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Álex Collado: Is La Masia’s next big thing bound for promotion? – scout report

Even though the public would make you think otherwise, Barcelona‘s famed La Masia academy has still been producing top-tier talents on a fairly regular basis. The recent emergence of players like Ansu Fati, Ronald Araújo or Ilaix Moriba is a testament to that but they are also not the only ones.

Alex Collado, the 21-year-old winger still plying his trade at Barcelona B is a highly-touted youngster dubbed to make the next step as early as next season. At the moment, it does seem the Catalans are well covered in the wide areas but Collado is a player of Lionel Messi’s ilk, both in terms of playing style, technique and physicality. 

Could he be their next big thing? This tactical analysis will be a scout report on the youngster, highlighting some of his main traits and seeing how he could potentially benefit Barcelona’s tactics in the first team in LaLiga.

Here we go.

Player overview

It’s always difficult to say whether a player from a lower league would have the same impact playing in the top-tier. However, looking at Collado’s displays in the Segunda B, it’s getting painfully obvious he’s far too good to be playing there. As ever, we’ll start this tactical analysis with a short overview of his traits before delving deeper into his key attributes.

Barcelona’s ace is a right-winger by trade on paper but on the pitch, he is enjoying a largely free role akin to the one of Messi. As we can see from his heatmap and preferred positions in the next image, Collado doesn’t have a set area he operates in.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

He will often receive the ball in the right half-space and then burst towards the final third through there. However, this is by no means the only area you’ll usually find him in. Collado tends to drop deep to assist the build-up and carry the ball forward via his runs. Sometimes, to destabilise the opposition’s block, that will also mean shifting over to the left side of the pitch, as can also be seen in the image.

Playing as a wide midfielder is also something he’s entirely comfortable doing as he’ll spend large portions of the game in a deeper position anyway. This has arrived as clear development in his player profile and Collado is now often the orchestrator for Barcelona B as the game will flow through him more often than not.

The following image gives us a statistical overview of his 2020/21 season so far and needless to say, it’s quite impressive. We can immediately see that the 21-year-old is topping almost every imaginable important category when compared to other wingers in the league.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

Whether it’s his performance in front of goal or passing & progression, Collado is among the very best in Segunda B. Of course, that doesn’t instantly mean he’d do the same in LaLiga but it is a prerequisite if he’s to make a big step-up in his career.

His main strengths include an excellent presence in the final third, security on the ball, progression through run and set-piece prowess.  The only notable weaknesses as of right now, however, are his lack of a creative output despite good vision and technical ability and, despite good numbers, average progression via passing.

More on all of that in the following sections of this scout report.

Progression & dribbling

As we’ve already mentioned in this tactical analysis, Collado is a great progressor of the ball and will often drop deep to do so. However, it has to be noted that his progression comes purely via runs and not passes. Whenever the 21-year-old dops deeper into his own half to receive possession, he’ll aim to use his dribbling and technical prowess to advance play.

We’ve seen from his heatmap that he’ll spend big portions of games deeper and the following image will show us a fairly standard sequence with the ball at his feet. Collado will receive from his backline and then proceed to use dribbling to beat his man and progress towards the final third.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

The stats tell us he’s one of the best in progressive runs in the league, ranking third in the league in total figures (68) and second in per 90 stats (5.07). When it comes to just U23 players, he’s second in both categories so clearly, that’s a big strength in his kit.

In the previous example, Collado drops deeper to receive the ball and then proceeds to run with the ball until he reaches the final third. Interestingly, he beats two markers during that sequence and then combines with one of his teammates around zone 14. 

While he will often start wide, Collado almost always cuts in from the right onto his left foot. At times, this will also mean he’ll take up possession in the central channels, even acting as a no.10. The next image depicts another progression situation in which his technical ability shines once more.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

Collado receives the ball between opposition lines and makes a one-touch turn to progress towards the final third of the pitch. Once in position, he attempts a pass beyond the other team’s backline but the ball is, sadly for Barcelona, intercepted.

Still, despite the failed attempt, this example shows us that he can receive in dangerous positions and then advance the attack to destabilise compact blocks. The final ball to potentially register an assist is still missing from his kit, which we’ll discuss later on in this scout report.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Collado does have a certain dose of pace which can be used in combination with his technical & dribbling abilities. This is especially effective in instigating transitions and drawing fouls in the danger zones.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

This example shows us Barcelona B during a quick counter-attack where Collado receives the ball in Blaugrana’s half and proceeds to run with it, exploiting the free space the opposition has left in their midfield.

Using his pace and the ability to shield himself from the collapsing defenders, the 21-year-old is ultimately taken down with a harsh challenge. While it didn’t yield a goal, this example still shows us Collado can be an effective transitional player as his kit is perfect for creating advantages in such scenarios.

