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Brais Méndez: The Celta Vigo stalwart headlining Real Sociedad’s attacking rebuild – scout report

From progressing through the Celta Vigo youth set-up and breaking into the first-team, to making 153 La Liga appearances for the Galician club, Brais Méndez has ended his ten-year stay at Balaídos. The local lad was a stalwart at Celta, with his performances earning him four caps for the Spanish national team. His next destination is a step up, joining Real Sociedad under Imanol Alguacil for a reported €15m fee on a six-year deal.

The attacking midfielder arrives in San Sebastián as part of an attacking rebuild. Alongside Takefusa Kubo and Mohamed-Ali Cho, they will replace the departing Adnan Januzaj and Portu, with Méndez expected to be an immediate starter. With last season’s Scandinavian striker duo of Alexander Isak and Alexander Sørloth both underperforming xG and superstar attacker Mikel Oyarzabal still side-lined with his ACL injury, La Real have freshened up their attack after their low-scoring La Liga campaign of just 40 goals.

Alguacil will be aiming to break into the Champions League places this season, alongside progressing in the Europa League, potentially capitalising on Sevilla’s lack of defensive reinforcements whilst overcoming competition from Real Betis and Villarreal.

Under Alguacil, Real Sociedad have a focus on control, with patience in possession but aggression out of possession. In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, we will look at how Brais Méndez epitomises these principles whilst discussing his potential role as he looks to integrate into Real Sociedad’s tactics seamlessly.

Player profile

Brais Méndez (184cm/6’0”, 76kg/167lbs) is a versatile attacking midfielder capable of playing on the wings and centrally behind the front line. In Celta Vigo’s 4-1-3-2 formation under manager Eduardo Coudet, the Spanish international would be deployed in the midfield line of three. He was often given a role with the freedom to roam at Celta, identifying dangerous spaces to occupy and overload. The 25-year-old is predominantly left-footed with a preference to operate around the right half-space.

During pre-season at Real Sociedad, the new signing has already shown his versatility and adaptability. Last season, La Real mainly deployed variations of a 4-3-3 or a diamond midfield 4-1-2-1-2. His pre-season appearances seem to direct Méndez into the right-sided central midfielder slot, although he can play on the right wing of the 4-3-3.

In the figure below against Athletic Club, Méndez lined-up in the central midfielder role with Takefusa Kubo, the new signing from Real Madrid, deployed as the right winger. Last season, Real Sociedad would widen the positioning of their central midfielders to help build-up and horizontally stretch the opposition midfield. With his comfort in the right half-space and in the wide areas, as displayed throughout his Celta career, Méndez is a suitable fit for this build-up strategy. As shown below, Méndez has drifted from the centre towards the right-wing, triggering Kubo to make a run in behind with right-back Andoni Gorosabel in possession.

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His experience in the wide areas has improved his effectiveness to retain possession on the wing, although his constant attempts to shift the ball onto his left-foot can make his dribbling quite one-dimensional. From a selection of 147 attacking midfielders, wingers, and attacking full-backs to play over 500 minutes in La Liga in the 2021/22 season, Méndez ranks 86th for dribbles per 90 with 2.99. His dribble success rate of 42.06% is very poor, ranking 137th out of the 147 players.

He has displayed good receiving skills in tight areas, effectiveness between the lines and with pressure from behind, whilst also showing a flair for ball retention, with the roulette turn a go-to move for the Spaniard.

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Last season at Celta Vigo, Méndez ranked 4th for expected threat per 90, with the bulk of his xT occurring in the right half-space. With his tendency to operate in and around these areas paired with his expected position at Real Sociedad, his ability to threaten defences should continue at Anoeta. Last season was not the strongest year for Méndez as a creator or as a goal-scorer, so Alguacil will be aiming to increase the output from the €15m man.

The image above is an example of Méndez executing a penetrative pass behind the Osasuna defence to find the blindside run of Robert Navarro, who played the ball across the six-yard box for striker Jorge Aguirre to score. Last season, Méndez’s 0.48 key passes per 90 and 2.71 passes into penalty box per 90 both ranked 63rd out of the 147 players. However, his passing accuracy into the penalty box of 61.86% ranked 19th, with his efficiency to create from these passes suggesting their frequency should be increased.

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As we mentioned earlier, Méndez’s role throughout his Celta career was very fluid, given the freedom to roam and perturb an opposition’s defensive shape. As a result, the Spanish international would regularly occupy spaces between the lines. An example of this can be seen above, with Méndez ghosting off the back of Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong to receive an exceptional line-breaking pass from Denis Suárez.

