Who is Facundo Medina?
In the most recent edition of the Scouted Football Handbook, the exciting young prospect Loïc Badé of RC Lens was profiled by Lee Scott. However, he is not the only defensive prospect at the club performing week-in, week-out.
RC Lens have a recruitment team which have impressed massively upon their return to the top flight. Clearly tinged with data, they have picked up players who have ranged from being on the peripheries at bigger clubs, such as 21-year-old Ignatius Ganago from OGC Nice, older players who have struggled to find a role which suits them, for example, Gaël Kakuta, and younger players who have impressed in obscure leagues, such as the focus of our piece, Facundo Medina.
Medina only made 33 appearances for CA Talleres over the course of two seasons before being picked up by Lens, due to slowly embedding him into the squad and rotation in the backline. Lens had been scouting the 21-year-old for a few months before making a bid, and their purchase was predicated by arduous research.
Frank Haise, head coach at Lens, labelled Medina as a player of ‘real temperament’, who has a lot of ‘grit and mischief’, and ‘good technique’. They knew the type of player they wanted. Lens were looking for players with an appetite, who would fight for their position in the team, as they were likely expecting a relegation dogfight. Instead, they are placed fifth in the league, a whole 24 points off of the relegation places.
Facundo Medina's Style of Play
Medina has grown most comfortable as the left centre-back in Lens’ 3-4-3 system, where they can make the most of his left-footed passing range and ability, without relying too heavily on him to win much aerially.
In this position, his primary goal is to aid Lens transition from defence to attack, whether that be carrying the ball into midfield, or playing vertical passes down the left channel. He is central to Lens’ ball progression.
Using statistics to bear some context, Medina plays 6.63 progressive passes per 90 (the most in Lens’ squad), which more than doubles his defensive partner Loïc Badé’s rate of 2.91, both according to StatsBomb data from FBref.com. Now, Badé is a young defender who is comfortable possession, no doubting that, but this should gleam at Medina’s importance to the French side when it comes to ball progression via passing.
One immediately eye-catching feature of his ball progression is in the ambition of such passing. When the Argentinian is not under pressure, the pattern of play is consistent. He picks up his head, scans for runners or forwards in space, especially down the left channel, and finds them with a vertical pass with height. Sometimes, too much height, as the ball can occasionally go searing over the target’s head.
He helps Lens out tremendously in sparking counterattacks. His forward passes break opposition defensive lines and help his teammates create opportunities within a couple of passes. His pinpoint passes can help release the attacking unit, as he tends to play it directly into those areas.
This is evidenced by his progressive distance (total distance, in yards, that completed passes have travelled towards an opponent’s goal) of 500.3 is the most in the Lens squad again, more than goalkeeper Jean-Louis Leca, which is surprising considering goalkeepers typically dominate this statistic.
Another striking attribute that Medina possesses is his ball-carrying ability. From within the left channel, Medina will pick up the ball, drive into the midfield, and play a rangy pass into a wide forward. With these carries, the 21-year-old will move centrally from a wide position, typically when play is opening up, and leaves the opposition defensive structure back-pedalling. In these moments, he will rarely go beyond his half before making the pass to a team-mate.
These carries add a sense of dynamism to an already well-rounded defence. His comfortability on the ball makes him a go-to fixture when it comes to progressing the ball out of defence and into an attack. In this sense, Medina is important to Lens both as a defensive asset, and as an attacking one too. This is an incredibly valuable skill set which many top clubs will earmark as imperative to their style of play.
Moving on to the defensive side of his game, Medina has offered great dependability in his ground duels. As many South American’s have shown to be in the past in football, Medina is passionate, and this is represented in his defensive actions.
He can lack discipline, and couple this with his aggressiveness in the tackle, he can concede fouls at an above-average rate when he does not win the ball. He is always very determined in his ground duels and does not hold back when it comes to slide tackles – it is not uncommon to see the Argentinian sprint back and jump into a sliding tackle to recover possession.
Accommodating with his aggressive style of play, Medina does not like to give his opponents space to breathe. He marks and presses his opponents very tightly, leaving them with very little time on the ball. Although, this is something he has adapted slightly since moving from Argentina, becoming a bit smarter in his approach, conceding fewer fouls in the process. Winning 55.9% of his attempted tackles against dribblers is evidence of his solid ground duel acumen.
Away from one-on-one duels, Medina has also shown good positional awareness in Haise’s system. Not only as a defender, cutting out passing lanes, but also in reference to acting as a passing option – he understands passing triangles and always moves into the right spaces to receive the ball higher up the pitch. From a defensive perspective though, he steps out of his line intelligently, rarely being caught out as a result.
One weakness that clubs looking at Medina as an option for their backline should consider is his aerial ability. He does possess a decent leap and his timing is sufficient as well, but despite being six-foot tall, he wins aerial duels less than your average defender. The fact that, in a back three, going up against smaller wingers typically, he only wins 53.6% of his aerial duels, is not great, and in a back four as a centre-back, could be even worse.
This is not a Ligue 1 issue either, his rate of 54% in the Argentinian league was also not that great either. As you might have guessed, this is not an application issue – Medina gives his all – but it will be up to recruitment teams to consider whether his positives outweigh his negatives as a centre-back.
Facundo Medina's Forecast for the Future
Overall, in his first year in one of Europe’s top five leagues, Medina has proven to be a more than competent centre-back. His adaption has been impressive, and he should be applauded as such. He has room for improvement, but in under a year, he has already displayed progress in his ground duels, so he has the hunger for it. His mentality might just be one of his greatest assets and will help the longevity of his career tremendously.
Whether he can make the move to a team such as Manchester United (of whom he has been linked to) is another question. Probably not yet. Another year or two at Lens would do him well, but other sub-elite sides who utilise a back three, such as Borussia Dortmund or Arsenal, could do much worse than the 21-year-old. He is a fan favourite in France already and it is only a matter of time before the wider media takes to him as well.