One Man, One Game: Miguel Britos (vs Southampton, 04/03/2017)

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 hopefully regular ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.

You may think Miguel Britos is a weird choice for a player to focus on, but it was a request from one of my Carles Puyol tier Patrons. This isn’t to pass the buck. It’s to say that if there’s someone that you’d like featured, you can back the Patreon at $5+ a month and your suggestions will take priority, as well as access to other features like the exclusive thoughts on the Patreon blog.

Given all of the relatively obscure centre-backs that could have been suggested, I was also pretty happy to look at Britos. Watford’s centre-back situation has interested me pretty much since they’ve been back in the Premier League, as all of them seem to vacillate quite strongly between performing well and performing badly. It was a pleasure to have an excuse to look at one of them in more depth.

A brief overview of how Watford’s centre-backs are usually required to play makes sense as a starting point, as you’d be forgiven for not having a clue how they defend. Principally, the side operates in a deep block, though they do have something of a presence in terms of defending from the front. Once this forward defensive line is beaten, though, they drop back. Watford’s CBs occasionally have to step up and meet an opponent who has space thanks to a bit of a hole-y midfield, but a lot of their time is spent in a more ‘traditional’ area of the pitch for a centre-back.

Their system against Southampton was interesting, in that it was, on the team-sheet, a back 4 with Younes Kaboul at right-back, Sebastien Prödl at RCB, and Britos at LCB, but the side had the flexibility to switch these 3 men into more of a clear back 3. This mainly affected Kaboul though, and Britos’ role was largely the same throughout the match.

**

Physically, Britos seems pretty capable of looking after himself. He made 6 headed clearances, though lost the 2 defensive aerial duels he took part in. He shielded the ball successfully on the sideline at one point in the game, but looked on the edge of being pushable while doing it. Broadly physically fine, then.

He seemed pretty good at anticipating play unfolding in front of him, reading what was in front of him and what was going to happen – and, importantly, acting on it.

What goes on away from ‘directly in front of him’, however, appeared to be more of a mystery to him. While he was often checking his shoulder (perhaps more in the second half than the first), it looked as though someone could fairly easily ghost in behind him. Manolo Gabbiadini in particular made Britos look dizzily spooked. Gabbiadini’s movement was great, and would be awkward for any defender, but there was something almost unprepared about the way Britos looked – as if he was constantly reacting to Gabbiadini’s every feint and movement, rather than his own positioning and awareness of the forward’s position and likely movements putting him in a position where he was well-placed whatever the striker did.

 

I think – though this would require further watching to be sure – this is down to his positional sense, to a pretty large extent. Good centre-backs look like they are positioned, rock-like, in exactly the right place. Britos looked like he was being carried on the tides of play, a little bit.

It’s probably best demonstrated – as it’s more of a tangible event which happened – in a moment in the second half where Britos is sweeping to cover. He keeps pace with Gabbiadini pretty well, but his positioning should be narrower, starting his arc back towards goal before Gabbiadini does so that he’s positioned well for when the striker does move back centrally. Instead, Britos gets drawn towards the ball and is rounded; the angle that he’s having to turn to change direction is narrower than Gabbiadini’s, which doesn’t help.

 

Britos’ footwork looked pretty good, though there wasn’t an awful lot of occasions where he was required to change direction hugely quickly, and I’d want to watch more of him to be sure that my initial thoughts on this part of his game was correct.

He only really stepped up to challenge in midfield once during the game, and that was in the first minute, and he fouled. I believe (if I recall correctly some of the stats and games I’ve watched) Prödl is similar in this, and it makes me think that Watford’s centre-backs strike me as weird because they’re probably broadly good, but not necessarily being played in a system which suits them.

Britos’ strengths seem (from this match) to be in his footwork and anticipation, the kind of player who steps up and intercepts. You’d clearly want to watch more than one game, but the mix of positioning and anticipation makes me feel like he isn’t best-suited to the ‘retreat and stay deep’ style which Watford played last season.

He’s ok, and ok for a recently promoted club like Watford especially, but looked a little shakey.

If you enjoyed this analysis, please consider contributing to my Patreon to help keep this kind of analysis going, and gets some juicy bonus content as well.

The next goal is The Photoshop Goal, which will allow me to put together these clips into gif form and highlight the player involved and maybe annotate them slightly in other ways too.

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