Arnau Casas scout report: Can the 17y/o talent be Barcelona’s next Pique?
Today, we’re continuing our LaMasia analysis series, this time starring another U19 star in making, Arnau Casas. Quality centre-backs are a commodity Barcelona are struggling to obtain in recent years so looking into the academy to unearth gems could be the sensible way forward.
This tactical analysis will serve as a scout report on Casas, outlining some of his greatest strengths but also some weaknesses as well. Could the La Liga giants uncover another incredible talent following the rise of Pedri, Ansu Fati and co?
Let’s find out.
Casas is a 17-year-old centre-back currently plying his trade for Barcelona’s U19 squad. He is 1.91m tall and weighs 78kg. Even though he is a right-footed player, the youngster is very comfortable using both feet and can therefore be deployed on both sides of the central defence.
As is the case with most LaMasia graduates, Casas is extremely comfortable on the ball and can thread passes to progress play quite well. He is also good under pressure and while there is still room for improvement in his decision-making, the 17-year-old is already improving and showing great results.
Further down the line of this analysis, we’ll touch upon this aspect a bit more but Casas loves to switch play and utilise his great long-ball accuracy to advance the attack. Similarly, his good close control enables him to swap angles and reposition himself in a way that will benefit specific situations he finds himself in.
Defensively, he exhibits enough recovery pace should he be beaten but is a decent 1v1 defender who reads the game well. However, Casas is somewhat lacking in physical strength despite his height and can be a bit too eager to charge into challenges.
All of that and more will be touched upon in the following sections of our scout report.
Passing & technical ability
Perhaps the most important and yet the least surprising trait that best describes Casas’ ability in possession is his passing and technical quality. Just as is the case with most graduates coming out of the academy under the Blaugrana crest, the young defender excels at progressive passing and exits with the ball.
Below, we can see some of his recent pass maps with both Barcelona and Spain, which will help us understand his passing tendencies a bit more. Casas sees a lot of the ball in games, which is understandable given the teams he plays for. Just as other centre-backs in possession-based teams like Real Madrid or Manchester City, Casas is among the main recyclers for Barcelona.
So it doesn’t surprise to see him pass sideways a lot, which mostly happens when the opposition is blocking the forward channels quite well. But there are other aspects we can make note of here. Firstly, his tendency to break lines is clear as there are a lot of diagonal penetrative balls on the map too.
This ability is crucial for Barcelona’s tactics as it enables them progression from the first line and ensures the build-up from the back is possible in the first place. Secondly, Casas loves to deploy long balls, which is something we don’t often see as a common trait for Barcelona centre-backs, although it’s definitely a valuable one.
But we’ve already mentioned that the tendency to break lines with passes is an essential tool in his kit. The next image shows that perfectly.
Casas is able to recognise the space that’s being occupied by his teammate and can access it via his shrewd passing ability. Just by being able to break multiple lines with a single ball not only advances the play forward but also enables Barcelona to access a very dangerous area of the pitch despite the opposition trying to congest their lines.
Still, what is special about Casas is that he can do this effectively with both feet despite being a right-footed player by nature. Admittedly, his left-footed passes may not be as dangerous or may not break the lines as often but just the ability to swap between feet is a valuable one.
In this next image, for example, upon seeing that his right foot wouldn’t give him a good angle for progression, Casas shuffles the ball onto his left foot and then finds the channel to progress cleanly.
It may not seem like an extraordinary pass but it’s very difficult to execute when playing with your weak foot and in a high-risk situation where losing the ball could give the opposition a huge opening for attack. But Casas is calm under pressure, which is something we’ll explore more later on in the analysis, and thinks on his feet.
Finally, as we’ve seen from the initial pass map, Casas loves to deploy long balls to switch play and set up chances for progression. This is best exemplified through overload to isolate tactics.
If one side of the pitch is too congested, the youngster can easily switch sides with accuracy.
This clean switch against Bayern Munich shows us that perfectly. On occasion, these passes won’t find their marks but are still a formidable weapon in Casas’ exemplary arsenal.
Under pressure & decision making
One other very important aspect of any footballer, younger or older, is decision making and how they react under pressure. This is especially true for a team like Barcelona who aim to build out from the back regardless of the pressure put on them by the opposition. Luckily, Casas is someone who can react well in those situations.
Generally, whenever pressurised by the defenders, the 17-year-old can play one-touch football and will usually aim to open his body for a better angle for passing the ball. We can see that in the next example as Casas turns to let the ball travel while he adjusts and repositions accordingly.