With Real Sociedad very dependent on the excellence of David Silva to split defences from between the lines, the arrival of Méndez adds another threat and player to share the chance creation responsibilities. Additionally, La Real’s midfielders Martín Zubimendi and Mikel Merino have an impressive ability to distribute to teammates in the final third, so expect Méndez to have frequent opportunities to find attackers from between the lines next season.

The ending of the above sequence against Barcelona was a Méndez shot on the edge of the box that was held by Marc-André ter Stegen. Last season, Méndez scored four La Liga goals from an xG of 4.8, attempting 1.45 shots per 90 with 30.77% shot accuracy. Meanwhile, in the 2020/21 season, he scored nine goals in La Liga (eight non-penalty goals) from 6.61 xG. Despite his inconsistent scoring, he has displayed a plethora of finishing techniques, with his movement off the right wing into goal-scoring positions inside the box being particularly effective.

He is most threatening arriving to score, rather than receiving and looking to create shooting angles for himself. Although, he does possess the agility and ball manipulation to manufacture shooting opportunities and beat opponents inside the box. Despite his left-footedness, Méndez can slot right-foot finishes with the inside of his foot and execute the typical far-post curled effort from an attacker coming infield off the wing, with deft flicks and chips also in his shot selection.

These flicks can occur from set-pieces, with Méndez a near post threat from corners especially. His height makes him an aerial threat when drifting to the near post, with his technical ability to flick the ball in from lower deliveries also dangerous. The height and aerial ability can help his ability to win second balls, alongside being a target from longer goal kicks.

In possession

The transition to Real Sociedad from Celta Vigo has the potential to be easy for Brais Méndez. The two La Liga sides have similarities in possession. In last season’s league campaign, Celta and La Real both averaged possession over 55%, ranking 5th and 6th in the 20-team league. The two clubs also ranked 6th and 7th for passes per minute of possession with over 14 passes, showing their focus on ball retention and circulation.

However, there is a significant difference between the total long passes attempted, with Celta’s 45.85 per 90 ranking 5th meanwhile La Real’s 34.44 long passes per 90 is the lowest in the league. Nevertheless, Méndez attempted 2.57 long passes per 90 last season, with his average pass length of 15.81m comparatively much shorter than the league average.

In his short time at the club, Méndez has shown an understanding of what is expected by Alguacil in different phases of possession. In Real Sociedad’s build-up, the pivot player is crucial. If possible, the pivot player will look to receive possession from the centre-backs. However, if the direct passing lane is blocked, the centre-back will pass to a central midfielder to then access the pivot player like an up-back-through combination. Such combinations are familiar to Méndez, with Coudet’s Celta having multiple staggered lines in their 4-1-3-2 to create up-back-through opportunities.

The image below is an example of Méndez, deployed as the right-sided central midfielder in La Real’s diamond midfield, dropping from between the Borussia Mönchengladbach defensive and midfield line to receive off centre-back Robin Le Normand and find pivot player Asier Illarramendi.

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Real Sociedad’s full-backs frequently get forward, with their pivot player dropping between the centre-back pairing to facilitate the full-backs advancing. When this happens, a central midfielder (typically Mikel Merino) will drop to occupy the pivot space. Méndez is familiar with attacking full-backs acting as width-holders due to similar strategies deployed at Celta.

With the tendency of the wide midfielders in the 4-1-3-2 to narrow and the attacking full-backs of Javi Galán and Hugo Mallo, Celta’s pivot player would also drop between the two centre-backs. As the pivot player joins the defensive line, the central midfielder would drop into the pivot space, often Denis Suárez.

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The image above is an example of Celta Vigo’s full-backs advancing into the final third. Receiving the ball in a deeper position, Méndez spreads the play with a lofted pass to the right-back Kevin Vázquez. Although Real Sociedad attempts the fewest long passes in La Liga, their new signing’s ability to occasionally play more direct can offer a different threat. Deployed as a central midfielder, Méndez can roam and drop in central areas more frequently than at Celta, with the potential to be another progressor in La Real’s midfield.

