Joe Bell: The New Zealand midfielder from Brondby who plays like Andrea Pirlo – scout report
Joe Bell is a 23-year old (DOB – 27/04/1999) defensive midfielder who plays for 2020/21 Danish Superliga champions, Brondby. A Bristol-born man, he represents New Zealand at the international level. He moved to Brondby in January 2022 after spending three years at Viking playing in the Eliteserien and having had great development with them. He played 884 minutes for Brondby in the league in the 2022 season.
He is right-footed in nature but is capable of playing with his weaker foot as well. He is 182cm tall and weighs 77kgs. This scout report in the form of a tactical analysis is divided into 3 main sections with multiple sub-sections. There is also data analysis and a summary section about his playstyle at the end. Let’s begin the analysis.
In this section, we will discuss Bell’s ability in possession when he has possession of the ball and how he contributes to his team’s tactics. Playing as a single pivot in their 4-3-3 structure his main job on the ball is to provide stability and balance for his team when they are in the possession and is a key cog for them in moving the ball to the final third. He drops into the defence and helps his team to create a numerical advantage against the opposition’s front line. This can be seen in the example below where he drops in between the two centre-backs to provide stability.
Let’s look into his ability in possession when he has the ball and when he does not have it but his team has the possession.
With the Ball
Joe Bell has a very good technique with a very neat first touch with both right feet as well as his weaker left foot. He also has decent close control technique where he adjusts his body orientation well at the last moment and moves away from his markers. We can see that in the example below, where he receives the ball from his teammate. His body angle is not exactly right where he was pretty much facing the wing, but he was able to adjust that at the last moment when he takes a touch and slides the ball behind him to move infield.
This move was possible due to his first touch where if he had a very heavy one it would have resulted in the ball going straight to the Randers player close to the centre. His technique with his weaker foot is also very good and can play some nice progressive passes with it as well. We can see that in the image below where he is being pressured from his right side and he decides to play a pass from his left to the left-back and even bypass two to three players in the process.
He has a good range of passing where he can break lines of defence with through balls, with both his feet and also can play it long and play the ball over the defence as well. We can see an example of him switching the ball to the opposite flank and it also reaches the left-back who receives the ball in front of him and enables him to progress the ball.
The key thing about making a pass is that it should be made in such a way that the receivers can control it without any issues and also helps them immediately to progress it without taking many touches on average. Bell has that kind of technique where his passes are very valuable for him in terms of progression.
Bell has also played as a no.8 for Brondby in some games this season where he was much more involved in the final third than in the middle/defensive third. He has a very good disguised pass that he uses very well to break defensive lines. This can be seen in this image below where his body orientation is like he is going to pass the ball in the red arrow direction but in reality, he made a forward pass depicted by the yellow arrow, creating a brilliant chance for his teammate.
Although his passing ability is good, he does not have the running capacity or the athleticism to carry the ball over large distances. His lack of athleticism means that he can only be relied upon to progress the ball with his passes and not exactly with his runs and carries. We can see an example of that in the image below where he receives the ball from his teammate and a Randers player look to pressurize him from behind.
Instead of running with the ball forward after receiving it with his weaker foot where he also had a good body orientation and with a bit of space ahead of him, he decides to turn back and looks to settle for a sideways pass. His lack of pace in this regard is among his biggest weaknesses.
Without the Ball
And among the other fundamentals, the best thing about Bell, without the ball, is his ability to scan the pitch multiple times before making an action or moving with or without the ball.
In the above example, he scans behind to see if any player is close to him and also to get a good picture of his team’s positioning as well as the opposition’s positioning. This gives him a very good pre-orientation about what needs to be done next and he can plan accordingly. One of the key things about scanning is also understanding teammates’ body language and seeing what they are expecting. He does that in this image below where he looks at his goalkeeper to see what instructions he is shouting to understand his teammates’ mindset as well.
Another example of how scanning helps him to make a very good decision when he gets the ball can be seen in the image below. With the ball with his teammate, he looks to offer himself as an option for the pass. Before receiving the ball, he scans around to see if anyone is following him or looking to press him. He finds that a Randers player is out to press him and he immediately has a solution to it by going past the player and giving him a small dummy using his body orientation. This wouldn’t have been possible if he didn’t scan beforehand.
