Luis Milla 2020/21 – scout report
Granada finished their season in style qualifying for the UEFA Europa League and have started this season in the same fashion, getting seven points in seven matches in La Liga and qualifying for the group stage of the continental competition.
One of the key players in this amazing start of the season is the newly-signed Luis Milla. The 26-year-old midfielder arrived from Segunda División’s Tenerife for only five million euros and has already proved to be one of the best midfielders in La Liga in his debut season. In this scout report, we’ll analyze what makes this player so special.
Milla is a right-footed central midfielder who adapts to different tactics and formations. He can be the lone defensive midfielder, part of a double pivot or a number eight in a three-man midfield. He’s a well-rounded player and has the technical, tactical and physical ability to succeed in each of those positions.
What really stands out in his game is his dynamism. Milla seems to be everywhere during the matches, moving from side to side and up and down the pitch depending on his team needs. His average position usually ends up being inside the centre circle, meaning he moves equally to the left and the right and up and down. In his heatmap below, we see the great amount of pitch Milla covers, being a constant presence between the boxes.
As we will see in this tactical analysis, Milla combines the hard work and defensive intelligence of a defensive midfielder with the ball-progression quality of a playmaker, turning him into a modern midfielder who can excel in any situation. Despite not being very tall, Milla is well-built, powerful in duels and a great runner.
Off the ball movements and his role in the buildup
In this first part of the analysis, the focus will be on Milla’s positioning and role during the buildup. As we have already seen, Milla is a player who doesn’t usually keep his position and prefers to move around the pitch and proactively provide solutions to his teammates.
When his team is on the ball and looking to play from the back, Milla likes to move from side to side and follow the ball, giving passing options to his teammates behind the first line of pressure. It’s also normal to see him in the half-spaces in his own half, looking to lose his marker and receive the ball with spaces in front of him to progress. Granada takes more advantage of this dynamism when Milla isn’t the only defensive midfielder, as he has more freedom to roam the pitch while his midfield partner covers the central areas.
But Milla is also capable of taking responsibilities and get deeper to take the ball and break the first pressing line. Even if he prefers to receive in the half-spaces and facing forward, he has the ability to receive in central positions, be it facing forward or facing his own goal, and progress from there using his vision and passing ability as we will see in the next two examples.
In the picture below, Milla offers a passing lane to the goalkeeper and asks for the ball even if he’s marked tightly and facing his own goal. When he receives, he plays a first-touch pass without turning and finds a teammate in a better position to continue progressing. This pass requires awareness as he’s not facing the direction of the pass, technique as he has to play in one touch, and also calmness as he’s under heavy pressure in a dangerous area, and Milla’s game has all these things. It’s also important that once he makes the pass, Milla turns and runs forward to receive the ball back.
When his team can’t break the first pressing line or is playing against low blocks, Milla is capable of taking the ball between the centre-backs and progress from there. In the next picture, we see exactly that, with Milla breaking two lines with a pass from a deep position. He plays with confidence and trusts his abilities, so he doesn’t feel the pressure and most of his actions are successful.
But Milla’s role in the buildup is not limited to follow the ball and progress from deep. He knows when he can’t receive the ball between the lines or if his positioning is attracting rivals and making it more difficult for his team to progress, so he acts accordingly and can also take advantage of the spaces generated in front of him by his teammates by making runs forward. This way, Milla takes a rival away from the pressure and also attacks dangerous zones. He also has the pace to reach deep passes so it’s not just a distraction movement.
In this example, Granada’s left-back has the ball and Milla is positioned too close, limiting his options, so he opts for making a run forward. His teammates are attracting Cádiz’s right-back and right centre-back, so Milla creates a dangerous situation making a run between both and also attracts one of the players who was pressing his teammate.
As we have already mentioned in this analysis, it’s not only the quality of Milla’s movements that matter but also the quantity. Milla is very hard working in all the phases of the game and can be often seen making runs just for his teammates to have more and better options. This solidarity is much appreciated by the coaches, knowing that he will make every effort to make their tactics work.
Dynamic playmaker with ball-progressing ability
When it comes to Milla’s playmaking abilities, he’s a really complete footballer. Milla appears all over the pitch and can progress from very different positions, both with passes and runs. He’s a powerful runner and has a good change of pace, which combined with his fine technique makes him a player capable of breaking lines with the ball or progress quickly in transitions. His passing range is also excellent. From his 235 progressive passes in the last calendar year, 36% of them have been between 0 and 20 meters long, 30% between 20 and 30, 17% between 30 and 40, and 17% more than 40.
Below we can see his progressive runs and passes from the last calendar year, showing how well he mixes the length and starting and finishing positions of both kinds of actions. He has only played four matches in La Liga, but he’s already making an impact with 5.81 progressive passes and 0.53 progressive runs per 90, ranking 44th and 72nd between all La Liga midfielders (including wingers).
Apart from his fantastic passing range, Milla’s technical repertory also includes a very good first touch, good handling on the ball in tight spaces and a fantastic delivery from set-pieces. He makes 2.9 dribbles per 90 with a fantastic 72.73% success rate and 43.55 passes per 90, hitting the target in 86.67% of them, ranking 48th and 26th between La Liga’s midfielders respectively.
