This scout report is a tactical analysis of Merih Demiral for the season 2019/20. It is an analysis of his style of play, and his role in the tactics deployed by Juventus. It further aims to arrive at his importance in the Juventus line-up for the coming seasons.
Juventus, have won many games and titles owing to a strong show by their backline. In each of their last five Serie A league title wins, Juventus have conceded the fewest number of goals. They’ve been a bit leaky this season by their standards, but they’re still only behind Lazio in the least goals conceded.
Merih Demiral arrived at Juventus from Sassuolo. Demiral was looking like a really solid option at the back when an injury put him out. It must be noted that Demiral played in 10 games for Juventus this season before the aforementioned injury struck. The tactical analysis, therefore, is based on all of the 10 games he’s played for Juventus and does not take into consideration his games for the Turkish national side.
Demiral has played as the right of two centre-backs this season, in all of the games he’s played for Juventus this season. The left-footed centre-back favours the Right Centre-Back (RCB) position, as evident from his time at Sassuolo where he played in the RCB position as well. Take for instance the starting line-up below from the Juventus vs Verona game.
The below heat-map indicates the ground covered by Demiral for Juventus this season. His preference to stay on the right side of the pitch is also evident from his season heat-map so far.
Merih Demiral – A deep dive
Given that he has played only 10 games for Juventus this season, it would be statistically insignificant to compare his numbers with the other Juve defenders who’ve played far more games this season. However, while the analysis cannot conclusively state who’s better than whom, it can certainly give an indication of Demiral’s style of play compared to the other defenders.
Given his position as a centre-back, the primary role he plays is that of a defender. From a pure defensive skill stand-point, the analysis considers numbers for duels, interceptions per 90, shots blocked per 90 and tackles per 90.
Per number of defensive duels per 90, there’s nobody who is statistically better than Demiral. A defensive duel, in this case, is when Demiral was involved in a duel with an opponent player who was in possession of the ball at the time of the duel. As mentioned earlier, we cannot conclusively state that he is superior to other defenders on the chart. However, this does indicate that he has been involved in more defensive duels per 90 (6.03), and has also been the most effective in these duels (76.92%). While Juan Cuadrado has been involved in marginally more duels (6.49), his effectiveness is way lower. It is safe to say that Demiral has been the most involved in such duels, and also successfully managed to top the list. Below are the numbers for all the Juventus defenders.
A similar trend is observed in the aerial duels per 90 as well.
Demiral has been involved in the most aerial duels per 90 (5.48) and is also the most effective in winning the ball in that duel (71.9%). Matthijs de Ligt, Juventus’ marquee defensive signing, comes in at a close second with 4.86 aerial duels per 90, at a success rate of 63.8%. Below are the numbers for all the other Juventus defenders.
The above numbers indicate the fact that his willingness and intensity in getting involved in duels is unmatched among the Juventus defenders. It also highlights that Demiral is willing to aggressively get involved in the duels and use his physical strength to win the ball from the opponent.
Demiral is also equally adept at his reading of the game and positional awareness. For this analysis, we consider interceptions per 90, and the shots blocked per 90. Interceptions are useful in determining how good a player is at reading the game and anticipating the next move. Cutting off a passing lane by good positional awareness and intercepting a pass helps break up play and start a counter-attack. Shots blocked requires a combination of fine positional awareness and a willingness to put their body on the line for the sake of their team.
Demiral records a similar number of interceptions per 90 as the rest of the Juventus backline (around 4.5). However, he blocks more shots per 90 than anybody else in the side. This again corroborates the fact that he is willing to aggressively get involved in the game. His numbers for both interceptions and shots blocked are a consequence of his ability to read the game well, his anticipatory skills, and superior positional awareness. His willingness to sacrifice his body in the line of the shot, combined with his skilful reading of the game make him a difficult defender to play against.
The analysis clearly brings out Demiral’s solid defensive ability, but just how good is he with the ball at his feet? The modern-day tactics expect a centre-back to be able to play the ball out of trouble, initiate counter-attacks from the back, and drive the distribution from the back. As such, the scout report now looks at Merih Demiral’s ability with the ball at his feet. The tactical analysis considers the stats for his passing ability and dribbling ability.
