Málaga CF have produced some excellent players through their academy system in recent years. AC Milan duo of Brahim Díaz and Samu Castillejo, West Ham’s Pablo Fornals and Sevilla’s Youssef En Nesyri are some of the best academy graduates Málaga have produced.
According to an analysis by the CIES Football Observatory, Málaga have the same number of academy graduates (9) playing in the top-5 European leagues as RB Salzburg, Bayer Leverkusen or Santos, and more than Juventus (8), Marseille (7), Boca Juniors (7) or Porto (6) just to mention a few huge names.
The latest product of this factory of talent is Kevin Villodres (2001, Llanos de la Trinidad, Spain). The flamboyant winger is one of the sensations in La Liga 2 this season and is attracting interest from some big clubs in La Liga, especially Sevilla. In this tactical analysis, we’ll have a look at Kevin’s playing style, strengths, weaknesses and data.
Kevin is a right-footed winger who plays mostly on the left but can also be used on the right. Standing at 1.73m | 5’8’’, he’s agile and very quick, especially in the first meters. Despite his size, he has the strength to resist challenges and protect the ball with his back to the goal.
Looking at Kevin’s statistical profile, the first thing that stands out is his dribbling ability. He’s among the wingers with the most attempted (8.46 per 90) and completed dribbles (4.83 per 90) in La Liga 2. His success rate of 57.14% is very good too, especially considering how often he dribbles. His ability to get past players doesn’t only apply in tight spaces and he can run with the ball and progress a lot as his 2.32 progressive runs per 90 prove. Rivals find it very difficult to stop him and he’s one of the most fouled players in the league receiving 2.88 fouls per 90.
When it comes to creating and scoring chances, Kevin still has a long way to go. He has just 0.13 expected goal contributions per 90 and the underlying passing numbers don’t tell a much better story. We’ll analyse this in a later section of this scout report.
Defensively, Kevin is a very hard-working player. His 9.67 defensive duels per 90 are among the very best and he also wins a fair amount of them at 53.85%. He’s very aggressive as his 1.33 possession-adjusted tackles per 90 show and this leads him to make lots of fouls (2.7 per 90) too.
We’ll have a deeper look at these characteristics in the following sections.
Wide positioning and relation with full-backs
Kevin often starts on the left wing, playing close to the touchline trying to create spaces to receive the ball to his feet and run at defenders. As we’ll see later in this scout report, dribbling is his most valuable asset and his positioning on the pitch aims to create opportunities to use it.
In his heatmap, we see Kevin is most active between the final and the middle third and very wide, almost on the touchline.
A very common pattern in Málaga’s games is Kevin being wide on the left while the attack progresses through the right side so he’s in a good position to receive an eventual switch of play. If the rival team isn’t very quick to move their defensive line from side to side, he’ll have time to control the ball and have a 1v1 situation with an isolated right-back. Kevin excels in these situations as his dribbling success of 57.14% (top 25% in the league) proves.
The following picture is a good example of what we’ve explained. As Málaga’s attack reaches a dead end on the right side, Kevin waits wide open on the left side. With a pass backwards and a switch of play, Málaga put Kevin in a 1v1 situation against Oviedo’s right-back.
Even if he prefers to receive the ball to his feet while wide to attack defenders from there, Kevin finds other ways of receiving the ball in wide positions when the full-back on his side also joins the attack.
Kevin can drift slightly centrally to give some space for the full-back to progress. Once there, he can combine or try to dribble but prefers to return to the wing, mostly with diagonal runs to offer progressive passing options. He times these runs well to attack the space left by the rival that steps out to mark his teammate.
The following screenshot shows that. As Málaga tries to build up through Kevin’s side and the right-back gets forward, Kevin is forced into the right half-space. When the rival player presses the man who’s receiving the ball, Kevin starts his run into the space he’s just left. This offers an easy progressive option for the full-back and gives Kevin the chance to get the ball wide as he likes to.
While he understands the basic movements he needs to fulfil his role at Málaga — get the ball wide and dribble from there — Kevin could add different movements to his game to become a complete winger. He doesn’t make many diagonal runs towards the goal and into scoring positions which, in part, explains his lack of goals. We’ll explore this further in a later section of this tactical analysis.
Kevin’s main attribute and the one that makes him stand out from the rest of the wingers in La Liga 2 is his dribbling. Kevin possesses every trait a great dribbler must have: change of pace, top skill to manipulate the ball, creativity and an amazing self-confidence and determination to take on rivals. This is obvious to the eye test and translates perfectly when we delve into his data.
