An analysis of Rudi Garcia’s tactics with Al-Nassr and how Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival has made their attack more dynamic – scout report
Cristiano Ronaldo, widely considered one of the greatest football players of all time, recently made a surprising move to Al-Nassr after his explosive interview with Piers Morgan.
The transfer was met with mixed reactions from fans and experts. Ronaldo’s first move outside of Europe in his illustrious career sparked widespread discussion about the state of football in the Middle East and the motivations behind Ronaldo’s decision to move there.
Some questioned the quality of football in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia where some quality players like Odion Ighalo, Hélder Costa, Éver Banega, David Ospina, Cristian Tello, Anderson Talisca and others all ply their trade.
The Saudi Pro League also has great coaches such as the former Tottenham Hotspur manager Nuno Espírito Santo, Ramon Diaz and the leading man of this article, Rudi Garcia.
During his time across Europe and Asia, Garcia has the same recognised principles of playing. The French coach values technical and tactical discipline and organisation yet encourages his players to express themselves.
Garcia doesn’t have a strict system but rather a dynamic approach demanding individualistic levels through the system which we can call systematic and individuality with discipline.
He’s known for some principles like forward vertical attacking play, triangles, wing invasion, positional rotation, quick transitions and compactness. Throughout his career, he has shifted between many shapes. This season, he has operated Al-Aalami in structures 4-2-3-1 for 59% of the games, 4-4-2 for 23% and 3-4-3 for just 6% of them.
Under the command of Garcia, Al-Nassr have the dynamism in the first line of the building to adapt to the pressure style of the opposition, and one of the midfielders has the freedom to join the backline to create a numerical advantage if needed.
Yet, the team want constantly keep the wingers inside which gives the fullbacks the space to push forward. Furthermore, frequently, one of the forwards could drop off to combine to have a clear penetration. These actions illustrate the dynamism within the structure and its diversity on the strength of the opposition.
Al-Aalami’s building varies between 2-2 or 3-1 forms, with the fullback’s dynamic movements and a mindset of vertical and wing-attacking approaches.
Here the wingers move inside, positioning themselves between FBs and CBs, dragging the opposition’s FBs inside and then pinning the backline which gives the fullbacks space to exploit, meanwhile Talisca drops deep to open an extra passing option.
Below, against their rival Asia champion Al-Hilal, under the same principles, Gustavo dropped to the first line and Talisca dropped deeper. Meanwhile, the winger-fullback dynamic movements gave the left fullback immediate space to exploit.
Generally, in the penetration phase, the midfielders’ dynamic motions are vital for vertical play and wide triangles. Below, while one of them is dropping to involve in a triangle, the other is closely opening a passing option as a relay player which is important for circulation and maintaining possession. Furthermore, the overlapping FB in this triangle is gaining a dynamic advantage over the opposition’s winger due to his body direction.
In the current season, the most utilised partnership in midfield is between Luiz Gustavo and Abdullah Al-Khaibari. Per game, Gustavo averaged 53.91 passes with 90.8% accuracy, 10.95 passes to the final third with 85.4% success and 14.3 forward passes with an accuracy of 81.2%. In the meantime, Al-Khaibari averaged 55.71 passes with 94% success, 8.18 passes to the final third with 87.3% success and 15.69 forward passes with 88.6% accuracy.
Not only do the midfielders operate wide triangles, yet frequently they have been ordered to make a variety of vertical runs behind the opposition’s backline.
This attitude of forward long passes in behind against the high lines is repeatedly initiated from wide areas. Below, Gustavo after receiving from the right back, plays a long pass in behind the high backline to the inside winger who is running vertically in the blind side of the defender, also gaining the dynamic advantage.
In the final third, Al-Nassr are keeping the wide triangles, positional rotation, and vertical plays, while seeking the quickest way to reach the goal. Furthermore, they are utilising vertical and diagonal runs to the box to have numerical superiority there.
