Lightning in sentient form: FC Barcelona’s Aitana Bonmatí – scout report
This year’s class of Ballon d’Or nominees had several worthy candidates and one of them was an upstart by the name of Aitana Bonmatí. Although the Golden Ball ultimately went to her teammate, Alexia Putellas (deservedly so), Aitana is a player that stands out in her own right. Along with Putellas, Bonmatí has been an integral part of Las Blaugranas’ recent success.
The Catalan midfielder is only 24 years old, yet she’s already accomplished so much. To date, she’s won La Liga three times, the Copa de La Reina four times, and helped her team win a treble back in 2021.
Bonmatí is a speedy, creative, midfielder, who is also a steely defender that can get stuck in with a tackle. She is also an artist, whose canvas is a pitch that she paints masterpieces.
In this tactical analysis, we will examine Bonmatí’s playing style and how it benefits her team, FC Barcelona. This scout report will focus on her creativity, vision, defence-splitting passes, and how invaluable she is to her team.
Priming the Canvas
Before an artist can begin their work, they must prime their canvas first. We’ll do so here by applying the gesso in the form of Bonmatí’s stats as a way of better understanding her performances. As per Wyscout, Bonmatí has scored a total of 58 goals and has 24 assists throughout her career. The Catalan not only contributes to her team’s build-up play but does defensive dirty work as well. The midfielder has won 64% of her defensive duels, including 52% of her aerial challenges.
Though the player normally plays as a right central midfielder, she is capable of playing in other positions on the pitch. This heatmap is from a game between Barcelona and Levante, and it shows Bonmatí being dominant in the centre of the midfield as she helped dictate play.
We see another example of this on the international stage, particularly in the game between Spain and England. During that match, Aitana was all over the pitch as she fought hard to help Spain get the win. Though she wasn’t successful then, she’s been more successful at the club level, where she applies this type of mindset to her squad’s games.
This adaptability allows her to be a fulcrum for Barcelona and was one of the main reasons why they won the treble in 2021.
The Midfield Musician
If you were to compare FC Barcelona to the human body, then Bonmatí would be the vagal nerves that connect the heart to the brain. She is not the beating heart of the team, as that title belongs to her teammate, Alexia. Rather, she is a part of the circulatory system that helps the heart function. There is also a certain musicality to the way she plays that is rhythmic like a heartbeat. Her measured musicality is also reminiscent of a metronome and it is a role that she is both capable of playing and excelling in.
Bonmatí is a box-to-box midfielder who provides a crucial link between the defence and the attack. In this role, you have to be well-rounded to play at both ends of the pitch. This entails having both good vision and stamina and fortunately, she has both. One example of this comes from the game against Levante Femenino. Bonmatí shrewdly reads a play and makes a crucial interception by disrupting the defender’s attempts to build out from the back. She then sends a cross towards Oshoala who then shoots on sight.
Bonmatí averages 2.16 interceptions per game which shows that she’s adept at both reading and disrupting plays. Defending, however, is not her strong suit, as she excels more at passing and playmaking. The Catalan is a multifaceted player who has several weapons at her disposal and she wields them with deadly force. The previous play demonstrates that she’s able to merge both defence and offence into an effective combination.
As was mentioned before, Bonmatí has great vision. This is demonstrated in the image below, where Bonmatí – who is several yards out – spots a free Alexia on the right and lobs a pass toward her. It is also a testament to her vision that she was able to spot her open teammate and then send the ball to her with pinpoint precision. Bonmatí has a 73% long-ball accuracy rate and while it means that she has some room to improve, she’s also been successful at getting these passes to her teammates.
Barcelona usually plays a 4-3-3 that can morph into a 4-1-4-1 in defence. In this system, Bonmatí can drift to different areas of the pitch to play in different positions. Against Athletic Club, for example, Bonmatí drifted from a centre-mid position to a more advanced, attacking role. This allowed her to break Athletic’s press and for her to both directly attack their goal while helping her teammates get into scoring positions. As a result, Barça won the game by three goals.
This style of play harkens back to the ideals of ‘Total Football’ which was championed by former Barcelona player and club legend, Johan Cruyff. Bonmatí embodies this spirit and carries on this legacy through her playing style.
Another position she’s adept at is that of a playmaker. With an 88% pass accuracy rate, Bonmatí is an excellent passer of the ball. The midfielder has honed her spatial awareness and has both the vision and talent to pull this role off.
