Dani Ceballos is a 22-year-old Spanish central midfielder currently playing for Real Madrid, who recently won the U-21 European Championship with his national side.
His professional career started when he joined Real Betis in the 2013/14 season, before switching to Real Madrid in 2017/18, where he currently remains. He totalled 105 appearances for Betis in addition to 56 and 48 for Real Madrid and Spain (first, U-21 and U-19 sides) respectively. His favoured position is in the ‘8’ role in midfield, further forward than a defensive midfielder but not an out-and-out attacking midfielder. Across all of his starts last season, he started in the centre midfield ‘8’ role in 65% of these matches (13), also playing a few in a more advanced midfield role (5) and 2 as a left forward.
Ceballos has received a lot of attention since his ‘Player of the Tournament’ award at the 2017 U-21 European Championships as well his his more recent 2 goals and 2 assists in 5 matches at the 2019 Championship. Although he boasts some significant strengths (to be explained) aside from goal output, his recent statistics have made many believe that he is a natural and regular goal contributor, which history suggests he actually is not. In his 165 club career appearances, he has only recorded 12 goals and 11 assists (5 of each coming in La Liga 2), far from what many would have you believe. With so much interest from clubs around the world as well as the fact Madrid chose to buy him in the first place, it is evident that we should not be judging his quality entirely on his goal output an that he clearly has a lot more to offer in different aspects of the game.
The trait of his that stands out immediately is his remarkable ability to evade the opposition press. He regularly utilises his quick feet and close control to get out of tight, difficult situations on the pitch and then dribbles the ball into space. He will often continuously change direction with the ball to keep the opponent moving in an attempt to disorientate them and allow him to break away from their pressure. He is an intelligent player who thrives off holding onto possession before providing teammates with perfect passes at the right moments further up the field rather than directly contributing goals and assists.
Clearly, the main area he can improve upon is his attacking output. 12 goals and 11 assists in 165 matches is really not a fantastic record, however, if he lines up in a midfield alongside a minimum of 1 other natural goalscoring and creative midfielder, his strengths will be key to improve the overall functioning of the team and these lack of numbers may not be so crucial. However, if a side are looking for a player to come in and help significantly boost their attacking figures, then Ceballos is currently not that man. Think more of a Luka Modric type player, who contributes massively to the overall play, but not necessarily directly to goals all of the time.
An alternative to Fernandes and Maddison for Manchester United?
With Bruno Fernandes having being linked to Manchester United all summer and brief murmurings being made about James Maddison, could Ceballos be a worthy alternative should we fail to land our midfield targets? In short, no. Manchester United are in need of two types of midfielder: a defensive midfielder and a more attack-minded midfielder. Dani Ceballos unfortunately falls right in-between these two positions. None of the three midfielders mentioned are defensive midfielders, so how does Ceballos compare to the other 2 in terms of attacking statistics in their respective leagues?
Goals + Assists:
Fernandes – 20, 13
Maddison – 7, 7
Ceballos – 3, 0
Shots per Game:
Fernandes – 3.6
Maddison – 2.3
Ceballos – 1.3
Key Passes per Game:
Fernandes – 3.2
Maddison – 2.8
Ceballos – 1
Dribbles per Game:
Maddison – 1.4
Ceballos – 1.3
Fernandes – 0.9
These stats make it immediately obvious that Ceballos is not largely involved in attacking output due to his lack of shots and key passes played. The fact his numbers are only higher than Fernandes for dribbles supports the point that he is a type of player who retains the ball successfully before moving it onto a teammate.
Is Dani Ceballos a highly talented central midfielder with a lot of potential to develop further? Yes. Is Dani Ceballos the player Manchester United should be trying to sign right now? No. His football brain and ability on the ball allowing him to evade pressure should not be taken away from him at all just because of a lack of attacking numbers, however, he currently does not fit the mould of midfielder the Red Devils are looking for. I believe the clubs that should be looking to sign him are ones which have a solid ball-winning defensive midfielder and an out-and-out attacking midfielder already in place. In terms of Manchester United, I believe we should be putting all our efforts into securing the signature of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon.
Written by Nick Pasquet
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