Despite turning just 18 years old less than two months ago, Ansu Fati has been one of the most spoken about names in football in 2020. Despite his inexperience and his innocent look, Fati became one of Barcelona’s best players last season and was one of the few good news in a side that ended the season trophyless for the first time since 2008.
The Guinea-Bissau born forward was well-known in La Masía as one of the best talents in his generation, but no one expected him to have a direct impact from the get-go after making his debut aged just 16 in 2019. Fati went from playing for Barcelona U19 to the first team without playing a single minute with Barcelona B, showing how quick his progression has been. He also made his debut with the Spanish National Team and is the youngest goal-scorer for Spain and in the UEFA Champions League.
In a club that’s starting to look bad, with Lionel Messi wanting to leave and the rest of superstars not performing at their best level, culés all around the world have placed their hopes in this teenager who’s destined to be the next leader of Barcelona.
Fati started this season in great form, scoring five goals in 10 appearances before getting a meniscus injury in November which will keep him off the pitch until March. In this tactical analysis, we will look at his unique playing style and what he can bring to Barcelona and Spain next year.
Style of play
A right-footed forward, Ansu Fati plays mostly as a left-winger for Barcelona and Spain. His mix of attributes makes him a very adaptable player, being capable of performing in any attacking position, different tactics and formations.
Standing at 178 cm / 5’10’’, Fati is not a diminutive striker but he’s not a towering presence either. He’s quick, has a great change of pace and is difficult to stop once he starts running. He’s still developing physically, but he has evolved a lot in the last months and could be a strong and physical player too once he’s completely adapted to senior football. He has already shown signs of his strength and jumping power in some actions with Barcelona even if he needs to be more consistent in physical duels.
As we will see later in this scout report, Fati’s main attribute and the one that makes him stand out from the rest of the players (teenagers or not) is his football IQ. Fati is a tremendously intelligent player who understands very well his team’s needs and moves on the pitch accordingly. He also reads the game very well and his positioning in attack is excellent, especially near and inside the box.
This intelligence combined with an above-average technique and a great work rate makes Fati a player capable of imposing his game in any scenario and against players vastly more experienced than him. Even in games in which his individual physical and technical attributes aren’t enough, he still gets good performances based just on his movements, like he did against Chelsea in the 2019 UEFA Youth League semifinals, scoring twice despite hardly completing any dribble or creating anything by himself because of the good performances of his marker Tariq Lamptey, who’s also covered in this magazine.
Below we see Fati’s heatmap from this season at Barcelona. He starts the attacks from the left, but the closer he gets to the goal, the more he drifts inside, usually finishing the attacks inside the box.
Intelligence and movements
As we have said in the first section of this analysis, Fati’s strongest point is his intelligence. Despite being aged just 18, he understands what he has to do at each point of the game and has the work ethic to do it even if it doesn’t result in an individual benefit for him. Fati works hard for his teammates and his movements don’t only generate chances for him, but also create spaces for his teammates and help his team progress and create-scoring opportunities.
Fati’s positional relation with his teammates is excellent. Depending on the phase of the attack, he hugs the touchline and provides width or comes inside and creates space for the full-back (usually Jordi Alba). He also changes positions with Philippe Coutinho and Pedri, who tend to drift left, coming into more central positions and getting closer to the striker. In short, Fati is very mobile and knows what to do in any situation, which is important for him and his teammates.
As we can see in the picture below, when Barcelona are building from the back, Fati stays wide and tries to stretch the defensive line while Alba comes closer to the centre-backs to provide support. This way, Fati generates space for the left centre-back or the full-back to progress. He also attracts a defender and creates more space for his teammates to play between the lines and in the half-spaces.
In the next picture, 10 seconds later than the one above, Fati has drifted inside as Barcelona have advanced into the opposition half. With this movement, Fati creates a progressive passing lane and also opens up space on the left wing for Alba to rush forward. In this example, Fati receives the ball between the lines, but the importance of this movement lies in the different passing options he creates by coming inside at the right moment.
In the end, every movement Ansu Fati makes is directed to the goal. He starts the plays wide but as the attack advances, he gets closer and closer to the penalty box and always tries to be in goal-scoring positions at the end of the play. He’s very active and always moving, adjusting his position and runs all the time to create passing lanes and create advantages inside the box. Thanks to this activity and intelligence – and also to the good service he has at Barcelona – Fati is the winger with the most touches in the box per 90 in La Liga with 6.57.