His movement without the ball is very good. He has the knack of shifting himself to the right position to receive the ball and also dummies the opponents with his ability to make sudden double movements as well.
In the above example, we can see how he moves backwards before he receives the ball to ensure that he is not in very close proximity to his teammate who also has a player closing him down. This means that the very same plyer cannot press Bell since moving back allowed him to create a separation from that opponent while also giving him more angles to play passes as well.
In another example above, he shows good use of double movements, where initially he was kept in the cover-shadow by the Randers player marked in a white oval. So Bell decided to move forward to increase the angle that the player had to keep him in his cover shadow. This was also a mind-game movement where the Randers forward thought Bell didn’t offer himself as an option and the centre-back played it to the keeper. After the goalkeeper received the ball, Bell dropped this time and made himself available to receive the ball now as the Randers forward cannot prevent him from getting the ball, showing his strategy here.
He also makes movements to create spaces for his teammates to drop into. For example in the above image when the right centre-back had the ball, Bell was kept in the cover shadow and also had a player close to him waiting to press him if received the ball. He scanned around to see it and then decides to move out wide. This drags the opponent player with him and opens a space in the centre of the pitch onto which his teammate (no.25) drops to receive the ball. This 2v1 situation allowed Brondby to keep hold of the ball.
He also communicates with his teammates pretty well and is vocal which is something that his position demands. We can see that from the image below where he guides his teammate to make a pass out wide by pointing it out which was also the best option. But his teammate’s improper body angle while receiving makes it difficult for him to execute the pass that Bell asks him to do and he plays it to his centre-back partner.
Also, for a player arriving as an U-23 from New Zealand, he has done well to become a key, guiding player for his teammates.
One particular issue with him without the ball while his team is in possession is sometimes his body angle and orientation will be very closed when he looks to receive the ball from his teammates. This means that when he receives the ball it makes it very difficult for him to progress the ball forward. We can see an example of that in the image below where he is facing his goal where it was unnecessary to do that especially when there was no one nearer to him behind (towards the opponent’s goal). He could have received it on the half-turn and looked to progress the ball.
Out of Possession
In this section, we will divide his ability as a defender into two categories. One when he defends against the player with the ball and one when he defends spaces around him.
Defending against ball-holder
Despite not being a physical specimen, Bell does pretty well in terms of making challenges and winning the ball back with tackles. Being the only DM, he has to defend his zones but when a player enters his zone he steps out to press well and in most cases wins the ball.
This can be seen in the image above where he presses his marker and immediately wins the ball. He has a very clean technique in terms of challenging for the ball where he doesn’t go into the player rashly and times his challenge pretty well. He has a tackle win % of 67% which is a pretty good value for someone who plays in the pivot.
Another example of him challenging and tackling a player from behind for the ball can be seen in the image below. We can see him go out to press a Randers player on the wing. He doesn’t do it rashly and creates a separation between him and the player to have the time and space to make a move. This also gives him an option to block the pass with his angling body and he does it well to block the pass.
Standing at 182 cm, Bell is very good in the air and wins most of the duels that he contests in the air. Due to his height, he doesn’t really have to have a very good leaping ability and his height helps him to win duels in the air. Most importantly, the reason he wins his aerial duels at a decent level is the timing of the jump he makes.
In the image above, we can see how he contests the duel with a Midtjylland player. Despite the Midtjylland player coming in with full speed and force and also leaping slightly higher, Bell manages to win it due to the right timing of his leap and execution of the challenge.
No specific weaknesses here. But his ability against very agile and trickery wingers needs to be examined more as that couldn’t be seen in those games.
Bell is very good with his positioning as a spatial defender especially when his team is set in a mid/low block. He is pretty much always in the right space and movement and has the sudden presence of mind to intercept the ball. We can see how he positions himself in the image below and mostly looks to cover the central space without drifting too much towards the player beside him. While he also keeps tabs on the player to make sure that when it reaches him, he would be able to press him and challenge for the ball.
