While Schalke 04 doesn’t seem to have been an ideal destination for Juan Miranda, as shown in this tactical analysis his ceiling still is tremendously high.
Barcelona seem to have as much abundance of options at left-back as they have a lack of at right-back. From Jordi Alba, Junior Firpo and the players coming up through the academy like Alejandro Baldé, the left-back position is heavily contested for at Barcelona. Before the signing of Firpo from Real Betis, a player who was considered a very promising left-back from La Masía, Marc Cucurella, was loaned out. Seeing his quality Getafe exercised the option to buy him.
After him, Juan Miranda was the prospect who was thought of very highly. Since Junior Firpo and Jordi Alba are preferred over him, he has been loaned out to Bundesliga’s Schalke 04. The board hoped his would allow him to gain experience and get a place in the first team next season.
In this article, we analyse his abilities and try to form an opinion on what he should do next.
Getting to know Juan Miranda
Juan Miranda was born in the Andalusian city Olivares. He joined Betis’ youth academy when he was 8 years of age. When he turned 14, he joined Barcelona and progressed well getting his first team debut on 19 August 2017. Miranda has also played for Spain at various levels winning the U–19 and U–17 Euros.
He is primarily a left-back but his attacking-mindset can help him play as a wing-back as well. At 1.85m, the 20-year-old is by no means short and he can hence participate in aerial duels capably. His bounding runs down the left have been his characteristic for a long time. These not only help the youngster, but also provide more fluidity to the team.
From this heatmap, we can see his average position for Schalke 04 this season. He plays as a left-back but he has the freedom to attack as we can see. This is very important as his crossing is another impressive talent of his.
This data, via Understat, shows Miranda’s stats for this season. We can immediately see the places where he does very well, such as key passes per 90 with 1.53 – we must note that key passes per 90 can be defined differently by different statisticians which gives us some figures saying he averages 0.9 per 90 which is still good for his first season at a new country. His presence in his new team isn’t very influential as of yet which his xGBuildup90 and xGChain90 show us.
Comparing it with Schalke’s first-choice left-back, Bastian Oczipka, we can see how Miranda has had a slow start. Of course, he hasn’t had nearly as many chances and time to adapt as Oczipka.
In the 2018/19 campaign, Juan Miranda got a few chances at Barcelona. One of them came against Tottenham in the Champions League. Here, he failed to impress Valverde, who was the coach then. After that, he didn’t get any first team chances for quite a while.
Playing for the B team, he was always a standout performer for them. His bounding runs with and without the ball down the left were one of the team’s major strengths. His crosses superb and pinpoint, with excellent judgement and awareness. This didn’t mean Miranda’s defensive abilities were any less impressive. He always managed to hold the shape of the team while also making the most of the freedom manager García Pimienta gave him.
Miranda had become too good for the B team and he needed to play for a good side in the major leagues. Barcelona accepted a loan for him from Schalke. However, that was not a well-thought-out decision as it turned out. He got no chances to play for the first team at all for a very long time. The young full-back was loaned in by the Germans primarily as a backup. He finally got a chance on 15th December 2019 when he came on for the injured Weston McKennie. He came on in the first 15 minutes and played well, leading to Schalke winning 1–0. After that, he got more chances than before but still not enough.
For such a young and talented player, playtime is the most important thing. Getting a loan to a team with the quality of Schalke was indeed impressive but Juan Miranda would have been better of in any first division side where he could get more playtime. Now that we have a general idea of how the loan spell turned out, let’s take a look at his performances and where he excelled and where he lacked.
To be frank, Miranda’s performances at Schalke haven’t been anything special. He has struggled to adapt to their style of play and his new duties. Of course, he was played very less by Schalke till McKennie was injured and that didn’t help in his adaptation. But in terms of adapting to the tactics, there have been instances where Miranda just didn’t make the right decision. Here, we have an example where we see how his lack of match-time affected him along with the different tactical approach employed by the German club.
