5 exciting and undervalued prospects who could become the new Sergio Ramos
Sergio Ramos is out of contract in June 2021 and Real Madrid are struggling to offer him an attractive deal. Aged 34, Ramos could look to leave the club he’s been at for the last 15 years and get a huge contract somewhere else. If that happened, Real Madrid would need to get at least one centre-back and possibly two, depending on how much they trust Raphaël Varane and Éder Militão.
In this data analysis, we have used Total Football Analysis’ exclusive xGold tool to try and find suitable replacements that Real Madrid could consider as long-term replacements of Sergio Ramos. To filter out some obvious options, we have set a maximum transfermarkt value of €15 million / £13 million and we have only considered U23 players so they can become a long-term player for the club’s captain. Rumours have placed Ramos at Liverpool, ManUnited, PSG and the MLS, so these options could also be alternatives to the Spanish centre-back at any of those places.
Data has been taken from Wyscout and our player profiles show metrics in terms of percentiles, which reflect the player’s performance on that particular stat in comparison with the rest of the players in the league in that position.
Players are presented in descending age order.
Gleison Bremer – 23, Torino
Gleison Bremer is a 1997-born Brazilian centre-back who plays for Torino in Italy. In his home country, he played for Desportivo Brasil and Sao Paulo academies before joining Atlético Mineiro aged 19. He just played 28 matches for Mineiro before signing for Torino in 2018 for €5.8 / £5.22 million. Since then, he has played 58 matches, scoring seven goals and becoming an important piece of the Italian side.
Bremer stands at 188 cm / 6’2’’ and has very good physical conditions for a modern centre-back. He’s well-coordinated and strong, mobile in tight spaces and quick in longer distances. He can cover the back of the defensive line and doesn’t struggle in a high line, so he would fit in a dominating team.
The Brazilian is a right-footed centre-back who usually plays on the left side but can also play on the right or in the middle of a back-three. His positioning is very good, he intercepts lots of crosses and through passes and is rarely caught out of position. In duel grounds, Bremer uses his physicality very well and is difficult to beat in one-vs-one situations. He is also good if not excellent in the air but may have some problems with very big and powerful strikers. Anyway, he’s usually safe and isn’t beaten easily.
Bremmer is confident in possession and capable of leading the build-up. Comfortable with his right foot, can progress from the back with low and driven progressive passes and also has good technique to carry the ball forward and break lines with his dribbling and pace. Has some problems to progress with his left but can still clear the ball and isn’t completely one-footed. He can also hit good long passes and is a threat in the box from set-pieces.
As we can see in the comparison above, Bremer and Ramos share a similar profile. Ramos is safer on the ball but both of them are good progressors and a goal threat. In defence, Bremer gets involved in more duels because his team isn’t as dominating as Real Madrid and his success rate compared to other centre-backs in the Serie A is slightly higher than Ramos’ compared to other centre-backs in La Liga. If he transitioned to Real Madrid or any other team used to having the ball and being involved in less defensive duels, he would need to focus the 90 minutes as the few duels he would get involved in would be crucial.
Bremer would be great for a dominating side as Real Madrid. He’s used to playing in the opposition half as we can see in his heatmap, is very good on the ball and combines youth and experience. His confidence would be key to adapt to a bigger challenge and his playing style matches Ramos’. With Torino in relegation positions at the moment of writing, he could become a market opportunity too.
Sebastiaan Bornauw – 21, Köln
Sebastiaan Bornauw is a 1999-born Belgian centre-back who started his career at Anderlecht. He made his first-team debut aged 19 and played 29 games before being bought by Köln for €6 / £5.40 million in 2019. Since he arrived at the Bundesliga, Bornauw has become a key player for his team, playing 45 matches and scoring six goals. He’s also been part of every Belgian youth national team from the U15 to the U21 (over 45 youth caps) and has recently made his senior national team debut.
Bornauw stands at 191 cm / 6’3’’, is strong and possesses good pace. His mobility is good considering his size and reacts quickly to anticipate or tackle. He has all the conditions to be very good in the air but is still a little bit inconsistent. Last season he won 63.3% of his aerial duels but dropped to 43.5% this season so he should return to a higher percentage.