In the next example, we see how Fati moves towards the goal. He makes a diagonal run, leaving the wing and trying to create an opportunity for the man on the ball to assist him. With this run, Fati also drags a defender with him and leaves Pedri in a one-vs-one situation on the left-wing. What’s remarkable in Fati’s movements is that they always create several opportunities for his teammates and not only for himself.
The final aspect that makes Fati’s off-the-ball movements so special is his ability to feint and send the defenders the wrong way to create spaces for himself. He’s always changing directions and changing the pace of his runs, asking a lot of questions to the defenders and becoming a player very difficult to mark. When the defender follows his run in behind, Fati quickly turns and completely changes the direction of his run to support his teammate. If the defender doesn’t follow him, then he’s an option for a deep pass and gets into a dangerous situation.
Let’s see a couple of examples of these feints. In this first one against Real Madrid, Fati starts a run in behind but Sergio Ramos spots it and follows him. But Fati reacts and quickly changes directions to start running towards the ball. When he receives the ball, Ramos is far from him and he can play comfortably between the lines. These movements are important not only to generate space to play in but also to avoid getting involved in physical duels as he’s still developing his strength.
Below we can see another great movement by Fati, this time ending in a goal. In the first picture, we see Fati running towards Alba, who is about to control the ball in the left-back position. Villarreal’s right-back, Mario Gaspar, runs with him thinking he may anticipate and cut the pass. But in the second picture, we see Fati’s real intentions. Once Gaspar is in front of him and ready to intercept a low pass, Fati starts a run in behind and receives a long ball over the defensive line, allowing him to run at Albiol and finish with a nice and unexpected shot. This is the opposite movement to the one shown above and it shows an unmatched football IQ for a teenager, as Fati is capable of creating by himself the spaces he will take advantage of and create goals almost out of nowhere.
In this section of Fati’s tactical analysis, we have seen a lot of examples of his intelligence. In his short professional career (don’t forget Fati has played less than 2,000 minutes with Barcelona’s first team), he has shown that knowing what to do and working hard are his two most important attributes. The most amazing thing is that most players take years to learn these movements, and some never do it, but Fati has started his professional career already knowing it so he will only get better and better as he gets more consistent in the rest of his games.
Even if his intelligence is the base of his game, Fati’s most visible attribute and the one that sets him apart from other intelligent and talented teenage footballers is his goal-scoring instinct. Since his first-team debut aged 16 last season, Fati has scored 13 goals in 43 games or 0.59 goals per 90, which is a fantastic figure for a winger of any age and level. He’s very quick to anticipate the defenders, uses both feet to shoot, with power and accuracy has a great first-touch shot and can also score with his head, meaning he’s a very complete finisher.
Fati is an exceptional goal-scorer. His stats from this season can tell us a great deal about this. We have already seen that he’s the best winger in La Liga when it comes to touches in the box per 90, but those touches usually finish in a shot too and Fati averages 2.79 shots per 90, 5th among La Liga wingers. But that’s not the end of it. Those shots also come from good positions (0.37 xG, 3rd most) and his finishing is fantastic too, with 50% of Fati’s shots being on target (9th highest) and a 28.57% goal-conversion rate (6th highest). Because of this, Fati is the best winger in La Liga when it comes to non-penalty goals per 90 this season with 0.8.
As in the previous part of this analysis, Fati’s movements inside the box also set him apart from other wingers and make him a true threat for the rival defenders. In the example below, Fati arrives in the box in a second wave and spots the distance between Alavés centre-backs. He accelerates and anticipates the defender to get at the end of Messi’s cross, scoring with a perfectly timed volley.
Again below, Fati arrives in the box from the second line and Antoine Griezmann starts a run to the first post, dragging his marker with him. Watching this and spotting the space his teammate has created, Fati runs across the defender on the second post, anticipating him and scoring from a first-touch shot. Fati’s change of pace is key here as it leaves no time for the defender to react and makes it possible for him to execute the movements he thinks of.
But Fati’s goal-oriented movements don’t only happen inside the box. He has a good and powerful shot and tries his luck from distance when he has the chance, generally with good results. In the play below, Fati is playing in a central position near the box when he spots Luis Suárez supporting him with his back to the goal. He makes a good pass between two players and continues his run to receive the lay off from Suárez and shoot. His shot is strong, low and well-placed, beating Handanović. This is a play Lionel Messi has been doing for more than a decade at Barcelona from the right side and having Fati to do it from the other side means great news for the Catalan giants.