When Schalke are defending and the opposition has possession near the box, they form a compact defensive unit. This relies on individual awareness, communication with teammates and good organisation. Here, we see Miranda is at the second pole on the near side. He is showing a lack of awareness as the Freiburg player is able to get behind him with too much space in between. In Schalke’s tactics, what he could have done was space apart from the central defender and communicate the same. Nonetheless, he was caught unaware and the opposition got a chance at goal which was luckily saved.
Schalke haven’t been impressive as a team either this season. They have a goal difference of –13 and hence it is no surprise to see that they aren’t even challenging for a Europa spot this campaign. Their problems have been due to a lot of tactical issues. One of those have been frequently being caught on the counter and having poor man-marking.
Here, we see an example of how that has made it hard for Miranda to perform in some situation. Freiburg have possession on the edge of the box here, and they have three players in and around the box with more arriving. Schalke have six in and around, though Freiburg still have one player with nobody ready to press him.
Miranda already has a player to mark, and as he sees that the opposition player has nobody pressing him, he advances on him. This leaves the earlier player space to run in behind, which scatters the defence marginally. Notwithstanding, even this marginal problem is enough for the player Miranda advances upon to take a shot. Fortunately, this hits the goalposts, but it shows how Schalke have been defensively sub-par.
These events showcase why the fact that Schalke have been far from well-oiled this term has affected the left-back negatively. At Barcelona, while defending Miranda would still maintain his width. But at Schalke, it looks like he has been instructed to come in closer to the centre-backs and stick to the earlier discussed principle of compact defensive structures.
This kind of positioning might be a reason as to why he positionally hasn’t been as acute as he was at Barça. This isn’t useful in such scenarios where we see Miranda sticking to the player he has been instructed to mark though the central defenders could easily change shape to contain him while Miranda maintains shape at the near side.
Juego de posición and 360 awareness
One of the cornerstones upon which the Barcelona’s traditional style of play is built upon is positional excellence. Throughout La Masía, this attribute is given immense importance and that is reflected in Juan Miranda’s understanding of positional play. He uses this combined with excellent awareness to bring out the best in attack as well as defense as we will see in the following examples.
In this example, we see how Juan Miranda manages to read the game very well and stay one step ahead of the opposition. In the first image, Arthur Melo has the ball. Miranda sees this and he is also aware of Rafinha Alcântara calling for the ball. He spots the space behind the AC Milan defender. In the second image, we see that he has made a run before Rafinha even received the ball. Thanks to his quick movement, he can now easily cross the ball or pull it back. Thanks to his overlap, Rafinha can defend on the counter as well.
In another example, we can see how Miranda’s awarenesss helps him in regaining possession. This has helped him average 0.9 interceptions per match. Miranda averaged 1.4 during his stint with Barcelona B. In this example, we see a scenario from that season. Miranda is tracking back and Barcelona are caught on the counter. He is aware of the player running in behind him. His run is such so as to intercept the ball to that player. When he sees the opposition player passing the ball, he is already in a good position to intercept the pass.
This ability of his allows his manager to trust him with the freedom to move up the pitch. Had he not been this good at being aware of other players’ positions, it would have been a major drawback for almost all attack-minded managers.
An integral part of the Juego de Posición or positional play is having great awareness of space and knowing when to press and when to not. Here, we see an instance where Miranda is tightly marking an opposition player. The opposition number 11 is being pressed upon by Miranda’s teammate. The number 11 is able to get past the marker but the marker gets enough contact with the ball to make the opposition lose control. Miranda spots the opposrtunity and immediately presses, He quickly dashes forwards and clears the ball. He takes the risk of leaving his man unmarked, which is a risk but a calculated one thanks to his excellent spatial awareness.
Miranda’s offensive abilities
Juan Miranda possesses exellent attacking potential due to his crossing, his pace and his attacking mindset. The 20-year-old will look to go forward at any chance. His one-twos combined with his pace, his pace combined with his attacking mindset and his crossing ability all contribute to his excellent offensive ability.
Here, we will take a look at a scenario which shows us how he uses quick one-twos to move up the field fast. Often, we can see Juan moving towards the central part of the pitch with the ball. Here, he spots the space behind the opposition’s defence. He then passes the ball quickly to teammate Álex Collado and moves in behind the defence. Collado is unable to lay a pass through to him here. But had he been able to, Miranda would have been in an incredibly potent position. He could have been able to pull it back, cross it or even attempt a shot on goal.
