Florian Wirtz is an 18-year-old attacking midfielder, who generally plays as a number 10. He currently plays for Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. Last season, Wirtz came to the attention of the mainstream but this season, he has already shown signs of being one of the league’s elite attacking midfielders. In all competitions for Leverkusen thus far, Wirtz has registered an astonishing six goals and five assists. He has been at the heart of Leverkusen’s terrific early season form with much of their tactics being focused around their young talisman. This tactical analysis and scout report will provide an analysis of Wirtz’s overall qualities, assessing whether he is one of Europe’s elite young talents.
A good place for us to start in such an assessment is to take a brief look at some data from this season. By looking at all players in the Bundesliga to have played as a number 10 this season and to have registered at least 300 minutes, we can see Wirtz is a standout performer. Firstly, in the following image, the graph looks at every player’s expected assists per 90 and successful attacking actions per 90. The latter is classified as a cumulation of shots on target per 90, accurate crosses per 90, and successful dribbles per 90. As we can see from the graph, Wirtz is peerless when these metrics are observed together. It’s fair to take the ingredients that comprise successful attacking actions as a good benchmark for a number 10, on top of their overall creative potency which we can see by looking at xA data.
Following this, we can take a more in-depth look into Wirtz’s passing data by looking at through passes per 90 and progressive passes per 90. Firstly, with through passes per 90, his 1.74 is bettered only by a handful of players, whilst he is a highly progressive player. Wirtz’s 6.843 has him ranked third among other number 10’s for this metric although, admittedly, Kerem Demirbay can be used more frequently in slightly deeper areas than Wirtz, increasing his likelihood of being able to play progressive passes. Wirtz is an all-around outstanding ball progressor in general. His 3.3 progressive runs per 90 are by far the highest amount among his peers as well.
One of the standout areas in Wirtz’s game is his movement throughout different phases of possession. He is constantly able to create space for himself to get on the ball and will achieve this goal through a number of different avenues.
Firstly, Wirtz is provided with a good deal of freedom to move where he pleases and generally, this results in him dropping into considerably deeper areas than you might expect from a number 10. With Leverkusen looking to play out from the back, Wirtz may seek to make a late movement well inside his own half to receive the ball. He can receive with a relatively flat body position but his scanning and all-around awareness are of a high quality which allows him to retain possession even when marked tightly. Wirtz is able to play the ball around the corner with quality technique, as seen in the next image, and shows agility to dart back into the space he had previously vacated. He can draw opposition midfielders with him as he does this and he can get back in possession of the ball on the halfway line now facing the opposition goal, thanks to a simple one-two as seen in the following image.
With the ball slightly further forward, close to or just inside the opposition half, Wirtz will start in line with the opposition midfield. He will use any forward movement by a centre-back or pivot in possession of the ball, which draws the attention of the opposition midfield, to allow him to quickly shift in between the lines. He can receive a short and simple line-breaking pass when he does this, and once more can now face the opposition goal with the ball.
He is calm when receiving the ball in these areas and shows quality dribbling to evade pressure. Yet, his awareness of what is around him doesn’t just allow him to get away from opponents but still create goal-scoring opportunities. Despite a rather disappointing 5-1 drubbing against Bayern Munich, Wirtz’s assist for Leverkusen’s sole goal of the game was exquisite. As he received between the lines, he evaded the pressure of three Bayern players before threading a through pass beyond the backline angling it towards goal for Patrik Schick to latch onto.
Even when breaking forward, Wirtz’s movement shows an incredibly high level of maturity and game IQ for a player of his age. Wirtz understands that he can create room for himself by actually doing very little and that sometimes, remaining in one spot is the best way to lose a marker. This approach can be particularly effective on a fast break where the defenders are focusing on sprinting back at full pelt to recover, marking any forward runners, and watching the ball-carrier driving forward at pace themselves. This amount of stimuli for defenders to deal with means that one of these areas can give and there are chances for the attack to prosper as a result. Against Celtic, Wirtz charged forward through the middle of the pitch to support the quick break with the ball out wide on the left flank.
As the ball-carrier cut inside and a central Leverkusen attacker made a darting run inside, this player dragged Wirtz’s marker over with him. Wirtz merely remained in the space he’d run into through a straight running line, where he was found with the through pass and scored in open space.
Unsurprisingly, as his data has already attested, Wirtz is a passer of the highest standard. He has outstanding vision, and his execution of a final pass is faultless.
Wirtz will receive the ball in deeper areas and drive forward, whether that’s into space or to take on defenders positioned in front of him. He can beat defenders and drive forward at speed, yet still play an accurate through pass whilst running with the ball. Wirtz is able to find the smallest of gaps to play into and has a short backlift before playing the pass, sometimes catching defenders by surprise. He hits his passes with the required weight to get them past the last line of the defence, yet with no overrun where the keeper can sweep the ball.
