Josh Hobbs provides a scout report on Huesca’s Javi Galán after his recent links to Leeds United.
Until recently it seemed that Leeds United were set on Stade Brest’s Romain Perraud as their new left-back. However, the trail seems to have gone cold on this one. In the last couple of days he has been linked strongly with Southampton and it seems as if Leeds have given up on the young Frenchman.
There are rumours of Victor Orta meeting a young, as yet unnamed left back, who has apparently moved to the top of the list for this position. However, there is another name going around that we do know of — that being Huesca’s Javi Galán.
The rumours are that the 26-year-old Spaniard is available for around £4m, which looks a bargain as he shone in La Liga last season, despite Huesca being relegated on the final day.
Whilst he might not be the top of the list for Leeds, I thought it would be beneficial to assess why Leeds like him and what he might bring to Marcelo Bielsa’s team, were he to sign.
Firstly, we’ll assess his data scouting report from fbref.com, which features advanced data from Statsbomb.
Here we can see an interesting profile, with performance in some metrics looking quite poor, whilst he is exceptional in others. It’s worth noting the team-effects here. As mentioned, Huesca were relegated and were not a good team, so metrics like ‘touches (att pen)’ are likely to be affected by this. Huesca were not on the attack as often as better teams, so their full-backs are unlikely to be in the opposition box very much. On the flip-side, a side having to do a lot of defending is likely to feature players who make a lot of tackles, as Galán does, making 3.2 per 90, which is enough to put him in the 94th percentile for full-backs in the top 5 leagues.
What this profile can tell us though is that he is very productive in the final-third. FBref’s ‘Shot Creating Actions’ is a metric which gives value to the 2 actions preceding a shot. This means that players involved in the build-up to chances are recognised, rather than just the person who provided the shot assist. This could be a dribble, the ‘pass before the pass’, the winning of a foul or even a shot which rebounds and the team subsequently scores from. Galán ranks in the 72 percentile of full-backs for this metric. Again, keeping in mind team-effects, this is very impressive and suggests that he would scale up into a better team and produce even better numbers. As he has such a high volume of dribbles per 90, with 3.35, I would suggest that the vast majority of his shot creating actions are dribbles.
As well as his impressive shot creating actions, his expected assists of 0.09 per 90 puts him in the 60th percentile. These chances primarily come from crosses up the entire left-flank.
As you can see from this graphic, the vast amount of his chances created are in the ‘golden zone’. This is the area within the width of the six-yard-box which is statistically where the majority of goals are scored from.
One area which the current incumbent of the left-back slot, Ezgjan Alioski, excels in is that he is a real goal-threat from full-back. He scored twice in 20/21 but took 0.91 shots per 90, which is very high for a full-back. Comparatively, Galán only took 0.21 shots per 90.
Above is a map showing the locations of all Alioski’s shots in the Premier League in 20/21. As you can see, he took a number of shots from outside the area but he also regularly got into the box to get shots away.
In comparison, Galán has a tiny volume of shots and barely provides a threat in the box at all, although it’s notable that he scored an excellent goal against Real Madrid, rifling the ball into the top-right corner from one of his only efforts. Again, I would suggest that it’s not surprising that he’s not getting a lot of shots away, particularly in the box, due to Huesca team-effects.
However, it does seem that it’s his preference to get in a position to create, rather than shoot. I would still expect to see him getting a lot more chances to score if he played for Leeds, although perhaps not as many as Alioski, who we know loves to shoot and has previous experience playing further forwards.
Standing at only 5 feet and 6 inches, it’s not surprising to see Galán doesn’t win a lot of aerial duels, although this does put him at a similar Alioski.
Aside from his height, there are other aspects of his game which are similar to Alioski, in both positive and negative senses, which I will address as we continue, whilst there are other areas where Galán looks like he would be a significant upgrade.
Continuing on from the chances created viz, firstly I will look at his crossing:
Above are a few examples I have selected to demonstrate the variety of different positions he crosses from. He can deliver the ball from deep, high and wide, from the byline or inside the box itself. This is similar to Alioski as the Macedonian’s boundless energy means he’s always campering up the wing to provide an option.
However, I would say that — by my eye — Galán’s delivery is far superior. Alioski shades him for xA per 90, with a figure of 0.11. Again, we need to remember team-effects here though. Leeds’ attack was one of the best in the Premier League. I would expect to see Galán put up a greater amount of xA than Alioski if he were in the Leeds team.
In my opinion, Alioski can be maddening when it comes to delivering the ball into the box. Of course, he’s capable of assists like the one he provided for Bamford against Spurs, where he showed composure, got his head up and found the centre forward with a cut back. Often though, it seems like he blasts the ball over the top of his targets. Galán seems to measure his crosses far more and generates whip and pace and provides balls into the box which are asking to be finished.
