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Abdelhamid Sabiri: Paderborn’s glimmer of hope

Paderborn’s ride in German football has been full of ups and downs in recent times. After being relegated from Bundesliga in the 2014/15 season, the club slipped into 3. Liga and finished 18th in the third flight at the end of the 2016/17 season. After two consecutive promotions, the side came back in the German top flight this season, only to see things crumbling again. With nothing much going into Paderborn’s favour, Moroccan-born Abdelhamid Sabiri remains one of the few positives for the side from North Rhine-Westphalia.

In this scout report, we’ll be looking at Abdelhamid Sabiri’s individual attacking traits, attributes, and cast an eye back over the season so far. This tactical analysis will focus on Sabiri’s attacking traits that stand out and can be elevated to help lift Paderborn’s poor form of late.

Attacking Profile and Development

Abdelhamid Sabri arrived at Paderborn after two years at Huddersfield Town. Sabiri was only a sporadic player for The Terrier, playing very few minutes. Sabiri’s return to Germany, has seen him get more minutes this season. Sabiri has racked up 806 minutes in 2019/20 alone, compared to 266 minutes in his two seasons at Huddersfield. 

What makes Sabiri a great talent to watch is his gradual evolution despite playing for a struggling Paderborn team. The youngster has managed to get three crucial goals for Paderborn this season, combined with two assists. Sabiri is a very direct  player, who likes to move the ball quickly and vertically in order to advance play quickly for Paderborn.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics
Credits: Understat.com

Comparing his statistics for 2019/20 with 2017/18 and 2018/19 combined, Sabiri has improved upon his involvement in the final third. A significant increase in the number of shots taken, xG, and passes to the final third might not be on par with leading attackers in Europe, but Sabiri’s improvement can certainly be noticed. The   German-raised 23-year-old attacking midfielder has been able to better his overall statistics and influence, showing  a glimpse of the potential of the player he can become in the future.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The 23-year-old has appeared most commonly as an attacking midfielder this season, with particular preference to the left-hand side of Paderborn’s system. Paderborn’s most preferred formation, the 4-4-2, accommodates Sabiri as the left-sided attacking midfielder. However, the youngster has started 12 games from the bench, including the match against Borussia Dortmund, and will have to push harder for Steffen Baumgart to consider him as a regular starter.

Paderborn’s struggle in front of goal and Sabiri’s performances this season 

Paderborn currently sit on the bottom of the Bundesliga table. With only four wins and seven draws out of 28 league matches, Paderborn have struggled in their return to the top-flight. The team have only scored 31 goals so far, making them the second lowest-scoring team in the league. 

Sabiri has been a key-man whenever he’s been trusted to start. Out of 31 goals that Paderborn have scored, more than 35% (11 goals) have come from long-range shots and moves after set-pieces. Paderborn struggle to work the ball into goal scoring areas, Paderborn mostly rely on players like Sabiri, who are capable and willing to have a shot from distance.

The fact that Sabiri registers 3.68 shots per 90, highest among frequent Paderborn starters this season, shows that he is the chief goal threat for Paderborn. Similarly, two of Sabiri’s three goals in 2019/20 have come from outside of the box. We will discuss this further later on in the analysis.

Sabiri’s tally of three goals in 17 appearances doesn’t appear good, but his ability to create shooting opportunities has been a positive for this struggling side. Sabiri frequently accelerates with the ball into space before unleashing a shot. He is always looking to get himself a yard of space so that he can have a shot on goal.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

As we can see from his shot-taking areas this season, almost all of his shots have occured centrally. However, Sabiri has to work on his shot accuracy, as he only manages to get 38.7% shots on target with a conversion rate of 9.7%

Positioning, movement and shot-taking 

Sabiri’s ability to find the ball and take shots comes from the positions he occupies on the pitch, his primary focus is to exploit space just behind the front lying attacking duo. With the ball, Sabiri is able to drift inside and shoot, as well as taking up good positions to pose a threat on goal.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the latter. The positions that Sabiri takes up when he is off the ball, create problems for the opposition if he were to receive the ball. Sabiri delays his run, in order to stay unmarked and co-ordinates with the strikers, to receive the ball with the chance of shooting. This patience in his movement and positioning in accordance to the ball-winner’s position makes this move possible for Sabiri and Paderborn.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics
In this instance versus Koln, the ball carrier at the right side of the pitch makes a run and launches a cross directed towards the two advanced forwards in the box. Instead of joining in the attack and moving into the penalty area. Sabiri delays his run to position himself in space (as marked in the image). 

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

With the receiver aware of Sabiri’s intentions and movement, he ultimately lays it off for Sabiri, who now has time and space to take an immediate snap-shot or if needed, take a touch to move into a better position for a shot. In this way, Sabiri positions himself in dangerous areas so that if he receives the ball, he is able to shoot.

Similarly, as a player who loves to dribble, Sabiri is able to make runs towards the central space of the pitch. Considering that Paderborn lack a player that is capable of progressing play effectively. Sabiri can be useful  here too. He is able to cut-inside, beating his opponent before getting into a shooting position.

