Marc Cucurella scout report: Brighton’s smart value upgrade for Solly March
Brighton fans can collectively breathe a sigh of relief – they finally have competition for Solly March at left wing-back. His injury in February was a huge headache for manager Graham Potter, with Dan Burn, Jakub Moder, and natural centre-forward Andi Zeqiri all slotting in to cover. In their 2-0 defeat to Everton, Moder started there, but Joël Veltman eventually replaced him. The Dutchman looked an unnatural fit. The sooner Marc Cucurella – Brighton’s deadline day Spanish international signing – can get up to speed, the better for Brighton and Potter.
Born in Allela, Barcelona, Catalonia, Cucrella started his football journey by playing futsal for local club FS Allela, before joining RCD Espanyol’s youth setup in 2006. In 2012, he made the move to Barcelona, settling into La Masia academy aged 14. He eventually made his pro debut via Barcelona B in 2016, in the Segunda Division B, and he would help them earn promotion that same season. A year later, he would make his first-team debut replacing Lucas Digne in a Copa Del Rey away win against Real Murcia.
He would eventually spend the 18/19 season on loan with Eibar, with whom he would make 31 league appearances, and thanks to a €2m buyout clause, come the end of the campaign, they would make him a permanent player. For sixteen days. Barcelona then exercised their own €4m buyback clause, only to loan him out to Getafe two days later with the incoming season approaching ever faster. Included in this deal was a €6m option to buy, with 40% of Cucurella’s right remaining with Barcelona, which would later be triggered and completed. Now, a year later, he is making way for another transfer, this time to the Premier League with Brighton.
Standing at 5’8” / 175cm, Cucurella has played football as both an auxiliary winger and as a traditional left wing-back in back five/three formations. In seasons gone by, he has had success going forwards as more of a creative wide player, but in the 20/21 campaign, he demonstrated much more defensive nous than attacking fervour. He is a fantastic athlete who can run up and down the flank for an entire ninety minutes, suitable for a team such as Brighton who like to progress the ball down these areas.
Marc Cucrella’s player profile, based on 20/21 data.
Dogged defending under José Bordalás
Getafe under José Bordalás have earned plenty of plaudits for their clear tactical approach and disciplined defensive displays, and as of Cucurella’s arrival, they had just finished 5th in the league, above the likes of Real Sociedad, Valencia, and Athletic Club. In his first season with the club, Getafe would manage 8th, followed by a 15th placed finish last year. Although Getafe’s overall performance was weakened, Cucurella’s defensive aspects continued to improve.
In his hybrid wing-back/winger role, Cucurella ranked in the 90th+ percentile within Europe’s top five leagues for several defensive metrics, including pressures, interceptions, blocks, clearances, and aerials won (all per 90, according to StatsBomb data via FBref.com). No one in La Liga topped his 771 pressures across the entire 20/21 season (nor the season prior, with 938), and this is due to his aggressive efforts on the pitch, but also owing to the sheer volume of minutes he clocks every season.
74 league starts across the last two seasons means he’s only missed two games in that time – a wildly impressive feat and indicative of the athlete that Cucurella is, and how injury free he has been till this point in time. That is somewhat surprising – Cucurella leaves nothing left on the table when it comes to effort and his gas tank come the end of the match. He gives his all, and this is easy to see in his defensive duels, which he completes up and down that left flank.
We can see here Cucurella attempting to win the ball back high up the pitch.
In the same game, Cucurella can be seen defending in his defensive third, keeping the space tight.
Overall, he is an excellent presser of the ball. His energy and hard-working attitude enable him to maintain a high intensity of play across the full ninety minutes, and given his physical profile, he is extremely quick, with a great change of pace as well. He can close the space much quicker than most opponents will anticipate, and this has boded well in Bordalás’ transitional-based system. It will be interesting to see how Potter moulds Cucurella’s game in this aspect, given Brighton are a bit more patient in their respective build-up play.
Against Real Madrid, we can see Cucurella attempt to win the ball back high up the pitch. Notice his positioning compared with his teammates.
He is a good 1v1 defender as well. Last season he tackles 35.7% of the dribbles he faced, which sits in the 86th percentile for the same metrics mentioned before. His speed allows him to close the space tremendously quick, and his body position is often pretty good which enables him to maintain good footwork to stay with his opponent. He is not the type of player to hold a defensive line, he would rather win the ball back as soon as possible, which is another potential hiccup in transitioning to Potter’s more measured methods to winning the ball back.
Cucurella here can keep pace with Messi and forces a corner here in a good bit of tracking.
As well as his good work on the floor, Cucurella is good in the air too. For a 5’8” wing-back, he possesses a very good leap, and his timing is seldom faultworthy, meaning he gets to the ball before a lot of the smaller wingers he targets in La Liga. In the Premier League though, he will face more physical wingers than he would have in Spain, but he should level out to win a good proportion of his aerial duels. It is an area that Brighton struggle with, so this is a welcome side benefit to his arrival.
See here the height he can reach thanks to his timing and leap.
