Maram AlBaharna crunches the data on Emiliano Buendia’s season to show just how well-rounded a player he is
Football is often described as a chess match. Unlike chess, though, in football, the pieces move all at once and their movements aren’t restricted to specific squares. Instead, players are expected to fulfil multiple roles and responsibilities at once. Where previously players might have got away with excelling in a single area, elite clubs are increasingly looking for footballers who are adept in multiple areas.
Emi Buendia is the answer to the many questions we now ask of our forwards in football. He’s not a chess piece performing rehearsed patterns. Rather, he possesses an excellent combination of abilities; a combination that produces more output than any single one could hope to yield. Big clubs shouldn’t just knock on the door for him this coming transfer window: they should break the door down. Here’s why.
Looking at Buendia’s profile in TransferLab in the ‘Winger – Wide Playmaker’ template, you can see the platform rates him highly compared to other forwards in the EFL Championship:
As you can see, he is excellent across multiple metrics. The penetration of his passes, the ability to release runners and to disrupt the opposition’s organization; all of this translates into an incredible contribution in the final third and penalty box. Let’s take a deeper look.
Firstly, let’s look at Buendia’s contribution to one of the most important phases in football: progression. I clustered his four most frequent successful progressive passes from all his appearances in the 20/21 EFL season, allowing us to draw his patterns and tendencies on the ball:
Buendia has a diverse repertoire of incisive passes to break down opposition into different areas of the pitch: three of them including penetration of the penalty box. Dropping into deeper areas to supply runners into the backline or in transition, holding width on either flank and crossing deep, through balls to stretch the backline, playing the overlap and passes through the defender’s legs in the central spaces. His ability to facilitate and create, especially from long-range and from multiple areas of the pitch shows us how incredibly wide-ranging his solutions are and his incredible vision in the pitch.
On top of this extensive skill set, Buendia is also unparalleled in his execution. The Argentine is a forward whose production stems farther than merely just creation, contributing well to progression, especially in the final third. He ranks 1st in deep completions per 90 across all players in the Championship with a minimum of 10 matches played.
Let’s see it in real-time. This is a good example that illustrates two of his best strengths:
As you can see, Buendia carries the ball all the way from his own box, fighting off the opposition player using arms and his ability to accelerate. Recognising Teemu Pukki’s run, he drills a killer through ball that evades all of the defenders and sets up his teammate for a 1v1 with the goalkeeper.
Here Buendia regains possession after a hasty clearance by the opposition defender:
While controlling the ball, Buendia notices Pukki immediately. As before, he picks out Pukki like a needle out of a haystack as the Finn runs into the considerable gap between the centre half and fullback. Buendia loves through balls and for good reason: he excels at them.
Perhaps one of the most valuable assets Buendia has under his belt is his movement and positioning off the ball. To depict this, I looked at both his passes and progressive pass reception locations:
In terms of where he receives passes, there are two elements to his game: positional discipline and flexibility. Buendia is a right-sided midfielder and his natural tendency is to hold width. His territory in the right half-space is highly valuable to Norwich, making it easier for his teammates to break defensive lines. From here, he can distribute the ball into the penalty box. But despite this discipline, Buendia is also comfortable drifting to either channel and occupying the central spaces. At times, he will also drop deeper to pick up the ball where he likes to cycle possession horizontally and diagonally after taking the ball from the full back.
The right-hand side of the viz gives us some more insight. As you can see, receiving progressive passes, Buendia likes to take up a position in the central space of the opposition half. He occupies good positions to bypass the opposition’s midfield and sits between the lines where he can release the ball to his teammates. His movement into the penalty box usually comes from his late runs into the box. Going forward, he’s valuable both on and off the ball.
We’ve talked about Buendia’s progression. Let’s talk about his creation. To do this, I clustered his four most frequent successful penalty box entries:
In both channels, I found a recurring pattern: Buendia tends to distribute the ball using diagonal crosses from deep areas. On the left flank, however, these mostly consist of deep crosses into the six-yard box, looking for his striker’s short runs to the back post. This displays his intelligence in creation, he knows how to both find and feed his forwards well.
In addition to this, Buendia likes to find his overlapping fullbacks using through balls, usually drawing players towards him to create space behind using his technical proficiency on the ball to protect it before releasing.
In the central area outside of the box, it’s a matter of execution of the final ball, right through the spaces between the centre halves (or even, at times, their legs!) He does all of this well too, having ranked 1st in Chances Created, Big Chances Created and Expected Assists [xA] per 90 across the Championship.
