This article originally featured over at totalfootballanalysis.com, our flagship tactical analysis site covering players, teams and managers from all over the world.
FC Barcelona’s La Masia has produced a number of promising players in the last decade with Abel Ruiz another name looking to graduate to the first team in the near future. Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi are a few prominent names that have made their mark on the first team and have gone on to become club legends.
Since the golden generation, we have seen a far fewer names graduate to the first team and have a similar impact. Sergi Roberto has been a prominent figure with Denis Suarez bought back after a year away. Roberto has become FC Barcelona’s utility player being able to take up positions at right-back, central midfielder, defensive midfielder and right-wing. The La Masia academy is due a world class player and one of the rising stars attracting attention is centre-forward, Abel Ruiz Ortega.
The academy starlet has been with FC Barcelona since 2012 after joining from Valencia CF. Ruiz made his senior debut with the reserves, coming on as a late substitute in a 2–0 Segunda División B away win against CF Badalona; he also became the first player born in the 2000s to make an appearance for the club’s senior ranks. He made his professional team debut on 28 August, in a 0–3 home loss against CD Tenerife for the Segunda División championship.
His international career with the Spanish Under-17s side started off with a bang. A number of individual and team accolades followed including UEFA European Under-17 Championship Champion 2017, runner-up 2016 and FIFA Under-17 World Cup Runner-Up 2017. His individual honours include UEFA European Under-17 Championship Team of the Tournament: 2017, the top goal scorer in the history of UEFA European Under-17 Championship finals with 8 goals (shared with Amine Gouiri and Odsonne Édouard). The top goal scorer in the history of UEFA European Under-17 Championship with 16 goals (shared with José Gomes), the top goal scorer in the history of the Spain under-17 team with 27 goals and the most-capped player in the history of the Spain under-17 team with 37 appearances.
Young Abel Ruiz has wracked up the accolades to prove his extraordinary talent and become a proficient forward for FC Barcelona. Let’s take a look at what makes him such a promising talent.
Link Up & Positional Play
The Spaniard’s ability to link up with the midfield is his strongest trait. Ruiz is a nimble centre-forward who operates as a false nine. His preference to drop into midfield and bring his teammates into play is noticeable making Ruiz much harder to mark. He is comfortable dropping into a central or wide position to receive the ball. This setup opens up opportunities for the inside-forwards to play in the channels pulling full-backs out of position allowing their own full-backs on to the overlap. The Spanish forward has a strong premonition of his teammate’s positions. This has made some of his interchanging play phenomenal but requires a great deal of chemistry and repetition to replicate on a regular basis.
Abel Ruiz featured for FC Barcelona against AS Roma in their preseason tour and can be seen playing with his back to goal as Malcolm plays a quick forward pass towards the Spaniard. Ruiz’s first thought is to play it off to a nearby forward or midfielder.
After a give-and-go between himself and Malcolm, notice the gap between Kostas Manolas and Alessandro Florenzi which Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla is looking to exploit.
We can see Riqui Puig darting forward into the box and could create a crossing opportunity for Ruiz who can exploit the space in front of him. AS Roma’s defenders have turned their attention away from Ruiz and are now concentrating on the threat posed by Tabla and Puig.
The Big Man
Along with his intelligent movement off-the-ball and silky one-touch passing ability, the 5ft9 striker is as much of a physical presence as he is a nimble-footed creator who is able to hold up the ball. The Spanish striker has made a few wrong decisions leading to misplaced passes and giveaways but training with more experienced players Ruiz can develop his hold up play.
When he needs to drop deep and get involved with the midfield we can see his hold up play against Dujon Sterling. After holding off the Chelsea centre-back he passes the ball off to Riqui Puig and makes a run past the Chelsea defender to meet the return ball.
The quick exchange of passes has taken out both Chelsea players creating a massive gap behind the left flank. The team seems to be holding a relatively high-line and now are rushing back to move into position to stop the forward drive of Abel Ruiz. His incredible speed allows him to break free of his marker and give himself a chance to cross the ball for his strike partner.