Potential as a creator
Cucurella then, is not the typical La Masia graduate, especially not as a wing-back/winger. Think Jordi Alba or Sergi in years gone by – full-backs that have been technically astute, much better on the ball than off it, and this is simply not true in the case of Cucurella. He does not have the technical attributes of a typical La Masia graduate, and although he has played as a winger for Eibar and Getafe, he came through the Barca academy first and foremost as a full-back.
So, in his most recent season, one where his team Getafe finished 15th (similar to Brighton who finished 16th, Cucurella was not creating high-quality chances frequently. That’s not to say he can’t become much better in this regard, and in different quality teams, he has shown that. For Spain at the Summer Olympics, he was in a team that got to the final, and across the tournament, he was able to better display his creative abilities.
In his first season with Getafe, for example, when they finished 8th in the league, we saw an uptick in creative performance within Cucurella. He contributed to five assists across the league campaign, as well as registering 0.13 xA per 90, a solid if unremarkable figure, especially given his high positioning, but it does beat Solly March last season, who only managed 0.09 xA per 90. Cucurella possesses decent crossing technique, and his pace and wide positioning meshes nicely to earn himself crossing opportunities.
After running quickly on the outside, Cucurella manages to send in a delivery of good quality.
He can also cross from deeper, on a standstill, with good accuracy and spin on the ball.
Being able to send good quality deliveries into the area whilst running with the ball (at the pace he does) is a very positive attribute to have. It bodes well with his speed, and it is something that if Cucurella did more often, could earn him even more assists. His standstill crossing technique is also solid, being sent in with good speed and accuracy. Although, there are times he could do with running on the outside, rather than crossing early like he often does.
We see here a moment where Cucurella could exploit the space with his speed, but he pulls it back here instead.
Thanks to his speed and positioning, Cucurella occasionally gets into areas where he can produce low-driven cutbacks into the area, which can be particularly dangerous against a packed defence. Due to March’s preference to dribble with the ball rather than make space off it, he was seldom in these opportunities, so this adds a different dynamic to Brighton’s attacking endeavours down the flanks.
Here we see Cucurella pulling off a cutback after drawing some opponents towards his location.
One final note about his creative potential is how Cucurella is a good interpreter of space. He generally knows where to be in the final third, although not perfect, but it does include underlapping runs that an opponent’s defence might not expect. These types of runs in behind disrupt defences and although might not lead directly to goals, the chaos that they can sometimes cause means Cucurella has significantly increased Getafe’s chances of scoring.
He sends a cross into the penalty area here, into the danger zone, and it ends up in a fumbled own goal.
On the whole, though, Cucurella is still not the complete package when it comes to the creative side of his game, and he will likely never be. He lacks the technical qualities on the ball to go past his man regularly outside of bursting past his opponent due to his sheer pace. At the top level, this will never be an aspect of his game that shines, but given his physical profile and decent crossing technique, he should become capable at the very least.
How will he work at Brighton?
Cucurella is expected to come in and get up to speed as soon as possible. He is coming off the back of a long season, U21 European Championship, as well as the Olympics, and as a result, didn’t start Getafe’s first game of the season, but entering September, Cucurella should be ready and available for Brighton’s next game, away to Brentford this Saturday. March is unavailable with a hamstring injury, so his presence is needed sooner than Potter might be comfortable with.
He will, of course, slot in at left wing-back, which was a role last season that adapted and evolved as the season went on, and Tariq Lamptey gained his own hamstring injury in March, pushing Veltman into that position. Given the Dutchman is a very different style of player, Potter adapted the wing-back roles. At the start of the season, there was more of a reliance on March to carry the ball up the pitch in the build-up and regularly switch the play towards Lamptey on the other flank.
March here takes the ball past his opponent to help progress the ball for Brighton, something that he has over Cucurella.
A commonality of March’s play was his frequent bait-and-switches to Lampety (off the screen).
In the second half of last season, Potter tested out several different back four systems, and in these games, ~10 of them overall, he would slot in 6’6” Dan Burn in a conventional left-back role, where he performed capably, especially going forward surprisingly. Burn possessed a good early whipped delivery that was effective last season if it was not for some poor finishing upfront.
For Spain in the U21 European Championship and the Olympics, Cucurella slotted in a traditional back four full-back role, and the transition worked well for him. He stayed wide as he usually does, and with a player ahead of him to combine with and play one-twos, Cucurella seemed to enjoy playing there. As mentioned before though, he will need to work on his defensive work as a unit, rather than as an individual though.
Cucurella makes the underlapping run after passing to a teammate for the one-two.
Here we can see Cucurella’s very wide positioning for Spain, high up the pitch too.
There are some areas of his game that Cucurella will have to adapt to Potter’s system, i.e. being slightly less aggressive and front-footed defensively, but overall, he seems to be a good fit for Brighton in either a back three or four formations. He brings a different dynamic, and a very high level of work off the ball that March and co were not able to bring to the pitch last season.
Cucurella has been rated highly across the continent for a couple of seasons at this moment in time. He has been great for Getafe and their transitional style of play, but there is some cause for concerns that Brighton are not the perfect fit, given they like to be more fluid in their system, and some of Cucurella’s passing, crossing, and positioning could do with work when adapting to the Premier League. He is still only 23-years-old, much time to improve, and his hard-working mindset should take him far in England, and wherever else he decides to play in the future.