One Man, One Game: José Giménez (vs Athletic Club, 22 January 2017, RCB, no. 24)

If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that. 

Part 2

Last week, in Part 1, I watched a game of Giménez playing at right-back, with a view to seeing what skills on show there might translate to playing at centre-back. To cut a medium-length article short, there wasn’t a lot on the core skills of positioning, awareness, and physical attributes to go on, although there was an indication that Giménez struggled to accelerate on the turn.

The question for this week is whether this transfers to his play at centre-back, and what else we can tell about his game from watching him play again, this time in his preferred position.

—–

Athletic equalised in the 42nd minute. Iñaki Williams dropped into space between the lines, received the pass on the turn in the right halfspace, and poked the ball centrally in the general direction of team-mates. It took a deflection off an Atletico player and bounced to full-back-cum-winger Íñigo Lekue on the very edge of the box, just left of centre. José Giménez’s side.

Giménez hopped across, to his right, to be in line with the opponent, but his hop was too large and just at the moment when Lekue was taking his touch and moving more central. In the opposite direction to where Giménez was moving. He landed as Lekue took a second touch, and tried to reverse his direction, both his opponent and the ball still within reasonable distance of him. Lekue’s shot fired past Giménez’s outstretched left leg, and into the top left corner of the Atleti net.

Giménez, reversing direction, had moved maybe a third of a sidestep to his left in the one-and-a-half sidesteps he took. A large amount of the gap between movement and steps taken came from the fact he was shifting his direction and balance completely (although part of the ground that he needed to make up was his own fault for hopping too far in the first place), but part came from the lack of accelerating push that we saw last week.

It wasn’t just for Athletic’s first that it was evident. In putting himself alongside an approaching forward to be better placed to shepherd them (which is a good piece of defensive judgement and positioning), he struggled to re-accelerate, and had there been more room on the pitch the Athletic forward may have got clear of him completely.

Unfortunately for Giménez and this analysis, he was responsible for Athletic’s second goal to a significant extent as well. Godin, having stepped up to challenge in midfield, was replaced for the moment by a midfielder at left-centre-back. The ball was with Athletic on Atletico’s left flank, and the defensive line were backing up, organising themselves for a cross. For some reason, Giménez decided that, as the right-sided centre-back, he needed to be at the near (left-hand) post, leaving a large gap in a dangerous area behind him.

 

It would be fair to say that Atleti’s number 14 should have just tracked the run of de Marcos, Athletic’s scorer, but it’s also fair to say that Giménez’s choice of positioning was odd verging on stupid.

Breaking this moment down into trying to analyse more specific parts of Giménez’s game leads to some interesting questions. How much of that moment was an odd positional choice, thinking that that was the best place to be for the situation unfolding in front of him, and how much was a lack of awareness of the possibility for danger in the space he was leaving behind him.

How much was a belief that Atleti’s number 8, filling in at LCB, didn’t count as a proper central defender and so he, Giménez, needed to take up a more central position between the two full-backs? Is it a lack of faith in his team-mates competency compared to his own (leading to the same result in terms of the reference points he’s using for his positioning)? If he’s using the full-backs as reference points for his position then it makes a little more sense, but only really if you’re looking for ways to absolve the Uruguayan from guilt.

Outside of this, Giménez’s positioning was generally ok, although rarely challenged much; ditto for any tests of awareness. Physically, he looked pretty handy, muscling an Athletic player off the ball well, and looking dominant in the air, although many of his headers were unopposed, though he did win some headers which somebody else was contesting too. He stepped up a couple of times to poke away the ball, so his anticipation looks decent.

It is nice, from a personal point of view, that the feature of his game identified while he was playing at right-back was also present in a game playing at centre-back. I’m sure Giménez would prefer that was not the case, of course.

At the start of Part 1, I clarified the benchmark that we’re judging him against. He’s often linked to top-level clubs who need to fix a particular centre-back hole, like Manchester United, and it’s worth bearing in mind that he’s still only 22. As the number 1 centre-back for that level of club, I don’t think he’s currently good enough. He may well be one day, and I may well change my mind about the present if I had the chance to watch him much more (I think the former is pretty likely and the latter is less likely). This is just the vibe I get; I’d want to watch more before making more detailed predictions.

Did this test of Guardiola-esque centre-back scouting abilities succeed? Kinda. Join us same time, same place next week to see how far we’ll continue to push the bounds of defensive analysis.

EDIT:

Carlo Valladares (@C_V_News) tweeted his thoughts on Gimenez to me, and I get the impression he’s watched him far more than me, so here’s what he said. For sake of ease, I’m just going to copy it into one paragraph:

“Athletic ability, alters body with well-timed jumps and tackles. His last ditch efforts are effective. He can get too aggressive and some poor decisions when around penalty area. More mobile than Godin, more pace. Not as clever. Better ball-player than Savic. His edge sometimes hurts his first step challenge against quality dribblers. But he can recover well sometimes due to leg length.”

I’d agree on the ability to alter his body well; he contorted himself to make a good clearing header against Bilbao which was a difficult ball to deal with. The leg length is also a good point which I failed to mention, although it came from a place of wanting the defender to be right in the first place rather than rely on their long legs to recover, but it’s certainly an asset to Gimenez. Other than that I can’t comment, only to say that I trust Carlo’s judgement.

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