Marcelo’s primary focus is to attack, giving Real Madrid another dynamic on the left-hand side of the pitch. The image below displays his heat map and shows that he spends a large proportion of time in the opposition half, which can explain his impressive career statistics of 32 goals and 86 assists from left-back.
Zinedine Zidane has shown a preference towards playing Marcelo in games where Real Madrid are likely to have more possession of the ball, allowing the Frenchman’s tactics to maximise Marcelo’s attacking qualities by permitting him to position himself higher up the pitch in order to create chances for teammates.
Ferland Mendy has replaced him in games where Zidane felt the team needed to be more balanced and not as attack-heavy, such as in their game against Atletico Madrid. Atletico like to counter attack and thus would likely have exploited Marcelo’s positioning high up the pitch, leaving space behind him for opposition attackers to run into.
The combination of injuries, as well as the signing of French left-back Mendy, has restricted Marcelo to only 1183 minutes of football in La Liga this season and he was also left out of Tite’s Brazil squad for the Copa America last year. This tactical analysis will help answer the question that concerns us: is Marcelo still one of the best full-backs in the game?
Being able to defend and attack well is the minimum requirement for the modern-day full-back and this type of full-back has become increasingly popular for managers.
This section will analyse whether Marcelo’s attacking contributions to the team overshadow his defending, as well as if he is capable enough to perform well in games where he is expected to defend for a large period. Below provides a visual display of how Marcelo compares to other left-backs in the league when competing in defensive duels. This is the defensive action made by a player when an opposition player has the ball. The individuals included are those who have played over 25% games this season and have primarily played as a left-back for their team.
Marcelo’s ability to successfully win the majority of his defensive duels helps to solidify the statement that he is indeed strong in this department as shown by his 73.68% success rate in his defensive duels; teammate Mendy competed in only 0.77 more defensive duels per game and won just 56.41%. An explanation for why Marcelo competed in fewer defensive duels per game could be that the Brazilian primarily played in games where Real Madrid planned to take control of the game, and consequently, he would have spent more time making attacking actions than defensive actions.
The heat map highlights a potential problem with Marcelo’s high positioning in that it can lead to potential exploitation of large gaps in the Madrid half, if the ball is won high up the pitch.
The image above shows Eibar winning the ball just inside the Real Madrid half and counter attacking, forcing Toni Kroos to cover the left-back position, leaving a gap in front of the Real Madrid backline which Eibar could have exploited. This gap was created because Marcelo had little caution when running forward and Kroos was forced to cover him. In the past, teams have exploited these gaps created by players being out of position at Madrid and it leaves the team open to a counter attack.
When defending in one on one situation, Marcelo is capable of winning the ball back, evident in him making 7.61 successful defensive actions per game and winning 62.5% of his aerial duels.
His weaknesses are exposed not when he’s competing for the ball but when he’s positioning himself without the ball in the defensive half. As highlighted above Marcelo finds himself out of position on several occasions but his positioning when helping his team defend can likewise be questioned.
In some games, this season, Marcelo’s defensive reactions have been slow, and here Barcelona full-back Nelson Semedo is able to run with the ball in between Marcelo and Sergio Ramos, with Marcelo not reacting to the danger quickly enough to block the run. This is a problem because as a result, Semedo gets on the wrong side of Marcelo, forcing him to either make a challenge (potentially leading to a foul) or let Semedo run across him, and either situation is a potential problem. In this case, Semedo runs across him leading to a cross.
On several occasions Ramos (LCB) likes to be aggressive, stepping ahead of the defensive line to win the ball, which can expose Marcelo’s weaknesses. In the above image, Ramos pushed higher than the rest of the defence which allowed Arturo Vidal to receive the ball running through on goal in the direction of the arrow, creating a goalscoring opportunity. When the ball surpassed Ramos, Marcelo was forced to cover him, and because Marcelo hasn’t got blistering pace he struggles to keep up with attackers, instinctively sliding in and risking not winning the ball. This can be problematic for Real Madrid in positions where the attacker is close to the goal as Marcelo struggles to keep up with the attackers.
In this scout report, Marcelo’s off the ball movement has shown to be impressive because he can make multiple types of runs, making him unpredictable for opposition players who have prepared to play against him.
Above, Kroos played a ball to Vinicius Junior and even before his fellow Brazilian received the ball Marcelo was seen to be making an overlapping run. When Marcelo makes overlapping or underlapping runs it gives another dimension to the Real Madrid attack because defenders have previously found it hard to decide whether to force him wide or inside when he is in possession of the ball as he is comfortable in either scenario.
