La Liga Bargain Bin: Why Huesca star should be on the radar for Europe’s best
Even though reaching the heights of La Liga is surely a huge accomplishment for Huesca, surviving the Spanish top-flight could prove impossible. At the moment of writing and following 22 games of regular play in the campaign, they sit dead last in the table with no clear signs of improvement just yet.
However, despite quite obviously being among the worst performers in 2020/21, Huesca have a squad full of talented players. One such player is the 26-year-old Javi Galan, a left-back who’s been silently performing way better than it may be expected of a full-back playing for the worst team in the league.
Even though his current market value is only around €3.5M, it has been on the rise over the past few years and is still on a steady upward spiral. Quite clearly, the 26-year-old may soon become too big for his current side and could even represent a bargain scoop for top teams should Huesca truly plummet down to Segunda División come the end of the season.
Standing at 5’6, Galán is a very diminutive and pacey full-back who combines speed and skill to beat his marker and get in a good position to cross the ball into the box. At 26 years of age, he is no longer a youth prospect but rather a player enjoying his prime years at Huesca.
However, playing for an underperforming team in both the offensive and defensive aspect, it is sometimes very difficult to get noticed. Huesca don’t create many chances despite having talented players and are also prone to conceding a lot of opportunities to the opposition. With all of that being said, Galán still manages to tally impressive numbers when compared to other full-backs in the league.
Below you can see a dashboard which will show us his player profile. Note that for this data analysis part we’ve only included full-backs and not all defenders.
Looking at the data, we can immediately see that Galán is a player who highly relies on his progressive runs in the build-up and aims to make use of his accurate crossing to create chances. When it comes to expected assists (xA) and smart passing, the 26-year-old is not among the most lethal full-backs but he does the job mostly through long balls.
We also have to note in the analysis that this is also affected by the team’s overall style and tactics. Huesca don’t exactly have a well-defined philosophy under José Rojo Martín as they float in a limbo between a more direct team and one that utilises positional play.
They will try to build-up from the back using lateral passes and holding onto the ball but are also not afraid to go long if and when they’re being outplayed. This has somewhat affected Galán’s statistics too as we can see he prefers to go long and that’s usually how he reaches the box with his passes.
Speaking of Huesca’s tactics, let’s take a look at one of their recent pass maps to further see the role Galán plays in the squad.
Despite not always being the very hub of their attacking potential, the 26-year-old plays a big part in getting the ball into the final third and then creating chances from there. Interestingly, in the example above, you can see him (#11) appear among the top five connections for a total of three times, definitely proving his value.
Even though we may not be talking about short and quick combinations, Galán still connects the thirds decently well, either through his crosses or long passes, and this seems to be a big asset for Huesca as a whole.
With that part of our scout report out of the way, this tactical analysis will now look at some of his key traits in more detail.
Dribbling & progression
Without a doubt, one of Galán’s biggest strengths lies in his progressive running and dribbling abilities. The 26-year-old left-back possesses an impressive dose of pace as well as a lot of stamina to sustain that high level throughout the 90 minutes. Before we look at how he utilises those runs, let’s first see their locations.
Below is a graph that depicts the starting position of Galán’s progressive runs as well as whether they were successful or not.
What this tells us is that Galán will mostly start his runs from the deep and use this ability to progress the ball into the opposition’s half and eventually into the final third if the opportunity arises. This can be a double-edged sword since we can also see that such risky actions can result in losing the possession closer to his own goal.
However, since Huesca’s tactics are not overly positional or dominant, it doesn’t surprise to see Galán even ‘forced’ to start his runs from deeper areas. Let’s explore a couple of in-game examples next.
Below you can see an instance where Huesca have recovered possession from Villarreal in their half and Galán is immediately met with the high pressing of Unai Emery’s team.
Luckily for the hosts, the 26-year-old can dance around the challenges and progress the ball higher up the pitch with a mazy run. This is often his first instinct as he will start running in possession to advance play.
In the above example, he only progresses up until the half-way point and then releases the ball to one of his teammates but usually, he will receive possession out wide where he has the licence to bombard forward more aggressively.
You can see such an image next as Galán starts his run from a very defensive position and finishes it deep in enemy territory.
However, you might have noticed that these runs are often paired with excellent dribbling and this is where he excels as well. Galán often uses both his pace and technique to beat the marker and then access the more dangerous areas or just give himself a good position to cross from.
Before moving onto the next section of our tactical analysis, let’s see the frequency and the starting positions of Galán’s dribbles in the graph down below.
Interestingly, he seems to be using his dribbles both to escape pressure in the deeper areas and then to access the more advanced areas in the opposition’s half and the final third of the pitch. If we cast our gaze back to the initial player profile dashboard, we can see that he’s one of the biggest volume dribblers in La Liga but also in the top 30% when it comes to dribbling success.
