We recently published a data analysis article identifying the best creative midfielders in the EPL this season, in which we highlighted several players deemed worthy of more in-depth scouting. Norwich City’s Emi Buendía was one of the players who, despite playing for the side currently bottom of the EPL, rated highly in several creativity metrics. This scout report will provide a detailed tactical analysis of Emi Buendía’s performances this season and investigate the strengths which have enabled him to post such impressive creative numbers.
To remind ourselves of the strength of Buendía’s creative passing we can examine again a scatter plot from our previous data analysis article, which highlighted him as one of the best creative midfielders in the EPL this season.
Buendía ranks third of all EPL midfielders to have played more than 1000 minutes this season for expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes (a measure of the quality of chances created, regardless of whether they were converted by a teammate), behind only Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez. He also ranks third for key passes per 90 (passes which led to a shot).
Video analysis provides several examples to support the hypothesis that Buendía is an excellent creative passer. The first comes from the opening game of the EPL season; Liverpool hosted Norwich at Anfield and Buendía demonstrated his passing ability in style by notching the first of his seven assists this season. Picking the ball up in an inside right position, there doesn’t seem to be a passing lane available for Buendía to find Teemu Pukki, who is attempting to make a run in between Joe Gomez and Trent Alexander-Arnold, as Jordan Henderson is screening in front of Gomez and Virgil van Dijk (image below). Buendía, however, times and weights his pass to perfection, sliding a through ball with his left foot which bypasses three Liverpool players to create a one-on-one situation that Pukki duly takes advantage of.
The second example comes from Norwich’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City in December. Despite Buendía playing mostly as a right-sided attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 system, he is given licence to drift inside to create. As shown in the image below, Buendía picks up the ball in the centre circle, between Leicester’s defensive and midfield lines, and again delivers a perfectly weighted through ball (this time with his right foot) to Pukki, who has made a run in behind to take advantage of Leicester’s relatively high defensive line. The ball is weighted as such so that Pukki only needs to take a touch before he is able to convert from just inside the penalty area to give Norwich the lead.
In addition to being able to play perfectly weighted through balls along the ground over relatively short distances, Buendía also possesses the ability to deliver inch-perfect aerial passes over long distances. The images below provide examples of Buendía finding Pukki with long balls over the top of the opposition backline with both his right and left foot.
Above – Buendia looks up before clipping a long pass perfectly into the path of Pukki (image below). Image above – Buendia again plays a long pass from his own half perfectly into the path of Pukki, as shown in the image below.
These examples demonstrate the excellent range of passing that Buendía possesses with both feet.
Our previous data analysis article did not delve too deeply into dribbling ability, but this is a notable feature of Buendía’s game. The scatter graph below plots attempted dribbles per 90 against dribble success % for EPL midfielders this season.
As the graph highlights, Buendía not only attempts a high number of dribbles per 90 (the sixth highest in the league), he also successfully completes a very high percentage (75.6%) of them (quite substantially higher, in fact, than any of the other midfielders in the top 15 for attempted dribbles).
This season he has demonstrated his propensity to use his dribbling ability in the final third to create goal-scoring opportunities. The first example, below, begins with Buendía under pressure from Rúben Neves and João Moutinho of Wolves. Buendía turns and darts between them, also showing good physical strength to hold off the challenge of Neves in the process.
Once he is beyond them, one of the Wolves centre backs steps up from the backline to engage Buendía, but he is also bypassed thanks to a quick change of direction, as shown below.
Buendía then finishes the sequence with another well-weighted through ball to create a goalscoring opportunity for Kenny McLean (below). Only an excellent save from Rui Patrício in the Wolves goal prevents Buendía from registering a fine assist.
The second example comes from Norwich’s home game against Bournemouth. Buendía (circled below) collects a pass with his back to goal, but quickly turns and drives at the Bournemouth backline. Pukki makes an excellent run to draw a Bournemouth defender into the channel, opening up the shaded area for Buendía to move into.
As Buendía approaches the penalty area two Bournemouth defenders close him down, but Buendía utilises his quick feet to shift the ball one way, then the other (first image below). This unbalances the deeper of the Bournemouth defenders and allows Buendía to get goal side of the other, meaning he can no longer make a challenge for fear of giving away a penalty. Buendía quickly manoeuvres into the narrow space between the defenders to open up an excellent scoring opportunity for himself (second image below), which he is unable to take.
Buendía’s positivity, pace, quick feet and low centre of gravity allow him to wrong-foot opposition defenders in dangerous areas and are major factors underlying his excellent dribbling numbers.
Allied to his excellent creative distribution and dribbling numbers is a fantastic work ethic. Buendía’s heatmap from this season (shown below) outlines this, with prominent activity in his own half and defensive third. The heatmaps of Jack Grealish, Pascal Groß and James Maddison are shown for comparison. These players were also highlighted in the previously published creative players article and they play largely similar roles to Buendía in their respective teams.
