Igor Thiago: Why Club Brugge have signed Bulgarian football’s finest gem – scout report
In the most expensive transfer of the young summer window so far, Club Brugge have signed 22-year-old Brazilian striker Igor Thiago from Bulgarian champions Ludogorets for a fee of around €8 million. The forward has now become one of the first signings of new Club Brugge head coach Ronny Deila and he joins a now crowded striker group that includes former Barcelona youngster Ferran Jutglà, and record signing Roman Yaremchuk.
The heat map above shows the positions Igor Thiago frequently took up last season while playing at Ludogorets. At the Bulgarian champions under Ivaylo Petev, the Brazilian played as the #9 in Petev’s preferred 4-3-3 formation. However, as the heatmap above illustrates, the 22-year-old is much more than just a prototypical centre-forward. While Thiago sees most of his action in and around the penalty box, he also has a tendency to drift wide at times, opening up space for the midfielders to make runs from deep beyond him and use his ability in 1v1 dribbling moments to take on opposition defenders.
The striker will also drop into midfield and find pockets of space to receive the ball, with his 11 assists in all competitions last season showing his ability to also play as a provider at times. Standing at 6’2” tall and with a rather muscly frame, the Brazilian is also very physical, with him not afraid to shy away from opposition contact.
However, the biggest skill set of his game that Thiago possesses is his aerial ability, with the striker being very dangerous on set pieces and balls played into the box in the air. In fact, out of his 20 goals scored in all competitions for the Bulgarian champions this past season, 7 of them were with his head. This demonstrates the aerial presence that the 22-year-old possesses, and along with some other strengths that will be discussed, Thiago should be a welcome addition to Ronny Deila’s squad for next season.
Immense aerial presence
As just mentioned, one of the primary strengths that Igor Thiago possesses is his ability in the air, with him being a danger on attacking set pieces. This will be something that Ronny Deila will likely look to exploit with the Brazilian striker, as scoring goals off of set pieces often is something that gives sides an advantage over their opposition.
The image above shows the aerial ability that Igor Thiago possesses from a recent match in the Bulgarian league. In this phase of play above, Ludogorets had a free kick with this headed goal from Thiago occurring in the second phase of this free kick. Thiago already stands at 6’2” tall, and he is also able to jump well above any of the opposition defenders to make contact with the ball in the air, with him making perfect contact to loop the ball over the keeper and into the back of the net.
Another detail to note about this specific goal is that Thiago was also moving backwards as he jumped and made contact, showing the power that he also possesses in his head to put enough pace on the ball to send it over the goalkeeper from this range.
The image above shows another example of Thiago’s ability in the air, this time resulting in a goal from a corner for Ludogorets. Thiago is positioned in the middle of the crowd when the in-swinging corner is sent into the penalty box. The Brazilian striker is able to get in between two opposition defenders, with the ball finding its way to him. Even though he has the danger of the two defenders right on top of him, Thiago is still able to use perfect weight and pinpoint accuracy to guide the ball into the far corner, with the goalkeeper staying rooted to the spot.
What this example shows is that the 22-year-old Brazilian striker does not just use his height and ability to jump over opposition defenders to win the ball in the air. Thiago is also not afraid when it comes to potentially clashing heads with an opposition defender, with the striker able to stay focused on the ball and just glance the ball into the corner, even when there are defenders on either side of him also looking to win the ball with their heads.
The image above shows Igor Thiago’s ability to also separate himself from opposition defenders and find the space to have a free opportunity on goal. In the phase of play above, the ball is again sent into the area from an in-swinging corner. As the ball is coming in, the Brazilian striker is able to separate himself from his marker in front of him, allowing him the ability to get a free jump to attempt to direct the ball into the goal. He does just this and is able to react at the perfect time to jump and head the ball, directing it into the far post area and leaving the goalkeeper no chance to react quick enough to save the header.
As this section has shown, aerial presence and his ability to score goals consistently off of set pieces is the biggest strength that Igor Thiago possesses. This ability definitely would have caught the eye of Ronny Deila, who surely will look to exploit the Brazilian’s ability in the air to hopefully give his Club Brugge side an advantage in set-piece situations.
Dropping deep and linking play
Along with his aerial presence and ability from set pieces in front of goal, Igor Thiago is also a striker who will look to drop into midfield at times, finding pockets of space and looking to link attacking play together. In fact, the 22-year old finished with 11 assists in all competitions last season, showing his tendency to turn into a provider at times as well.
