analysis | 2015-07-23
How Arda Turan will perform for Messi's Barcelona
The most midfielding version of Messi of the ones that we’ve seen wearing blaugrana so far is Luis Enrique’s Messi. Since the Asturian’s first day in command, the positioning, attitude and functions assigned to Messi have shown a tendency to convert the once false 9 in something like a false interior (a attacking midfielder that plays closer to the wing, like Iniesta). Starting as a attacking midfielder, he’d later work as a solution practically at the base of the midfield, later on as a vaporous right winger and finally, nearly at the end of the season, openly in the midfield, turning out to be more productive than anyone. One of the big signs of 2014-15 Barça’s identity was exactly that, both from the Argentinian’s point of view and from the point of view of the theoretical attacking midfielders. These ones received other assignments that weren’t related to architecture or control, but to positional compensation, attacking spaces or wing combinations. A low influence in the game if we compare these functions to the immediate precedents, and that only in the end, in the decisive stage of the Champions League, leveled up thanks to Iniesta, who clicked with the rhythm. The Spaniard, Busquets and Messi actually formed the most controlling Barça midfield of the season, while Rakitic boosted himself on Leo’s trampoline to do significant damage reaching the lightened attacking line with historical runs. The addition of Arda Turan, seemingly, will not change that. He’s a reinforcement for the same strategy. An extraordinary footballer to add to the plan that lead to the treble.
To start talking about the Turk, we should first focus on his outstanding technical level, but in a football that shines in this subject, the Spanish one, to say it like that might sound frivolous. As a result of a meticulous and careful work from the grassroots and a tradition that is its own, Spanish football in general, and La Liga in particular, enjoys a overall technical level above the average. The Spanish footballer of today is attractive to the world for a label that is already trademarked and due to which, in order to compete and shine, the majority of foreign signings adhere to. To talk about an ‘extraordinary technical level’ in the context of La Liga may sound like a routine, so in cases like Arda Turan’s one it’s convenient to highlight the difference. The former Atlético man is something else, he has a technique that is within the reach of a very small group of ‘chosen ones’. It’s not about a measuring stick, he’s gifted. It’s not the same to say a goalkeeper has a good foot play and to say that he plays the ball with his feet like ter Stegen does. In this matter, and even given the fact that when it comes to technical demands Luis Enrique’s Barça is not the same as Pep’s, Arda has an accreditation that should make him get a good start in the team from the first moments. He’ll follow the rhythm of any of his teammates.
Position wise, Turan is a playmaker that, during the last few seasons, has played starting from the wing in an athletic 4-4-2 that helped him and Koke to have some sort of loose fixation on the touchline. The culé setup, which is used 99 out of 100 times, is different and it doesn’t dictate that the zone of the 10 should be occupied in a fixed way, so Arda’s assimilation might require certain adaptation. Even when his polyvalence will surely let him get minutes in up to four different positions in the scheme, seeing how restricted it became to achieve prominence in the attacking positions and the hole left in the spine by Xavi’s departure, it all seems to point that it’s in the midfield when he might be more valuable to Luis Enrique. After all, he has the soul of a playmaker like Iniesta and Rakitic have or had, and, as we already said in the beginning of the article, the role of the attacking midfielders in the Asturian’s Barça is special. Depending in many aspects on the forward that frequents their zone, meaning Neymar on the left and Messi on the right. Even if the final form is different, both sides can be identified with the same three elements: a strong man – the forward –, a partner for the short combinations and a third player more focused in working with spaces. Respectively, attacking midfielder and fullback on the left side, on the right one is the other way around.
We can imagine that Arda Turan would fit better in the “ball-playing” attacking midfielder role, Iniesta’s one, because it’s mostly the work on the ball that expresses the best of the Turk’s football. When he has it, he kneads, invents and decides. With the ball he’s active, without it his continuity in participation decreases. A Barça in which the attacking midfielders don’t have the demanded presence they had before, and with Messi as the generator of play, shouldn’t have troubles assimilating Turan in its midfield. We’re talking about a player with a high capacity to interpret the offensive situations of the game, another individual resource very suitable to the ruleless offense of this new Barça. The culé attack doesn’t run in a network of pipes in which both player and ball used to move (positional play) anymore. Now the repertoire is freer and it sometimes relies on the individual talent of the player to create, interpret and find associations with the stars that surround him. Even if the Turk is a player who’s capable of mixing inner presence with a more wide game, located as a left attacking midfielder in the blaugrana set up, his nearest and more probable partners will be his side-mates: Neymar and Jordi Alba. With the first one, the technical harmony is assured, and the Brazilian might be amazed of Arda’s ability to touch the ball near the touchline. He did it at Atlético, especially when Cholo Simeone asked him to play in the same zone as Koke and between them they touched the ball without the rivals coming anywhere near the passes. Also, the ease to do it almost with a foot on the sideline, fits seemingly with a desirable more central version of Neymar.
