Armel Bella-Kotchap is an 18-year-old German centre-back plying his trade in the 2. Bundesliga with VFL Bochum. Joining Bochum’s academy in 2017, Bella-Kotchap made his first-team debut at the end of last season and has cemented his place in the starting lineup this campaign, making 10 appearances in all competitions.
This scout report and tactical analysis look at how Bella-Kotchap fits in with Bochum’s tactics, as well as highlighting his individual assets which have quickly made him one of the most exciting young defenders in European football.
His role in Bochum’s build-up play
One of the first things that are so striking about Bella-Kotchap as a player is his seemingly unflappable composure when in possession. His calmness on the ball, excellent ball-playing prowess, as well as his ability with both feet, make him perfect to be a key cog in Bochum’s build-up play.
Bella-Kotchap is efficient when in possession and doesn’t take too many touches. He always makes himself available to receive a pass and is effective at ensuring the ball is quickly played back into a more advanced area, beating the press. His ability on the ball and quick decision making mean he is regularly involved in Bochum’s build-up play even when it advances past circling the ball across the backline.
Thusly Bella-Kotchap is able to push slightly higher and act as a pivot for Bochum, dropping into a central area and sitting free to ensure Bochum can switch the direction of play whilst maintaining plenty of players in wide areas or advanced positions on the pitch.
The image below shows not only Bella-Kotchap acting as a pivot, but it also shows the space left centrally by Bochum and the number of players overloading in wide areas. We can see four players operating on the right flank, and although the left side is out of shot, it is also a similar situation.
Bella-Kotchap operates on the left side of the central defensive pairing, due to his ability with his left foot, and if Bochum are set up in midfield with a single pivot, he will spread further wide and occupy the left half-space.
When he receives the ball in this position, as the analysis below demonstrates, Bochum set up in a way where they can use Bella-Kotchap’s ball-playing talents to its full potential. From this position he has a variety of passing options, whether that is to continue circling possession by playing laterally to his central defensive partner, playing through the lines into central-midfield, down the line to either his left-back or left-winger, and there is enough space for him to play a diagonal cross-field long pass which he is particularly fond of.
Finally, his centre-forward is positioned where Bella-Kotchap can look to play over the opposition right centre-back and into his forward’s path should he curve his run appropriately. Like the diagonal pass, Bella-Kotchap often looks to play long passes, which has both upsides and downsides. He is used by Bochum as an option to play directly into the final third, making 5.71 passes from this area per game, with a 57.4% completion in all competitions.
Bella-Kotchap’s passing ability
Bella-Kotchap is an excellent passer, with an 84.5% pass completion in all competitions so far this season, and with more experience and perhaps a few adjustments he can become an elite ball-playing defender in the coming years.
I want to stress just how comfortable Bella-Kotchap is using both feet, and not just to the point where he is comfortable playing short or medium length passes with his left foot (his “weaker” foot), but to where he is purposely spreading long cross-field balls with it too. He has a good passing range and enjoys playing long passes, making 7.19 long passes per game with a 50% completion.
Bella-Kotchap has an eye for picking a pass and frequently looks to play directly into the Bochum frontline. This works well at times, however, he does have a tendency for ignoring simpler options and perhaps could use this option more sparingly.
The image below shows him attempting a long pass directly into the Bochum centre-forward Silvère Ganvoula M’boussy who is being marked tightly and ignoring the two players in space either side of him. His bravery with his passing isn’t necessarily something to discourage but potentially something which could be curbed in the future to ensure he takes higher-percentage opportunities to play into the final third.
Overall defensive performance
Regardless of his ability as a passer from the back, Bella-Kotchap is just an exciting defensive talent.
Statistically, he is strong defensively as the statistical analysis of his 2. Bundesliga performances below displays. It must be noted this image doesn’t include his two DFB-Pokal performances.
In all competitions, he has won 65.7% of his aerial duels, showing his dominance in the air, and overall has won 77.6% of his defensive duels.
He reads the ball well and is very strong in the tackle, but is also an excellent reader of the game.
Positionally he consistently plays very close to his centre-back partner, Saulo Decarli, however, he is quick enough to intercept anything that is played to his outside, and averages 6.24 interceptions per game in all competitions.
Areas for improvement
Teams are aware of Bella-Kotchap’s ability on the ball, and his penchant for a long pass, and there have been occasions this season where the opposition press has been used to encourage this and prevent Bochum from being able to switch play easily.
Below we see the two St. Pauli forwards pressing him as he is in possession, however, blocking lateral passing lanes rather than vertical passing lanes. Bella-Kotchap needs to work on his press-resistance in times such as this and has perhaps become predictable with his passing tendencies.
Bella-Kotchap has also been caught out with passes in behind on a number of occasions this season. Playing so closely to Decarli he can leave space to the side of him which allows an opposition forward to run from if the pass is played between the two centre-backs, as the image shows below.
On top of this Bella-Kotchap has a tendency to dive into defensive situations possibly without assessing the immediate consequences should he not win the defensive duel. As mentioned earlier he is a strong tackler, and clearly has an enthusiasm for such encounters, but leaves space behind him which could be taken advantage of should he be bested by the attacker.
The image below shows him pushing forward to engage the attacker despite the fact his centre-back partner Decarli is already engaging the attacker. This leaves both centre-backs further forward than their full-backs whilst an Osnabrück attacker is making a supporting run directly into the space vacated by Bella-Kotchap.Conclusion
There is no doubt Bella-Kotchap is an exciting defensive talent and he is progressing nicely at Bochum. As a confident ball-player with excellent defensive qualities, he has the potential to be an elite defender on the world stage.
Hopefully, he resists any interest from bigger clubs and continues to develop at Bochum for the immediate future where he can expect regular first-team football, as long as Bochum don’t continue to languish too close to the bottom of the table, where a more experienced defender may be given playing time over him as a relegation dogfight ensues.
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