He often disguises his passes too and can take on a passing option that few defenders will initially recognise as a threat. The through pass shown in the following image is a prime example of this. On a quick break against Celtic, Wirtz played a no-look through pass beyond the Celtic backline, picking out the highlighted wide player rather than his teammates making supporting runs on either side of him. The pass was played with perfect accuracy and weight, which exemplified Wirtz’s talent as a passer but also his vision.
Wirtz’s threat as a passer isn’t just limited to through passes either. The young German varies his positioning in attack and whilst he predominantly operates in central positions, it isn’t uncommon to see him shift out wide. This is particularly the case if playing against a high line where Wirtz may look to shift out wide before making a run in behind, looking to get onto the end of a ball over the top. He has good if not outstanding acceleration and top speed; it is difficult for most defenders to keep up him with when making these runs. As a result, he can end up in positions where he needs to make a cross whilst dribbling — often on a fast break.
Once again, Wirtz is accurate with these deliveries, using his preferred right foot in the following image to whip the ball in between the last defender and the goalkeeper. Once again, it was Schick who was the benefactor of Wirtz’s passing ability, with the forward hitting the second six-yard box space knowing that Wirtz would find him with the cross.
Wirtz has developed an understanding with the Czech forward, with Schick enjoying an equally fruitful start to the season as his younger teammate, scoring 7 league goals himself Wirtz has been the provider for several of these, among many other chances.
One of Wirtz’s more impressive passing techniques comes with the slightly longer lofted pass. Once more, his timing and weight of pass are of the highest quality when he plays these passes. He sees the opportunity to hit a lofted pass and makes the decision to hit it quickly, again using little backlift before striking the ball. He can simply place the ball above the defender and hit his teammate on the other side, always finding them where they don’t have to check their run, instead of allowing them to run onto the ball without faltering.
He can hit this pass from a deeper area and with similarly impressive accuracy. The pass shown in the next image actually came after Wirtz had intercepted a forward pass from the opposition. He made the decision to hit the through pass instantly, showcasing his awareness and vision to pick out his teammate hitting the space in behind.
Wirtz is a threat on attacking transition given the speed at which he makes his decisions and his overall directness on the ball. His overall quality as a ballplayer firstly means he can evade any counter-press after winning possession; such is his dribbling skill and he can drive forward on the ball to quickly advance a counter-attack himself.
Wirtz shows surprising awareness of when to step in to press an opponent and has good timing with any attempted tackles. He promptly closes the space after recognising the pressing trigger. Such an example of this can be seen in the following image against Stuttgart as he joined his teammate in pressing the ball-carrier.
Stealing the ball away from the opponent, Wirtz then drove forward by himself into the space in front of him, out-pacing the last man who couldn’t get across to make a challenge, all before slotting home to seal the win.
He scored from a similar type of opportunity against Borussia Dortmund, albeit this time, he didn’t win the ball himself. Instead, Wirtz was positioned close enough to the turnover where he was able to quickly receive possession. Immediately scanning and receiving on the half-turn, Wirtz was able to drive straight through the gap between Dortmund’s two centre-backs before directing the ball into the bottom corner with the outside of his right boot.
His speed of reaction to the transition is often so much quicker than anyone else’s — whether a teammate or an opponent. Although he will drop into the midfield line in defensive phases, he is quicker than anyone to step forward if a teammate ahead of him, or to either side of him, can win possession. Against Ferencavros, he pushed forward as soon as the opposition gave away possession down the Leverkusen right flank.
With the opposition defenders responding to the loss of possession by getting compact, Wirtz was able to push into the space outside of the centre-back duo, where he could be found with a through pass not too dissimilar to the one against Celtic shown at the end of the “movement” section of this analysis.
Wirtz is an incredibly well-rounded midfielder. He has quality ball-control and mastery which is seen in his dribbling and array of passes that he uses to pick apart defences. His movement is as intelligent in build-up play as it is in the final third and not only is he a consistent creator but he scores goals with regularity too.
It is not an overstatement to say that Wirtz is currently one of Europe’s best number 10s. It could well be argued he is also playing the best football out of any teenager in Europe. Wirtz has settled into life in the Bundesliga at an alarming pace and Leverkusen will no doubt have slight concerns over potential suitors swarming for his signature at the end of this season. Not only has he become one of the first names on the Leverkusen teamsheet but he has already broken into the national team and it’s likely he will be a permanent fixture in that side for some time to come too.