Alexia Putellas is one of the greatest female footballers on Planet Earth right now and will be looking to showcase her prominence in the Women’s European Championships with Spain this summer.
Putellas possesses immense quality. She glides around the football pitch looking unscathed, untouchable, drifting through games, stamping her mark with a non-present presence. One minute she is picking up the ball over on the left on the half-turn, the next she is dropping deep to provide the centre-backs with forward passing options.
Marking the 28-year-old seems redundant. If you do, she will isolate you and kill you with her quality. If you deny her space in one area, Putellas will find it elsewhere. Stopping the Barcelona Femení icon is certainly not impossible, but if Putellas is on form, the best way to stifle her is by saying a prayer.
The current winner of the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Award, Ballon d’Or Féminin, and The Best FIFA Women’s Player, Putellas will want to prove why she’s the best in the world, as she always does.
This tactical analysis piece will be a scout report of the incredibly talented midfielder. It will be an analysis of the Spaniard’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as looking at how she fits into Spain’s tactics for the upcoming Euros.
This overall data profile of Putellas compared to the rest of the players in Europe makes for a truly terrifying reading for Spain’s opponents.
She is in the upper percentiles of almost all attacking metrics and passing metrics. Putellas even ranks above average in most of the defensive metrics too, making her an all-around incredible footballer.
The one statistic that sticks out is that the Spaniard is in the 97th percentile for non-penalty goals scored per 90 which is genuinely unfathomable for a midfielder in the modern game. She is also in the 98th percentile for xG per 90, shots per 90 and assists per 90. One would be mistaken for believing that Putellas is a centre-forward.
Now that we’ve established, without any doubt, that Putellas is simply sensational, let’s take a look at the data behind the positions she occupies on the pitch.
Spain, under Jorge Vilda, and Barcelona, under the guidance of Jonatan Giráldez, play a very similar brand of football. With that, the formation is relatively the same too.
Barca prefer to use a 4-3-3 which drops into a 4-1-4-1 and have used this system in 84% of their games this year. Likewise, Spain have used the 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 in 64% of their matches over the last calendar year in all competitions, although they certainly haven’t been averse to setting up in a back-three formation when they feel it’d be more beneficial for them.
Within these structures, Putellas plays predominantly as a left central midfielder across both Barcelona and Spain and has done so in exactly 84% of her matches this season.
Of course, positions have become a meaningless conversation in modern football discourse. They are merely a simplistic way to quantify someone’s location within the choice of formation. Player roles are a far better way to understand the type of player somebody is.
From the first heatmap, Putellas plays much more in the opponent’s half of the pitch than her own, particularly pushing up into the pockets of space between the lines and in the half-spaces where she can cause serious damage.
The first heatmap portrays Putellas’ positioning for both club and country. However, the following visual focuses solely on her role with the Spanish national team.
The similarities are very obvious but the main difference between the two is that Putellas does not drop as deep for the Spanish national side, mainly because Vilda prefers using the superstar in a solo number ‘10’ role from time to time in certain formations.
At 5’8 and 147lbs, Putellas is relatively tall and is certainly not easy to bully off the ball. She has a very strong core, allowing her to hold off defenders who are trying to nick the ball away. Nevertheless, her physical stature doesn’t make her awkward on the ball and the 28-year-old has incredible control with a cultured left peg.
Putellas is as press-resistant as they come and so having her operate in the higher areas of the pitch, especially when her side have progressed to the final third, is a wonderful way to create goalscoring opportunities.
The Spaniard can also drop deeper though, during certain phases. Again, her press-resistance is key here, comparable in the men’s game to a player like Real Madrid legend Luka Modrić. Putellas can also be compared to Modrić because of her match engine. Her ability to cover ground, even late on in games, is exemplary and she will certainly be one of Spain’s fittest players at this tournament.
During the build-up phase, Putellas tends to remain behind the opposition’s second line, in a much higher position than the other midfielders in the side.
This is important because the midfielder can use her strengths optimally. Being a highly-technical player, Putellas excels at receiving the ball in space, turning and driving forward, allowing her side to create micro-transitions in the process.
What is a micro-transition, one might ask? For those who may be unfamiliar with the concept, these are moments in the game where a team are in a settled positional attack and manage to progress the play into an area where they can quickly up the tempo and go forward with intense speed.
Putellas’ movement behind the opponent’s second pressing line helps to facilitate this.
Here, Putellas did what she does best and received the ball behind Scotland’s second line on the half-turn, creating a micro-transition. Spain’s centre-forwards and wingbacks are aware of her quality in these situations and have already begun their runs in behind the Scottish defence, hoping for a through ball into space.
At times, during the lower phases of play, Putellas will interchange positions with a deeper midfielder, allowing her to act as a passing option for the backline to circulate the ball, looking to break through the opposition’s press.
In this example, the Ballon d’Or winner dropped into the pivot space to receive the ball from Spain’s defenders. Acting as a wall pass, Putellas simply bounced it back to base to help the team move the ball around.
She is constantly available to receive all over the pitch, staying high, low, wide and narrow depending on the space available. On average, over the course of the 2021/22 campaign, Putellas was receiving the ball 50.92 times per 90, while making 63.7 passes per 90 with an accuracy of 83.7%.
Nevertheless, while getting herself involved in the play in deeper areas of the pitch, Putellas is very much a creator in the final third as opposed to a deep-lying playmaker. This means that Putellas does not sit under the ball, instead, she positions herself between the lines ahead of the play, looking to receive.
