Alejandro Grimaldo 2021/22: Why Benfica’s high flying Spanish left-back is among the best outside the top five leagues – scout report
With the league season done and dusted, it’s pretty much time for the transfer talk to take off as the window has opened in England already. Although most clubs are eyeing signing the best and the most talented defensive midfielders and strikers, there are some who need a proper full-back, especially a decent left-back.
In our data analysis of finding the best full-backs in the league, one of the best-performing full-backs we found in the Primeira Liga was Alejandro Grimaldo. He is a 26-year-old Spanish full-back (D.O.B – 20/09/1995) who plays for Benfica as their left-back.
This scout report in the form of a tactical analysis discusses the strengths and weakness of Grimaldo both in the attack as well as in defence and states how does contribute to the tactics and playing style of Benfica. Let’s begin the analysis.
In Possession of the ball
With the ball
Grimaldo has a very neat technique on the ball with both his preferred left foot and his weaker right foot. His excellent technique allows his first touch to be really good where he is capable of bringing down the ball at varying speeds and angles from his teammates.
Benfica usually looks to play out from the back where they use their defenders to bring the ball out of the defensive third. He has the capability of springing passes out from deep that advances play for his side. We can see that in the example below where he initially drives with the ball forward and finds his teammate making a run to the final third on the far side. He switches play seamlessly and plays out a long pass that lands at his teammate’s feet.
He averaged 5.11 progressive passes per 90 for his club across all competitions last season with a very good accuracy of 79.3%. Although some of these passes are simple 2-5 yards passes that are very short there many that can be deemed under the progressive category. We can see another example of him playing a very good pass from deep in the image below where he realises that his teammate is making a run in behind the opponent’s defensive line and he threads a through ball to him that dissects the defensive line perfectly and creates a goal-scoring chance for his teammate.
The best aspect of his long passes are that they are pretty much tuned and sent in such a way that it is ahead of the receiver who is receiving the ball which makes it easier for the receiver to progress the play further without having to worry or put extra effort on progressing the ball from where it is.
As we mentioned already, he has a very good eye for making good through passes and coupled with his ability and preference to play in the interior regions as an inverted full-back. Grimaldo can be a very key player for teams that would like to have their full-back create chances from the half-spaces.
An example can be seen in the image above where he receives the ball in the half-space from his teammate and plays a brilliant one-two with him and threads a very good through pass to him to create a wonderful opportunity to score a goal. He averaged 1.04 through passes per 90 in the league which was amongst the highest in the league last season.
Another example of him playing a pass that bisects the defensive line can be seen in the image above. Before this making, the pass carried the ball to the interior regions which had attracted two opponents towards him and also dragged one of the midfielders out of position which meant that his teammate could make a run in behind the defence and attack the channels. He manages to then squeeze the ball through a very small gap to create a chance for him.
He also has a good running capacity with the ball and is an effective ball carrier. A very important and sought-after trait from a full-back is their ability to carry the ball over long distances. The likes of Andy Robertson at Liverpool and Alphonso Davies at Bayern Munich have both been amongst the best left-backs in the world over the last few years and both of them have this immaculate ability to carry the ball. Grimaldo is one such full-back who has a very good pace with the ball and is capable of carrying it over long distances and attacking spaces. His touch on the ball while carrying is also good leading to a controlled sequence of carrying in most of the scenarios.
In the image above we can see an example of him carrying the ball under heavy pressure against Liverpool. Naby Keita is intensely looking to press Grimaldo while blocking the passing option behind him and Luis Diaz is also looking to press him from the inside with the CB in his cover. With no passing options immediately available, Grimaldo unbalances Keita with a sudden change in movement and dribbles the ball past him while carrying it inside which gives him a space to bring it even further up the pitch.
Due to his short stature and low centre of gravity, he has the ability to unbalance the opponent with a sudden change of pace and movement which allows him to go past his markers quite easily. Another example of that can be seen in the image below where he is being pressed by a Sporting player. He has the ball while facing his own goal’s touchline and after this, he feigns a move by looking to go in one direction but goes the other way leaving his markers unbalanced.
In terms of crossing, which is another important attribute that is expected from a full-back, Grimaldo is pretty decent at that and has created a few good opportunities from it. He is the primary set-piece taker for Benfica and takes most of the free-kicks and corners for them. He averaged 3.48 crosses per 90 which was the 25th best among the full-backs in the league last season. His main strengths are his inswinging crosses from corners or from the right flank which has a very good swirl and depth in it while also finding the right man and cut-backs from the half-spaces inside the box which are his most efficient form of creating from crosses. His out-swinging natural delivery is not very potent where he completed only 33% of his out-swinging crosses last season.
The above image shows an example of Grimaldo playing an inswinging cross after a corner routine and he is able to find his man on target. In terms of making ground crosses, he is solid in both cut-backs as well as proper outwing low crosses which are predominantly used in transitional situations. Overall, he is a pretty decent crosser but is not someone who is elite like Trent Alexander-Arnold to create consistent chances from these situations.
