Over the last few years, Real Madrid’s academy has produced some of the finest players that are gracing the footballing world right now. From Alvaro Morata to Mariano Diaz, the Blancos’ academy is like a factory that keeps on producing talents without cessation. And another one of them is Marcos Llorente.
Llorente, a 24-year-old defensive midfielder, completed a move from Real Madrid to rivals Atletico Madrid last month for reportedly £36 million.
The youngster is well known for his versatility in the central and defensive midfield positions. He is always keen to break up counter attacks by attacking the opponent from an early stage.
He is a handful to contain for his capability to play long balls by making key passes. After a Real Madrid victory at Stadio Olimpico, he started his first game of the season. He immediately provided Real with press-resistance and ball recoveries during last season in Rome.
He received several proposals from around Europe. Manchester United, Arsenal, Roma, and Sevilla were all ready to bid but the youngster chose to play for Atletico Madrid.
This tactical analysis will profile Llorente at Atletico Madrid.
Llorente comes from a family of professional footballers who maintain great ties with Real Madrid. His grandfather, Ramón Grosso, played for Real Madrid between 1964 and 1976 and won 14 Spanish national team caps. His father, Paco Llorente, helped the Los Blancos to three La Liga titles and two Copa del Rey successes between 1987 and 1994, playing over a hundred times for the club. His great uncle, Francisco Gento, was part of the most successful phase in the club’s history, playing over 400 games in a 19-year-spell. He won 12 La Liga titles and six European Cups in his brilliant career.
The young midfielder is a product of Real Madrid’s youth academy, La Fabrica. The midfielder joined the academy at the age of 13. He spent just over six years at that level progressing to the club’s reserve team. In the season 2014/15, he played for the reserve side. After that, he was promoted to the main team the next season.
His first year with the reserves went well. He was called up to represent Spain for under-19 midway through the campaign. Llorente made his debut for the national team in a friendly match against the Netherlands. He was also in the squad for 2014 UEFA European Championship elite round.
Llorente became a prominent member of the squad when he was loaned to Deportivo Alaves for a full season in 2016. He made 33 appearances for the club. After his excellent performance, he returned to Real Madrid from loan to join Zinédine Zidane’s team.
He was never likely to dislodge the likes of Luka Modric, Toni Kroos or Casemiro at the Santigo Bernabeu but often impressed when given a chance. But even then, he made only five La Liga starts under Zidane in 2017/18 and six last terms. This prompted him to consider a move away from the club he had called home for more than a decade.
Llorente is an exciting central midfielder who has shown himself to thrive in a deeper position. His performances in the season when he was on loan at Alaves have highlighted his quality as a midfield protector and supplier. The scout report shows his adaptation to both these positions.
Having broken out during the latter half of 2015/16, the 24-years-old had asserted himself at the base of Zidane’s midfield trio, operating behind Kroos and Modrić. And, while not as glamorous as his central colleagues, he had arguably proved more integral to the structure of the team as a whole.
The tradition of his family was continuing when Llorente appeared for the first team. On the basis of the player’s form throughout 2016/17, it was expected that he could follow his father and great uncle in becoming a core squad member. But Zidane had strategized his squad differently.
Zidane’s affixation with defensive midfielders is one that has not reduced with the passing of time. It is something that has increased even more since he became a manager. He does not put out teams without defensive midfielders, and he values their presence more than anything. Yet, even for a man who loves his defensive midfielders, three was a crowd.
Real Madrid had Casemiro, Mateo Kovacic and Llorente on their books as defensive midfielders. But Llorente was pushed further down the pecking order. This was not what he expected when he was leaving Alaves after his loan deal expired.
He was seen as the ready-made squad option for Casemiro, whose absence in the XI, either due to injury or suspension, made the team unbalanced. He was the only one in the squad who didn’t have a natural replacement in his position. With more on-the-ball abilities, Llorente was even touted as the one who would dislodge the Brazilian from the first team. He was more resistant to opposition press and always made himself available as a passing outlet.
Still, Zidane’s back-up plan when Casemiro couldn’t play was to shift Kovacic or Kroos deeper. He also restructured the scheme around a double-pivot. Because of this arrangement, the team survived a Bayern bloodbath.
He was the player that most Madridistas were waiting to see run out regularly at the Bernabeu in the future. But due to lack of his time, he decided to play for Atletico Madrid. It does not make sense for Real to get rid of the player who has Los Blancos’ DNA, particularly when they are losing him to their great rivals.
