Sanjin Prcić (181cm/5’11”, 76kg/168lbs) has been plying his trade at Strasbourg since joining the Alsace club initially on loan in January 2019 until the end of the 2018/19 campaign before he made his move from La Liga side Levante permanent that summer. The Bosnia and Herzegovina international was born in the commune of Belfort, not far from Strasbourg, in 1993 and entered the football world through current Ligue 2 side Sochaux’s academy. He’s spent the majority of his career playing in France, though also spent some time in Spain, with Levante, and Italy, where he played in Serie A with Torino and Serie B with Perugia.
After returning to France when he made his 2019 move to Strasbourg, Prcić struggled for consistent minutes, accumulating just 1475 minutes of Ligue 1 football, including his 2018/19 loan spell, before the current campaign in which he’s already enjoyed far more time on the pitch than in his previous seasons with Strasbourg. As I theorised in my pre-season preview of Strasbourg, Julien Stéphan’s arrival at La Meinau has sparked a turning point in Prcić’s career, with the 28-year-old midfielder having been able to show what he’s capable of to perhaps a greater extent than ever before in his career this term.
However, at the time of writing, Prcić’s Strasbourg contract is set to expire at the end of June and at 28 years of age, this may represent the midfielder’s last chance to secure as lucrative a deal as possible. While Prcić may not be the sexiest name on the market and won’t command crazy money, I believe that — especially coming off the back of perhaps the best season of his career — the Bosnian can view this summer as a big opportunity, whether he decides to remain at Strasbourg or go elsewhere. Likewise, I believe plenty of clubs from Europe’s top-five leagues, whether it’s in Ligue 1, La Liga and Serie A, where Prcić has some experience, or the EPL or Bundesliga, which could represent a fresh challenge for the Bosnia international, would be wise to look at Prcić as a potential option for a summer transfer, with the 28-year-old set to become a free agent.
Prcić hasn’t always been used correctly during his career, and Stéphan has undoubtedly done a great job of using the midfielder to the best of his abilities this season, so personally, provided Stéphan stays at Strasbourg amid recent reports linking him to Lyon, I feel the best thing for Prcić’s career would be to continue at Strasbourg (or, perhaps, follow Stéphan to his next club should the manager leave Strasbourg) but I also believe the midfielder should, at the very least, attract interest from other top-level clubs.
This tactical analysis and scout report aims to highlight exactly what kind of player Prcić is and what he can offer the team. If this isn’t the exact type of player your club wants/needs, then you shouldn’t go for him, as Prcić lacks versatility which has been evident throughout his career. If, however, this is the type of player your club needs based on what the scout report explains, then Prcić is potentially a very shrewd option that should be considered.
Prcić’s main positive trait is his ability to progress the ball. The Bosnian midfielder is excellent in this particular area and his main role in possession for Stéphan’s Strasbourg this season has been to roam about behind the opposition’s first line of pressure in front of his team’s back three to find space and offer them with an option to progress through themselves.
We see an example of this in figure 1. Here, Strasbourg’s back three were just circulating possession, trying to forge an opening to progress the ball past the opposition’s first line of pressure and get the team moving upfield. The opening came when the left centre-back got on the ball and attracted pressure from the opposition’s right forward while the left forward jumped ahead looking to charge at the central centre-back. The spatially-aware Prcić had been moving about behind the line of pressure trying to make himself an option and waiting for his opportunity to receive the ball — and it came here.
As the left forward pressed ahead, Prcić spotted the opportunity to create a clear passing lane between him and the left centre-back via some subtle, intelligent movement. He signals where he wants the ball played to the passer and enters the passing lane, while the left centre-back does his part by sliding the ball beyond the right forward, behind the left forward and into the new passing lane that Prcić’s movement has created.
The awareness of the movement around him, along with his own intelligent movement, is a key trait Prcić brings to the table in this position. The astute midfielder is excellent at playing the role of a loan holding midfielder in the build-up or ball progression phases and a big reason for his excellence in this role is the fact he’s very good at reacting to movement around him, interpreting space in these deeper areas and invading space as it opens up. This makes him someone the backline will heavily appreciate, as he’s great at creating options for them.