As a playmaker, Aitana is someone who transcends positional roles and creates overloads in her own half to assist her teammates by giving them an additional passing option. This then gives them another option to get the ball to their teammates on the attack.
One example of this comes in a league game against Villarreal. Bonmatí made a darting run into the right channel to receive a ball from Patri. She subsequently spots two of her teammates, Mariona and Oshoala, coming in from the left. Aitana then sends the ball into the area where it finds Mariona, and the Catalans then score in the first minute.
This sequence demonstrates that Bonmatí does not solely rely on her passing game for the playmaker role. Rather, she also helps her teammates get into scoring positions through her intelligent movement. As per Wyscout, Bonmatí averages 1.79 progressive runs per 90 minutes. What this means is that she’s good at carrying the ball up the pitch and into the opponent’s half.
Furthermore, the midfielder is also an excellent dribbler of the ball. In a match against Levante Las Planas, Bonmatí uses her superior dribbling ability to evade LLP’s press and get the ball to her teammates.
As she dribbles towards an opponent – she also pulls them away from their current position and thus frees up space behind them for her teammates to run into. She does so by manoeuvring around them and drawing players towards her in the process.
Though defence is one of the weaker aspects of her game, Bonmatí can, occasionally, slide into the deep-lying playmaker role. While in this role, she is tasked with dictating the game and using her defensive awareness to prevent opponents from reaching dangerous areas. She accomplishes this by sliding into space and filling in the gaps her teammates leave behind. This has been crucial to not only Barcelona’s attack but also for them to maintain their defensive shape.
In this particular example, Bonmatí drops deep to make a crucial intervention in the right channel. She then launches a long pass to a teammate to initiate a counterattacking sequence.
This is, once again, a demonstration of her exceptional athleticism, versatility, and vision. She is one of the lynchpins of her team’s attack and her importance to them cannot be understated.
Lightning in Sentient Form
Another vital aspect of Bonmatí’s game is her movement both on and off the ball. Aitana is equal parts intelligence and instinct. The player can best be described as living lightning, as she is electricity in sentient form. She is electric, with her darting moves and ability to set the pitch on fire.
In addition to being fast, she can also slow down the game if need be. Aitana is also good at manipulating space and time and one of the ways she can do so is by employing the concept of La Pausa. La Pausa is a skill whereby players in possession of the ball pause momentarily, drawing in defenders and enticing them to move toward the ball.
After the defender moves towards them, the player in possession will often speed up play by either passing the ball or moving in another direction. Here is an example of Aitana employing these tactics against Atlético Madrid. Against the capital club, Bonmatí collects the ball at the edge of the box, then proceeds to toy with the defenders by inviting them to make a challenge, only for her to find an open teammate in the far left corner. Her ability to control the ball and create space is what makes her such a dominant player.
Bonmatí constantly moves to free herself up to receive passes from her teammates. Maintaining an open body position allows her to see across the pitch as well as the teammate who is passing the ball and further forward passing options. She is creative with her positioning and offers her teammates a range of options when building play.
She is also willing to either come short to receive the ball, and lull opponents into deeper positions, or to move from the outside channels to receive a pass between the lines. Here is an example of the midfielder opening herself up to receive a pass from her teammates.
Her constant movement also allows her to get into dangerous scoring positions and function as a striker. Against one of her favourite victims (Atléti), she cuts into space on the left and then fires off a shot that manages to sail past several defenders.
It’s proof that whatever area of the pitch she’s in, Bonmatí is capable of making a positive impact on her team.
In this player analysis, we have examined Aitana Bonmatí and her playing style. In a team full of glittering stars and refined parts, Bonmati stands out as someone who’s essential to making the entire apparatus function. The Catalan midfielder has most definitely been instrumental to Barça’s recent success, including their treble in 2021.
German philosopher Martin Heidegger once said, “Every great poet creates his poetry from one single poem.” What this means is that the great poets all have a template they follow and that they find inspiration from one source. Bonmatí is a poet and her ‘one source’ is hailing from the same La Masia that has given the world some of the most technically gifted players. Although it is clichéd to say that her playing style hails from tiki-taka, the label is quite fitting. She also modernizes that style of play by adapting it to the rigours of the modern game through her smarts, speed, physicality, and just being a woman.
As the women’s game grows in popularity and becomes more advanced, technically gifted players like Aitana, who has an aesthetically pleasing playing style, will help move it forward. The midfielder is also young and has a bright future ahead of her. And Barcelona will be the most blessed recipient of that light.