Just ten months into his La Liga spell, Diego Carlos has already proven to be one of the signings of the season. The Brazilian centre-back arrived at Sevilla for a reported fee of €15 million last summer. His former club Nantes paid only €2 million for him back in 2016, but his price tag already seems outdated.
At Sevilla, Diego Carlos has found the consistency he may have lacked before in a career that has seen him play for eight clubs in four countries so far. As we will see in this tactical analysis, the conditions were always there, and he seems to be reaching his true potential under Julen Lopetegui.
His performances have risen a lot of interest from the biggest clubs in Europe. The likes of Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Napoli are following the 27-year-old defender. In this tactical analysis, we will take a look at the abilities that could solve the defensive issues of some UEFA Champions League clubs.
Diego Carlos usually lines up as the left centre-back in a back four. He has been used on the right side too. His physicality is the first thing that catches the eye when watching him. Standing at 185 cm / 6’1’’, Diego Carlos is not the tallest centre-back around, but his big muscular frame makes him look huge and imposing on the pitch.
His complete defending style suits different tactics. He can defend with spaces behind him but is also very effective inside the box. He also covers the back of his centre-back partner very well. In his heat map, we can see that he covers a lot of ground for a centre-back:
As mentioned before, the first thing one sees about Diego Carlos is his physicality. He’s very strong in duels and knows how to use his body to destabilise his opponents.
But even if he’s big and heavy, Diego Carlos is still a great athlete. He’s very powerful, his pace in long distances is great, and he’s surprisingly agile and flexible. These characteristics are the base of his game as he knows how to take advantage of his physical superiority. In the next two examples, we can see how he uses his athleticism.
In the picture below, Diego Carlos races the attacker trying to intercept a deep pass. Even if his rival has a starting advantage, Diego Carlos’ pace allows him to get the ball and cut a promising attack.
In the next example, Diego Carlos has to defend the left flank. The rival winger first manages to get a couple of yards of advantage, but the Brazilian defender reacts fast and makes a perfect tackle in a very difficult and risky situation.
We can see his agility and flexibility here.
He’s also aggressive when the opposition receives the ball. He doesn’t let the attackers turn and is quick to bully them and recover the ball using his strength. In one-vs-one situations, Diego Carlos has enough pace to change direction and is agile enough to tackle as we have seen before, so he’s not easily beaten.
Regarding his defensive positioning, Diego Carlos bases his game on his intuition. He usually leaves his zone trying to anticipate the movements of the rival, and often does it right and is already there when the attackers make an off the ball movement. He knows he has the pace to recover from his positioning mistakes, so he relies even more on his intuition. When he’s on his day he has a certain Virgil Van Dijk resemblance, seeming omnipresent at the end of every opposition attack.
Inside the box his positioning is fantastic, and he can cover a big area around him to clear crosses and passes using his pace. He also uses his body well to keep the strikers away from shooting positions and win duels, or at least disturb the attackers to make their movements harder.
But this unorthodox positioning also has its issues. Sometimes he relies too much on his pace and isn’t active enough to take good positions before the rivals make their movements. His overconfidence makes him leave gaps in the defensive line and when he’s not fast enough to cover them, the defensive line is left exposed.
In the picture above, Diego Carlos has just failed a pass to the left-back. Instead of sprinting back to his position, he jogs, trusting no pass will be made into the space he left. But the pass is made and the striker is in a goalscoring position where Diego Carlos should have been.
Finally, his aerial game is ok but not top. He wins a fair share of the aerial duels (4.84 aerial duels/90’, winning 51.2% of them). When he can use his body to move his rival before the ball arrives he usually wins. He’s also good inside the box, mostly because of his positioning and a quick burst of pace to get to the crosses before the strikers. But he has problems in long balls when the opposition tries to anticipate instead of getting into a physical duel. We can often see how strikers are positioned some meters away from him to attack the ball instead of waiting for it and, in those situations, Diego Carlos can’t use his body and struggles to win in the air.
On the ball analysis
When playing from the back, Diego Carlos has a decent technique. He can control the ball quite well, but he often doesn’t put the appropriate weight on his passes, making them difficult to receive. He rarely uses his left foot and rarely dribbles from the back (just 0.33 dribbles/90’).
Even if he’s not the most aesthetically pleasing centre-back, Diego Carlos is very composed and calm on the ball. He usually uses just two touches to control and pass, doesn’t panic under pressure and tries to play short passes. But sometimes he takes unnecessary risks as he has the vision to see pressure-beating passes but may lack the technique to execute them with the required accuracy. This leads to some great pressure-beating passes but also costly mistakes. There’s a clear gap between his technique and his vision.
Above, Diego Carlos controls the ball and quickly plays and finds a midfielder higher up the pitch. Even if the pass is not perfect, he has the vision to play it quickly enough to give space and time to his teammate to control the ball quite comfortably.
Next, we see how Diego Carlos tries to play under pressure. He sees the left-back but the pass needs to be perfect to beat the pressure, and it gets intercepted as he doesn’t play it well enough. This interception is the beginning of the play we showed above in which he doesn’t reach back his position in time.
Another part of his game that needs improvement is the direction of his clearances. He clears the ball very often thanks to his great positioning in the box, but the clearances often end near him or outside the pitch when he could have put them in better positions to completely end the attacking play. This is even more obvious when he has to clear with his left foot.
In the example below, Diego Carlos makes an excellent interception inside the box, but his clearance doesn’t raise from the ground, ending at the feet of a rival inside the box.
In the following chart, we see some key stats from La Liga this season (they may slightly differ from the ones mentioned before as the Europa League matches were also included). Each bar represents how good he is compared to every other centre-back in the Top 5 Leagues.
There are two stats in which Diego Carlos stands out. One is his tackle success percentage (80.95%, better than the 82% of the top 5 leagues centre-backs). As mentioned before in this scout report, he’s a very quick and agile defender and makes lots of last-minute tackles. The other one is clearances/90’ (5.1, better than the 87%), as his positioning inside the box is excellent.
But there are some issues highlighted by the stats too. He rarely blocks shots (0.64 blocks/90’, better than the 46%) or intercepts passes (0.93 interceptions/90’, better than the 13%), showing his unorthodox positioning. He makes up for it winning duels, but he should be more proactive and intercept the ball when it arrives at the attackers.
On the ball, he only stands out for attempted long passes (4.42/90’, more than the 79%), but with a poor completion percentage (46.27, more than only the 40%). He ranks in the bottom 40% of the centre-backs in the Top 5 Leagues in terms of passes into the final third (2/90’) and passes completion percentage (82.27).
Diego Carlos has the conditions to be one of the best centre-backs around, but he needs to be consistent and make the most out of them. He combines strength and pace, two of the more important characteristics for a centre-back. He’s also calm and confident, and he seems unbeatable in some matches. But he needs to work harder in his positioning and evaluate the risks better when playing from the back.
Some of his performances this season have been fantastic, but it’s still his first season in La Liga and aged 27 he should be reaching the top of his game. He’s complete enough to adapt to the tactics of any club, and it’s not surprising that Europe’s elite are looking at him. If he can maintain his calmness and translate his aura of superiority to a top club he will become the leader of one of the best defences in the world.