Of course, not all of his penalty box deliveries come from these areas. Here’s one of my favourite assists Buendia has picked up this season:
I chose this particular assist of his because it displays his proficiency in dragging the central midfielder while showing himself for a pass, the conviction to quickly get back up as quickly as he is tackled and finally distribute the ball with intent and precision.
Let’s talk long-range because Buendia certainly can… His capacity to play balls from range allows Norwich to immediately transition to their final offensive phase quickly and swiftly:
This ability to play long passes means that opponents can’t leave Buendia time and space on the ball or he will punish them. But this gives him another edge. His close control and refined dribbling permit him to evade opposition players who attempt to close him down and allows his forwards to benefit from the space created.
A similar pattern that can be seen in almost all of his passes is the speed with which they are delivered, giving defenders little time to react. This isn’t just about the final ball; Buendia also progresses the ball by switching play to break down opposition low blocks and catch them by surprise.
His penalty box entries are not limited to passing. He generates good quality goal-scoring opportunities simply using his efficient proficiency of carrying the ball and warding off players.
In the clip above, you can see how his explosiveness draws three players to him and yet he still picks out a stellar pass. He slows down, then accelerates; his momentum causing problems for defenders.
We’ve dissected his creative contribution in terms of producing for other players but what does Buendia’s goal threat look like?
I visualized all his shots and non-penalty goals from all his appearances in the 20/21 EFL Championship:
This is a very unique shot map for a right-footed, right-sided midfielder given the high concentration of shots at the heart of the penalty box. This is just a testament to his involvement and runs into the box. That said, there are a high number of suboptimal shots outside of the box with his chances ranging from 0.01 to 0.4 Expected Goals [xG].
Buendia is a decent/above-average shooter but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that is one of the aspects he excels in. What’s important to note here, though, is that he’s significantly increased his presence in the box from last season, from underperforming his 3.91 xG by scoring one goal in the 19/20 Premier League season to performing level with expectation, picking up 9 non-penalty goals from 9.43 Non Penalty Expected Goals [npxG] so far.
What’s changed? Simple answer: Buendia has been more proactive, expressing his off-the-ball movement in the form of runs in transition.
His acceleration here is quite emphatic. Notice how he’s positioned at the centre circle around the beginning of the sequence. The rapidity and incisiveness that we see in his passing are also there in his shooting. He gives the goalkeeper no time to set himself before firing (so much so, he loses his balance!)
We can see the same here:
It’s the brilliance of his acceleration that allows him to isolate himself from the defender, of course. But again notice the slight bend to allow him to receive the ball freely, his clean first touch and slight movement of the ball that deceives the goalkeeper, draws him in and sends him in the wrong direction.
This isn’t anything new about Buendia. The difference now is that he has begun translating his off-ball ability into more advanced areas.
Buendia’s immense work rate isn’t limited to just offensive production. He’s a defensive workhorse in all facets of the pitch. The Argentine possesses a great ability to disrupt the opponent’s possession, especially in advanced areas. He turns defence into attack.
This is a result of his intense pressure attempts, averaging 6.12 recoveries in the opposition half per 90, an incredible 7.48 Possession Adjusted Interceptions [PAdj] per 90 and 8.52 Successful Defensive Actions per 90.
Basically: he is an engine in both midfield and on the right flank, interrupting possession chains and collecting loose balls. He’s proactive and allows his team to sustain pressure of their attacks, protect their fullback and strengthen their defensive structure.
This doesn’t come without a cost. His aggressiveness, energy and rapid decision making is rewarding to initiate counter-attacks but with it comes a certain downfall. Overcommitting in tackles allows the opponent to dribble past him, open up space or win a foul. He’s impulsive and needs to develop his discipline and temperament. This season, he’s racked up a considerable amount of fouls, averaging 1.50 per 90 minutes and collecting 5 yellow cards and 2 red cards.
For Buendia, though, defence is attack, literally. His attentiveness and awareness are really good here:
We often hear players criticized for “ball watching”. But look at how Buendia casually gets closer to initiate pressure and close off the passing lanes. It allows him to reach the loose ball. Sometimes, it’s all about presence and positioning. He does both well.
Let’s take a look at some more examples. Buendia’s recoveries, interceptions in advanced areas of the pitch not only allow Norwich to sustain attacks consistently but also take advantage of a disrupted organization and create goal-scoring opportunities:
It’s work rate and intelligent reading of the game that few players possess. Buendia is both an orchestrator and an interrupter.
By now, you should have a clearer idea of why Buendia is an asset that any team should be investing in. He demonstrates all the creative fortes: goal contributions, dribbling and passing. But on top of that, he’s remarkable off the ball too, both attacking and defending. And as if that wasn’t enough already, he’s only 24. I’ll leave you with that.
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