Is Álvaro Morata holding Spain back in Euro 2020? – scout report
Spain faced Sweden on Monday night in their opening game of Euro 2020 at the Estadio La Cartuja de Sevilla. The match finished goalless and was the first and only game that did not have at least one goal so far in the tournament which begun roughly one week ago today.
Luis Enrique’s side broke the record for the most total completed passes in one match in Euros history. Against Sweden, La Roja completed 910 passes over the course of the match and finished the game with 85 percent possession, another tournament record. However, for all their possession, Sweden held on to claim a valuable point in what was a very humid night in Seville.
Spain had a total expected goals (xG) of 2.07 but failed to convert one single chance. One of the main reasons for this was Álvaro Morata. The Spanish centre-forward has come under fire with the national team lately in the press and amongst fans for his performances and Monday night’s display certainly didn’t help his case.
Again, the number 9 was picked apart in the media following his performance and the manager took massive flack too for his persistence to stick with Morata up top. Regardless, is the Spaniard really holding Spain back, or is he more important to Spain’s tactical system than people realise?
This article will be a tactical analysis in the form of a scout report of Morata. It will be an analysis of his role in the Spanish squad and a look at how vital he is for the team’s tactics. We will also look at whether or not there are other alternatives in the setup for him.
Is Morata statistically the best option?
On paper, Morata is the obvious choice to lead the line. The 28-year-old has won an obscene amount of trophies throughout his career with Real Madrid, Juventus, and Chelsea but this season, he scored just 22 goals in all competitions. Spain’s backup centre-forward Gerard Moreno managed to bag himself 32 goals in all competitions.
Moreno also won the UEFA Europa League final this year and was one of the best players in La Liga, being outscored only by Karim Benzema and Lionel Messi. However, the 29-year-old only featured off the bench in the second half, replacing Morata himself.
Interestingly though, looking at the two graphs in the data visual above, Morata and Moreno are performing almost identically across both charts. It must be noted that this data visual was created prior to the tournament and the international friendlies.
In the first graph, Morata has averaged more touches in the box per game in the last calendar year, but Moreno takes more shots per 90. On the opposite graph, Moreno’s output is clearly great than Morata for their respective clubs. The Villarreal centre-forward was averaging a greater goal contribution per 90 and expected goal contribution than the Juventus man.
In terms of actually contributing to a team’s goals, Moreno seems to be the better option. However, Morata’s contribution to the Spanish team seems to be far more important to the tactical set up of the side, which will be analysed in depth in this piece.
Coming short to link-up play
Morata constantly drops short between the lines of the opposition’s midfield and backline in order to receive the ball with his back turned to goal.
The centre-forward is really good at finding space and creating quality passing angles for the midfielders and defenders to be able to progress the ball from the progression phase into the creation phase.
In this example, Marcos Llorente managed to find Morata between the lines with a pass that split Sweden’s first line of pressure as well as their second defensive line, progressing the team from the middle third into the final third with one pass.
The striker dropping from the defender’s shoulder into the space between the two central midfielders gave the right-back the ability to play this pass into a dangerous and from there, Spain could play a quick one-two and set themselves in on goal. Of course, this move did not pan out this way but the ability to do so is there.
One of the most played passes against Sweden from the Spanish side was the ball from all of the back four and Rodri as the single pivot straight into the feet of Morata, which is particularly impressive considering it shows how many times the centre-forward would need to create different passing lanes across the pitch. This can be seen in the team’s pass from Monday night’s game.
However, Morata would not only stay in the central areas though to receive the ball to feet. He would often drop into the halfspaces or the wide areas to create overloads with the ball-side winger, fullback, advanced midfielder, and Rodri.
Morata dropping into these areas to become a passing option and adding another number to the wide overload gives Spain multiple advantages. They have outnumbered the opposition in this area of the pitch meaning ball retention is much easier with the extra bodies. In the situation above, Spain have numerical superiority of 5v4 in the wide areas.
Having this numerical superiority out wide made it more difficult for Sweden to defend against but it also allowed Spain to have a free man to attack the depth and potentially receive a ball in behind or else to at least stretch the opposition’s midfield and backline to create more space.
However, from a defensive standpoint, it forced Sweden to drop their defensive block to one side in order to try and make up the numbers. In turn, this left space on the far side with either the fullback or the winger in space to receive and drive at the defender in a 1v1 situation.
Morata is useful in these situations because the player has a very solid passing range for a centre-forward and so he can hit these switches. Against Sweden, the Spaniard played two of these balls to stretch the opposition.
An underrated part of Morata’s game is his intelligence to drop into other areas of the field to create space for other players. Essentially, the striker vacates the space that a centre-forward usually occupies to allow another player to occupy that area.
There was one situation against Sweden where this worked so well that Spain almost took the lead. Morata dropped short to allow Dani Olmo to push inside and occupy the two Swedish central defenders and to try his luck at goal. The RB Leipzig attacker forced a fine save from Robin Olsen as a result of this move.
Areas of improvement
One of the main reasons why Spain struggled to break down Sweden’s 4-4-2 low block is because of the lack of space between the lines. Spain, of course, play a positional play style of football, which relies on players having positional superiority between the lines.
It is very difficult to have positional superiority when there is very little room between the lines for a player to receive the ball.
To create room, the team in possession must stretch the defensive side vertically by making runs in behind regardless of whether the runner receives the ball or not.
Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey did this superbly for Wales in their match against Turkey on Wednesday evening and there was plenty of room between the lines because of this.
Morata should not be the only centre-forward criticised for not making runs in behind to stretch Sweden vertically, but he certainly did not do it enough. There were occasions where he did though, and it made space for other players to receive the ball between the lines.
Here is one example of when Morata did attack the depth, dragging the two Swedish centre-backs with him and creating a plethora of space behind the midfield for another Spanish player to move into and receive the ball between the lines.
In fairness to Morata though, when he did make these runs, Spain did not take advantage of them, but the sample size was far too small.
The biggest area Morata needs to improve though, and the area of his game he has been criticised the most for is his finishing.
In his last ten matches in all competitions for club and country, Morata has taken just 17 shots on goal, scoring 4. This is an average of just 1.7 per game. This means that it takes him more than four chances at goal on average to score. Against Sweden, the 28-year-old had just two shots on goal which is half of what it usually takes him to score.
More worryingly for Spain fans is that Morata has had just five shots on goal in his last ten matches that had an expected goals (xG) of more than 0.2. The Spaniard has been struggling in front of goal lately and has been averaging a low number of shots on goal with little xG. This is not a good recipe.
As analysed in this article, the lack of goals and quality chances from Morata is worrying for Enrique. One could argue, going off statistics, that Moreno would be a far better option up front than Morata.
However, Morata is a far more complete striker than Moreno and is involved far more in the team’s overall play than the Villarreal man is so if Enrique decides to drop the former Real Madrid player, he will lose quite a lot of flexibility.
What is certain though is that the ex-Barcelona manager has a huge decision to make for Spain’s upcoming game against Poland.