Here against Al-Batin, which is considered a low block team, to beat the large defensive existence, Al-Nassr’s players were active and have been involved in a triangle and different runs such as movement and counter-movement to confuse the block. At the same time, there is a decent existence in the box ready for a cross.
Both fullbacks are prominent in Garcia’s approach to stretching the field and usually deliver crosses from early or advanced wide areas. The right-back Sultan Al-Ghannam and the left-back Ghislain Konan in the 2022/23 campaign averaged crosses 4.62 and 4.93 respectively per game. Indeed, they need to improve. The below graphic shows their crosses’ positions and accuracy.
Furthermore, w can see the shot assists and the xG map of Al-Nassr in the Saudi Pro League at the time of writing.
How significant is Talisca?
As covered before, the style of play of Rudi Garcia requires a high level of individualism throughout the system. There, Talisca’s impact arises and it is huge. At this level of football, individualism has a massive influence clearly.
For many this season, Talisca is the best player not only in his team yet in the league.
Alongside his aerial dominance and scoring abilities, he is usually having the freedom to drop off to combine and then make sudden deep runs toward the backline receiving a cross or creating 1-2s combinations.
Or to have a space to create from deeper positions.
Before focusing on Ronaldo’s joining the team let us first speak about their out-of-possession approach with Rudi Garcia. The team doesn’t remain at their half waiting for the opponent but they have the flexibility to vary between mid-block and high-block accordingly to the power of the opposition.
Rudi Garcia seems to utilize a compact 4-4-2 mid-block structure, minimising gaps between the lines, and waiting for any pressing triggers to move higher up the pitch to press.
When they are pressing high, Garcia’s teams have the same pressing principles to have the central numerical advantage which forces the opponents to build in the wide channels where they press hard using the sideline as an extra defender and occasionally implementing pressing traps centrally.
In this aspect, this season, Al-Nassr have averaged a lower PPDA (9.09) than their opponents (15.2).
Their defensive approach is highlighted by the defensive territory below with their high regains map. They concentrate on high-pressing to recover the ball high and counter. With Rudi Gracia, they have 168 high regains and 237 counter-pressing recoveries. 73 are dangerous recoveries, which are all defined below.
What do you expect from the arrival of one of the greatest footballers of all time? It undoubtedly has a significant impact on the club, the league and the country, both on and off the pitch.
Off the pitch, Ronaldo’s arrival is expected to bring increased attention and excitement, which will help to grow the league’s brand and global reach. His popularity and reputation will attract more fans and sponsors, bringing in additional revenue and helping Al-Nassr to become a stronger and more competitive club in Asia. Additionally, having Ronaldo will likely attract other top-quality players there, which will further strengthen the league and create a positive culture of success.
On the pitch, as has been said before about individualism and its impact, Ronaldo is a proven goalscorer and possesses a winning mentality. Ronaldo’s speed, agility, and dribbling skills at this level will bring a new level of excitement and unpredictability to Al-Nassr’s play.
Tactically, in his first three matches, nothing great has changed yet but the change in the striker’s type would have a difference. Vincent Aboubakar, a box striker who is remaining most of the time on the last line, to Ronaldo who is a dynamic striker.
As mentioned before, Talisca is dropping supporting the dynamism, so this role has been split. Here, below while the progression, Talisca was on the last line, meanwhile Ronaldo dropped deeper to combine.
This attitude from Ronaldo, oftentimes used in the final third to be involved in 1-2s combinations to suddenly attack the backline.
Below is Ronlado’s xG and his heat map in the first matches, his agility is giving the team more dynamics.
Al-Nassr, under coach Rudi Garcia, maintain a dynamic, diverse playing style and prioritise vertical and wing-attacking approaches that value technical and tactical discipline, organisation, and individual expression.
The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo to Al-Nassr is expected to bring a significant impact. His popularity and reputation will bring increased attention and revenue to the club and league. Let us see what the team will achieve with him at the end of the season.