Thiago Borbas: Red Bull Bragantino’s new Uruguayan marksman – scout report
Since their acquisition of Bragantino in 2019, Red Bull have done a fantastic job of implementing their innovative and successful identity in Brazil. While their tactics of direct and intense football were effectively implemented by Mauricio Barbieri, the club’s recruitment department, led by director of football Thiago Scuro, has also done a great job.
Consistent with their recruitment philosophy in Austria and Germany, Red Bull Bragantino have signed young and promising players to develop and sell for a profit. In addition to the financial benefits this strategy offers, having such a young core of players is also ideal for their style of play. Red Bull have specifically succeeded in tapping into the less popular side of the South American market. Similarly to the Premier League’s Brighton, for instance, they have explored cheaper regions such as Ecuador, and now, Uruguay.
While there are many Uruguayan players performing on the global stage, such as Liverpool’s Darwin Núñez and Real Madrid’s Federico Valverde, they are often found without much hype behind them. Uruguay’s Primera División is not necessarily the highest level of football in South America, and due to numerous other factors, its players are neither expensive nor receive a lot of global attention. Nonetheless, the talent in the country is undeniable. Consequently, scouting for young stars in the first World Cup-winning nation may be an intelligent and cost-effective strategy for many clubs.
Red Bull Bragantino’s new signing Thiago Borbas is the latest example. The club from the rural part of São Paulo have just signed the 20-year-old centre-forward for a fee of around £4.2M. The right-footed Uruguayan forward was the breakout star and the top goalscorer in last year’s Primera División. Now in Brazil’s Série A, Thiago Borbas has the perfect opportunity to attract the attention of Europe’s top clubs.
This scout report will take an in-depth look into Thiago Borbas’ profile, exploring why the 20-year-old was so successful in Uruguay. This analysis will not only examine his profile but also identify why the Uruguayan centre-forward has such high potential through data and tactical analysis.
On paper, Thiago may not seem like a powerful centre-forward. At 181cm (5’11”) and roughly 69 kg (152 lbs), he does not stand out for his physical attributes, especially for a centre-forward. That is only on paper though. On the pitch, his physical stature becomes just a number. Thiago is a powerful and very mobile number nine. We can begin to understand this through his heatmap below.
Looking at matches from the Copa Sudamericana 2022 and the Primera División 2022, it is clear Borbas is far from a traditional striker. His movement across the opposition’s half bleeds from top to bottom and side to side. The former River Plate attacker is capable of dropping into both wide areas to support possession and performing as a reference. As he gets closer to the final third, this movement becomes more focused on the central channels. His runs in behind tend to come from the half-spaces angled inwards, and when his team has possession in the final third, he likes to remain central and exploit gaps in between the centre-backs.
His pass map in the last year provides a further look into his profile as a centre-forward. At 19.26 passes per 90, he is not heavily involved in possession. His completion rate of 65.15% does not stand out either. As seen below, his passing activity is more sporadic and spread out throughout the entire pitch. Although he had five assists in 2022, his xA of 1.94 shows he is not incredibly creative, at least not consistently. His role in possession is then more notable for his movement and ability to create and exploit space, not his passing.
As highlighted through his physical profile, Thiago Borbas provides a healthy balance. He is able to use his body extremely well and be physical, but at just 181 cm and 69 kg, he can be incredibly mobile as well. His agility is decent, but his acceleration and intense movement specifically stand out. In that sense, he is extremely similar to Darwin Núñez.
This leads to another significant part of his game: his pressing. This characteristic is practically non-negotiable at Red Bull, and it is no doubt Bragantino valued this quite highly when scouting him. With his intense and rapid movement throughout the pitch, he is able to harass the centre-backs and initiate the press extremely well.
His high regains map from 2022 above further illustrates this. According to Wyscout, Borbas averaged 3.31 recoveries per 90 last year. In the map above, we can see this further. The 20-year-old had 42 high regains, which take place in the U-shaped zone identified on the map. Additionally, he had a total of 58 counter-pressing recoveries, highlighting his ability to quickly switch on and recover possession after it is lost. Thiago also had 13 dangerous recoveries, which led to a shot within 20 seconds. Out of possession, he has the complete package.
While he is not able to contribute much to possession with his passing, Thiago Borbas’ dribbling ability is very effective. He has a rather unorthodox style of dribbling though. Similar to Darwin again, his leg movement is not quite as smooth and fluid when dribbling. Nonetheless, with his acceleration and awareness, he is able to dribble and get past opponents quite effectively. His technical ability allows him to thrive in tight spaces, and he is able to use his body extremely well to manipulate and beat defenders.
In the Primera División 2022, he had 1.22 progressive runs per 90 and 3.4 dribbles per 90, which were completed at a 50% success rate. It is a resource he resorts to quite often, especially considering he does not get on the ball all that much. This dribbling allows him not only to create chances for himself but also to help his team’s progression.