His on-the-ball game is much more suited to operating in the half-space where he can work on all three phases in possession. His ability to play a wide range of passes also means that his utility can be more extended if he is operating more in the half-spaces.
Without the ball
Without possessing the ball, the major job of a full-back is to make runs down the wing and act as an outlet for midfielders to ping the ball to the flanks. Overlapping and underlapping are important functions that are pretty much expected from most of the full-backs these days and Grimaldo is pretty good at executing both of them.
In the above image, he times his overlapping run extremely well and receives the pass from his wing-forward at the right time. This also allows his teammate to create a 2v1 situation against the Porto right-back which, again, gives the additional option of using Grimaldo’s movement to drag the full-back out and create space for the winger to cut inside and carry the ball. He has good recognition and understanding of off-ball movements and he also makes the inside-to-out movements frequently like in the image below to constantly drag opponents away from their positions and create spaces for his teammates. Such movements are very valuable in modern-day football where high importance is given to spatial superiority.
Mostly, he inclines to position himself in the half-spaces in the middle and final third. This is what makes him more of an inverted full-back where he makes most of his future actions from these locations. We can see him positioning himself in the interior regions while Benfica’s left wing-forward occupies the wings and stretches the defence.
Defensively, Grimaldo is pretty solid and has some good attributes in him that make him very good in this particular area. Before making a defensive action, he has a constant ability to scan things around and get a good understanding of where the players are positioned. He constantly keeps tabs on the opponent players like in the image below and sets out to make the right action on the course.
This ensures that he makes the right decision at times, especially as to when to step forward and make a challenge and when not to. In the example below we can see him delaying the attacker’s next move by holding his position and ensuring that he doesn’t commit too early into the challenge which might lead to him losing the duel and the player going past him.
His body angle, while he is delaying, is also very good as he is facing the opponent showing him the outside and dropping his shoulder down a bit to transfer some of his weight to his front foot which helps him to make a challenge immediately or if he wanted to follow his marker it would also give the right balance to take strides for that as well. He does this quite frequently which is a sign that he reads the game really well before making a proper decision to act.
He averages 7.24 defensive duels per 90 and won 60% of the duels that he completed in the league last season which is decent efficiency for a full-back. The reason for his accuracy being slightly on the lower side is the fact that he commits unnecessary, purposeful tactical fouls at times which means he makes a lot of fouls per match on average, 0.59 per 90. We can see that in the image below where he steps forward knowing that he wouldn’t able to reach his marker and immediately fouls him to ensure that he does not turn and go past him. He gets too aggressive in this situation at times despite reading the situation well which is a weakness of his.
His pace coupled with a good acceleration means that he can recover pretty well and look to make last-minute tackles too. Although they are of very high risk in nature, recoveries and sliding tackles are pretty important tangibles that might be very valuable for a defending team if executed in the right manner. We can see that in the image below as well where he sprints back from a higher position up the pitch to recover and make a tackle to send the ball out of play.
He also has good decision-making ability during transition situations as well where he uses his delaying technique to good use. In this following example, he follows back instead of stepping out to make a tackle. Also at first, he was pretty close to the player on the right side and steadily angled closer towards the ball carrier while sprinting towards his defensive third. He ensured that the passing option from the ball-holding player to the player on the far-right side is closed and when that player looks to make a pass, he intercepted it and a counter-attack was stopped by him single-handedly.
His main weakness defensively would be his ability to deal with balls in the air where his short stature (171 cm), means that his ability to win duels in the air is massively reduced. Most of the teams that played against Benfica and especially those who went with long balls usually target his side and exploited his weakness in the air.
This also extends into his ability to defend the back post when the crosses arrive in the box. Although he positions at the right place and ensures that he is always close to his markers, due to his inability in the air he is always prone to losing duels, especially the important ones like when the crosses arrive in the box. This can be seen in the image below where he loses the aerial duel when the cross is being delivered by a Sporting player.
Potential clubs in the future
Due to his ability to play well both in the attack and defence, he is an all-rounded full-back who is capable of playing for potentially big clubs in the big leagues as well. His experience of playing as an inverted full-back can also mean he can play teams that follow the Manchester City template in possession. His physicality especially his ability in the air is something that every team would very much vary upon and that would mean he might not get into the biggest teams like City, Real Madrid, etc as they already have some well-rounded full-backs under their belt.
The likes of Newcastle and Juventus are certainly interested in signing him and Juventus, in particular, would be suitable for him as he could be a direct available replacement to Alex Sandro playing inverted full-back for the club. A move to Newcastle might also mean that they will be having two competent full-backs with contrasting styles in the form of Kieran Trippier and Grimaldo and would certainly be a significant upgrade on Matt Ritchie and also can make sure that they don’t really depend on Jamal Lewis, right-footed player, in the left-back position.
From this report, we saw why Grimaldo is a very talented, and one of the best performing full-backs outside of the top-five leagues in Europe. A move to a top-five league can happen anytime now with him entering his peak years. Also, his player profile is something that is certainly gaining popularity among the game’s best managers with a lot of them looking to sign players of a similar style to him.