PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is Ilaix Moriba?
Since his promotion from the B team in February, Ilaix Moriba has found ways to adapt his skillset based on the star quality that surrounds him. Now with 14 La Liga appearances under his belt, the 18-year-old is loving life as one of the new boys in Barcelona’s midfield setup.
Ilaix Moriba's Style of Play
Ilaix’s movement has been a true standout of his performances for the senior team so far. Proving to be the case from both the left and right of a midfield three, he’s showcased such intelligence and awareness to help facilitate space for the star attackers in the team.
In order to help get the likes of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann on the ball more often and in more space between the lines, Ilaix has consistently identified and targeted defensive channels with runs from deep. Thanks to consistent checks over his shoulder, he’s always aware of when there is space available to push into.
Ilaix’s lane-shifting is superb, but he could improve in the vertical sense of his positioning. Even though he often rotates into good attacking positions in place of his teammates, he doesn’t regularly commit to runs as forcefully as he should. This is also the case outside of the box, where he drops to the ball when there isn’t a need to, and doesn’t always provide the strategic underlaps that are necessary for wide receivers.
His receiving of the ball is a good example of how his confidence has developed with more and more game time. Just as he was so comfortable doing for the B team, Ilaix now – instead of taking on the ball with a closed body and only in one direction – not only spreads his weight over the ball well, but also has an excellent burst over the first 5-10 yards. He’s comfortable using either foot to kill the ball and strategically moves deep to draw open the space ahead of him, before springing into that space with his next touch.
Beyond this point, though, he’s not yet at a stage where he can challenge spaces over greater distances. Even at B team level, the midfielder has found it difficult to hurdle challenges, maintain a consistent ball path, or confidently cut across opponents with the ball, mostly because he lacks the physicality at this moment to overcome such obstacles.
One of the ways in which he overcome this, though, is through combination play. At B team level, Ilaix has demonstrated much more authority in possession from deeper starting positions. When doing so, he’s always looking for ways to play direct and through the heart of the opposition’s block.
With good pre-scanning, he’s able to carry the ball more directly towards opposition lines, waiting for the right moment to shift the angle of the ball to then feed a quick pass into the feet of the centre-forwards, either to follow-up from or to play to from a greater distance. However, because of the current progressive talents of the first team, Ilaix has had to neglect that side of his game and focus on being a more silent threat at senior level.
His short passing is another aspect that has grown in precision over time, as Ilaix did initially look a little nervy when releasing easy passes, but his link play now is much tidier. That being said, the buck currently stops at his short passing. More difficult and creative passes, like crosses and through balls, have not only lacked in volume, partly due to the division of labour within the team, but more importantly in execution, as he so often struggles to weight difficult passes correctly.
His threat to goal beyond this is better seen in some of his aforementioned box movements, as well as in his small sample of shots taken on.
When shooting from range, Ilaix has illustrated a good understanding of the space he has to be able to set himself perfectly with well-weighted touches into space before generating good power. Despite his aim towards either side-netting being a positive, he’s sometimes been guilty of cutting too far across the ball when releasing the shot, resulting in shots heading wide instead.
From a defensive standpoint, Ilaix has relished the challenge of pressuring opponents. His smartest defensive plays often come during high presses, where the timing of his triggers and his decision-making in moving from one opponent up onto another is frequently well-informed. The intensity and aggression in doing so go hand-in-hand, but this can be costly in larger spaces due to his technical approach.
Although he is capable of halting his pressures and spreading his stance widely enough, the midfielder is still guilty of approaching ball-holders in a way that’s too committed to one direction, meaning that he can be beaten by simple feints and touches that go against the grain.
Inevitably, this leads to heavy-handed challenges being made on the stretch, especially as he prioritises coverage of the outside rather than the inside. His very high rate of 3.09 fouls committed per 90 is further evidence of this.
What some of his more reckless pressing has shown more than anything, though, is that he has an amazing engine and work ethic for someone of his age. When he’s fixed to a man, he’ll track them so intensely, no matter how deep. Even when he’s not responsible for any opponent, he’ll always strive to make up huge ground in an effort to get goal-side.
Forecasting Ilaix Moriba's Future Prospects
For a player so young, it’s hard not to be impressed by Ilaix Moriba’s positional intelligence. From such a central position, it’s something so many high-level midfielders and attackers find hard to nail. Even though he’s not by any means perfected it, it has to be a big reason why Ronald Koeman brought him into the fold, as he works so selflessly and efficiently in service of the key attackers in the side.
Whether being the invisible middle man in getting the ball from A to B alone – as opposed to being the A or the B in the equation – can be enough to satisfy the team’s needs and his own developmental needs is another matter since it puts a halt to progressing his ball-progression traits.
Even with limited chances to do so, he has showcased how sharp-witted he can be on the ball, in a way that could break lines and spark moves all from his own accord, rather than being cut off by the need to let those older than him do the work. Similar can be said of him as a potential chance-getter from deep, particularly with so many attackers in this Barça team always angling to move towards the ball.
What seems clear right now is that he is best deployed as a number eight. His movement would be wasted from too deep a position as it stands, and he lacks the creative ability to sit purely in higher positions, so having the shackles kept off would benefit him. For now, he’s capable of keeping his place in the squad, but it might take a (temporary) move away to see the desired development in all aspects of his game.
Ilaix Moriba has fantastic awareness and is a great facilitator of space for his teammates. His athleticism and intensity are key to this as well as how hard he works out of possession.
Ilaix Moriba has struggled creatively and physically, man-to-man, whilst in other progression-based areas he’s been limited to showcasing only glimmers of his potential. Defensively, he must improve his technical approach to more carefully guard against one-on-ones and inside spaces.