In another example here, we can take a look at his attacking mindset combining with his one-twos and awareness of space. In the first image, we can observe Miranda quickly playing a ball into space for Oriol Busquets to chase. Immediately after passing, the left-back moves forward into space ready to receive the ball. These movements that we see in a one-two are incredibly effective in moving up the field with tight marking as they often catch the opposition flat-footed or off-balance.
In the second image, we see Miranda in the box with plenty of space. His run is such that Oriol can safely thread the ball from between the opposition players which Miranda hooks onto. Here, he has a chance to cross the ball from where the opposition don’t expect it. This is one more reason to add to the list of reasons of why his managers allow him such attacking freedom. Miranda’s attacking talents more than justify this freedom.
We have taken a look at all his important attacking aspects, but one of his most impressive is crossing. Granted, he hasn’t done well in that aspect at Schalke this season. But his ability to find a man in the box for both Barcelona and Spain is incredible. In the next images, we see his crossing ability and excellent awareness to spot his teammate’s run.
In the first image, we see Miranda on the far side with the ball at his feet. He is in a position where he can cross within a limited angle with a player right in front of him. Here, he spots his teammates run into the space in the middle of the box. This in itself is commendable with the player in front of him and the flurry of players trying to get into the box.
In the second image, the Spaniard has launched the pass pefectly landing right in the path of his tammate. His accuracy is very good here along with his execution upon his vision. He also took the right decision by not trying to dribble needlessly and seizing up the chance when he got it. Hence, it is no wonder to see that a 66% passing accuracy in the opposition’s half for Barcelona B. This also goes to show something very important for his future: that his disappointing crossing this season is something that is due to various factors, but a lack of potential or talent is not at all the reason.
Juan Miranda is one of Barcelona’s hottest prospects. His performance for Schalke during his loan this season hasn’t been outstanding. Nevertheless, as we saw, this was not solely his fault. Along with this, the abilities of his that we analysed are such that would allow him to become a first team player for Barcelona in the future.
Currently, the Catalans have Jordi Alba as the main left-back with Junior Firpo as a back-up. They also have Marc Cucurella, who can be bought by triggering his buy-back clause, and then comes Miranda. He would not get the minutes that he really needs at his age at Barcelona. Hence, the best option for him would be to get a loan to a team with a philosophy similar to Barça’s next campaign. This loan deal could be the do or die moment for Juan Miranda as he needs to prove himself at a good level for him to get a spot at Barcelona.
Using data to construct alternative Barcelona lineups
If you had to build a team that matched the style of Barça’s first eleven, what would it look like? Who are the Lionel Messi’s and Sergio Busquets’s of other clubs around the world? Let us dive into these questions using statistics.
The ability to identify similar players can be very beneficial in football. That knowledge can be applied to pinpoint transfer targets as potential replacements for an outgoing star, to gain a deeper understanding of how an unfamiliar opposition plays and who their main threats are, and more.
In the modern age, data plays a massive role in this. Here, the concept will not be as serious as crunching numbers to analyze an opponent or maximize efficiency in the transfer market, rather it will be more of a fun look at the Barça squad.
Essentially, we will be using player statistics to answer the question: What if you had to replace each member of the Barcelona lineup with another player from world football? Not in a fantasy way of building a dream eleven, but identifying players who best match the tendencies of the current team.
Background and methodology
To find the next best thing to Lionel Messi, Frenkie de Jong, and company, data from Wyscout for the 2019/20 league season will be used. Each position group – centre backs, full backs, centre midfielders, and attackers – starts off with a sizeable group of metrics relating to their style of play, before a factor analysis is performed.
The factor analysis looks at how all the players in the position group performed across the variety of individual metrics, before attempting to reduce the number of data points by creating factors that reflect relationships between those metrics.
For example, it picks up on the fact that attackers like Messi, Neymar, and Bernardo Silva tend to drop deep and be very active in buildup. This is reflected by their high tallies of actions like passes and passes into the attacking third.