But out wide, at Atlético de Madrid, we’ve seen Arda Turan do more than associating in short and to the foot, but also magnifying the influence of the full back, Juanfran Torres in that case. The Spaniard became one of the greatest offensive tools the rojiblancos had at times and this was facilitated by the ease with which Arda gathers rivals, hides the ball, makes space and gives the pass. It was common, for example, to see the Turkish starting almost in the position of a right winger to get the attention of the rival full back, return towards the midfield line, receive the ball with his back to the goal, hold it, earning time for his partner to run by him, and lay a through ball towards Juanfran, so the full back could cross to the box. This, with Arda on the left and Jordi Alba as Juanfran, might be seen again. Or on the right when Aleix Vidal plays the role of full back.
As was well noted by Abel Rojas while analyzing the Turkish’s signing for El Español, Arda’s presence as a right attacking midfielder would change the division of duties in regard to what was seen last season, in which Alves was Messi’s partner and Rakitic was attacking the spaces up front. Turan would assume the Brazilian’s role more than the Croatian’s, replicating the association with Neymar we predicted on the left side, in this case with Leo. About this alternative, we should note that a new opportunity can be created, with Rakitic, from the position of the left attacking midfielder, becoming a new recipient of the productive diagonal pass from Messi, thanks to his ability to attack space coming from the second line. It is true that, playing on Messi’s side, Arda could also “play as Rakitic” as for going wide when Messi goes inside or hovering around the box’s edge, but the danger the Turk generates attacking the free spaces would be lesser than the one of the Croatian, as we can see from his discrete numbers in goals and assists.
David León said it on Twitter, this is one of Arda Turan’s main shortcomings – one that in MSN’s Barça shouldn’t matter that much –. The other one, also pointed out by David in the tweet, is his scarce presence in the base of the play, close to the pivot, to be an outlet for bringing the ball from the back. If this doesn’t change at Barcelona, it’ll be hard to see him play a role like Iniesta’s in the Champion knockout stages – not to mention the one he played in Espanyol-Barça –, being the one that raised his hand to get the ball from deeper and moving with it up to the final third. Once the ball is in his power, what Turan does have, as very few others, is the capacity to pause and hide it from the opponent. It’s not like Luis Enrique’s Barça is one that relies particularly on this plan, but he has used it as a resources and it has been valuable. Right now, the big loss in the squad this summer is that one, because with Xavi’s farewell – not because he was the 6 –, the culé coach could no longer count on a resource that became essential, especially in Champions’ knockout stages, when basically as a first movement from the bench, the one from Terrassa came onto the pitch manage the score advantage.
Just football things: a player so different from Xavi might be, in the end, his relay for this particular aspect. After all, for Luis Enrique, even if he was important, the Catalan was not much more than that. Neither an organizer or a guide, but a tool to manage a favorable result, calming the ball down and hiding it from the rivals. In both those things Arda is excellent and Simeone used that well on the banks of the Manzanares. If he has the ball and he doesn’t want to, it is quite unlikely for him to lose it, and if he doesn’t lose it, it’s really hard to take it from him. He knows how to protect it with his body, to find partners and dodge invasive legs in an inch of field. He teases the theft with an unusual ease. Just as Alejandro Arroyo defined him, he’s a dribbling trickster because he's more than simply confronting players he provokes, like a bullfighter.
All that has been said thus far also applies if we talk about him as an option to be a winger. From his positional signature to his ability to surpass opponents, going through his calmness with the ball, the characteristics of his football that can fit in one of the spots that would regularly be occupied by Neymar and Messi. Thus, it is restricted area, but whether it is as a rotation element or an option in a game, Luis Enrique adds another bullet to his revolver. It is precisely the rotundity of the trident that makes the culé offense request backups in the form of specialists that, unless a surprise happens, will have little prominence. As it also happens with Aleix Vidal’s signing, incorporating polyvalent players capable of keeping themselves in shape by fighting for a more accessible spot and who can fill up up front in case of necessity adds depth to the roster. In the blaugrana set up, besides the two attacking midfielder spots, Arda Turan can also perform on either wing, and in this case, we literally mean “either”, because the Turk’s football is not even remotely affected by the ear with which he hears the screams of the stands. His adaptation for the left and right sides is complete. His game loses nothing with relocation to either side.
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Article translated from Spanish to English, originally published on En Um Momento Dado by Albert Morén. EUMD is one of Grup 14's partners.
WRITTEN BY: Albert Morén (EUMD)
Known in Spain for in-depth analysis and a wide array of knowledge of Barcelona and football in general, Albert is one of Grup 14's partners.