His main strength would be his ability to position himself in the right place inside the penalty box and defend the space against crosses or cut-backs from the opponent’s players. In the example below, we can see him positioning himself in the right place against the cut-back and he is likely to intercept the ball when the player plays the ball.
His ability to delay the attack is good and whenever he does that he makes very intelligent decisions as it gives him the time and space to think and execute his defensive actions.
Due to his lack of speed, at times Bell can be caught upfield where after that he doesn’t have the intensity to track back and defend the ball. We can see that in the image below where the opposition is moving towards the Brondby’s defensive area but Bell is caught upfield in no man’s land and his position is vacated meaning the opponent can attack through this area.
This could be exposed if the opposition manages to drag him upfield and play the ball through him or the press which would leave his team vulnerable as he cannot track back in time and also at times he is very slow in doing it.
Bell has a mixed ability during transitions. While in possession, he does not have much to do apart from playing passes that kickstart transitions which he does pretty well.
Without the ball is where, at times, Bell has a knack for getting caught. At times he makes the wrong call to jump out of his position to press players without even a proper pressing shape or cover shadow leaving him not covering the space behind him and also not able to reach his marker in time to make a challenge and win the ball. This can be seen in the image below where he steps out but doesn’t position himself in the right way nor does he reach the ball-holding player to make a challenge.
Another example of a similar sort can be seen in the following image below, where his cover shadowing is wrong and that allows the Randers player to play the ball through him as he steps forward as well without giving him the time to react. Instead, he should have been covering the player behind him from receiving the ball, which he fails to do, allowing him to receive it.
The next task is to look at the data and see how he does on certain important metrics on which a no.6 can be judged. He has only played 884 minutes in the league for Brondby this season due to his arrival in the winter transfer window.
The above dashboard gives an insight as to how he performs in most of the metrics. His attacking metrics are very good where he is above the 90th percentile for shot-assists, passes into penalty area, assists per 90 and xA per 90. He averages less xG and touches inside the box which is pretty understandable given that he is a defensive midfielder, not exactly a box-to-box archetype. He averages 0.22 key passes per game as well which is a very good number for a defensive midfielder.
He is above the median level in most of the passing metrics and is among the best in the league in terms of through passes per 90 and smart passes per 90 both at the 87th percentile. He also attempts 8.39 progressive passes per 90 which are around the 70th percentile.
Defensively, he does well in contesting for duels with 23.4 duels per 90 and with an accuracy of 54%, which is a good rate as well. His interception stats are very good as well where he averages 7.97 PAdj interceptions per 90 in the league which is at the 81st percentile. He also contests a decent amount of aerial duels and wins almost 50% of his duels in the air as well.
Potential Teams in the Future
After looking at his scout report, we can say that he is more of a playmaking modern-day no.6 on the mould of Rodri, Fabinho, etc with good ball-playing capabilities and like the two is not exactly very athletic and physical like them. Although he does well in physical duels on the ground, his lack of pace and running power can be easily exploited by teams in English Premier League. Though he can develop the latter with a much bulkier shape, the former is not easy to get. The open nature of the Bundesliga can also leave him exposed a lot and that could mean he would not be able to achieve the same level of success there as well.
At this stage, a move to a mid-table team in La Liga could be his best bet, although a league that would definitely suit his playing style and his nature, for now, would be Serie A where the intensity of the league is slightly less than compared to the other big leagues.
Teams that play with high possession will definitely suit him where he has the ability to play in possession for them and needs to iron out some flaws in his defensive transition game which can be done with the right coaching. He can even move to the bigger clubs there like AC Milan, Inter Milan, etc where Inter can also monitor him to be a long-term replacement for Marcelo Brozovic. Sassuolo could also buy him as a replacement for Locatelli where his playstyle, at least in possession, is quite similar to the Italian.
Overall, Joe Bell seems to be a very promising player who will eventually be one of the most sought after midfielders in Europe in the coming season if he continues his development well. He is currently in a very good setup at Brondby that can accelerate and aid his development to the next level.