Playing as a false nine requires the intelligence of a forward-thinking, creative midfielder but the instincts and reactions of a poacher. Abel Ruiz has the ability to play with his back to goal if they mark him tightly. If left unchecked he can conjure up a series of passes and movements around the opposition defence to break through and create goal scoring opportunities.
Abel Ruiz is blessed with an incredible amount of speed and vision. At 5ft9, Ruiz is quite fleet-footed and can be a handful for defenders, especially considering his preference to drop deep or wide to collect balls. He possesses the intelligence to know his teammates’ whereabouts. But, pace alone does not equal success as we’ve seen on countless occasions. A number of players across Europe have not lived up to their expectation: Adama Traore and Theo Walcott were both touted for greatness from a very young age but failed to live up to the hype. Traore, once of Barcelona, has been a disappointment but is now trying to resurrect his career at Wolverhampton Wanderers and fulfil his promise under the watchful guidance of Nuno Espírito Santo.
The Spanish forward has shown flashes of brilliance in the final third when it comes to using his pace intelligently. During a game against the French Under 17 side, we can see Ruiz surrounded by Oumar Solet and William Bianda but his intelligent body positioning allows him to turn into the empty space to his right. He is well aware of his surroundings and almost prefers defenders closing in on him as it gives him the option to turn his defender and race away.
Notice, as he turns, Oumar Solet is caught flat-footed and is trying to keep pace with the FC Barcelona forward. The Spanish side is so intertwined with the play style that Sergio Gomez starts making his run into space ahead of Vincent Collet knowing Ruiz’s movement pattern.
Ruiz sees the opportunity to play in Gomez, taking out two of the three French defenders. Sergio Gomez finishes off a well-worked move after skipping past Collet and rounding the goalkeeper.
Abel Ruiz isn’t the most prolific striker but has the ability to score goals. His club career may not be prolific but it’s his playmaking ability that makes him a valuable asset to the team. His statistics at the Under-17 World Cup was impressive as he ended up as the top scorer with eight goals proving he knows how to find the back of the net.
Even if he lacks the goals for Barcelona B his involvement in goals is his contribution to the team. Let’s focus on this goal he scored against Belgium under 17s side. As Spain go on the counter-attack, we notice Ruiz’s gamble to make a forward run not knowing if his teammate will be robbed of the ball or not. The number 17 skips past his marker with Ruiz taking up a smart position between the two centre-backs with their focus on the ball. The Spanish false nine makes a run into the empty space and manages to cap off a quick counter with a goal.
His movement to position himself in between the two defenders from his original position shows his spatial awareness and eye for goal. Lionel Messi may well be his role model who carried out a similar role in his younger days. The former Valencia youth product has access to the best player in his position and should pick up a few lessons and develop in the position and role.
Abel Ruiz seems to display enough potential to become a future first-team player for FC Barcelona. The Spaniard is rough around the edges but with a little bit of polishing can blossom into an influential striker who can be used in a number of systems.
Modern-day forwards are now heavily involved with the midfield than ever before. We’ve seen successful forwards such as Roberto Firmino, Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard who have not only scored an abundance of goals but possess unimaginable link up play. Defenders tend to lose their defensive shape and exploit even the smallest disparity.
Ruiz’s ability to play across the front three positions combined with his constant movement, the young Spaniard could follow in the footpath of the of Pedro and Sergi Roberto to become the latest La Masia graduate to have a strong impact on the first team. A loan move to a La Liga club would be beneficial for Ruiz. Slowly integrating him into the weekly pressures of La Liga can have long-term benefits; the proof of concept was successful with Denis Suarez. Can he have the same impact as the other La Masia alumnus? It’s difficult to gauge now but time will tell whether he has the true potential to be playing at the Camp Nou on the biggest stage.
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