As play progresses into figure 2 here, we see how Prcić successfully received the ball in plenty of space right in the middle of the pitch. This is the best possible area Strasbourg could’ve progressed the ball into at this point, as it’s a high-value position from where the Alsace club could then move the ball further forward again anywhere on the pitch. This makes it far more difficult for the opposition to defend against them, as they must be prepared for the ball to move absolutely anywhere. Additionally, Prcić is exactly the man you want on the ball in this area thanks to his technical quality on the ball as a passer and his ability to spot movement ahead of him.
Prcić is also very good at receiving the ball on the half-turn, as we see in figure 2. The midfielder has mobile hips and is excellent at swivelling around on the spot when receiving the ball to quickly go from facing one direction to facing the other. Again, this speeds up Strasbourg’s ball progression that extra little bit, making life more difficult for the defensive side.
Per Statsbomb via FBRef, Prcić impressively ranks in the 86th percentile for progressive passes (5.57 per 90) when compared with midfielders from Europe’s top-five leagues for the last calendar year. The 28-year-old doesn’t play it very safe on the ball, he loves verticality and thrives in a role that encourages him to constantly get his head up and look to move upfield.
Another passage of play highlighting Prcić’s role as a ball progressor for Strasbourg is shown in figures 3-5. Firstly, we see an example of Prcić receiving the ball in his position right in front of the back three in figure 3. Before the pass was played, Prcić scanned both shoulders and moved into this position. He kept his eyes on the passer as the ball was played towards him and then scanned once more after the pass was played, as we see in the image. This scan helped Prcić to assess the passing options ahead of him once more before receiving the ball, which could then speed up his decision-making after actually receiving this pass, and also helped him to assess the levels of incoming pressure from the opposition — of which, thankfully for the midfielder, there wasn’t much.
Prcić is excellent at surveying his surroundings as we see here and is constantly using his head to collect more and more information to improve his decision-making. Additionally, the central position we see Prcić occupying here is pretty much where you’ll always find him. This makes life easier for his teammates, as they can be confident they’ll find the Bosnian in or around the central channel — again, speeding up the team’s play and decision-making. Prcić doesn’t roam around a lot, making his role more static but thanks to his intelligent movement and the team’s play around him, he’s still able to find plenty of space in this valuable central area, as we see in this example, as well as the previous one we analysed.
As the ball arrives at his feet, Prcić again demonstrates his excellent ability to turn on the ball and face ahead — his hip mobility makes him a great asset in ball progression as he’s able to quickly face forward, in a safe manner having scanned sufficiently to assess the situation ahead of him. As we can see, Prcić received the ball in a lot of space on this occasion.
Just two seconds later, the ball is now in the final third, with Prcić having found one of the team’s furthest forward players in the ‘10’ position. Strasbourg had plenty of players occupying this particular area, which meant the receiver could quickly link up with a teammate facing forward who could then quickly progress the team beyond the opposition’s final line of defence by sending a through ball in behind for the right wing-back to attack.
Stéphan is a big proponent of third-man runs as we see in action here. You’ll sometimes see Prcić engaging in such plays as well, with the team using a third man to find Prcić in the centre when the direct passing lane is cut off, to take advantage of his progression abilities despite the opposition’s defensive efforts. Third man plays are extremely difficult to defend against and Strasbourg have become extremely proficient with them this season. Furthermore, Prcić’s intelligence and technical qualities have made him an ideal pivot for a system that relies on these types of plays, both when on the ball and off the ball via both his passing/technical qualities and off the ball movement.
In figures 3-5, we see how Prcić’s aforementioned mental, physical and technical abilities combine to help him be the central progressor for his team, adding a lot of threat to his side by helping them to advance through dangerous areas of the pitch efficiently. In this way, the midfielder has been a vital part of the puzzle for Stéphan this term as a deep-lying playmaker.
