A Tactical Analysis of Marco Asensio: The Complete Package

As Marco Asensio’s first season as a Real Madrid player concludes, we take the time to analyse the massive impact he has had on the team, and how Zidane has gotten enormous performances out of the young Canary boy. What impresses the most, perhaps, is not how good he performs, but how versatile his performances are. Asensio has performed as a winger, a wide midfielder, a central midfielder, and as number ‘10’ this season, and he has done stellar in every position.

To understand what Asensio has brought to RM, we must analyse his role in the team, and how his correct choices help shape Madrid’s play into beautiful, effective football. Asensio has provided the team wing play, midfield qualities, and created scoring opportunities.

After recently gaining much appreciation for player’s position shifts over the years, watching Asensio has me thinking. Lionel Messi’s shifted from a winger, to a false nine, to a winger again. Cristiano Ronaldo shifted from a winger to a number nine. Creative midfielders shifting to the wing such as Payet, Mata, Eriksen, and Coutinho, all of this has led me to form a question:

What will Marcos Asensio’s position be in the future?

In reality, his versatility gives this question many different possible answers. With this in mind, I have analysed his performances that show how Real Madrid’s golden boy plays.  Let’s break down Asensio’s talent into different categories.

Asensio’s Collaborative Attacking Qualities:

The young boy’s collaborative qualities include knowing how to use his teammates to his advantage in every single play. He involves them whenever he needs to, and he knows his teammate’s qualities to perfection, which helps him place passes and decide plays to perfection in a fraction of a second.

Asensio possesses great pace, special awareness, and understanding of attacking transitions. He often involves his teammates to create favorable situations for the team. His runs are mostly down the wing, however the fact that he started most of his games as a winger largely contributes to that. His versatility provides a variety of ways to create dangerous chances for his team, in which he uses passing, dribbling, pace, crossing and shooting to do so.

The first clip shows Marco providing width, combining with James Rodriguez, making a brilliant run, and finally assisting Karim Benzema with a low cross.

The second clip shows him providing width, and then using his great vision to find Alvaro Morata between two lines of pressure, creating a scoring opportunity. The third clip shows Asensio timing his run down the wing, to create space for a cross. Then we see Asensio finding his teammate with an incredible diagonal ball, following of a run down the wing. The fifth clip shows Marcos talent in attack as he wins a 50/50 ball and then megs a rival before being fouled. The last clip shows a little bit of everything Asensio is capable of. He sprints down the wing, times his run perfectly, unselfishly plays James for him to score, and then scores

The third clip shows Asensio timing his run down the wing, to create space for a cross. Then we see Asensio finding his teammate with an incredible diagonal ball, following of a run down the wing. The fourth clip shows Marcos talent in attack as he wins a 50/50 ball and then megs a rival before being fouled. The last clip shows a little bit of everything Asensio is capable of. He sprints down the wing, times his run perfectly, unselfishly plays James for him to score, and then scores

The fourth clip shows Marcos talent in attack, as he wins a 50/50 ball and then megs a rival before being fouled. The last clip shows a little bit of everything Asensio is capable of. He sprints down the wing, times his run perfectly, unselfishly plays James for him to score, and then scores off the rebound.

Asensio creates many chances down the wing, but his unpredictability allows him to do the same near the centre of the pitch. His intelligent movements help him create space for himself near the final third, and he uses this space to either cross, pass, or shoot. Zidane’s confidence shows Asensio occasionally roaming free and leading counter attacks. Here are a few examples of him doing so:

A repeated trait the young Spaniard likes to perform when leading attacks is quite simple. He plays the ball out wide, and pauses his run whenever he wants to create space for himself. The first clip shows Asensio starting a counter attack from his own half, playing the ball out wide, and slowing down his run to make space near the edge of the box. Again, Asensio’s timing is the reason why he is one step ahead of the opposition most of the time.

The second clip shows Asensio playing the ball out wide, then slowing his run until the defender’s drift away, then scoring with a finish into the near post. The last clip just shows Asensio beginning a counter, and playing the ball out wide like he is used to.

Another great virtue Asensio possesses is his vision. He has no problem finding teammates in any part of the field, and he constantly puts teammates in scoring positions. His vision allows him to be a prolific crosser. Like every action in the final third, Asensio always creates space for himself near the same area before performing a cross.