So, it can use those trends to create one factor representative of that style, allowing the 25-30 metrics for each position group to be reduced to five or six numbers, which is much easier to interpret. After that, cosine similarity can be used to find a player’s closest match.
In terms of the players involved, this is the Barça eleven that will be used based on a mix of who has played the most over the course of the season and Ronald Koeman’s recent choices.
Because of his injury issues, Ousmane Dembélé did not play enough in the 2019/20 season to generate even a decent sample size, so his 2018/19 statistics were used instead.
Finally, for Marc-André ter Stegen in goal, factor analysis will not be used. There are not enough useful metrics available for the goalkeeper position, so a more simple search will be performed. His matches will be found by looking for players who are similarly active in possession, accurate passers, and possibly have a similar physical build. With that in mind, time to get into the results.
To present the outcomes of this analysis, we will have multiple alternative lineups based on certain criteria. First up are players with a Transfermarkt market value of €25 million or higher. Here is each Barça player’s closest match:
- Marc-André ter Stegen: Ederson (Manchester City)
- Jordi Alba: Andrew Robertson (Liverpool)
- Clément Lenglet: Dan-Axel Zagadou (Borussia Dortmund)
- Gerard Piqué: Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen)
- Sergiño Dest: Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal)
- Sergio Busquets: Jorginho (Chelsea)
- Pedri: Florian Neuhaus (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
- Frenkie de Jong: Arthur (Barcelona, now at Juventus)
- Antoine Griezmann: Mason Mount (Chelsea)
- Lionel Messi: Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Ousmane Dembélé: Eden Hazard (Real Madrid)
Two young Bundesliga centre backs anchor the backline. At left-back, Robertson’s delivery style may differ from Alba’s, but the Scotsman offers a similar end to end stamina. On the right, Bellerín slots in as a La Masia product himself.
This midfield sees Jorginho take the reigns from Busquets as the metronome, while Pedri is replaced by a fellow wonderkid in the emerging Neuhaus. Seeing Frenkie de Jong matched with Arthur may be a bit surprising. The Dutchman has certainly improved this season and contributed in a wider variety of areas, but this goes to show that he needed time to gain confidence, just like Arthur was.
The wings are occupied by big names who have commanded massive transfer fees. Dembélé matching with 2019/20 Hazard can also be seen as a bit eerie given both of their injury struggles. Neymar, the former protégé, slots in for Messi, giving the side another former Barcelona connection.
Probably the biggest surprise comes with Mason Mount taking over for Griezmann. The Chelsea midfielder’s place here is certainly reflective of the unique, often unsuitable role the Frenchman played in 2019/20, where he had to perform quite a bit of “midfielder” work and was not as involved in the goals as he would have liked.
Now, let us move to the next market value range – between €15 and €25 million.
- ter Stegen: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
- Alba: Oleksandr Zinchenko (Manchester City)
- Lenglet: Jonathan Tah (Bayer Leverkusen)
- Piqué: Nikola Maksimović (Napoli)
- Dest: Dodô (Shakhtar Donetsk)
- Busquets: Leandro Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain)
- Pedri: Todd Cantwell (Norwich City)
- de Jong: Boubakary Soumaré (Lille)
- Griezmann: Federico Bernardeschi (Juventus)
- Messi: Mohammed Ihattaren (PSV)
- Dembélé: Manor Solomon (Shakhtar Donetsk)
Jonathan Tah joins Edmond Tapsoba from that first lineup as Bayer Leverkusen centre-backs highlighted here. At right-back, Dest is replaced by another one of the position’s brightest young talents in the Brazilian Dodô.
Manor Solomon, another Shakhtar Donetsk youngster, comes up on the right-wing. Given the Ukrainian club’s history of smart recruitment and the number of talented players they have who seem to fit Barça moulds (attacking full-backs, possession-based midfielders, inverted wingers), it definitely looks like a good place to scout.
The Camp Nou was recently home to a great performance from Leandro Paredes, albeit for the opposition. Fellow Ligue 1 midfielder Soumaré has been attracting lots of interest from the big Premier League sides for his recent play.
