Haaland is capable of scoring, something Barcelona crave for. (Photo by Lars Baron/Bongarts)

On the other hand, Barça typically face teams that like to sit-deep and form a low block. How would Haaland fare against opposition that won’t allow him to maximize his pace and darting runs? Given his ability and instincts, it’s safe to assume that with the right creative pieces behind him, there’s no doubt Haaland could thrive in any setup, especially given his height and built, which can help him bully the strongest defenders in the box.

Above all else, it’s necessary to consider whether Haaland would even want to go to Barcelona, let alone whether the Catalans should pursue him.

The club is an institutional mess, and the squad is performing poorly. It’s not exactly an ideal spot for any player. Barcelona are also struggling financially, and can not realistically pursue Haaland without offloading a lot of other players. Haaland does have a fixed release clause of €75 million, though, and certainly, that plays into Barcelona’s lap. The centre forward would definitely need assurances of being an undisputed starter, as his ability certainly warrants that.

Another reason Barcelona should definitely get into the action to bring him to Spain is because rivals Real Madrid are the clear favourites to sign Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain. Ansu Fati, for all his brilliance, is too young to draw comparisons with the Frenchman, but Erling Haaland is the man who can give him real competition, and if shove comes to push, even overtake him.

Closing Thoughts

Alongside Kylian Mbappé, Haaland might be the best young player in the world right now. He has all the necessary attributes to shine anywhere and is a transfer target for most of Europe’s big clubs. The 20-year old could potentially lead Barça’s front line for the next decade, and he could be Barça’s next iconic number nine, following in the footsteps of Luis Suárez, David Villa and Samuel Eto’o.

Erling Haaland dortmund

Haaland is set to dominate the decade, and Barcelona will regret not getting him. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

He would surely astonish the Camp Nou, even without the so-called “Barça DNA”, but his transfer depends on navigating the financial crisis, and his on the pitch success depends on the right coach. However, just having Haaland on the team sheet, Barcelona would return to instilling genuine fear into their opponents.

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