Shooting & final third involvement

One of Collado’s best attributes is also his final product in terms of goals and shooting output. This season, he has already scored eight goals from 3.45 xG, signalling that he’s a great finisher. It’s important to note that two of those goals were from free-kicks, one was a penalty and one was a direct goal from a corner kick (0.01 xG), hence such a big disparity between his xG and total goals.

Before analysing some of his involvement in the final third and the penalty area, let’s take a quick look at his shot map. Collado is seventh in total shots this season with 42 and fourth when that figure is adjusted to per 90 stats (3.13). Either way, he does seem to be a volume shooter and a good one at that.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

But it is also very interesting to see the number of shots outside the box he’s taken this season. According to Wyscout’s data, Collado ranks fourth in shots outside the box with a total of  29 and rises to first when we only take into account U23 players. We can see the same improvement in overall shots when only young players are included with the 21-year-old ranking first in total shots and second in shots per 90 minutes compared to other Segunda B U23s.

Judging by the high xG of most of his shots taken inside the box, however, we can conclude he mostly finds good positions to shoot from and is a great finisher as well. Still, it’s usually his technical quality that ensures he finds those positions in the first place.

If we take out the set-piece goals, the others were all a product of either an incredible finish or excellent movement beforehand that made the situation possible in the first place. The following image is a perfect example of that.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

Collado receives the ball in the right half-space, as is usually the case, and proceeds to twist and turn to find a better channel to enter the box. Once he starts his run, however, there is little the opposition can do to stop him. It’s movement like that one that makes people compare him to Messi.

The 21-year-old wiggles his way past three defenders outside the box and then beats the fourth one just in front of the goalkeeper before finishing the action with a wonderful shot. That goal, for example, carries the second-highest xG value of all of his goals this season due to the proximity to the opposition goalie but is a byproduct of a wonderful slalom beforehand, which is not recorded in the data.

Collado is also very effective at destabilising defensive blocks with smart passes, although that’s not utilised nearly often enough. Take the following scenario as an example. Barcelona’s gem uses his close control to cut inside towards zone 14 before deploying an excellent pass into the space beyond the opposition’s backline.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

According to the data, Collado ranks as eighth in total smart passes (24) and sixth in per 90 figures (1.79). However, when adjusted to U23 players, he suddenly jumps to second place in both categories. This is an indicator there is creativity in him and the youngster could still develop into a top-tier creator for his team.

That being said, just as his progression through passing needs some work, so does his creation. Yes, he is able to bend the ball with his left foot better than most but it does seem like so far it’s not yielding palpable results as he’s registered zero assists at the moment of writing.

This could be explained as Collado dribbling to create space for himself rather than his teammates, although that statement is not entirely true. Looking at the following graph of his dribbles in four different games this season, we can see a pattern emerging.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

There are two specific areas where Collado utilises his dribbles – deep to progress the ball from the first phase and in the right half-space as a tool to enter the box. This is also where we have to come back to that statement about creating space for himself rather than for others. 

When he’s dribbling out of his half, that’s when he’s working hard for the team and becomes their facilitator. However, once he’s in the final third and can use his individuality to destabilise the opposition block, often he’ll do so to put himself in the best possible situation to score. 

The metronome

Before bringing this tactical analysis to an end, we have to mention how Collado is developing into a metronome for Barcelona B. Even though he’s often seen as a flair winger, he’s very tactically flexible and versatile in his approach. On paper, we see him as the wide man on the right side of the pitch but in reality, he’s much more than that.

Collado will freely move around the field, plugging holes and combining with his teammates as he sees fit, regardless of whether that’s on the right, the left, deep in his half or high in the opposition’s. The following image will show us more.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

Here, the 21-year-old starts deeper on the right side before moving with the ball towards the other flank. And while this particular sequence doesn’t end in a flashy play nor does it demonstrate his exquisite skill, it does show us his omnipresence in the squad and how he aims to affect the rhythm of the Catalans’ actions.

Collado is not afraid of the responsibility of having all play flow through him despite his tender age and that confidence is visible in the way he performs. Our final example in this scout report will be a graph showing us Collado’s total action map.

Needless to say, the 21-year-old is simply everywhere on the pitch, just as was highlighted earlier in the tactical analysis.

Alex Collado 2020/21 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics

Of course, there is a preference for that right side but the graph clearly shows us that Collado is enjoying a free role at Barcelona B at the moment. It’s difficult to see him have the same impact within the senior team’s tactics with Messi still there but the future does seem bright for the young La Masia talent.

Final remarks

At the moment, the most notable weaknesses in Collado’s profile are only the lack of progression through his passing and the need to improve his final product in terms of assists. However, seeing his development in recent years, it does feel like the 21-year-old is heading in the right direction.

Promotion to the senior team is almost guaranteed and once it happens, it will be interesting to keep tracking his progress against Real Madrid and co.