The Bosnian is equally proficient with short link-up play and helping his team to advance upfield through the use of this type of football. We see an example of this in figures 6-8. Firstly, in figure 6, Prcić has just intercepted a ball sent through the middle by the opposition. The Bosnia and Herzegovina international’s central positioning helps him to always be in the vicinity when the ball is played into this area, helping him to cut out attempts to play through Strasbourg’s core. Immediately, he plays the ball to the central midfielder in support positioned nearest to him, sending the nearest opposition player the receiver’s way. This creates a 2v1 advantage for Strasbourg in the middle of the park and Prcić’s intelligent off the ball movement is vital for making the most of the situation.
Luckily for Strasbourg and the ball-receiver, Prcić possesses an excellent mind for spatial awareness and moves intelligently on the pitch. He constantly displays this excellent mind for space, time and movement when linking up with teammates via short passes as we see here. As play moves on, the midfielder can move around the pressing opposition man and give the ball-carrier an option, which he takes, as figure 7 depicts.
From here, Prcić takes a big touch into the space ahead of him to get past the nearest opposition man once and for all, exploding into the inside left channel where he can play a runner ahead of him through behind the opposition’s backline with a well-weighted through pass, demonstrating his ability and eye for a defence-splitting ball. Prcić doesn’t just play passes that set up assists, he’s capable of directly creating chances himself too — and has done so a great deal from his deep midfield position in 2021/22.
The last thing I’ll touch on concerning Prcić’s on-the-ball play is his tendency to switch play. It’s a common element of Stéphan’s teams to see them switching play to ball-far wings a lot and this is also an area in which Prcić thrives. As a result, it’s not a surprise to see the Bosnia and Herzegovina international using this aspect of his game a lot in 2021/22, with switching play another important part of his role at Strasbourg. The 28-year-old ranks in the 93rd percentile (3.65 per 90) for switches when compared with midfielders from Europe’s top-five leagues over the last calendar year, per Statsbomb via FBRef, and we see an example of this part of the midfielder’s game in figures 9-10.
Firstly, in figure 9, we see Prcić getting on the receiving end of a pass from a more advanced midfielder, with that player having just received the ball from the midfielder to Prcić’s left in the picture. This shows another example of Strasbourg’s tendency to use third-man plays in their tactics all around the pitch. Before the pass to the more advanced player was made, the passing lane to Prcić from the other deep midfielder was blocked off. However, by using the third man, the lane to Prcić quickly opened up and was subsequently used.
From there, the midfielder got his head up, moved slightly more centrally and released the ball out to the right-wing, finding the advancing right wing-back’s run and sending him off into space. Prcić is a very comfortable long passer, as this passage of play shows, so performs this role of spreading the ball around the pitch and increasing his side’s threat level to a very high standard. Wherever Prcić is next season, the team should take advantage of Prcić’s quality on the ball and vision by allowing him to dictate play from deep as we see here.
Protecting the ball
Prcić is very rarely dispossessed and rarely ever takes a poor touch — his level of ball control is very high. The midfielder’s hip mobility again plays a major role in his tendency to not get dispossessed very often; despite not being extremely big and tall, physically, Prcić is great at protecting the ball from opposition challengers with his body, and his hip mobility is a significant contributor to that ability to protect the ball.
Firstly, figure 11 shows an example of Prcić having just controlled the ball after it was played to him in central midfield with his back to goal and an opponent on his back. Evidently, there wasn’t an opportunity for the 28-year-old to take the ball on the half-turn here and in such situations, Prcić needs to use other methods with his first touch to keep control of the ball, protect it from the opposition and try to create the best possible circumstances for his next move.
In this example, we see how he initially leans back into the man behind him as if he may be about to turn out into the centre. This baits the opposition man to expect Prcić to try and turn around centrally as he would if a midfielder were not pressing him from behind at this moment. Note how the Bosnian uses his left arm to gauge the opposition player’s positioning and control how close he could get to an extent, while his right arm was also extended for the sake of balance. However, despite backing into the pressing player and shaping up like he may turn, Prcić intended to bounce the ball off his stronger right foot and into the space out wider where, provided he successfully misled the opposition player pressing him into believing he was about to turn, more space existed for the Strasbourg man to turn and face forward, which is what happens here as play moves on, with Prcić creating an opportunity to turn upfield and decide on his next passing option.