As mentioned earlier, last season was not quite Méndez’s best season as a creator or as a goal-scorer, but his ball progression at Celta was strong. The Spanish international completed 5.51 passes into the final third per 90 with 80.71% accuracy, offering an ability to find players between the lines as well as being a threat in those spaces himself. His 12.67 forward passes per 90 with an accuracy of 73.51% can provide an assertiveness in possession for control-heavy Alguacil’s patient passing. The former Celta star also completed 6.32 progressive passes per 90 with an accuracy of 76.11%.

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The figure above displays Méndez collecting a loose ball in the midfield and playing a one-two with Renato Tapia. Ghosting past Elche midfielder Javier Pastore with the fluid one-two passing game that’s regularly seen at Real Sociedad to get between the lines, Méndez threaded a defence-splitting pass into Iago Aspas. The former Liverpool striker’s shot was saved after the nicely weighted pass.

Out of the 147 selected players we used earlier, Méndez ranked 14th for through passes per 90 with 1.48. With Alexander Isak’s movement away from defenders and the transitional threat from Mohamed-Ali Cho, Méndez will continue to execute through passes as he looks to improve on last season’s five assists from 3.29 xA.

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The image below is an example of how Méndez’s profile and versatility combined with the talent at La Real can create different shapes in midfield. Méndez can join David Silva in more advanced positions, able to move between the lines or into wide areas. With the diamond midfield of Silva at the tip and Méndez and Merino on the sides, they can rotate and provide balance when Méndez does advance.

With Merino’s well-roundedness as a central midfielder with defensive awareness and great technical ability, they can create a 4-2-2-2 box midfield which also allows the full-backs to get forward. The 4-2-2-2 is also an extremely effective shape for counter-pressing, as Julian Nagelsmann’s Bayern Munich have shown recently.

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Out of possession

Last season, Alguacil’s Real Sociedad were impressively counter-pressing with their players in central areas and closing the space around the opponent in possession. High pressing is a normality for Brais Méndez, with Celta Vigo manager Coudet also employing a demanding and aggressive intensity out of possession. Celta ranked top in La Liga for challenge intensity with 7.3, with La Real ranking 5th with 6.6. The Galician side also ranked 2nd for PPDA with 7.91, whereas Real Sociedad were 4th with 8.59.

Méndez is a very aggressive presser, constantly looking to regain possession with maximum effort. However, Alguacil must find a way to channel his new signing’s out-of-possession efforts. Méndez’s 7.19 defensive duels per 90 last season ranked 41st out of the 147 players, but his duel win rate of 45.14% is extremely poor, ranking 139th. The Spaniard has the 12th most fouls per 90 with 2.1, accumulating eight yellow cards. His 5.95 PAdj interceptions are great, ranking 20th, showing there is defensive potential for Méndez with his ability to cover ground and his tall frame. His aforementioned aerial ability of 3.33 aerial duels per 90 ranked 34th, with a win rate of 42.02% ranking 42nd is also beneficial in out-of-possession phases.

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The figure above shows Méndez man-marking the Athletic Club pivot player, with Illarramendi, Kubo and striker Carlos Fernández also with their marker. Alguacil is very adaptable out of possession. He employs a man-to-man approach against teams that look to build up from deep. Meanwhile, against teams that play more direct, their pressing is more conservative and they look to flood the spaces ahead of their defensive line to contest aerial duels and collect second balls.

Conclusion

After ten years at Balaídos, becoming a first-team starter and senior international for Spain, Brais Méndez has joined Real Sociedad in a €15m move. Under Imanol Alguacil, the attacking midfielder will look to immediately settle in San Sebastián at a club with on-pitch similarities to Celta Vigo.

His free movement and positioning between the lines is a crucial profile to take some of the creative burden off Manchester City legend David Silva. With Mikel Oyarzabal injured, Méndez and the La Real squad will have to replace the output of one of the league’s most dangerous attackers. His defensive efforts will also impress Alguacil and his intense pressing out of possession.

With tough competition for the top four, as Real Sociedad aspire for a return to Champions League football, an instant impact from Méndez would be extremely beneficial. La Real still have Europa League football to play this season, starting in the group stage and looking to go deep into the competition. With the 2022 World Cup also coming up, Méndez will need to perform instantly to stake a claim of returning to the Spain squad in time for the big tournament. However, with tough competition for places including Marcos Llorente, Carlos Soler and Pablo Sarabia to name a few, lots of work will need to be done.

In this tactical analysis, we have looked at Brais Méndez’s style of play, discussing the tactical similarities between Celta Vigo and Real Sociedad and how the attacking midfielder will fit into the La Real team as he aims to take a step up in his career.