He’s right-footed and usually plays as a right centre-back but can also be used on the left or in the middle of a back-three. Bornauw is very aggressive and intense in his challenges and tackles, bullying the rivals with his strength. He’s also good in one-vs-one duels, uses his body well and is difficult to dribble. As in the aerial duels, he still needs to make the most out of his conditions as he can be beaten in aerial duels with little contacts before the rival receives the ball. He’s well-positioned to defend crosses and quick to anticipate inside the box. He leads the defensive line and is very brave and communicative, which isn’t normal in young centre-backs. He will surely get more solid with age when he knows the trade better.
On the ball, Bornauw isn’t very technical. He usually plays riskless passes and isn’t someone who will progress from the back. When under pressure, he chooses to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper or play long balls without another purpose than clearing away the danger. His technical problems can affect his defending too. His first touch can be a problem when he tries to control the ball instead of clearing and his clearances aren’t oriented at all so he gives away unnecessary corner kicks and throw-ins. As Ramos, Bornauw is a big goal threat and has 0.11 xG per 90 so far this season.
Ramos and Bornauw aren’t the same profile but they do share lots of similarities. Bornauw is slightly better in the air and both of them are a goal threat from set-pieces. Ramos is much better on the ball and is much more solid in defensive duels, which are two of the aspects Bornauw is expected to improve with time if he’s to become a top-level centre-back.
Bornauw would fit very well into what Real Madrid expect from a defender. He’s tough, aggressive and a leader at a very young age. His defensive qualities are obviously there even if he needs some more consistency. His technical quality is very far from Ramos’ but partnered with the correct player he could become a fan-favourite thanks to his attitude and leadership.
Giannis Michailidis – 20, PAOK
Giannis Michailidis (also written Ioannis Mixailidis) is a 2000-born Greek centre-back who has spent his whole career at PAOK, where he made his debut aged 19. He has played a total of 24 matches in the first team and has two full caps for Greece after playing in every youth national team from U17 to U21.
Physical: Michailidis stands at 188 cm / 6’2’’. He’s very strong and uses his physical superiority to bully his rivals and recover the ball. His pace is quite good and doesn’t struggle to play in a high-line, so he wouldn’t need a lot of adaptation to play in a high-pressing and dominating team like Real Madrid.
Defensive: Left-footed left centre-back. Used to play in a high line and for a dominating team with a lot of involvement in the opposition half. Very good in the air, excellent positioning and quick to make last-minute tackles and block shots. Likes to leave the defensive line and defend high-up the pitch meaning he’s involved in lots of high-risk defensive duels, winning a good amount of them.
Technical: Lots of quality on the ball. Great technique, can play first-touch passes to avoid pressure and drive the ball forward very accurately. Plays short and long passes with good accuracy. Progresses mostly with passes but can also run with the ball and use his power going forward. Has quality when playing in the opposition half and can create dangerous chances passing the ball into good positions in and around the box. He’s a good threat in set-pieces too.
If we compare Ramos and Michailidis, we can see the Greek defender is better in the air and gets more involved in duels because of his aggressive playing style. They’re both very good on the ball and can score too. Ramos is still better in ground duels, choosing better when to press and when to stay on his feet and wait for reinforcements. Michailidis will surely improve his decision-making and subsequently his success rate in defensive duels.
Michaildiis would be a risky signing for a club like Real Madrid as he’s coming from a weak league like the Greek Super League. However, his playing style fits the club perfectly and he’s still very young but still leading the defensive line of a huge club as PAOK. If given the opportunity to progress and learn from Ramos and Varane, Michailidis could become a very interesting player for the next decade or more.
Malick Thiaw – 19, Schalke 04
Malick Thiaw is a 2001-born German/Finnish centre-back who has spent all his senior career at Schalke 04 after coming through their academy since he was 13. He made his first-team debut aged 18 last season and has been getting more and more minutes since then. He has played a total of 13 matches for Schalke 04 so far.
Thiaw is a huge presence at the back. He stands at 195 cm / 6’5’’. He’s still a teenager and looks like one. Despite his height, he should (and surely will) add more muscle but he’s naturally strong and coordinated enough to translate his height into good pace in long distances.