Filling Messi’s spot here is PSV’s Mohammed Ihattaren. He may be unknown to some, but the teenager’s top-flight experience at a big club and callups to the Dutch national team back his ability.
Onto the next squad, which brings up some under the radar players, with the market value ranging between €5 to €15 million.
- ter Stegen: Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
- Alba: Marcelo (Real Madrid)
- Lenglet: Aleksandar Dragović (Bayer Leverkusen)
- Piqué: Rick van Drongelen (Hamburger)
- Dest: Youssouf Sabaly (Bordeaux)
- Busquets: Nikola Moro (Dinamo Zagreb, now at Dynamo Moscow)
- Pedri: Maximiliano Meza (Monterrey)
- de Jong: Wendel (Zenit)
- Griezmann: Lars Stindl (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
- Messi: Josip Iličić (Atalanta)
- Dembélé: Ryan Kent (Rangers)
In goal, Yann Sommer played a big role in getting Borussia Mönchengladbach, ter Stegen’s former club, to Champions League football. On the attacking side, he is joined by his teammate, the well-rounded Lars Stindl.
Dragović becomes the third Bayer Leverkusen centre back to feature here. To his left, another big club alternative comes in for Alba and this time from Barça’s arch-rivals.
Moro (22), Wendel (23), and Kent (24) bring some younger legs to the side. Kent, in particular, has looked very impressive under the management of Steven Gerrard and is now looking to secure a league title while advancing in the Europa League.
Covering for Messi this time is another one of football’s ageing stars. While he may not have reached his peak until later in his career, Josip Iličić is making the most of it. He has put up excellent numbers across the board over the last few seasons, propelling Atalanta into Italy’s top three and the knockout stages of the Champions League.
To finish off, how about we look at a lineup of only young players? Here is the U-23 alternative eleven:
- ter Stegen: Florian Müller (Freiburg)
- Alba: Emir Karic (Rheindorf Altach)
- Lenglet: Dan-Axel Zagadou (Borussia Dortmund)
- Piqué: Flavius Daniliuc (Bayern Munich II, now at OGC Nice)
- Dest: Henry Uzochokwu (FC Midtjylland)
- Busquets: Nikola Moro (Dinamo Zagreb, now at Dynamo Moscow)
- Pedri: Delio Ramírez (Deportivo Pereira)
- de Jong: Claudio Gomes (Jong PSV, now at Manchester City U-23)
- Griezmann: Michel Vlap (Anderlecht, now at Bielefeld)
- Messi: Mohammed Ihattaren (PSV)
- Dembélé: Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund)
Some familiar names present, but with no market value range, there are a few relatively unknown footballers here. Sancho, the new star on the wings at Dembélé’s former club, would undoubtedly have to shoulder a lot of responsibility if this were a serious side. However, there is some real talent here.
Flavius Daniliuc is certainly one to watch for the future. A former member of both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich’s academies, the Austrian teenager, is now getting his first taste of top-flight football with Nice.
Frenchman in midfield Claudio Gomes is another solid prospect. He came through the Paris Saint-Germain academy and has represented France at each youth age group from U-16 to U-20. Gomes has made a short appearance for the Manchester City first team in the FA Cup this season, but at 20 years old, he could be on the move soon in search of first-team football.
The potential for forward Michel Vlap to become world-class may have run out, but he is definitely a serviceable player. After reaching double figures for goals in the Eredivisie in 2018/19, then the Belgian first division in 2019/20, the Dutchman earned his move to the big five leagues.
Of course, not much deeper insight can be drawn from this. The analysis here is done almost purely on a hypothetical level, as opposed to trying to prove anything. It does reveal some interesting trends, though.
We were able to highlight how Neymar has evolved to become more Messi-like, how Bayer Leverkusen use ball-playing centre backs similar to Barça, how Shakhtar Donetsk has some intriguing talents that Barça could monitor (several others were not mentioned), and more.
It does also make fans think about having to actually replace the likes of Messi and Busquets when they move on. Who will slot in for them for real when it is time?