We’ve already mentioned that he attempts 8.46 dribbles per 90 and succeeds in 4.83 of them (top 4.5% and 2.8% among La Liga 2 wingers, respectively). Below, we see all the dribbles Kevin has attempted this season. We can see he dribbles mostly between the middle and last thirds and very close to the touchline. In those positions, he’s almost unstoppable. He also has a good number of dribbles in his own half, often to initiate counterattacks or after recovering the ball.
Let’s see some examples of Kevin’s dribbles so we fully grasp how dominant he is in this aspect. In the first one, Kevin is in a steady position and trapped against the touchline. With an experienced defender like Buffarini pressing him, Kevin invents a way out by lifting the ball over the defender’s leg and getting past him.
This requires not only technical skill and physical acceleration but also very quick thinking, almost instinctive, and creativity. Kevin has them all and isn’t afraid of showing them against rivals of any age. He’s an almost disrespectful player when he has the chance to dribble.
Again below, Kevin is seen between two rivals and the touchline while driving the ball forward out of his half. With a quick touch, he nutmegs the rival and gets past him through the only available space.
Like the one before, this action requires quick thinking and confidence apart from pace and technique. This time, the dribble allows Kevin to start a promising counterattack from a position in which most players would have cleared the ball or provoked a throw-in.
Kevin’s quality to manipulate the ball also makes him a very difficult-to-dispossess player when he’s holding the ball. He doesn’t let rivals control the situation and is always moving the ball out of their sight so he can escape them with quick unexpected movements. Despite not being big (1.73m | 5’8’’), Kevin has powerful lower limbs and uses his body very well to protect the ball and create spaces to play. The following two examples show him escaping situations when he’s pressed and holding the ball.
In the first one, we see Kevin receiving a throw-in between three rivals. With his good first touch, he manages to bring the ball down while holding one of the rivals and when the second one comes, he nutmegs and moves centrally. When the third one comes, he moves backwards and dribbles him too before being fouled.
This play doesn’t create any danger but it’s good to see how Kevin can be relied on to escape very tight situations. His control of the ball in small spaces and his determination to keep possession no matter how many players come to press him is very valuable in any situation and especially useful to target him in the build-up and trust him to create time and space for his teammates to join the attack.
A similar play is shown next. We see Kevin receive the ball under heavy pressure, being forced back by protecting the ball with his back to the goal. When he manages to stop, he nutmegs the rival with his backheel, getting past him before he can react. Next, he cuts inside and gets into a similar situation, escaping again with a nice backheel touch before being fouled.
We’ve seen that not all of Kevin’s dribbles create an opportunity to shoot/assist but that doesn’t mean they’re useless or just showboating. Firstly, he’s capable of advancing a lot with his dribbles as proven by his 2.32 progressive runs per 90 (top 26.1% in the league); secondly, he provokes lots of fouls and yellow cards. He’s in the top 9.6% of the most fouled wingers in the league with 2.88 fouls suffered per 90.
The map shows every foul and yellow card Kevin has provoked this season. In a league as competitive and balanced as La Liga 2, having a player who creates so many opportunities to attack from set-pieces is a very valuable asset.
In fact, Málaga’s coach José Alberto has complained in public that rivals try to harm Kevin by aiming their tackles to the same ankle every time. He added that if referees don’t protect dribblers like Kevin, who are a rare species nowadays in football, Spanish football will suffer even more from the lack of players like him.
The positive side of this is that Kevin doesn’t change his playing style despite the pain or the threat of it, showing how brave and fearless he is. He’s had the same style since he was a kid and plays the same way against small neighbourhood teams on artificial grass in the Spanish fourth division as he plays against big historical teams in top stadiums in La Liga 2. If he makes the step to a top league, he’ll probably do the same things.
Lack of end product and potential development
Despite all his dribbling and determination to beat players, Kevin has struggled to translate his offensive play into goals and assists. In his 15 games for Málaga’s first team, he has registered no goals and just one assist. The underlying numbers aren’t any better with just 0.07 xG and 0.06 xA per 90. Let’s explore why.
Firstly, let’s compare Kevin’s performance in front of goal over the last few years during which time he has escalated through the ranks of Málaga’s academy and into the first team. In the 2018/19 season, he played for San Félix (Málaga U19 B), scoring 8 goals in 15 games (0.56 goals per 90). Next season, with Málaga U19 A, he scored 9 in 15 (0.63 goals per 90). In his two U19 years, he registered 0.6 goals per 90, which is quite good for a winger.
When he played for Atlético Malagueño (Málaga B team) in the Spanish fourth division, his numbers fell to 6 goals in 18 games or 0.37 goals per 90. The step from youth to senior football halved his scoring figures.
Looking at his data with Málaga’s first team this season, we see that Kevin has failed in his shot selection. The map below shows all his shots this season in La Liga 2. We see he tends to shoot from far positions on the left side, often after dribbling.
