Here are some La Liga players doing good and/or interesting things so far this season.
Frenkie de Jong has rightly taken plaudits for his good start at Barcelona (including a standing ovation from the Ipurua crowd in Saturday’s win away at Eibar). Despite a certain degree of awkwardness in set attacking situations, as is probably to be expected at this stage, in more open environments his movement and on and off-ball contributions have impressed.
Another member of the Barcelona midfield has also looked good. Last season, Arthur settled in well following his move from Gremio in Brazil. This time around, he has been set the target of increasing his attacking output by coach Ernesto Valverde. He has responded gamely, scoring his first goals for the club, doubling his through-ball and shot output, increasing his key pass and expected assist numbers, and taking a huge jump forward in terms of successful dribbles.
Not since Andrés Iniesta in 2013/14 (thanks Messi Data Biography!) has a regular Barcelona midfielder completed over three dribbles per match. In an admittedly fairly low sample size that is exactly what Arthur is doing. A small, scampering figure of neat touches and tight turns, he has also carried a 100% success rate through his 15 dribble attempts to date (the most anyone else has completed without fail is Thomas Partey’s eight).
Arthur has transitioned from more of a controlling role last season (with more deep progressions and a higher passing success rate) to a more aggressively forward-minded one. The arrival of De Jong has helped balance the midfield to make that possible. They are both very able ball-carriers (for the first time since Xavi and Iniesta’s last season together in 2014-15, Barcelona have a pair of regular midfielders who are both carrying the ball over 300 metres per 90), and while any statistical assessment of their impact is complicated by the fact that two of the four league matches they’ve started together have also been two of the three that Lionel Messi has started, on a subjective level, Barcelona’s best midfield lineup already looks to be the pair of them plus one other as circumstances dictate.
Real Betis have made a disappointing start to the season and are currently down in the relegation zone. Amidst a series of structural and individual issues, one player has nevertheless managed to stand out. Loren Morón is La Liga’s top scorer, with seven goals. There has been a fair degree of over-performance in relation to his expected goals (xG), but even at an underlying level, the 25-year-old is still approximating the output of an elite striker.
Last season, only 12 players in the big five leagues recorded 0.50 or more xG per 90. Most of those were high volume shooters, with only two of them taking less than three shots per 90. Loren is averaging just over two so far, which does place a question mark over the sustainability of his output. In that group, Edinson Cavani has the most similar shot profile, but he plays for a dominant team in his league. Loren has shown himself to be a sharp and decisive presence inside the area, but he is relatively service reliant.
It is also worth noting that at this stage last season, Loren sat on 0.48 xG per 90. Of the five players in the league who were averaging over 0.50 xG per 90 at that juncture, only one of them maintained it over the course of the entire campaign (although Levante’s Roger Martí came very close, at 0.49 xG per 90). Loren ended up with a seasonal average of 0.34 per 90, a smidgen up from his mark during his first half-season in the first team.
Can he sustain his improved top-line and underlying numbers this time around?
Sergio Reguilón showed enough in his minutes at Real Madrid last season to suggest that he was, at the very least, a competent top-flight performer with room for further growth. This season, on loan at Sevilla, he’s arguably been the best attacking full-back in La Liga.
Sevilla’s system under Julen Lopetegui puts a lot of emphasis on the full-backs to get forward and support the attack, and in Reguilón he has a player who relishes the opportunity to constantly drive forward down the left. He is one of only seven players in La Liga to have carried the ball over 300 metres per 90, while only Samuel Chukwueze and Vinícius Junior have carried the ball at a greater average speed.
Reguilón also stands out in just how often he gets forward into positions to shoot or assist. His tally of 3.35 shots and key passes per 90 is far more than that of any other full-back with a reasonable number of minutes, while his 4.77 touches inside the box per 90 is again a clear league high among players in his position. He looks comfortable carrying the ball into central areas, maintaining a good panorama of play and picking out some nice passes at pace.
Here are his key passes to date:
Defensively, he looks better on the front foot and does struggle a bit with movement in and around him in more set situations. But that is something that can be refined over time. As it is, in Reguilón and Achraf Hakimi (on loan at Borussia Dortmund), Real Madrid have two young and talented full-backs capable of competing in the first team group next season if space opens up for them to do so.
Granada have exceeded all expectations on their return to the top flight. They are up in third, just two points behind leaders Barcelona and with the opportunity to go top, at least for a time, with victory at home to Real Betis on Sunday. Theirs has primarily been a collective triumph, but certain individuals have still shone. Goalkeeper Rui Silva has been a solid and assured presence, while Ángel Montoro has proved to be a key ball-progressor and creative force from both open play and set pieces.
But the Granada player with the most interesting statistical profile is probably Darwin Machís. He doesn’t really seem to do anything other than carry, dribble and shoot. He attempts fewer passes than all but one of his teammates, carries the ball further that any of them (at one of the quickest speeds in the division), completes far more dribbles than any of them, and also clearly leads the way in terms of shots per 90.
A league-third-high (amongst players with at least 400 minutes) 4.53% of his total touches to date have been shots. They’ve not exactly been a stellar selection of efforts:
But within the context of a team who don’t necessarily have the personnel to consistently create good looks in open play, a player capable of advancing upfield and getting off shots can still form a useful part of a wider and more varied game plan.