This gives him time to find the right angle to send an accurate pass despite the opposition player sprinting to cut off the potential passing channel. Of course, that move is not possible in all situations but is still something Casas tends to do to buy himself time and maximise the accuracy of his passes.
We’ve spoken about long passes being a big part of his arsenal and this is also true for under pressure situations. And interestingly, that is also where decision making in possession comes into play. Casas is calm and composed in most situations and can recognise where the ball needs to go (or simply where it can go) to immediately advance the play.
Below, we can see him being pressurised by opposition players but he calmly plays a long pass to swap sides and effectively set Barcelona up for progression.
But despite these incredible qualities we’ve seen him demonstrate, the 17-year-old still needs to work on recognising when his passing and decisions will benefit his teammates and when they can force them into difficult situations. Sometimes, a pass can be aesthetically pleasing and find its mark but still bring little value to the attacking sequence.
Not every line-breaking pass should be played and in some situations, it’s not favourable to play short and to the closest option despite the team’s overall philosophy of playing out from the back. Let’s take the next sequence as an example.
Barcelona are being pressed by the opposition team and Casas has enough time to clear the ball or try to go for a potential switch of play.
However, despite completing the pass backwards and the ensuing half-clearance, the ball lands at the feet of the opposition who can immediately mount a dangerous attack. Casas’ decision triggered the collapse and as a result, his teammate didn’t have the time and the space to play the ball safely.
The young centre-back, on the other hand, was given enough of both to make a more composed decision despite being in the face of the opposition shortly after. But to give this a more positive spin, it does seem that most of his losses come after far riskier passes in general.
Sometimes, Casas will lose the ball in direct attacking duels but those cases are generally rare. Instead, the losses will follow attempts at line-breaking passes or overambitious switches. You can see that in the graph below.
The squares represent duels, circles with arrows are passes and just the circles are other cases. Generally, the low number of losses, especially on his half of the pitch, is a great sign, as is the type of the loss itself.
Of course, there is still room for improvement. That much is visible. But Casas is already exhibiting a great sense of positional and spatial awareness, which will be key in his development.
The final section of this tactical analysis will provide an insight into Casas’ defensive contributions. Being a centre-back first and foremost, it is essential he properly develops that side of his player profile in addition to the technical quality he’s already showing. Generally speaking, it is far easier for LaMasia to produce highly technical players than defensive juggernauts but Casas seems to be on the right path to having both qualities.
One trait or tendency most Barcelona defenders have in common are the aggressive exits when contesting the ball. This is something you can often see the likes of Gerard Piqué do effectively. Casas is similar in this regard.
Below we can see him rush out to intercept a pass after reading the play well and making the right decision to disrupt the team’s defensive shape.
And we know this is a recurring theme in his player profile because the stats do confirm it as well. His defensive duels are often registered higher up the pitch and the same is true for his recoveries, which we’ll study next.
The following graph depicts the position of his recoveries in some of his more recent games, both for club and country. Since Spain and Barcelona do have a lot in common when it comes to tactics, it doesn’t surprise that Casas’ defensive role remains largely the same. The recoveries we can see below are mostly a direct result of aggressive step-outs and high defensive duels.
But while this can be highly effective when executed well, it also has a bigger margin for error too. It’s a high-risk, high-reward sort of play that should be mastered before being deployed in high-stakes games. It’s also an area in Casas’s profile that still needs to be properly developed.
The 17-year-old has some recovery pace to potentially backtrack on his mistakes but can generally be seen rushing into challenges and then being beaten 1v1 quite cheaply. Take the following sequence as an example.
By dropping deeper and aggressively man-marking the opposition player, Casas leaves a lot of space uncovered behind his back. The problem in that sequence is that there was no one else to cover the man between the lines while Barcelona also didn’t have anyone to cover Casas’ step-out.
This is where proper decision making and coordination comes into play. But it’s also where physical attributes can help massively. Often, Casas will man-mark the opposition in an attempt to delay or stop the attack but then get shrugged off in a direct duel with the other player.
The fact that he can read the game well is key here but unless he’s first to the ball, there is a big chance he won’t be able to fight off the attacker. Generally, when facing players 1v1, Casas will retreat with his body at an angle, which is good, but it’s the timing of the ensuing tackle that still needs refining.
The 17-year-old is very eager to engage the opposition or even go down to the floor often, which can be good when executed well but when not, it eliminates him from the equation far too easily.
Arnau Casas is a superb talent Barcelona still have up their sleeve. For a team that’s been struggling to find suitable and quality defenders, they still have loads of them within their academy. The 17-year-old may not be ready to jump straight into the first team but his trajectory suggests his stock will rise soon.
And once that happens, Barcelona better pay attention.