The midfielder’s spatial awareness was important here, as was his intelligence to mislead the defensive player successfully. This example also highlights Prcić’s willingness to get physical with opposition players and use his body — though he may not be the biggest/strongest player around — to protect the ball for the sake of keeping play moving forward.
We see another example of Prcić protecting the ball from an opposition challenger with his body in figure 12, this time with the midfielder moving centrally with the ball after just receiving it slightly wider and quickly taking it inside while an opposition player follows in hot pursuit. Again, we see how Prcić uses his arm to keep the challenger away here while placing his body between the defensive player and the ball while moving into space.
This time, however, as play moves on into figure 13, we see how the ball-carrier actually opted to turn back outside on nearing the centre circle. This was a risky move due to the possibility that turning would take the ball away from his control and allow a turnover of possession in a dangerous, central position. That didn’t happen, though, as Prcić managed to turn around while keeping his body between the defender and the ball very well thanks to his awareness of the challenger’s positioning — partly achieved through the ball-carrier’s use of his arm to gauge the where the challenger was — and partly thanks to his excellent technical ability to keep the ball close to his body and under control even while turning at pace under pressure.
Mostly, though, for me this passage of play highlights Prcić’s impressive hip mobility and how he can get his hips low on the ball while carrying it in a particular direction, put his body between the challenger and the ball in such a situation and do a complete 180 while keeping the ball in control and not only keeping the challenger away from the ball, but actually managing to gain some extra separation from the challenger; as play moves on from figure 13, we see Prcić drive away into the space on the outside before playing his pass out to the right wing-back, who was then able to continue driving the team upfield. That wouldn’t have happened if not for Prcić’s efforts in possession, aided by his technical qualities, mental qualities and physical qualities mentioned above.
This passage of play shows how press-resistant the 28-year-old midfielder is; thanks to his excellent hip mobility and the other key strengths in his game mentioned in this section, Prcić is very reliable on the ball in deep areas even under pressure. These qualities allow him to boast a very impressive record of not getting dispossessed often and make him an ideal option for the lone-pivot role in front of the backline. Prcić is comfortable with attracting pressure toward him knowing that he has the ability to get out of trouble efficiently and consistently, as he has achieved this term. He’s earned his teammates’ and manager’s trust in this role, which makes the play even smoother for Strasbourg as there are not many concerns about Prcić succeeding in his vital role in the team’s possession play.
Defending is an important part of Prcić’s game too, particularly given that he plays in such a central role for his team and acts as the last line of protection for the backline. However, Prcić’s game in possession is undoubtedly more impressive than his game without the ball; the 28-year-old midfielder is at his best when looking to progress his team upfield thanks to the skills we analysed in the previous two sections of this scout report. However, that’s not to say Prcić is weak without the ball — he does contribute plenty in defensive phases of play as well and even though he’s not the most immense holding midfielder of all in defensive phases, that’s not to say he’s not useful in such plays.
Prcić is sometimes a little bit reckless without the ball, leading to some less-than-ideal tackling coming from the 28-year-old. Don’t be surprised to see some late challenges going in from Prcić. Additionally, Prcić can be beaten in defensive 1v1s, especially if given too large of a space to control; this is where support from teammates without the ball and defending as a team can help the Strasbourg man out. However, there’s plenty to talk about in a positive sense regarding his defensive game too even if this aspect of his game isn’t perfect.
Firstly, we see an example of Prcić screening a pass into the forward with his intelligent positioning between the passer and the potential receiver in figure 14 — cutting off passing lanes intelligently via his positioning and movement in front of the backline. With or without the ball, Prcić’s knowledge of space around him remains excellent which is, in part, due to his excellent efforts to scan and take in as much information around him as possible to positively influence his decisions, such as where to position himself defensively in this particular example.
It’s very common to see Prcić rely on his positioning when defending to cut passing lanes and stifle the opposition’s attack in this way. Again, this relies on his teammates maintaining a tight, compact shape around him as well, as if Prcić is overloaded 2v1 or more centrally, then of course that makes this part of his job a lot more difficult but if given adequate support, the midfielder can be a significant thorn in the opposition’s side via his defensive positioning, as we see in the example here.