Obviously, owing to the nature of their roles and Juventus’ tactics, the wing-backs and full-backs embark on more dribbles per 90. It is interesting to note that Danilo seldom does so, despite being in a role that demands the ball being carried forward by the player. The centre-backs hardly engage in dribbles, and Demiral is no different in that respect with 0.62 dribbles per 90 at a success rate of 75%. No surprises there, it seems.
The above chart shows that among the seven defenders in this analysis, Demiral made the third least passes per 90 (60.33). He is only followed by Matthijs de Ligt (56.95) and Mattia De Sciglio (52.9) in the list. However, he has the best passing accuracy of the lot (93.47%). Below are the numbers for all the other Juventus defenders.
While this indicates his ability to not be wayward with passes and keep possession with the team, it doesn’t tell us the type of the passes played. It is important to understand the type of passes a defender makes, and the impact the pass has on the build-up play. For this, we further split Demiral’s passes into three – forward passes, backward passes and lateral passes.
Of the 60.33 passes Demiral plays per 90, 31.9 are lateral passes. Lateral passes, by definition, are passes of at least 12 metres which Demiral has made to a player to his side. The pass may add to the build-up play but is not really moving the ball forward. This could be due to one of two reasons – either it is a part of the tactics, and he is played alongside a player who is better skilled at it. Alternatively, it could also be his natural style of play, to keep possession and play simple passes to add to the play. Whatever the case, it is to be noted that over 50% of Demiral’s passes are lateral passes, and while they help in keeping possession, they don’t drive the ball forward. Below are some charts which map the stats for forward, backward and lateral passes with the accuracy achieved.
The above images map the number of forward, backward and lateral passes made by all the Juventus defenders per 90. Here are three quick observations:
- Demiral possesses solid accuracy numbers for forward passes (88.33%), backward passes (97.06%) and lateral passes (96.37%). This again indicates his ability to retain possession for the team.
- It is also interesting to note that Demiral and De Ligt both have a similar breakdown of their passes. Both seem to prefer playing a lateral pass over forward passes. Bonucci, however, plays more forward balls than backward and lateral passes.
- Leonardo Bonucci leads the pack by a mile, with 27.62 forward passes per 90, compared to Demiral’s 19.85 per 90. This clearly indicates the difference in the kind of passes, and the intent of the passes played by both players. The analysis will arrive at the intent of passes in a later paragraph. Below are the details of the number of forward passes made by all the other Juventus defenders.
To further understand the kind of passes played by Demiral, we look at the average length of the pass made.
Demiral’s average pass length stands at 19.62 metres, which is lower than both the fellow centre-backs – Bonucci (22.8 m) and De Ligt (21.36).
Below is an instance from the game Juventus vs Verona. Demiral receives a pass and has Alex Sandro calling out for it. Even Bonucci tries to signal the pass towards Sandro. But Demiral chooses to play the ball back to Bonucci despite having the space to play the ball forward to Sandro.
Below is another instance from the same game, when Demiral makes a lateral pass to Bonucci despite Bonucci being under pressure. While he could easily have made a longer pass to an unmarked Alex Sandro.
All of the stats put together i.e. average length of the pass, coupled with his high percentage of lateral passes, low dribbles, and high pass accuracy indicate that he is a conservative passer who prefers to keep the ball with the team. It indicates that he prefers making accurate, short, lateral, possession-keeping passes over riskier, long, forward, attacking passes.
The tactical analysis has established that he is a solid defender, a good passer of the ball, a good contributor to team possession and more than efficient with his passing accuracy. The analysis so far has also indicated that he prefers to avoid risk, and prefers to play shorter lateral conservative passes. But when the time comes, is he going to be able to contribute to the attack as well? In today’s game, newer tactics have often had centre-backs play the long balls into the attacking third, to catch the opponent off-guard or to simply execute a quick counter-attack.
