Despite Mallorca’s relegation to the Segunda Division, they have been able to show us remarkable players who have graced the stadiums of La Liga. This has been a common feature amongst relegated teams who have remarkable players but unfortunately go down. Takefusa Kubo, Ante Budimir, Cucho Hernández, and Alejandro Pozo are few players with notable performances throughout Mallorca’s La Liga campaign.
However, a seemingly underrated player in Iddrisu Baba has also been quite a revelation for La Liga fans. The 24-year old Ghanaian who secured promotion to La Liga from the Segunda Divison with Mallorca has shown the bit quality he possesses to the Mallorca and La Liga fans. In this tactical analysis, I will give an analysis of Idrissu Baba’s role, attributes and weaknesses.
Player overview and role
Iddrisu Baba is a 24-year old Ghanaian midfielder who applies his trade for RCD Mallorca. The 24-year old is a midfielder with impeccable dribbling ability which helps him retain the ball with ease. Coupled with his agility, he is able to get past his man with deft touches which allows him to get out of tight spaces and evade pressure from opponents.
Apart from his decent on-the-ball ability, he possesses defensive attributes which help carry his duties to a decent level. Tackling and pressure regain are Iddrisu Baba’s stronghold. His defensive positioning is another strong suit of Iddrisu Baba.
Mallorca plays in a 4-4-2 system in which Iddrisu Baba plays in a two-man midfield as a defensive midfielder. In this heatmap, it shows Baba’s role to protect the backline and central area, most importantly the zone 14 areas. The halfspaces are also an area Baba is adept at protecting as he shuffles to the ball-near area to protect the halfspaces
On the ball ability
In Mallorca’s first phase build-up tactics, there are different dynamics but it always revolves around five players. Deep full-backs and Idrissu Baba dropping deep as the anchorman or joining the central back to a make it back three in the build-up.
Iddrisu Baba’s on the ball ability and his composure makes it easy to receive possession in deeper areas. Iddrisu Baba’s tactics such as the open body orientation and receive the ball on his strong foot make it easier for him to receive ball deeper areas. Apart from this, his spatial awareness and decision making, allows him to be press resistant in possession. In all, baba’s ball retention is actually his best ability.
In this first phase build-up, Baba drops deep to create a numerical advantage which shows another side of his game from a tactical perspective. In this 3v2 situation, Baba creates a passing lane for the ball-carrier as he drops into the left halfspace. He receives the ball on his strong foot which allows him to adjust his body orientation and subsequently gives him a good view of the pitch. Therefore, it allows him to see the on-rushing Osasuna player. Baba deals with the pressing player by dribbling away from him. He does this by nicking the ball away using a deft touch in the opposite direction. He then shields the ball away from his marker and finds a simple pass.
Apart from this, Baba is able to show immense composure in under pressure and in tight spaces. Iddrisu Baba’s athleticism allows him to turn away from markers, carry the ball through a progressive distance and ultimately shield the ball.
Here, Baba shows all these attributes aforementioned in the previous paragraph. He drives the ball from the second phase into the third phase amongst a crowd of Granada players. His athleticism plays a big role in helping glide past his markers and shields the ball. His balance helps him withstand any nudge or push from his marker which doesn’t allow him to go down easily.
As mentioned earlier in this scout report, another noticeable quality in Iddrisu Baba’s game is his simplicity in possession. He’s able to make good decisions in possession rather overcomplicating things by showboating.
Here, Baba shows his spatial awareness, ball retention and good decision-making ability here. As he receives the pass, he’s aware of the pressuring Atletico Madrid player which prompts him to make a return pass. Iddrisu Baba checks over his shoulder to scan his environment and he calls for a pass again.
As he receives the pass, he adjusts his body orientation to receive it on the turn while control it using his strong foot. As mentioned before, this makes it easier for him to have a proper view of the pitch which prepares him for the next action. As his next action, he picks out a perfect line-breaking pass.
Baba’s ability to adjust his body while receiving a pass makes him play at different angles. His agility, ball retention, and decision-making ability make it harder for him to be susceptible to counter presses from the opposition.
Iddrisu Baba’s athleticism is a useful attribute he uses in every defensive phase. His athleticism gives him the intensity which helps in pressure regains, tackles and recoveries. Apart from his athleticism, Iddrisu Baba’s defensive positioning is a thing of note.
In Mallorca’s defensive shape, Iddrissu Baba is tasked with blocking central passing options and space. He stays compact within the defensive block and shuttles side to side as the block shifts with the main aim of blocking passing lanes to the between the lines options. In the course of doing his job, Baba displays his positional awareness and spatial awareness.