Creativity and dribbling
So far in this scout report, we have seen how Fati does all the necessary work to help his team create chances and progress. But he’s not only a team player and he can create with moments of individual brilliance too.
First of all, Fati has the physical conditions good wingers need. He’s quick and has a great change of pace, meaning he can beat the defenders using his pace and get enough advantage by dribbling to the right and the left. His left foot is not perfect but he can use it when needed, which makes him an unpredictable dribbler. Apart from his pace, Fati is a player with an excellent technique but he rarely attempts overcomplicated dribbles or unnecessary beautiful skills, preferring to keep his game simple and effective.
Fati’s passing profile is very interesting too. You can see he’s been raised in La Masía as he knows very well when to keep possession and when to risk it. He usually makes short, quick and simple passes, especially when he’s far from the box. He’s patient and knows that he will get the chance to take risks if he makes the correct movements, so doesn’t always try to play forward at all costs. He’s very involved in the game, averaging 37.38 passes per 90 (13th most among La Liga wingers) but still has the third-highest passing accuracy (87.89%).
His passing technique is solid, with his passes being tense and accurate even in tight spaces. He doesn’t usually cross because of Barcelona’s playing style, but when he does he’s effective. In the national team, Fati takes wide free kicks and corner kicks, meaning he’s a good crosser. Near the box, Fati makes quick decisions and knows where to put the ball, interpreting his teammates’ movements very well. Again, he doesn’t need passes that are excessively complicated to assist and ranks first among La Liga wingers in key passes per 90 with 1.59 and fourth in expected assists per 90 with 0.29.
We can see a good example of his crossing abilities below. From a steady position and with two players marking him, Fati spots Piqué’s run and puts a perfect cross that lands between the two players marking Piqué, who scores with a good header. Even if it may look simple, this cross requires quick decision-making and an excellent accuracy as it has to go between two defenders and with the perfect height to avoid the first defender but make it possible for Piqué to head it.
Fati uses both feet to carry the ball at a high speed but also to stop suddenly. He’s very skilled in tight spaces thanks to his agility and his sensibility to touch the ball very softly and put it exactly where he wants to continue his move. His great positioning means he receives lots of passes in good positions to dribble with advantage to make a difference.
His dribbling stats are well-balanced. He attempts 5.97 dribbles per 90 (17th most among La Liga wingers) completing 50% of them (26th highest). If we look at offensive duels, Fati gets involved in a good number of them (12.74 per 90 – 13th most) with a good winning rate (45.31% – 18th). He’s also a dangerous player with spaces in front of him, especially in quick transitions, averaging 3.58 progressive runs per 90, which is the 6th most among La Liga wingers.
Even if his dribbling success is not bad, it’s relatively low for a winger of his level. This is because Fati tends to dribble only in positions where he can create something, which is usually harder too, and Barcelona’s possession-based style means there aren’t many spaces to exploit. Other wingers dribble deeper on the pitch or with more space in front of him, explaining their higher accuracy even with less dribbling ability.
We can see a good example of the different dribbles Fati can make in the example below. He starts in a one-vs-one situation on the left-wing, dribbling to his left and beating his man with his acceleration. When he reaches the goal line, Fati feints a cross and stops, making the second defender slip and leaving him out of play. Instead of passing the ball at that moment, he takes another touch to put the ball between the two defenders he has already dribbled past and takes a good shot from inside the 6-yard box, but the goalkeeper stops it. In this play, we can see how Fati dribbles with spaces, his ability to stop and also his accuracy when playing in tight spaces.
In this section, we have explored Fati’s abilities on the ball. He has the physical and technical attributes to put into practice what he thinks and coming from a footballer as smart as him, that makes him a constant threat and a creative force. He could still improve his creativity and get a little bit more consistent in his dribbling, especially when playing in more central positions, but at his current level, he’s already a difference-maker for a huge club like Barcelona.
As we have seen through this tactical analysis, Fati is a very complete forward capable of doing whatever he’s asked to thanks to his natural characteristics and his understanding of the game. He hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down since his debut 15 months ago and once he recovers from his injury he’s expected to continue developing into one of the best players in the world.
Having to replace Messi, the best footballer ever, as the leader of a club like Barcelona, is something no one will be able to accomplish. But Barcelona have found in Fati someone capable of leading the rebuilding of the squad and a star player for the next two decades. If they can give him the best conditions and keep him happy, Fati will surely bring trophies to the club.