Putellas can be utterly deadly in this left half-space pocket, receiving the ball between the fullback/wingback and the nearest central defender.
Her ability to receive the ball on both her left and right foot before taking the ball on the half-turn is an integral part of the midfielder’s star quality and could be vital for Spain to break down teams that sit in deeper defensive blocks.
Taking the ball on the half-turn in these narrow pockets without losing it is one of the most difficult tasks in football. The player must have insane quality and rapid reactions. Putellas has both of these elements and could be the key for Spain to unlock tight defences.
Her expected assists per 90 have been relatively high too at 0.32. Putellas slightly overperforms on this metric in reality, making 0.38 assists per 90.
However, not only is she a wonderful creator in and around the box, Putellas is very dangerous in the final third too. She constantly makes dangerous runs in behind to stretch the opposition vertically, while also hoping to receive the ball.
Putellas can also operate as a bit of a fox in the box too at times. Given that she plays over on the left for Spain and Barcelona, once the ball is out wide on the right, Putellas positions herself at the back-post, looking to make herself available for a cross.
With her relatively tall frame, Spain can utilise her height and wonderful movement in the penalty area to their advantage to create goalscoring opportunities. It was this type of scenario that led to Barcelona’s only goal in the UEFA Women’s Champions League final against Olympique Lyonnais Féminin.
Inside the penalty area, Putellas is incredibly dangerous. Being a midfielder, the Spaniard does take shots outside the area. However, the sheer volume of shots she takes inside the box is really impressive.
Looking at Putellas’ last 75 shots in all competitions for club and country, it is clear that the world’s best player is incredibly potent in front of goal.
Putellas has averaged 0.88 goals per 90 this season with an xG of 0.62 per 90 — truly scintillating statistics.
While being an expert on the offence, Putellas is not a slacker defensively. Many world-class stars across both the men’s and women’s game are incredible on the ball but are relatively lazy getting down and dirty when helping their teams out of possession; Putellas is certainly not one of these.
Given Spain like to press high and try to win the ball back high up the pitch. Putellas is a decent presser and will be very useful for La Roja this summer during the high press.
Typically for Spain and Barcelona, Putellas is tasked with pushing up to mark the opposition’s deepest pivot player during the high block phase.
To be trusted with this role, a player needs to be solid in their defensive duels, which Putellas definitely is, competing in 5.22 defensive duels per 90 this season, winning 60.5% of them.
More impressively, Putellas averaged 6.08 ball recoveries per 90 over the past season with 75.8% being in the opponent’s half of the pitch. Furthermore, the Spanish playmaker is making 2.08 interceptions per 90 as well.
For Spain alone, these numbers are even higher. Putellas competes in 5.74 defensive duels per 90, winning 61.7% of them. Meanwhile, the Spaniard has averaged 7.17 recoveries per 90 over the past calendar year for her country, with 72% being in the opponent’s half.
One of the major weaknesses in Putellas’ game, though, which will be a concern for Vilda for the upcoming European Championships, is her tendency to foul players.
Putellas doesn’t like when an opposition player shields the ball from her as she is attempting to nick it back. When situations like this occur, the midfielder has a rather irrational, yet endearing tendency to pull the ball-carrier to the floor in frustration.
The 28-year-old has given away 0.88 fouls per 90 this season, almost one foul per match.
As effective as Putellas can be on the ball and even off of it with her exceptional movement as well as her defensive nous, she is also an extremely useful asset in transition for Spain and Barcelona.
We spoke earlier about her ability to be very dangerous from micro-transitions during structured attacks, but the Ballon d’Or winner is just as good in an actual transition, more commonly known as a counterattack.
Putellas is a wonderful carrier of the ball and has a keen eye for a pinpoint through ball, so when the Spaniard gets into a position where she can drive at the opposition’s backline, her teammates make darting runs in behind, expecting the slipped pass.
Defenders drop off when Putellas gets into these types of situations. They understand the creative prowess she possesses and the damage that the midfielder can do.
In all competitions this season, Putellas has attempted 6.16 dribbles per 90 from the middle of the park. She has completed 51.7% of these dribbles. In total, Putellas has also averaged 1.5 progressive runs per 90 and 2.57 through balls with an accuracy of 46.9%.
Defensively, again being no slouch, Putellas gets involved in her team’s defensive transitions, especially in the higher areas of the pitch. Once again, her 7.17 ball recoveries per 90 for Spain over the past calendar year and 72% being in the opponent’s half prove her capabilities in this phase of play.
Spain are very aggressive in their pressing and closing down. The women’s national team boasted a PPDA of 4.7 during the Euros qualifying campaign, which was the third-lowest of all of the teams that partook.
Furthermore, Vilda’s girls held the highest challenge intensity of the qualifiers with 9.5, equal to Belarus at the summit of the rankings.
Laziness is not an option, and thankfully, Putellas is certainly not lazy, always looking to help her teammates counterpress to regain possession of the ball as soon as it’s lost, such as in the previous image.
Spain are definitely one of the favourites to win the tournament outright and with Putellas in their team, anything is possible. La Roja are not a one-woman team, but they will undoubtedly be leaning heavily on the midfield superstar.
A master on the ball, and perceptive off of it, Putellas will be primed and ready to take England by storm on the international stage this summer. The magician is one of Total Football Analysis’ key players to watch during the European Championship this time around and if you can’t watch many games throughout the competition, try and make time to watch Spain in action. Putellas will have you on the edge of your seat.