Gone are the days when wingers razed the touchline with sheer pace and the crowd sang ballads about the magicians as they took on defenders with no inhibitions. As the 21st century dawned upon football, focus on tactical systems grew manifold & wingers were clipped of their wings. Suddenly, pace and ability to dribble past anguished defenders took a backseat and the wide men were forced to submit to the cause in complex systems. As the spark and independence attached to wingers continues to diminish in modern football, there are few who still supply us with hope. One of those promising youngsters is: Abdessamad Ezzalzouli aka Ez Abde.
Name: Abdessamad Ezzalzouli (or Ez Abde)
Position: Left Winger (LW)
Preferred Foot: Right
Current Club: Real Betis
EZ ABDE – STYLE OF PLAY:
In a league dominated by defensive structures which offer minimum space for forwards to move forward through, Abde, at times has felt like a hurricane for Betis as he simply blows past defenders on the left flank. Gifted with speed the of a Ferrari, Abde often finds himself alone with acres of space ahead of him to exploit and progress through. The Moroccan’s explosiveness has not only enabled Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis side to be more direct when in possession but has also helped them create opportunities to score late when Abde comes off the bench.
Blessed with a brilliant collection of facilitators of progression, Los Verdiblancos often look to establish their domination through the middle of the pitch. As a result, whenever Betis look to shift focus and progress through the left channel, Abde’s explosiveness paired with his excellent spatial awareness helps him detach from his marker quickly and find himself in dangerous positions to receive the ball. Abde’s explosiveness is also complemented well by his impressive technicality on the ball. The winger has made it a habit of entering the opposition’s box and retaining possession until he finds an outlet. His ability to hold off defenders makes him a thorn in the side of every defense in the league.
Unlike most modern wingers however, a peculiar thing about Abde is his aversion to being involved in the build-up. As Betis look to progress the ball, Abde often can be noticed as the farthest man forward, albeit, out wide. Even when Betis look to merely retain possession and move the ball sideways, the 22-year-old Moroccan maintains his position out wide and seldom participates. While his habit of not participating can lead to him being isolated for huge portions of the game it also ensures that the defenders marking him are constantly on their toes for sudden darting run in behind the defense enabling Betis to create space through the center as defenders continue to follow him out wide.
POSITIONING + MOVEMENT:
In an era where the primary objective of wingers is to function as playmakers, Abde reminds us of the beauty of wide men running at defenders with the intention of taking them on and scoring. In order to achieve his objective, Abde evidently hugs the touchline, waiting patiently to receive the ball and have a go at the defender. His heatmap for LaLiga, too, indicates that he bides most of his time inside zone 13 and 16. Another interesting fact the winger’s heatmap reveals is his entry into the box towards the edge of the pitch. This further indicates his tendency to isolate the fullback covering him and attempt to dribble past him into the box. Abde’s constant presence out wide has also allowed Betis to stretch the defense of the opposition and use the space afforded in the middle.
Movements of wingers can often influence games. Luckily for Betis, Abde understands that better than most. As Los Verdiblancos approach the goal, the Moroccan’s elite positioning close to the defensive line paired with his speed enables him to make fantastic diagonal runs in behind the defense to receive long balls and take a shot at goal. When he finds himself in the box, the youngster tends to pull the central defenders onto him to create space for the striker to take a shot.
While his decision making inside the box can definitely improve, Abde, if polished, is easily a player who can be a nightmare for all defenders.
PASSING + CREATIVITY:
Averaging a meagre 34 passes attempted p90 in the league this season with a completion rate of only 67% it is evident that passing isn’t the strongest suit of the ex-Barcelona man. While Pellegrini hasn’t tasked him with him excessive creative duties, for the winger to average only a modest 2.52 progressive passes p90 isn’t a great sign. It is important for us to remember that due to strong competition and niggles that the winger hasn’t played as consistently as he would like. Hopefully, with time, he will improve.
The Hercules academy product, however, compensates for his deficit in the build-up by boasting excellent numbers in individual creative capability. Currently, the Moroccan averages a staggering 6.79 progressive carries p90 in LaLiga while accumulating 4.84 touches in penalty area. Last season, at Osasuna, in 1504 minutes, the winger had 66 touches in the box and this season Abde already has half that in 1000 lesser minutes. An impressive improvement. His presence in the box has also borne fruit as his actions have directly led to 2.48 SCA90(Shot creating actions) and a sweet 0.35 GCA (Goal creating actions) p90.
Defying prevailing conventions, Abde is a winger who has affinity for taking shots. In LaLiga the striker averages 3.19 shots p90. His average shot distance from goal has also seen an incremental decline from 19.1yards last season to 17.6 yards this season. While this has resulted only in 1 goal in 500 minutes, Abde’s increasing presence in the box in dangerous positions and consistency in minutes is a guarantee of many more to come.
OUT OF POSSESSION:
When you practice your trade under a hard taskmaster like Manuel Pellegrini it almost a given that even forwards are held to the highest standards while defending. As Betis fall into a compact 4-5-1 or 4-2-4 out of possession, Abde is tasked with pressing the oppositions wingbacks/ wingers. If the opposition manages to progress into the middle of the pitch, Abde and his peers continue to maintain shape in order to frustrate the opposition. Here, Abde often looks to isolate the wingback/winger and dive into a challenge for the ball.
So far, the youngster has won 6 tackles out a total 7 attempted in the league. The ex-Osasuna man has shown a willingness to put in the work defensively when required and his stamina out of possession has been noteworthy.
Few possess all the qualities to succeed as a traditional winger. In Abde is a perfect concoction ready to unlocked. However, without consistent minutes and the presence of a system which facilitates his strengths his potential might never be truly unlocked. For his growth, it is imperative for him to look for more minutes at a club with lesser ambition for the moment. For now, one can only certainly conclude, in Abde lies a great uncut gem.
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