Croatian crackerjack: Why Celtic want the man with Messi-like numbers
Lately, in the Croatian media, there has been a lot of talk about whether Kristijan Lovrić deserves a call-up to the national team, and Zlatko Dalić decided to heed some of those calls and add him to the squad, largely because Ivan Perišić was not allowed to leave Italy due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Lovrić is among the top performers and goalscorers in the Croatian league for the second season in a row, and his performances have played a big part in HNK Gorica sitting in third place in the table at the moment. This scout report will have a tactical analysis of Lovrić’s attributes and playing style.
In the winter transfer window, Lovrić was targeted by Siniša Mihajlović, the Serbian head coach who is managing Serie A side Bologna, but the fee offered was not good enough for Gorica. He has also been a transfer target for Champions League participants Dynamo Kyiv and Celtic last summer. In this analysis, we will take a detailed look at his qualities and why he has caught the eye of clubs in bigger leagues.
Kristijan Lovrić is a 25-year-old winger, valued at 5.5 million euros by Transfermarkt. He is 186 cm tall, and is predominantly right-footed. In the Gorica system, he is used as a left-winger in their preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Lovrić is a difference-maker for Gorica and it is not rare for him to decide matches through his individual quality.
In the image above we can see how Lovrić looks compared to the other wingers and centre-forwards in 1.HNL who have played at least 500 minutes this season. We can see on his heatmap that he is usually on the left side of the pitch, especially in the left half-space which can be called the “Lovrić zone”.
His 5.02 shots per 90 is the best in the league, but also he is one of the highest volume shooters in Europe as well. For comparison, Lionel Messi is averaging 5.2 shots per 90 this season, and it is impressive that Lovrić is able to average a similar amount of shots per 90. He ranks very high on xG per 90 which is not surprising given the amount of shots he takes, but a lot of times these are low probability shots – we will take a look at these in more detail later in this piece. We can see that he ranks high in the creative aspects as well with above-average xA, deep completions and shot assists. After a quick overview of his profile and looking at his qualities from a data perspective, in the next sections we will have a detailed analysis of his playing style and strengths.
Off the ball movement
In this section, we will see the two most common situations in which Lovrić positions himself to receive the ball. The first situation shows us how Lovrić hugs the touchline to receive the ball wide.
He mostly tends to receive the ball to his feet, while his positioning stretches the opponent’s defensive line. In this image, we can see Lovrić’s most common options when he receives the ball in the opponent’s half near the touchline depicted with the arrows. The middle arrow represents what Lovrić does the most, which is cutting inside to shoot. The left arrow shows the option of running down the flank before getting into a crossing position, but because he is an inverted winger he tends to cut inside rather than going on the outside. The third arrow is something which Lovrić does very well – switching flanks. Lovrić is able to hit long-range passes and shift the gravity of the attack to the other side quite often.
The next example shows Lovrić’s proactive movement off the ball in offensive transitions. Here, he anticipates the situation when Gorica wins back possession and is already making a semi-circular run to stretch the defence and receive the pass in behind.
We can see that Gorica won possession through an interception and Joey Suk played a first-time pass towards the ball carrier Jiloan Hamad. Lovrić anticipated this turnover, and therefore separated himself from his marker. The Gorica players often attempt first time long passes towards the left wing in such situations, knowing that Lovrić would usually already be making a run into that area. However, his positioning higher up the field when out of possession can sometimes be exploited by opponents since it leaves their full-back in space. Of course, this is a part of Gorica’s tactics, and they consciously take a risk in giving Lovrić fewer defensive responsibilities to allow him to be fresh for attacking situations.
Lovrić’s strongest quality is his shooting. He is often able to create space for himself to shoot, has impressive shooting technique and also doesn’t need too much time to attempt a shot. He is never hesitant to shoot when in position to do so, and in the final third his first thought is to shoot when the ball comes his way. Below we can see his shot map in the 1.HNL this season.
Lovrić has scored 15 goals from 103 shot attempts in the 1.HNL this season. He has scored five penalties from five attempts as well. Lovrić is an exceptional free-kick taker and has scored two goals from free-kicks this season with one of those having an xG value of just 0.01. Apart from those two free-kicks, he has scored just twice from outside the box. This can perhaps be improved, given how often he shoots from just outside the penalty area, especially on the left after cutting infield, as the shot map shows.
