Raúl de Tomas 2019/20 – scout report
Since returning to La Liga in January, few players have caught the eye quite like Raúl de Tomás at Espanyol. The former Real Madrid striker departed Real Madrid last summer, leaving on a permanent deal after impressive loan spells at Rayo Vallecano and departing for Benfica.
Things did not work out for the Spaniard in Primeira Liga, failing to score a single goal in the league and only being fielded in Primeira Liga once since September, instead being held back for cup competitions after failing to impress. That earned him a return to La Liga, with relegation battling Espanyol keen to take the gamble and paid Benfica the 20 million euros they forked out in the summer plus an additional two million euros in add-ons, a club-record fee.
This tactical analysis will give a scout report of the Espanyol forward’s form since he arrived at the RCDE Stadium. Within just four games, he had already surpassed his goal return from 16 fixtures in Portugal, sparking hopes of a revival for the Pericos under Abelardo Fernández. Here, the analysis will look at how he fits into Abelardo’s tactics to get the best out of him for Espanyol.
From Benfica to Espanyol
When looking at De Tomás, the first question to come to mind is what has changed in his play to adapt so much better to football in Spain than in Portugal. Far from being a matter of home comforts, there are tactical elements which point to why De Tomás could not achieve at Benfica what he has at both Rayo Vallecano and Espanyol. One of the key elements is that he is afforded far more freedom at Espanyol. Just by looking at his heat maps, it is visible that De Tomás prefers to drop off and drift wide, looking to find and exploit space rather than stick to central areas.
This can also be seen in the below image, which is the typical scenario caused by Benfica’s style of play. Benfica look to dominate possession and overload the box with crosses. Espanyol register an average of 51.23% possession, compared to 54.36% at Benfica, whilst crosses are also up from 16.17 per match to 20.16. This kind of bossing of a game does not fit with De Tomás’ greatest strength, which will be considered later on, in his movement. Instead, he found himself with limited space in the box against teams defending with a low block. The slow pace of build-up play meant that Benfica rarely got forward with the pace and incision that suits De Tomás.
What is also worth noting here is that it also points to why Real Madrid opted to sell him last summer. Some questioned the decision to spend 60 million euros on Luka Jović whilst selling De Tomás for a third of that price, with Mariano Díaz the only other competition for Karim Benzema. However, much like Benfica’s approach, they look to dominate and overload the box in central areas, a role that De Tomás clearly struggles with when seeking to get the best out of himself.
Where De Tomás is most comfortable is when acting as a poacher in the box. Rather than being one of the first men into the box, he regularly prefers to be the last. These late runs allow him to capitalise on one of his biggest strengths in his movement and runs into the final third, rather than relying on his strength to pull away from markers. Whilst that is not a weak area of his game, he is far more comfortable arriving late into the box from deep than when compared to being up against a side with a low block who will sit deep.
His movement is also eye-catching with the way in which he anticipates the runs of defenders. There is no better example than his strike against Villarreal, when Espanyol got forward on the counter and then De Tomás would score. As he broke into the box, two central defenders tracked him but De Tomás noticed Raul Albiol’s poor body positioning which would make it hard for him to change direction, allowing De Tomás to check his run and turn back inside into the gap which Mario Gaspar had left vacant and was too slow to get back on the counter to block.
Much like a typical poacher, De Tomás is exceeding his xG impressively. With 4.01 xG, he has scored five goals. This has been a marked improvement from his spell at Benfica, where his xG was only marginally higher from nine more fixtures at 4.44 xG, but had scored fewer goals at just three. Regaining that confidence and being clinical in front of goal with higher quality chances has been essential to allowing De Tomás to shine since joining the Catalan side.
Suited to playing on the counter
This means that De Tomás is a far more effective player on the counter-attack. This is one of the key reasons why Abelardo was so keen to bring him to Cornella in January when he arrived at the RCDE Stadium. The former Alavés coach is well known for preferring a more pragmatic approach and often allowing his attack to rely on rapid counter-attacks which quickly transition with longer balls and a relatively high press. He has immediately implemented that approach at Espanyol too, quite a significant change from Pablo Machín’s 3-5-2 system which looked to play short and simple passes in a more possession-oriented approach.
It is easy to see why Abelardo wanted De Tomás. When winning the ball in the central or defensive third, the key movement comes from the two forwards in Abelardo’s preferred 4.4.2 formation. They will spread wide in order to give the long or through ball option but also to split the defence and allow a central runner in possession more time and space to run into. This is particularly effective with De Tomás as many sides will look to double up on the striker, as RCD Mallorca do in the image below. With two defenders monitoring one player, that opens up space, which can be exploited either with a progressive run or with a pass into the space left by the defender who is occupied attempting to anticipate De Tomás’ movement.
This approach is one which has become more and more widely implemented under Abelardo. In De Tomás’s first four games, it was deployed just once. Since the team has become more comfortable with the counter-attacking nature and has begun to exceed their season average for counter-attacking regularly, having done so in three of De Tomás last four outings. The centre-forward benefits from this approach, far more than his older and slower team-mates in attack such as Wu Lei, but he and fellow attacker Jonathan Calleri also stands to gain given his work-horse style approach, showing no reluctance to drift wide and then cut back in centrally as and when required.
Freedom to drift
This is also important when De Tomás is not supported in the same way and instead looks to hold the ball up and attempt a run himself. Instead, he will look to link up with his strike partner and coordinate with them in order to create a greater space. This can be seen in the example below, with Lei. De Tomás receives the ball from a clearance, and can either turn off to drift wide with the ball, as shown by the yellow line, or instead burst into the middle with the China international taking his marker out of the equation with his movement. Such fluid movement between the two is testament to the hard work put in on the training ground by both coach and players.
This is also fundamental to allowing De Tomás to excel. His dribbles per game have reached almost six whilst in Barcelona with Espanyol, compared to not even reaching five whilst with Benfica. This added element of his game, allowing him to have a greater influence, has been essential to rebuilding his confidence and allowing him to be more involved in play across the park, involved in build-up play as well as getting on the end of chances on the counter.
This role as the undisputed main man in attack has also given De Tomás more freedom, allowing him to drop deep in search of the ball to make such runs into the final third and link up with his team-mates. It is a role which he was not afforded at Benfica but one which has seen him return to his best as he moves away from goal, his touches in the box actually decreasing from 3.28 to 2.58 as he moves into a more flexible role.
By moving to Espanyol, De Tomás has walked into a team which is almost purpose-built to suit his style down to a tee. Should Espnayol fail to avoid the drop at the end of the campaign, his form and talent will almost certainly see him on the move again and he would do well to learn from his experiences of this season to choose the right destination. By looking to counter effectively and to be more involved in the build-up, arriving to the box late, De Tomás has regained his cutting edge. For Espanyol, that revival could be the difference between survival and facing the drop. For De Tomás, it has rescued his career at the perfect time.