Analysis

Should Barcelona pursue Dani Olmo?

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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.

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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.

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