Watching the 26-year-old, you can’t miss that he’s a dribbler. It’s right there in the data profile earlier in the piece, but you don’t need to see that he ranks above the 90th percentile for dribbles to see this.
When the ball comes to him, his first thought is to attack space ahead of him. He’s confident taking on opponents and has great agility and balance to dart past them. He’s often able to beat his man from a standing start due to an explosive first-step and he has a lovely burst of acceleration to pull away. These dribbles can both help his team progress up the pitch, but also relieve pressure by winning fouls.
An interesting quirk is that he tends to dribble more in his own half or in the midfield third, rather than in the final third. There is less of a tendency to attack, but rather to put a cross in instead. I would suggest that he would be more dangerous if he drove at full-backs to go to the by-line more often, as well as attacking the top corner of the box, where he could have opponents scrambling backwards. His 1v1 ability could be a real weapon in those positions.
On the subject of his dribbling, I’m led to focus on Galán’s press-resistant qualities — by which I mean how he reacts to being pressed by opponents, primarily by confidently passing through the lines or by beating his man and carrying the ball out of pressure. This is something that Alioski can struggle badly with and games such as Arsenal at the Emirates or Brighton at the Amex were examples of how badly Alioski can play when he is put under significant pressure.
In the previous set of clips I showed a couple of examples of Galán successfully beating pressure and carrying the ball forwards but here there are a couple of examples of what can happen if he is unsuccessful in beating his man and finds himself pushed backwards. It’s worth saying that he did the sensible thing in a couple of them, launching the ball forwards or out for a throw if necessary, rather than going further backwards, as Alioski has been known to, sometimes giving away unnecessary corners in the process.
One of the examples featured him winning a foul when turning backwards, but he might have been a bit lucky in this case. I have also included an example against Real Madrid where he demonstrated an ability to pick a line-breaking pass, before racing onto receive it again. This showed an ability to not simply beat a press, but launch a dangerous attack.
Whilst he’s not perfect, I would say that Galán would be a significant upgrade on Alioski in terms of press resistance. He’s calmer on the ball in general and his ability to beat players in the defensive and midfield third could springboard into transitional phases, which Leeds were so dangerous in during 20/21, due to the speed and directness of their attacking players.
When looking at the various left-backs Leeds have been linked to, as well as my own suggestions for players who should be considered, one thing that has always been an issue is finding a player who can match the defensive intensity of Alioski. Whilst he can be incredibly frustrating at times, it’s impossible to deny that his intensity makes him a nightmare for opponents.
I was encouraged when watching Galán that he seemed to be the best of the options I’ve looked at so far when it comes to defensive intensity. His Fbref profile shows that he sits in the 91st percentile for pressures per 90, which is exactly what we want to see given that Leeds pressure the ball more than any other team in Europe’s Big 5 Leagues.
How this tends to play out is that he races out to the ball and tries to smother the opponent’s options by getting so tight to them that they are forced to turn backwards or he is able to steal the ball from them. He’s quick enough to get to his opponent before they even receive the ball on a lot of occasions, which means he’s on top of them before they can react. However, whilst he is like Alioski in a positive sense, there are some of the same issues.
As you can see in the two examples here, he can be beaten as he races out to the ball as he is over-committed. One of the examples didn’t lead to real danger as his teammate was able to get across and force the ball backwards again, allowing Galán to recover his position. If that hadn’t happened then he was caught the wrong side of the ball. The other led to a much more dangerous situation as he was completely beaten after diving in.
As well as being beaten too easily in moments like this, he can also give away silly fouls because of his high intensity, which is another thing that is very frustrating about Alioski, particularly as Leeds haven’t tended to defend set-pieces very well.
Is he an upgrade?
Keeping in mind the similarities here, you might be wondering why Leeds wouldn’t just offer Alioski the money he’s after and keep him as number 1 choice if it meant that Galán wouldn’t necessarily be better defensively. Considering that Alioski has 3 seasons worth of Bielsa-ball experience under his belt, why not just stick with him?
In this case, I think finding somebody with similar defensive attributes in a positive sense is more important than improving on the issues. We know he will be beaten by wingers at times, but the intensity is a net-positive overall because of how it fits into the pressing system. He will win the ball and force turnovers more often than he’ll be easily skipped past.
As I’ve said above, I’d be surprised if the Spaniard matched the shot output of Alioski, but I would expect him to be a much better player in build-up and in terms of providing additional creativity from the left-flank.
If he does turn out to be the one that Victor Orta brings to Elland Road, I would see him as a decent upgrade and would certainly be happy with him for the price mooted, which seems to be an absolute bargain.