Since this is essentially the foundation of his attacking play and him being able to occupy the right areas, it ties in perfectly with the next and equally important trait of his – crossing.
Crossing & key passes
Crossing is a huge part of Galán’s repertoire. In fact, that’s his most usual way of reaching the box as he doesn’t record a high number of touches inside the penalty area himself but with a high cross to pass ratio and a similarly high long ball ratio, we can conclude that’s his preferred way of progression when it comes to passing.
But luckily for Huesca, he is extremely good at crossing the ball into the box and does so with a high percentage of success, as was also seen in the initial graph of this scout report. Galán ranks in the top 10% of full-backs in La Liga with his crossing success and there a couple of reasons for that.
Firstly, it’s his rather versatile approach to crossing as he’s able to switch between lofted, driven and low crosses depending on the situation. That being said, it does seem like the former style is his preferred one and that’s how the majority of his key passes come to be.
Above is a graph depicting his cross attempts and I’ve decided to highlight the zone from which he has the most success. Galán will usually send out a cross from zone 13 or zone 16, depending on how high up the pitch he gets during Huesca’s attacks.
However, it does seem like most of his key passes come out of zone 13 and that’s where he’ll usually receive possession. Below is an in-game example depicting Galán in action as he deploys a lofted ball into the area for his teammate to latch onto.
Note that zone 16 is not marked in its entirety because it does seem like the 26-year-old doesn’t always advance that high up the pitch.
But it’s also equally important to note that most of his crosses do come after a successful dribble and Galán is most dangerous when multiple of his most important traits are combined for the full effect.
We’ll explore one such example where the 26-year-old left-back receives possession in a deeper area and then starts a progressive run with the ball, using his dribbling skills to beat the marker(s) and then proceeds to deploy a pin-point cross into the box.
This is the usual course of action for Galán and an important part of Huesca’s attacking tactics but it has to be said that it doesn’t always yield flawless results.
Above is the start of the action as the left-back receives the ball around the half-way line and then proceeds to burst past two of his markers to enter the final third of the pitch. It’s also interesting to note that whenever at full pace and trying to beat an opponent, he’ll hit the ball into space and run around the opposition defender, which is a trademark move of sorts for the 26-year-old.
Once in position, Galán finds the perfect angle to deploy a cross, this time of much lower height, finding his target inside the box.
Despite a very impressive repertoire, Galán does have some weaknesses that need to be highlighted, and that will be discussed in the final section of our tactical analysis.
Areas to improve
Looking at his player profile, it does seem like Galán has a very wide skill set that any top tier team could use. That being said, he’s not flawless. Before highlighting some of his weaknesses, however, it’s also important to note he’s playing for Huesca who currently sit in the bottom of the table.
We don’t know whether he’d be even better if he played for the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid but maybe his output would be somewhat higher. Speaking of output, despite being a very accurate crosser and a player of great technical ability and speed, Galán final product is still missing.
When it comes to pure xA, he ranks around the 50th percentile, which is not bad but also not overly impressive either. When you pair that up with a low volume of smart passes per 90, you realise that outside of his crosses which usually arise from dribbling attempts, he can’t create much for his team.
Above is a graph depicting his passes in four games of 2020/21. We can notice a couple of things from this. Firstly, his forward pass ratio is not that high compared to other full-backs in the league and if he’s not running with the ball, his link-up play can be somewhat lacking.
This is again closely connected to Huesca’s inability to positionally approach their attacking tactics as they are not the team to progress through intricate passing combinations. The second thing to note is the lack of any penetrative attempts towards zone 14 and central areas in general. Yes, he often crosses into the box but if that’s not an option, he will likely send the ball backwards.
Another exploitable trait of his is the aggressiveness he often displays in his performances. Looking at the data, Galán is among the full-backs in La Liga who foul very often and this can be problematic. Yes, he engages in a lot of defensive duels and wins a vast majority of them, which is a plus, but he can be overly aggressive, sometimes putting his team at a disadvantage.
Above is an example that can show us more. Galán often engages the first man on the ball but if he can’t recover possession, often he’ll keep pushing up the pitch and aggressively trying to tackle the ball-carrier.
This means his positioning can be manipulated and if he doesn’t break up the attack through tactical fouls, the opposition suddenly have an extra avenue to explore.
No player is without weaknesses but Galán’s quality can definitely outweigh his flaws. And considering he’s such a low-valued player despite playing at a very high level, courtesy of being part of the weakest team in La Liga, he could represent a major scoop for many big European sides.
This is especially true if Huesca end up getting relegated at the end of the season.