In his ball progression map below, we are able to get a better idea of his dribbling ability. In deeper areas, especially the middle third, Borbas likes to perform progressive runs and carry the ball into space. Of course, this continues into the final third, but in this area, his dribbles become much more frequent. He performs a significant number of dribbles, with a lot of successful ones, in the final third.
Thiago’s penetrating carries map provides a further look at how effective his dribbling is in the final third. In 2022, he had 106 penetrating carries into the opposition’s box, beginning from locations all across the final third. On the right, we are also able to see how often he performs carries in the opposition’s half. It is clear Thiago can use his dribbling to create chances in the final third as well as help his team progress forward and break into the last third of the pitch.
In the instance below, against Plaza Colonia, we are able to see an example of how Borbas is able to get past opponents, and in this case, launch a counterattack. After River recover the ball, they are able to find Thiago further up the pitch. After controlling the ball, Thiago is 1v1 with a defender, and by dropping his shoulder to the left before accelerating to his right, he is able to leave his opponent behind and create space for himself. Meanwhile, his teammate continues his run toward the right wing and is able to receive a pass in behind from Thiago afterwards.
Now in the final third, the 20-year-old’s ability to get out of tight spaces is on display. The play begins with Borbas receiving a pass from the midfield with his back to the goal as he checks in from the final third. He immediately megs a defender coming towards him and turns to face the goal. With two players around him, he is able to maintain control in this tight space and leave both of them behind before accelerating to the goal.
Thiago’s dribbling ability is an extremely useful resource. He is able to use his physical profile to his advantage, and with awareness and acceleration, quickly finds the right move to trick and beat his opponent. This can be used to progress in earlier deeper areas, especially in attacking transitions. However, it is especially effective in the final third, where he looks to beat defenders and create chances for himself or others.
At the end of the day, his finishing is his biggest attribute. The 20-year-old led the Primera División 2022 in goals, with a total of 18 (0.48 goals per 90). This is nearly a goal every other match, but perhaps the most impressive aspect of this stat is that it is actually below his xG figure. He did take four penalties, but nonetheless, Borbas had a total of 19.07 xG in the league (0.51 xG per 90).
As we have seen, Thiago is extremely mobile, and his movement is especially effective in helping him get to the best locations. Furthermore, his tight dribbling also plays a key role in finding the best shot opportunities in the box. Below we can see his xG map in 2022, with penalties being excluded from the map and the statistics.
The majority of his shots come from near the penalty spot – the optimal shot location. He is able to find himself in this area quite often, and if not, he looks to get to these areas for a better look. There are obviously a few outliers, but his effective shot selection displays a conscious and mature effort to find the best alternatives.
While he puts himself in high-quality locations, his finishing ability cannot be underestimated. His goals truly come in each and every way, with a rare goal-scoring ability. In the instance below, he is able to rise above two defenders and perform a powerful header into the bottom right corner. Despite not being the tallest, Thiago averages an unbelievable 9.1 aerial duels per 90.
He is also able to finish more difficult chances, displaying great timing and shooting ability. In the instance below, the wide player lobs the ball into the box for Thiago in a counterattack scenario. Borbas is able to connect with the ball still in the air and perform a powerful volley into the bottom right-hand corner to score River’s first goal of the day.
His long shots are also quite dangerous. Despite not having many goals from outside the box in his career, he is often able to get them on target and create danger with them. In the instance below against Liverpool (Montevideo), he is able to perform a powerful and precise finish into the bottom left corner to beat the keeper.
Against Cerro Largo, Thiago scored perhaps his most impressive goal to date. After getting the ball on the left side of the box, he is without many options. The opposition has six players in the box, excluding the goalkeeper, and two of them are charging at him. With a quick touch to his right, he delivers an incredibly powerful shot into the opposite top corner, with absolutely no chance for the goalkeeper.
Thiago Borbas’ shot selection allows him to constantly find high-quality opportunities, but it is his finishing that really stands out. The 20-year-old Uruguayan forward is able to score in so many different ways, as well as perform extremely difficult finishes. For a number nine, it is important to find easy chances as well as finish difficult opportunities. Borbas is able to do both.
Thiago Borbas is a rare talent out of Uruguay, and after a breakout season in 2022, Red Bull Bragantino have acquired the 20-year-old for close to £4.2M.
Despite not having an outstanding physical stature on paper, he is a very mobile centre-forward capable of finding and exploiting space all across the opposition half. His physical characteristics also allow him to be a significant weapon without the ball, pressing extremely well. While his passing does not stand out, his dribbling certainly does. Thiago is able to help his team progress as well as create chances in the final third with his unorthodox yet effective dribbling style.
Finally, his finishing ability combined with his intelligent shot selection makes him an extremely dangerous player in the box.
His potential is extremely high, and in 2023, the stage is set for the Uruguayan forward to take Brazil by storm and earn a big move to Europe. He certainly fits within the Red Bull philosophy, but now, will he perform?