The first thing we notice is that Kevin is taking shots from very difficult positions. 19 of his 20 shots were worth less than 0.2 xG, meaning there was less than a 20% chance of scoring them. Those shots have also been off-target most of the time and Kevin has a shooting accuracy of just 16.67%, worse than 93.2% of La Liga 2 wingers.
Even if the shot selection and accuracy are both bad at the moment, there are a couple of positives that suggest Kevin could add some goals even if he keeps trying from far. Firstly, he has hit the crossbar twice this season and his shots on target are often very powerful, forcing goalkeepers to make good saves. With a little bit more luck, he could have scored two or three goals.
Secondly, Kevin usually stays very wide when the attacks come from the opposite side, which is good to some extent as it gives him time and space to dribble if he gets the ball but at some point, he would need to get in the box and try to get into scoring positions. Some coaching to add movements in the box to his game could do wonders and allow him to test his finishing from closer range.
When focusing on his passes, Kevin isn’t a top creative force. He can combine in tight spaces and manages to hide his intentions and create space for his passes. However, he doesn’t rank in the top 50% for any interesting passing or creative metric.
If we look at his crosses and key passes from this season in the next map, we see that his accuracy has been very poor and he has hardly created any chances from central positions.
Despite his poor accuracy in crosses so far, Kevin’s delivery isn’t as poor as it seems. He often hits the ball very well and aims his crosses into interesting positions but has been unlucky with his teammates’ movements.
With some fine-tuning and once he understands his teammates better, which will surely come as he spends more time on the pitch with them, Kevin will improve his crossing accuracy and could add some assists to his game too.
Aggressive and hard-working in defence
In the last section of this tactical analysis, we’ll focus on another of Kevin’s strengths: his defensive contribution.
Normally, highly talented offensive players tend to forget about their defensive responsibilities and become some kind of luxury players. In Kevin’s case, it’s the opposite. From the stats, we grasp he’s very committed in defence, contesting 9.67 defensive duels per 90 (top 4.2%) and making 1.33 possession-adjusted sliding tackles per 90 (top 6.9%).
Very aggressive and energetic, Kevin is running up and down the pitch all the time, making it difficult for rivals to play from the back with his intense pressing but also playing very near the full-back when Málaga are in a low block. We can see how aggressive he is in the high number of fouls he commits (2.7 per 90, top 2.8%), which isn’t automatically a bad thing as lots of these fouls occur in the opposition half and are a way of disrupting the rival’s build-up.
In the map of Kevin’s interceptions (yellow) and defensive duels (blue if successful, red if not), we see two things. Firstly, he works extremely hard in his own half, recovering a lot of balls in what would normally be the full-back zone. Secondly, his intensity to press high and recover the ball in dangerous positions. This makes Kevin a highly adaptable player to any defensive tactics.
Let’s see some examples to illustrate Kevin’s defensive contribution. In the first one, we see the moment Málaga lost the ball and Zaragoza played a deep pass to the winger on Kevin’s side. In the first screenshot, Kevin is far away from the ball but starts sprinting at full speed to help the team. In the second one, we see how he gets between the rival and the goal before anything happens and forces the rival backwards, winning time for his teammates to recover their position.
When it comes to pressing, Kevin uses his pace to close down spaces quickly and gives no time for rivals to think. He’s good at tackling too and manages to win a fair amount of duels for a young small winger.
In the next play, we see him chasing the man on the ball, forcing him to go backwards, and recovering the ball. After he regains possession, he switches quickly into an attacking mode, dribbles a rival and delivers a good cross.
In the last example, we can see Kevin’s awareness and willingness to press. With the rival goalkeeper on the ball and under pressure, Kevin sprints towards the most likely target of the pass even before the pass is made. With his pace and anticipation, he intercepts the pass inside the rival box and has the chance to set up a dangerous attack.
Any club that decides to take Kevin will land a very dedicated winger. Even if he struggles to have an immediate impact because of his quality, they’ll at least secure his defensive contribution and someone who can be relied on to cover the whole wing and help the full-back as much as needed.
Modern football means there are fewer and fewer players capable of dribbling and consistently making a difference with their individual quality in 1v1 situations. Classical wingers who will get past their man time after time are an endangered species and the emergence of young, fearless and skilful wingers like Kevin Villodres is great news for football in general.
Málaga’s latest academy product still has a long way to go in terms of his end-product and his potential will depend a lot on what he’s able to create. However, his dribbling skills, attitude and work rate are so good that they’re enough to be one of the most interesting and joyful to watch players in La Liga 2. With a release clause of 8 million euros, it’s still a risky gamble but his unique playing style could make a unique player worth much more than that soon.