The other six goals came from within the penalty area. His heatmap in the first section showed the highest density in the left half-space, close to the penalty area, and it is known as the “Lovrić Zone” due to his tendency to shoot from there. We can see how many low xG shots there are, and Lovrić is often prevented from getting into better positions to take shots from, but he is a high-volume shooter, as can be seen from the map.
If he moves to a bigger club and league, he will not be able to shoot this frequently, but at the same time, he will not be targeted by defenders so often, which will potentially give him the opportunity to shoot from closer and better positions.
The image below will show us how Lovrić shoots most of the time.
Lovrić receives the ball in wider areas and then directly runs at the defender. He is extremely good at shooting with his right foot, which is why defenders will usually try to deny time and space to him in such areas. Therefore, his close ball control is especially useful in these scenarios, which allows him to get the space he needs to get shots away.
Even though Lovrić’s shooting is clearly his biggest quality, his creative abilities are sometimes underrated. When he is not in the areas from where he tends to shoot, he tends to create for his teammates. The example below will show us how he creates the most.
Gorica have strong and tall centre-forwards who have quality aerial ability and Lovrić tends to try and deliver accurate crosses towards them from wider positions on the flanks. He is able to hit these crosses from different areas on the pitch. It is best for him when he is able to shift onto his right foot for this type of cross because when he is on his left foot he usually attempts low crosses towards the six-yard box.
Lovrić is also a dead ball specialist and can create from those situations as well. The next example will show us what we mentioned about his positioning because he likes to switch flanks.
Not only is he able to switch flanks, but he also has the ability to put his teammates into promising situations with his long-range passes. We can see here that he receives the ball after his team won possession, and he instantly decided to switch the ball towards his teammate in open space. Lovrić was surrounded by three players and showed good decision making in a situation where just a little hesitation about what to do could lead to a lost ball.
In the next example, we will see Lovrić’s ability to break defensive lines with his passing.
Once again Lovrić shows that he has excellent vision, and sees his teammates’ runs in behind the defence. This is something that he is able to do on a regular basis in offensive transition if he receives the ball to his feet. Since he is usually the main focus of the opposition defenders, that creates space for his teammates is such scenarios. We can see in this example how even though every defender is running back, they are all looking at Lovrić, which means that they are late to react to his pass to put his teammate through on goal.
The last example in this section will be his partnership with the left-back.
First of all, it is difficult for any full-back playing behind Lovrić to make a lot of forward runs because they will not receive the ball, with their runs used as decoys. Given that Lovrić’s tendency is to receive the ball wide, if the left-back overlaps he will not get the ball from Lovrić because the 25-year-old will look to cut inside and shoot. But if the left-back makes an underlapping run, like in this example, Lovrić will try to pass to him, since he can recognize when a dangerous situation is created in this manner.
What we can say in this section is that Lovrić’s attacking output compensates for his defensive work rate, or lack of it, and it looks like he is only bothered to defend when playing against bigger teams. However, we cannot jump to conclusions here, because this could be connected to the team’s playing style and we know that Gorica rely a lot on his attacking output. He has a tendency to counter-press the opponent when his team loses the ball and he has showed some good aggressive reactions in high pressing sequences. However, sometimes he looks like he is frustrated after losing the ball and instantly makes a foul which leads to the majority of his yellow cards. Another potential weakness is his selfishness; even though we have seen his creativity, most of these situations take place far from the shooting area, because when in his preferred shooting area he does not think about passing. The example below is something that is not unusual to see when Lovrić is in a shooting position.
Two opposition players are focused on Lovrić and are attempting to block his shot. Two of his teammates are arriving into the penalty area unmarked as a result. He can pass them to either of them here, but decides to shoot. This is not a rare situation for Gorica and it draws the question of how his teammates would react if he played in a similar manner in a different team, where he is not the biggest star. In this Gorica squad, he has a lot of credit and has often scored even from these kinds of situations, but this is definitely one area that needs improvement if he is to make a step up to a bigger club and league
This analysis gives us information about Lovrić’s abilities and how he contributes to his team. His shooting technique and ability to curl shots into the corners of the net is impressive. It will be interesting to see if he will do enough in this international break to be called up when everyone is available for Croatia in the future. The competition he faces on the flanks are players proven on a bigger stage, such as Perišić, Ante Rebić, Josip Brekalo and Mislav Oršić. Given that he only plays on the left, he does not have the versatility to play off the right or centrally which could have increased the likelihood of him getting a spot in a full-strength squad.
Lovrić can certainly be considered as an intriguing prospect, albeit one that needs to improve some parts of his game, and he could be of interest to clubs like Celtic again this summer.