Left-wingers Vinicius Junior and Eden Hazard have flourished because Marcelo’s unselfish runs have created space for them to drive into, producing goalscoring opportunities for their team. When Vinicius Junior picked up the ball, he passed to the overlapping Marcelo. Alternatively, he could have dribbled into the Barcelona area had Marcelo’s run drew Semedo away from Vinicius Junior to allow Vinicius Junior to drive with the ball into the Barcelona 18 yard-box.
As well as making problematic runs on the wings Marcelo can also be a nuisance for sides in the middle of the park. In this transition against Celta Vigo, he dropped into an inside forward position where he laid off a perfectly weighted one-touch pass to assist Kroos, who scored from this Marcelo’s pass. It is acknowledged that Kroos still had a lot to do from this position, but the weight of the pass allowed Kroos to easily move the ball past Stanislav Lobotka to shoot quickly and catch the goalkeeper out.
Marcelo enjoys occupying the area circled because it permits his inclusion in a significant number of attacking sequences in this area of the pitch. In this instance, some players may have turned and attempted to attack Nestor Araujo given the space behind him, instead he is intelligent enough to play a perfectly weighted pass to Kroos.
Dynamic from deep
When Marcelo finds himself in key attacking areas he is technically able to make forward passes by completing 2.74 deep completions per game (completed forward pass within 20-yard radius of opposition goal which excludes a cross). Kieran Trippier ranked second making 1.80 per game. Although Marcelo starts at left-back, he acts as a playmaker by appearing in the final attacking third a lot, making deep completions which is key for the team when transitioning from defence to attack.
Midfield teammates allow Marcelo to venture into midfield because of his outstanding technical ability and is influential when playing forward passes with 83.54% accuracy on his progressive passes (in the opposition half, this is defined as a pass that is at least 10 metres further forward than the position of the passer). He likes to play these forward passes due to his attacking mindset and this can be shown by him playing 22.21 forward passes per game and only 8.52 backwards passes per game.
Marcelo’s attacking intelligence is appealing for any manager, it is becoming increasingly popular for wingers to become inside forwards, meaning that full-backs need to be able to act as wingers at times to create chances in wide areas for the team. Marcelo is a quality crosser with a cross success rate of 40.98% which Karim Benzema has been a beneficiary from with Marcelo providing 0.91 crosses per game for Benzema.
Like many Brazilians, Marcelo is a strong dribbler of the ball with statistics showing a 63.64% dribble success rate. Being such a successful dribbler allows him to make 1.98 progressive runs per game which draw opposition players to him when he has the ball to create space for teammates in key areas of the pitch who he can pass to. Progressive runs are defined as running forward with the ball for at least 10 metres (when in the opposition half, the definition differs depending on the start and end positions of the run).
As mentioned earlier, Marcelo enjoys making under and overlapping runs, however, he also enjoys roaming outside the 18-yard box to the left of the goal. Above he takes up the inside forward role that a winger would usually take. Marcelo is intelligent enough to drop off two yards to find some space on the edge of the area (circled). He will drop off into such areas if he can find the space and, in this scenario, he produced an out-swinging cross to the back post, something he does frequently.
Out-swinging crosses can cause concern to goalkeepers because it is putting them in two minds whether they should come out and claim the ball or stand on their goal line and risk the opposition getting a shot on goal. This is why Marcelo’s crosses have been so accurate this season because goalkeepers struggle to claim the ball in the air leaving Real Madrid players the opportunity of getting on the end of the cross provided by Marcelo.
He also takes part in clear goalscoring opportunities, he makes 0.76 key passes per game which is more than any other left-back in the league this season. Additionally, he takes 1.14 shots per game and when given the opportunity he will shoot from the region circled, the area he picked up the ball when he scored against Eibar this season.
In terms of statistics, Marcelo is an outstanding full-back having ranked well on all data analysis performed; the video analysis highlighted his positional weakness when defending, getting caught high up the pitch too many times after gambling that his team won’t lose the ball, which exposes them when they do. His slow reactions and poor positioning are highlighted when in a defensive position and can explain why Zidane has favoured the more defensive Mendy in particular games.
There is no doubting Marcelo is still one of the best attacking-minded full-backs in the world, not having any noticeable weaknesses going forward, and he is an integral part of Madrid’s attacking play by playing as an extra attacker when they’re on the attack. It’s difficult to label him currently as the best full-back because of his poor defensive work rate and positioning, however, if a team plays to his strengths and the manager’s tactics give him the licence to stay forward he can become unplayable and up there with the very best.