Milla is very intelligent to orientate the play to lesser crowded areas. He uses his awareness and agility combined with his great first touch to receive calmly under pressure and passing the ball to the best-located teammate. He always seems to know what he’s doing and doesn’t panic when he has to play quickly in dangerous positions. Even if he’s making his La Liga debut aged 26, Milla shows the composure of a very mature and experienced player.
In the following example, we see how calm Milla is under pressure. He receives the ball at the edge of his box and heavily pressed by Atlético Madrid. He dribbles his marker using his power in the first few meters and when he attracts the attention of the three players around him he passes the ball to a free teammate. In this play, we see a mix of strength and power to dribble, calmness to make decisions under pressure and technical ability in tight spaces.
This ability to play quickly and under pressure also translates to the opposition half. Milla is capable of breaking lines when playing against low blocks using first touch passes before the rivals can even press him. An important addition to this passing ability is his willingness to run after making each pass because he attracts the attention of the players around him and makes it easier for his teammates to find spaces.
Below there’s an example of this ability to play quickly and breaking lines. Milla approaches his teammate in the right half-space to receive a short pass. Before receiving the pass he has already seen a teammate in a more advanced position and needs just one touch to find him with a good pass. His rivals don’t have the chance to press him and can’t anticipate the pass because he hides it until the last moment. After the pass, he makes a run forward so one of the defenders has to follow him and can’t press the ball-possessor.
Milla is also a very dangerous player in transitions. We have seen he can progress with passes and runs, and more when he has spaces in front of him. He’s quick and powerful when running, so he can break lines but also create spaces to shoot or pass in shorter distances.
If we see his behaviour in counterattacks, there’s a nice combination of short accelerations to break the first pressing line or burst into the opposition half, short and long passes and dribbles. Seeing the starting and finishing positions of these actions we can understand how Milla appears in every part of the pitch and has a wide range of options to get the ball forward, being a constant threat in quick transitions.
Below we can also see an example of his progressive runs. Milla takes the ball in his own half, leaves his marker behind and drives the ball powerfully between the next two rivals who try to defend him. He shows his power and technique leaving three players behind and establishing his team in the final third.
When it comes to his creativity and ability in the final third, Milla is also a competent player. At the moment of the writing and after four matches, he averages 1.06 shot assists per 90 (27th best between La Liga midfielders), 1.06 deep completions per 90 (32nd) and 1.06 shots per 90 (31st) – four in total in each metric. Considering there are much more offensive midfielders, these rankings are impressive.
Milla also arrives well at the edge of the box and likes to try his luck with long shots. In the graph above, we see his shots from the last calendar year. During this period he has scored nine goals, but just one from outside the box. Even if his shots aren’t bad, Milla should probably choose better options when he approaches the box as the possibilities of scoring from where he shoots are low and he doesn’t outperform his xG in his shots from outside the box (one goal from 1.07 xG).
Luckily, Milla has alternatives to shooting when he’s near the box. Below we can see how he gets the ball into the penalty area. There’s a good mix of short carries to get into the box, through passes between centre-back and full-back, crosses from the right side and key passes resulting in shots.
Defensive work and intelligence
Again, and as mentioned through this scout report, Milla’s defensive ability comes mainly from his dynamism. He’s always running so he gets to lots of places, intercepting lots of passes and defending all-around the pitch.
Milla’s recoveries map from the last calendar year is simply overwhelming. He intercepts and presses literally in every part of the pitch, getting the ball back in the opposition half but also in his own half and both in central and wide zones. 59% of Milla’s recoveries come from counter-pressing as he doesn’t let the rivals think and is quick and sharp to harass them, winning 65.38% of his defensive duels and 66.67% of his aerial duels this season. The rest of his recoveries are evenly shared between positional recoveries and interceptions, proving he also reads the game well and can anticipate where the ball is going to end.
Let’s see some examples of Milla’s defending abilities.
In the picture below, we see an example of Milla’s anticipation and reading of the game. Playing as a defensive midfielder, Milla approaches the wing to press. Even if the ball is going to the right-winger, Milla is already running towards the player located in the halfway line. The right-winger tries a first-touch pass but Milla had already anticipated this and uses his pace to intercept the pass. After the recovery, Milla starts the counterattack running forward with the ball.
And finally, an example of Milla’s counter-pressing. In the picture below we see, how Atlético struggle under pressure and finally tries to play a short pass to the edge of their box. Milla, situated near the play but not just behind the rival, rushes forward and anticipates, intercepting the ball and restarting the attack in a dangerous position. It’s important that he’s positioned some meters away from the rival so he has the space to run and get a good angle to intercept the pass, and it also shows his acceleration, reaction time and reading of the game.
After just four games in La Liga, Granada can already be sure that they have acquired a fantastic player in Milla. After year’s maturating in the Spanish Segunda División, Milla hasn’t struggled at all to adapt his dominant performances to La Liga and is already considered one of the most interesting midfielders in Spain.
If he continues to perform at his current level and can showcase his skills in the Europa League this season, the five million euros Granada paid for him will soon be a bargain. With the Spanish National Team in the middle of a rebuilding phase and some of Europe’s giants looking to strengthen their midfield, a move to a UEFA Champions League contender and a spot in next year’s Eurocup could be in the horizon for Milla. Surely Atlético de Madrid are following their former youngster as a replacement for Arsenal-bound Thomas Partey, but the competence will be fierce.