We see how, as this passage of play moves on into figure 15, Prcić remains in this passing lane between the ball-carrier and the centre-forward options as play progresses further upfield. Thanks to his intelligent positioning, Prcić keeps the most valuable part of the pitch occupied by opposition players at this moment under control, preventing the opponents from exploiting it. At this point, we see how the opposition were ultimately forced to retreat backwards as Prcić and his teammates knew where they wanted to go and kept those positions locked down.
This is an excellent example of how to defend positionally, as a structured unit, controlling the right space and using that to stifle the attack. Neither Prcić nor his teammates had to get physical at all here to force the opposition into a weaker position, they just ensured they kept the right spaces occupied and forced the opposition back once they realised they could no longer move further forward. If they were to get further forward at this point, it would be to the sideline, attempting to play around Strasbourg rather than through them but Strasbourg kept the valuable, central areas controlled.
Prcić uses his intelligent positioning to cut passing lanes and make interceptions in more advanced areas of the pitch as well, with this quality coming in handy particularly in transition to shut down opposition counterattacks. We see an example of this in figure 16. Here, the opposition are attempting to counterattack Strasbourg and, at this particular moment, cut through the Alsace club centrally. However, Prcić stepped up at just the right time to intercept the pass and sustain pressure on the opposition well inside their half thanks to some intelligent movement and positioning.
Again, the 28-year-old doesn’t need to get physical at all to achieve this, instead defending against the counterattack via intelligent occupation of space and using his movement sparingly but at just the right time, highlighting how the qualities of anticipation and spatial awareness are so important in the midfielder’s defensive game.
Prcić isn’t extremely active in terms of pressing. The Strasbourg man ranks in just the fourth percentile for pressures (12.87 per 90) compared with midfielders from Europe’s top-five leagues over the last 365 days. However, when Prcić does press, he tends to do so effectively, as he ranks in the 85th percentile for successful pressure % (33.9%), highlighting how the Bosnian uses this skill sparingly but, again, at the right time. We see an example of Prcić applying pressure successfully in figure 17.
Just before this image, the opposition progressed beyond Strasbourg’s midfield line, managing to play past Prcić into the striker’s feet. As the striker dropped to receive the ball, he dragged a centre-back out of the backline with him — it’s important for Strasbourg that the centre-back applies pressure like this to prevent the striker from freeing himself up on the ball and turning to run at the defensive line.
However, it’s also important that the striker isn’t just pressed from behind but also from the front, which is where Prcić’s pressure comes into play here. In contrast to the previous examples we’ve seen, here the play has moved beyond Prcić which makes things slightly more drastic and intense. This is what leads to the 28-year-old getting drawn into the press on this occasion when before, he was just focused on cutting off the passing lanes and defending space. At this point, with the ball having moved past him, his focus switches to closing down the near ball-carrier, which he manages to do successfully with the help of the centre-back who followed the ball-carrier and kept him slightly under control until the Bosnian got back to finish the job and dispossess the striker.
So, we see how pressing fits into Prcić’s defensive role from this example. It’s generally not about closing the opposition down in advanced areas, rather Prcić is more passive than aggressive for the most part. However, he is required to be more aggressive in certain situations and with the help of his teammates and only having to defend a particular, small area, he can perform this role well but it must be stressed that Prcić does require help in defensive phases from teammates in order to perform a role like this effectively — he’s not an elite defensive player but anyone can be helped by a functional system.
To conclude this tactical analysis and scout report, it’s clear that Prcić’s main positive characteristics lie in his on-the-ball game, namely his ability as a ball progressor, long passer and his press resistance. Prcić isn’t someone you necessarily want to play it safe and rely on for ball retention, rather he’s a risk-taking playmaker from deep who loves to play vertically.
Off the ball, Prcić is far from perfect but has operated quite effectively this season in Strasbourg’s system by screening passes into dangerous areas in front of the backline and only being required to act aggressively in particular situations. The midfielder’s spatial awareness and anticipation are key traits in his defensive game but he lacks physicality and some technical defensive skills. Overall, however, in the right system designed to help him out, Prcić is more than functional as a defender.