Here, Baba closes the ball-near spaces and marks two players at the same time. Due to how compact with the defensive block, he is able to tighten the spaces around the halfspace and wings. He stays near the ball-near option of the ball-carrier while the between-the-lines player is in his cover shadow. This positioning ultimately makes it difficult for the ball-carrier to play any pass to the ball-near teammate or the between the line player.
In defensive transitions and defensive shapes, Iddrisu Baba is able to act as a cover for out-of-position centre-backs and fullbacks. In moments were centre-backs and fullbacks are dragged out of position, Iddrisu Baba recognises the space and screens any play that tries to exploit the halfspaces or interior channels.
Here, Mallorca concedes possession and has to defend a transition. Iddrisu Baba starts to track back as Mallorca’s tactics are to fall back into their defensive shape rather than counter-press. Due to the central areas being protected, the Granada ball-carrier is on the flank and is being closed down. However, a diagonal run from another Granada player aims to provide the closed down player with a passing option. Iddrisu Baba reads this situation and tracks the run. As the pass comes in, Iddrisu Baba pressures the player and shows his athleticism and tackling ability as he makes a sliding tackle to halt the transition.
A common feature of Iddrisu Baba’s game is the fact that he aims to protect the zone 14 areas during the defensive transition. During defending transitions, his first instinct is to try and trackback to cover the zone 14 areas. Ultimately, it provides more bodies in central positions and makes Iddrisu Baba act as a makeshift centre-back.
In this image above, Iddrisu shows his athleticism and his positioning in a defensive transition. In this defensive transition, Iddrisu Baba does well in tracking back and blocks the central area (zone 14). With the number of bodies back, this halts the transition as Mallorca has a numerical advantage against the opponent offensive transition.
As the play progresses, a loose pass is made by an Osasuna player. Due to the nature of this pass, it’s misjudged by both the ball-near Osasuna player and Baba. However, Baba tries to pick up the loose pass. Unfortunately, the distance and speed it travels to make it difficult for Baba to reach. However, baba is able to tackle the ball due to his athleticism as he races after the ball and stretches to make a sliding tackle and wins back possession.
Another common feature of Baba’s positioning during a defensive transition is his body orientation in the 18-yard box. As Baba arrives into the box, he tends to position himself at a diagonal angle with him facing the central areas in order to see opponents attacking the box. This body orientation gives him a chance at dealing with a cross and simultaneously dealing with an on-rushing attacker. Iddrisu Baba’s ability to orientate his body in that manner and still be able to deal with attacks is an indication of his athleticism.
In Mallorca’s high press tactics, in order to remain compact, Iddrisu Baba is tasked to screen any play that passes through the first line of pressure. Iddrisu Baba’s deals with the presses in multiple ways as he looks to win aerial duels as a solution to going long or winning possession from blindside presses.
In Mallorca’s high press tactics, Mallorca forces Levante’s build-up to the wing which allows Mallorca to have better access to the ball while limiting Levante’s passing options. Iddrisu Baba reads this situation and positions himself along the passing lane between the ball-carrier and the ball-near passing option. As the pass comes in, he moves to intercept the ball.
As good as Iddrissu Baba is as shown in this scout report, he like every other player is susceptible to flaws.
Iddrisu Baba’s timing of tackles and challenges makes him very susceptible to dribbles which are often in form of nutmegs. Although it’s a come thing for defensive midfielders to get dribbled, Iddrisu Baba’s case is actually something to be worried about. His dribbled past stats are negative on his scoreboard. A 24.2% dribbled tackled rate while attempting 69 tackles is actually poor for a defensive midfielder in comparison to other defensive midfielders.
Here, misjudges his tackle and easily gets beaten by the Granada player.
Although Iddris Baba is able trackback and positions well during a transition, he can also be bad at tracking back at times. However, this can be masked in a team who stays compact in transition or counter presses effectively or in a defensive overload.
Here, he seems to be caught ball-watching. He doesn’t pick up the run of the free player attacking the zone 14 areas. Baba’s failure to track back and pick up the runner leads to a dangerous chance conceded.
Although Iddrisu Baba wins a fair share of his aerial duels, he equally loses the other share of his aerial duels. Aerial duels are something Iddrisu Baba could improve on. Although he’s not as tall as other defensive midfielders, however, he needs to be able to be strong in the air, deal with headers, and have a good jumping power.
Finally, his passing ability is quite decent. However, in order to play for a top club like Barcelona who will have more of the ball, his ability to circulate the ball and find incisive passes would likely be required. A passing accuracy of 80% for defensive midfielder might be good for a bottom-table team. However, it will be average at best for a top team’s defensive midfielder, especially in a possession heavy team.
In this scout report, Iddris Baba shows the raw talent to be a top defensive midfielder. Apart from this, he shows similarities between his compatriot, Thomas Partey, and he is touted as a successor to Partey if there’s an eventual move from Atletico Madrid. However, there’s still much work to do on his game.