While Zidane believed that Llorente is not cut out for the highest echelon of football, Atletico manager Diego Simeone wants to prove him otherwise.
From Atletico’s perspective, this signing was a no-brainer. They just lost one of their most promising defensive midfielders in the world, Rodri Hernández, to Manchester City. Atletico used some of that cash to sign about as good a replacement as Rodri. Llorente is a player who is accustomed to playing the anchor role in a defensive scheme.
Simeone believed he had signed a player renowned as an excellent defensive pivot with a well-known ability for anticipation and intuition to intercept opposition passes. He views Llorente as the ideal replacement for Rodri who fits perfectly with Atletico’s tactics and style of play.
In choosing Atletico over anyone else, the midfielder would be able to stay in Madrid and play for the biggest club that could offer him maximum playing time. Llorente will now be more relevant on the European scale by playing Champions League football. With a good amount of playing time at such a high level should also allow him into the discussion for Spanish national team duties.
As a defensive midfielder, Llorente is already among the best in the league. His reading of the game and being in the right place at the right time makes him an astute player. His positional awareness makes him stand out as he is able to plug defensive gaps to fill in for the wing-backs or centre-backs.
The thriving midfielder is also strong and a very good tackler. He has great awareness of the opposition players within the dangerous areas of the pitch. Llorente is dominant in the air even though he does not have a tall build. He enjoys chasing every loose ball. The statistical analysis shows his crosses are 48.4% accurate with a dribble success rate of 87%.
He impressively developed whilst playing for Real Madrid’s B team. Due to his capabilities of playing a higher role, he also occasionally occupies a central midfield spot higher up the pitch.
The Spaniard also receives a lot of plaudits for his awareness during in-game situations. He settles in well into his central/defensive midfield roles and is often keen to break up counter attacks. With his near-perfect timing, he is one of the best in his role in the La Liga. He is a very good passer of the ball, both long and short.
Given his preference of starting from a deeper position, Llorente has the view of the entire pitch and assesses the correct passing option. He looks to move the ball into the channels on that side. Traditionally a holding midfielder, he is a major asset to any side as he can charge higher up the pitch with the ball. And the way he does it is a rarity.
He is widely regarded as the next Sergio Busquets. The midfielder has a wide passing range and a good dribbling ability. He also thrives in close control and has an impressive ability to press effectively. Furthermore, his ball distribution skills are similar to Xabi Alonso. He has also got a great vision and knows exactly when and where to make the pass. His interceptions also make him useful to press and dominate the opponent’s midfield.
In the image below, Llorente finds himself under pressure from two opponents, who are closing him down on each side. He recognises the imminent danger and sprints into a better defensive position.
However, highlighting his ability to play out of tight spaces, he drags the ball back, taking both opponents out of the game, before playing the ball wide to a team-mate. He thrives as a single pivot that drops deep. He shields the defence in transition, plugs gaps and helps cover for wing-backs He gets the team out of a tight press and distributes quickly.
Mostly featuring at the base of midfield, Llorente demonstrates an abnormal quality on the ball. On average, he completes 59.3 passes per game with the accuracy of long passes for 65.7%.
In the following picture, he finds the forward passing lane to his team-mate cut off by two Sevilla players. However, rather than play sideways or backwards, he turns quickly onto his left foot, showing exceptional composure, and opens up the passing lane. His passing skill is a key complement to that as his long passes are extremely accurate while on the counter-attack. With a knack for going forward, Llorente can also adapt as a box-to-box midfielder with his capabilities. He also likes to spread play.
In general, he likes to pick players up in the final third through successful long balls. On the attacking side of his game, the youngster has a powerful shot on him and isn’t afraid to let one fly from distance. On the defensive, he has won 48.9% aerial duels with interceptions accounting for 5.8. The youngster loves to combine his defensive duties with his natural central midfield role.
With his excellent technique and confidence while playing, he has all the attributes to become one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. He is the kind of player who can walk into the starting eleven of most La Liga clubs as well as some mid-table EPL clubs.
There is a role for Llorente, that is for sure. Capable of collecting the ball out of the backline and even slotting in at centre-back, he is a ball-playing midfielder. He keeps looking to initiate attacking transitions and creates difficulties for his opponents. He knows how to read passing lanes and start counters.