A centre-back by trade, Thiaw has also been used a lot as a right-back. He feels comfortable defending far from his box, marking tightly and making sure rivals can’t turn and run at him. Thiaw gets involved in lots of defensive duels (top 10% in the Bundesliga) and wins more of them than 60% of the rest of the centre-backs, using his long legs and size to recover the ball.
He’s not very active in his positioning and fails to intercept passes or block crosses because he’s not constantly adjusting his positioning like more experienced centre-backs do. Malick is often caught ball-watching too many times and tends to go for the ball and leave his position. He benefits from playing in a back-three with other centre-backs covering his back.
In the build-up, Thiaw is usually positioned behind the first pressing line and lets other players take responsibility. His involvement is low but when he gets the ball he’s very aggressive with his passing and looks to play forward whenever he can, which explains his low accuracy compared to other centre-backs. He’s also a decent dribbler and can use his pace to advance. With his height and power, Thiaw is often the target man in set-pieces and has 0.13 xG per 90 so far this season, getting into the top 10% of the Bundesliga centre-backs in this metric.
When compared to Ramos, Thiaw shows some very promising signals. Both of them are level in terms of winning defensive duels, even if the German centre-back is much more involved as he plays in a side that struggles in defence. Both of them are also a big threat in the box, which is something Real Madrid will really look to add when replacing Ramos. Again, Ramos is much better on the ball than Thiaw but there’s room for improvement for the 19-year-old defender as his team doesn’t look to use him in the buildup either.
Thiaw is still very raw and adapting to senior football but his natural conditions are enough for him to play in a league as demanding as the Bundesliga. If Real Madrid or any other top clubs decided to go for him, they would need to focus on his development and pair him with an experienced player who can guide him. With his height, pace and defending abilities, Thiaw will surely become a good centre-back and any interested team could benefit from taking him early and for a lower price.
Natan – 19, Flamengo
Natan is a 2001-born Brazilian centre-back who came through the academy at Flamengo, making his first-team debut last year and playing 14 matches so far in all competitions. He has been called by Brazil U20 but hasn’t made his debut yet.
The young Flamengo centre-back stands at 188 cm / 6’2’’ and is strong in duels despite his age. He’s also fast and agile to dive into tackles. Physically very complete, he will probably continue developing in the next couple of years.
Natan is a left-footed left centre-back. He’s a very good tackler, choosing good angles and diving into tackles cleanly but with aggression and determination. He uses his body and long legs to win duels and recover the ball without committing fouls. With his pace, Natan can cover the wings and doesn’t struggle to play in a high line. He’s just ok in the air but with his size and physical conditions, he will surely get better with time.
On the ball, Natan is aggressive, looks to play forward and is confident to carry the ball forward and establish his team in the opposition half. He plays for a dominant team and takes lots of passes but still plays with his head up and tries to play forward quite often. His technique is good and can break lines with accurate and perfectly-weighted passes. A threat going forward, he’s one of the best centre-backs in Brazil when it comes to xG per 90.
In the comparison above, we see Natan’s profile fits almost exactly Ramos’. Natan is, of course, playing at a lower level, but the Brazilian league’s level is still high and performing like that isn’t easy for a 19-year old. He’s slightly better than Ramos in ground duels and slightly worse on the ball and as a scoring threat but the differences are very low.
Natan would be a very interesting addition for Real Madrid. He’s already playing and performing well at a high level so he’s ready for the next step in his career. If he continues developing and adapts well to European football, he could emulate Ramos’ playing style and he’s also used to playing in a dominating side.
Real Madrid will surely look to get an established player when Ramos leaves the club. They need a leader who can both perform himself and help his defence partner perform better too. But if they chose to go for a promising player who could still develop into a dominant defender, then the options we have provided would be very interesting.
The profile Real Madrid choose will surely depend on how much they rate Varane and Militao. If any of those two are regarded as a leader who can help others develop, then a less established option would be on the cards to learn and develop alongside them. If not, there’s still room for a young centre-back who can be the fourth one in the picking order until he’s ready to step up into the starting XI.
In this analysis, we have provided short scouting reports on players whose statistics and data have similarities with Ramos’. Further scouting and analysis would be ideal but they all show very promising signs of being capable of becoming top centre-backs in the near future.
All player profiles in this piece were created by the wonderful Sathish Prasad (@SathishPrasadVT on Twitter). Go check out his stuff!