Grealish’s heatmap (above)
Groß’ heatmap (above)
Of these players, Maddison is the only one with some prominent activity in his own half. Buendía, however, has prominent activity all the way back to the region parallel to his own penalty area, suggesting that he may contribute more defensively than his peers. A deeper look into his defensive statistics corroborates this, with some interesting metrics summarised in the table below.
|Metric||Metric value per 90 mins||League rank (all midfielders with >1000 mins played)|
|Tackles attempted in defensive third||2.23||3rd|
|Pressures in defensive third||11.6||4th|
|Pressures in middle third||13.2||16th|
|Pressures in attacking third||5.58||31st|
Buendía is ranked 3rd of all EPL midfielders in fbref.com’s database this season for attempted tackles per 90 in the defensive third, ranking him above more defensive-minded midfielders such as Wilfred Ndidi, N’Golo Kanté, Fred and Declan Rice amongst others. Similarly, he ranks 5th for total pressures and 4th for pressures in the defensive third.
These numbers are influenced to some extent by a team’s tactics and ability; Norwich’s struggles this season will no doubt inflate the defensive numbers of some of their players. They employ a low block in their defensive approach and this is reflected in Buendía’s high number of pressures in the defensive third compared to the middle third and attacking third. However, he also ranks very highly for counterpressing recoveries and, regardless of Norwich’s poor performance, the numbers suggest that Buendía is extremely diligent in his defensive work.
Video analysis also supports this proposition. In the first example, Norwich have conceded a turnover near the halfway line, leaving a potential 2v2 situation for Bournemouth to exploit (first image below). However, Buendía (circled in white) sprints back and makes up several yards on the Bournemouth attacker to dispossess him midway inside the Norwich half (second image below).
In the second example from the same game, as the game moves towards injury time, Buendía can be found tracking the opposition full-back (first image below) into his own right-back position, where he engages, dispossesses and comes away with the ball (second image below), helping his side towards a valuable three points.
These are just two examples of the many that could have been chose to highlight Buendía’s defensive commitment. This also reflects well on his mentality; with his high creative involvement it would perhaps be easy to be more passive in his defensive responsibilities, but this is certainly not the case.
Despite the multitude of strengths to his game, there are also some weaknesses, the most notable being his lack of goals this season. A look at the data provides us with an obvious explanation for this; he hasn’t got himself into the penalty area often enough. Whilst he is ranked eighth for total number of touches in the attacking third per 90 for EPL midfielders this season, he is ranked only 46th for touches in the penalty area per 90. His expected goals per shot is also low at 0.06, suggesting he doesn’t often shoot from dangerous areas, or too often shoots from low goal expectancy areas. A look at his shot locations this season (below) confirms this, with only nine of his 44 shots originating in the highlighted “gold zone”.
His expected goal (xG) rating of 1.80 this season further suggests that his lack of goals isn’t due to missing big chances, but rather a lack of them. This also may reflect on the quality of the team he plays for. Norwich are bottom of the EPL and are the joint lowest scorers in the EPL this season. Buendía aside, they struggle to create chances and this should be taken into account before being too critical of his goal record.
Buendía is also ranked third amongst EPL midfielders for the number of times he is dispossessed per 90. As a player who attempts a lot of dribbles (the sixth-highest of EPL midfielders) this perhaps doesn’t come as a huge surprise; taking more risks with the ball will inevitably lead to being dispossessed more often. There are times, however, when he looks to do a bit too much with the ball. His decision-making in this regard is something he will no doubt look to improve on with further top-flight experience.
Buendía has greatly impressed this season with his creativity, dribbling ability and high work rate. With Norwich looking likely candidates for relegation, he will inevitably have caught the attention of bigger clubs who will be looking to pick him up for a knockdown price should Norwich fail to beat the drop.
His ability to find small pockets of space and his elite dribbling ability (in particular his adeptness at dribbling his way out of tight spaces) would stand him in good stead at a bigger club where opposition teams often defend deep and leave little space between the lines. The ability to beat a man can also be invaluable when looking to break down a compact low block. His high involvement numbers underline that he is a confident player who looks to assert himself on the game; he is certainly not a player to stay on the periphery. His lack of goals is a slight concern, but this is something that is likely to improve in a better side where there would be less demand on the defensive side of his game. In Norwich’s Championship-winning season Buendía scored eight goals which, whilst not prolific, suggests he does possess finishing ability.
As a 23-year-old in his first season in the EPL, Buendía is certainly a player to monitor closely in the future. If he does get his move to a bigger club next season and is able to replicate or even improve on his creative metrics from this season, he looks set to have a very bright future ahead at the highest level.