For this tactical analysis, the attributes considered are passes made to the final third per 90, deep completions per 90 and progressive passes per 90. While the former two are pure final third metrics, progressive passes can be defined as a considerably long forward pass with – a pass length of 30 m if both starting and ending points are in the same half, 15 m if both points are different halves, and 10 m if both points are in the opponents half. The below charts indicate how Demiral has fared in this respect, and if he can be trusted with the responsibility to initiate counter-attacks from the back, and contribute to the attacking play for Juventus in general.
In all of the above charts, one observation is constant – Merih Demiral doesn’t contribute to the attacking tactics of Juventus. While Demiral is a solid player defensively, and to good effect in retaining possession, he isn’t a contributor to the team attacks. Demiral has the lowest number of progressive passes per 90 (6.72) at an accuracy of 77.01%. In comparison, fellow centre-back Bonucci makes 13.78 progressive passes per 90 at an accuracy of 84%. This further adds to our previous observation that Demiral would rather play a low-risk short lateral pass to keep possession, than play a high-risk long progressive pass to contribute to an attack. Even among the pure attacking metrics, the analysis shows that Demiral has the lowest number of passes to the final third per 90 (3.86) at an accuracy of 74%.
In comparison, fellow centre-back Bonucci has the highest number of passes to the final third per 90 (11.28) at 75% accuracy. Deep completions by a player are passes made by the player that were received by a teammate within 20 metres of the opposition goal-line. Even in this aspect, Demiral fares poorly with only 0.15 deep completions per 90. Bonucci and De Ligt fare marginally better at this with 0.83 and 0.21 per 90. However, since they play more final third passes than Demiral, they contribute more to Juventus’ attacking build-up. Below is an example from the game Juventus vs Verona, where Demiral could have played a progressive pass towards Cuadrado who was also asking for the ball. Instead, Demiral chose to play a lateral pass tot he adjacent Danilo who then plays it forward to Cuadrado. It displays how Demiral had at least two options to move the play forward and build an attack but instead chose to play it conservatively.
The scout report brings out the style of play Demiral adopts, his strengths and his areas of improvement. The tactical analysis highlights his superior defensive ability owing to his positional awareness and willingness to get involved in duels to win the ball. In transition, he prefers to play conservative lateral passes, to keep possession with the team. His passing accuracy also highlights his ability to successfully execute a pass. However, playing too many lateral passes won’t contribute to the team’s attack, as is evident in the number of final third passes and progressive passes. Rarely does Demiral attempt to drive the ball forward with an attacking intent, and this is one area, which if developed, could make him the whole package.
As mentioned earlier in this scout report, Juventus have won titles and games on the back of a strong showing from their defence. Demiral fits into that mould. The tactical analysis reveals that he fits into the mould of a solid defender. Juventus have looked leaky defensively this season, something that is completely out of character for them. For the first time in five years, they are led by a team (Lazio) on the list of fewest goals conceded. They have already conceded more goals per game (0.92) than in any of their previous four seasons – 2018/19 – 0.82, 2017/18 – 0.72, 2016/17 – 0.74 and 2015/16 – 0.62. Given Juventus’ philosophy of a solid defence, they need Merih Demiral. Along with Matthijs De Ligt, Demiral could be a vital cog in the Juventus backline. They both, however, play a similar brand of football, statistically. Both are solid defenders who seemingly contribute little to the attacking play when compared to Bonucci. And if his contribution to Juventus’ attacking tactics can be improved upon, Demiral is going to remain at Juventus for a long time to come.
While the scout report cannot conclusively state that Demiral is better than all of the other Juventus defenders due to data insufficiency, it has provided an insight into the style of play adopted by Demiral. It’s no surprise that a host of clubs in Europe were interested in adding Demiral to their books, including Premier League club Arsenal.
Defensively, Demiral is a brilliant option for Juventus to have. His positional awareness, reading of the game and ability to break down the path of a pass, is incredible. His numbers for interceptions and shots blocked are a testament of the same. The tactical analysis reveals that Demiral prefers to play passes with the intent of keeping possession. Not much of a dribbler, he prefers to play a lateral ball to his nearest teammate. However, while possession is good, a side of his game that could be improved is his contribution to Juventus’ attacking play. At just 22, he has enough time to work on that side of his game, which, once bettered, will mean there are very few who can claim to be better than Demiral in the game.