Sabiri often receives the ball from wide areas and cuts inside towards the central areas to shoot. Normally, his ability to accelerate and shoot despite defenders closing on him makes him stand out. Similarly. Paderborn’s style of play this season has complimented Sabiri’s abilities to cut inside and look for shooting opportunities. 

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

In the example shown above, Sabiri wins the ball out wide via a counter-pressing action. He then sets off towards the centre of the pitch, this time by executing a turn that makes him free of the closest defender. His technical ability allows him to receive the ball in tight areas and keep possession whilst escaping the attention of defenders.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Sabiri drives towards the penalty area and notices that defenders are attempting top close him down. The two defenders on his left, limit his movement to go more central and instead Sabiri decides to shoot from the area he currently occupies. Sabiri often does this, facilitating Paderborn’s option of going for shots from outside the area, in an attempt to catch the opposition off-guard. 

Ability to accelerate and dribble

Abdelhamid Sabiri is incredibly quick. He often likes to dribble to get break defensive lines instead of opting to break lines via a pass. This feature might have been influenced by the fact that Paderborn currently are the team with the second-lowest number of progressive passes and passes to the final third. With this in mind, Sabiri’s nature of making progressive runs makes him more suited to the team’s strengths.

A combination of Sabiri’s technical abilities and stout physical shape allow him to drift and accelerate, which is a familiar sight to Paderborn regulars. He regularly drops deep and looks to exploit the space in between the opponent’s lines.

Starting out from his natural position on the left and looks to drift inside.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The 23-year-old clearly loves to dribble and completes 2.87 dribbles per 90, with a 58% completion rate. His dribbles map further strengthens the fact that Sabiri has great awareness of the space around him, he does not rush his shots, he ensures that he is in a good position before having an attempt on goal.

One fascinating thing about Abdelhamid Sabiri’s acceleration and dribbles is that it acts as a trigger for Paderborn to attack in numbers. That is to say, the start of Sabiri’s runs often result in a lot of movement of his teammates away from the ball, towards the goal. This essentially indicates that Steffen Baumgart has built his system around Sabiri and his attacking tendencies.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics
In this example, Paderborn recover possession inside their own half. Sabiri, in this case, occupies a central role. As the opposition press, Sabiri decides to shift the ball to his left to nullify the opposition press. He then receives the ball with two defenders in close proximity.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

As shown in the example above, Sabiri proceeds to dribble past two defenders, What this essentially does is signal a trigger to his teammates, who then make runs to get into an advanced position. In this instance, Sabiri moves inside as the player behind him makes an overlapping run on the left.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Sabiri’s presence clearly influences Paderborn’s style of play and has influenced their number this season too. 36% of Paderborn’s attacks this season have come from Sabiri’s side of the pitch, compared to 34% from the middle and 30% on the right side of the pitch. Similarly, Paderborn clearly seem to favour runs over passes, as they boast second-highest dribble attempts per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga.

Counter-pressing, recoveries and the use of pace

In modern-day football, teams are turning to counter-press tactics, in order to win the ball as soon as they lose it. Therefore when winning the ball they’re already in an attacking area of the pitch. Like the majority of teams, Paderborn make use of their quicker players, to apply pressure on an opposition as soon as they lose possession.

Sabiri possesses a profile that’s suitable for recoveries and applying pressure. With his pace and positioning, the Morocco-born youngster is able to detect vulnerable areas of an opponent to quickly execute a counter-press with support from his teammates. This has proved successful for Paderborn, as Sabiri averages 5.59 recoveries per 90, and 3.52 out of those come in counter-pressing situations.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

We can see a map of all Sabiri’s recoveries. Sabiri thrives on counter-pressing situations to recover the ball. Similarly, the high amount of counter-pressing recoveries on his side of the pitch, further support the idea that he likes to move inside once he has recovered the ball.

One of the most common ways of winning the ball back via counter-pressing is to establish numerical superiority, Paderborn aim to have numerous 2v1 and 3v1 overloads in various areas of the pitch. Sabiri is a useful asset on this occasion, as he uses his acceleration to press quickly. Hence, he places himself between two opponents, so that he can cover both of them when one receives the ball. 

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

In this example, the Paderborn players are applying a simple rule – the man closest to the ball looks to press the ball, whilst the other players ensure they mark any passing options. In this case, Sabiri is seen in the middle of two opponents.

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Similarly, in another example, Sabiri is seen doing the latter, closing in on the player to help his teammate establish 2v1 superiority to win the ball back. In this case, not only does he win the ball back, but he manages to use his pace to turn around and initiate a counter-attack. 

Abdelhamid Sabiri 2019/20 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

In this way, the manager has utilised Sabiri to his full potential in pressing situations. Despite the struggle that Paderborn are facing, Sabiri is performing his duties well and in this case, becomes a vital weapon to win the ball before it gets to Paderborn’s feeble defence.


With Bayern Munich in the driving seat, Paderborn are likely to be relegated yet again. However, as this tactical analysis pointed out, Abdelhamid Sabiri’s cameo and individual performances have been a glimmer of hope for the struggling side. While he has a contract that keeps him at the club for two more years after the season ends, it will not be a surprise if a club of a bigger profile than Paderborn come knocking for the German.