The data viz graphic above shows the amount of progressive passes that Thiago played for Ludogorets last season, with the ones coloured in pink being progressive passes into the penalty area. Also, the majority of these progressive passes in and around the penalty area occurred from deeper midfield positions, even more highlighting the tendency for Thiago to drop and find pockets of space to get on the ball and look to turn provider.
Though the Brazilian striker only averages 16.21 passes per 90 minutes with a 73% success rate, his 11 assists shows what he is capable of with his vision and passing ability.
The image above shows an example of Igor Thiago’s abilities when dropping into midfield to receive the ball and look to pick out teammates and turn provider.
In this phase of play above from a UEFA Europa League match against AS Roma, the Brazilian forward had dropped into central midfield, looking to become an option for a forward pass. After receiving possession, the 22-year old was able to take a great touch, which allowed him to turn and face the opposition’s goal. At the same time, he was also able to hold off the advances of the Roma midfielder on his back, showcasing his strength with the ball at his feet as well.
Noticing the defender is ball-watching, the Ludogorets winger makes a run off the back shoulder of the defender and into the space behind the Roma defence. Thiago is able to spot this and plays a perfectly weighted pass beyond the defenders and into the space for the winger to run onto. It results in a shot on goal for the Bulgarian side and a great chance, something that results from the work rate and passing ability of Igor Thiago.
The image above shows another example of Igor Thiago’s ability to use his vision to link play together from deeper positions. The Brazilian striker has gathered possession in a midfield position and has turned to drive towards the opposition’s defence. As he gets closer to the penalty area, he slows down, which in turn forces the centre-back to make a decision of who to mark in this situation. This then allows the 22-year-old striker to put a perfect weight on the pass and send it into the path of the winger who is running unmarked behind the opposition.
His pass is played into the path of the winger, who is able to get a shot on goal that gets parried away by the goalkeeper for a corner. This chance on goal results from the vision of Thiago, which in this example is able to illustrate why he finished the season with double digit assists for the Bulgarian champions.
This final example encapsulates Thiago’s vision and ability to link play together and create chances for teammates.
In the phase of play above from a UEFA Europa Conference League match against Belgian side Anderlecht, the 22-year-old striker is in possession and driving towards the penalty area. We can see that he is being closed down from behind by an Anderlecht midfielder, with the central defender in front of him standing his ground and waiting for him to attempt to dribble either side of him. However, the Brazilian forward does something that Anderlecht defenders do not expect.
To his left, Thiago is able to spot the winger making a run behind the opposition defence as a result of him getting past the fullback. In a split second, Thiago plays a perfectly weighted pass with the outside of his left foot into the path of the winger, who takes the shot on his first touch, with it sailing just wide of the goalkeeper’s post.
What this illustrates is Thiago’s close control in tight spaces as well as his ability to quickly spot teammates at the last second to continue progressing the ball into the penalty area, something that, at first sight, does not seem possible by a player of his stature.
As this section has shown, Igor Thiago’s ability to drop into the midfield to receive the ball and link play and as his vision and ability to reach double-digit assists will be valuable assets to Ronny Deila’s side.
How does he fit in at Club Brugge?
The big question mark when it comes to Igor Thiago is how he fits into what Ronny Deila will attempt to implement at Club Brugge. From a stylistic point of view, the Norwegian will look to either play a 4-2-3-1 (his preferred formation at MLS side NYCFC) or potentially a 3-4-3 (his preferred formation at Standard Liège). If Deila opts for a back four system, then the Brazilian will likely slot in as the starting centre-forward, with the Norwegian looking for him to do what he did at Ludogorets which is to drop deep and link play as well as be a presence in the penalty box.
At Standard, Deila played a bit more pragmatic at times. However, he still looked to attempt to control possession as much as possible at times, something that Thiago knows well from playing the last couple of seasons at one of the most dominant teams in Bulgaria.
Also, Thiago has experience playing as a left winger at times, meaning he would also be able to play as the left-sided forward in a 3-4-3 if that is what Deila opted to go with.
All in all, Club Brugge would not have spent the amount they did on the 22-year old if he isn’t to be an important player under Deila. While he may have to initially fight for minutes against the rest of the strikers in the squad, it would not be a surprise to see the Brazilian feature heavily under Deila right away when the new Belgian Pro League season gets back underway.
As this tactical analysis has shown, Igor Thiago will be a welcome addition to the Club Brugge squad, and, at least on paper, seems to fit into the tactics of Ronny Deila.
While the Brazilian forward does not come from a club the stature of Arsenal or Borussia Dortmund, his exploits in the Bulgarian First Division for Ludogorets has earned him this big move to a team constantly challenging for the title in Belgium.