The first clip shows an already shown play of Asensio timing a run, and strategically placing himself near the edge of the box with much space around him. He already starts thinking of all of this when he is in his own half, as his run is merely to locate himself in an ideal position for a cross. The second clip shows Asensio crossing to Benzema, for the Frenchman to head it over the bar.

The third clip illustrates Asensio’s unique talent. He places himself between Bayern’s two lines of pressure, asks for the ball, and puts in a dangerous cross into Cristiano Ronaldo for the ‘Ballon d’Or’ winner to beat Neuer. Notice how much space he has around him before both crosses against Bayern Munich. His movement never fails to find him space even against the world’s best, even in such compact lines. He always seems to be a step ahead of his opponents.

His anticipation, and the ability to see things before they happen, help him intercept the ball and break through with pace quite often. Here are two examples of Asensio doing so:

Both clips show Asensio intercepting a pass and breaking away from the rival’s pressure. These attacks often lead to scoring opportunities, like in the second clip, where he assists James for the game opener.

Midfielder Qualities

Again, Asensio’s versatility includes a vast amount of resources that have lead me to believe that he might evolve into a ‘midfield maestro’ in the future. He has great vision and short passing and has the ability to move between lines to create space and receive the ball. A specific trait that many midfielders possess that Marco does as well, is the ease to retract between lines of pressure to create passing options and participate in the team’s possession. Here are a few examples of Asensio’s midfielder qualities:

The first clip illustrates Asensio creating triangular passing lanes to play out of the back, only after controlling an extremely complicated ball from Sergio Ramos, nut-megging a defender, and performing a roulette. It really gives a sense of what Asensio is capable of.

The second clip shows the Real Madrid player retracting his position between lines to involve himself in ball circulation. Aside from knowing where the ball should go, doing this helps create a passing option for his team. Notice how at the beginning of most videos, Asensio is between defenders and midfielders, and after receiving the ball he is located behind both lines of pressure. This confuses rivals and causes misplacement. Notice how the fourth clip shows Asensio dropping between defenders and midfielders, causing confusion in Leganes’ defense.

Other midfielder qualities Asensio possesses is his regular willingness to keep possession. This is backed by good decisions which normally lead to Asensio playing back to reorganize attacks.

The first clip shows Asensio deciding to not play Mariano after he was offside. He passed the ball back, choosing to create an organized attack. The second clip shows a little bit of everything. Asensio makes a run down the line, he notices he cannot progress, so he waits to combine with James until they are both able to do so. The last clip just shows Asensio retaining possession after he cannot progress.

Another gifted quality Asensio holds is the talent to use flair to combine with teammates under any circumstance, no matter the space, the difficulty of the ball played, or the numerical minority he holds. These traits are only possessed by world-class midfielders such as Xavi, Iniesta or Xabi Alonso. Here are a few clips of Asensio’s ability to comibine with teammates and escape pressure under different situations.

Notice how Asensio uses flair in his touches to pass, control, dribble, and escape pressure. The last clip is just an extreme example of Asensio and Morata creating an aerial rondo in the middle of Leganes’s midfield.

Goal Scoring

Not only can he pass, assist, and organize, he possesses the most lethal threat of all: he can score. And he has proven to do so in a variety of different ways, which just make him even more unpredictable. We are not talking about a winger who conducts the same play over and over again, such as Robben cutting inside and shooting to the far post. Asensio can score with both feet, from close and far range, and after dribbling the ball from his own half. Here are Asensio’s two long shot goals for Real Madrid this season:

Although he didn’t try many longshots, these two goals show just a glimpse of Asensio’s potential from long range. His pace and ball control also allows him to score amazing solo goals. Similar to the examples listed above about Asensio starting counters from his own half, he often carrier the ball from his own field, to score beautiful solo goals.

These two runs are a clear example of Asensio’s capability to dribble the ball without nerve. He finishes each play with a different leg, and against phenomenal keepers such as Rico and Neuer. These last two videos of Asensio scoring off solo runs and long shots show how elite the young boy can become. He is not afraid of any goalkeeper, or any scenario.

Conclusion:
Coming back to the original argument, Asensio’s versatility has proven extremely valuable for Zinedine Zidane’s Real Madrid. He has played in so many positions, and has done well in all of them. His pace, crossing and vision allows him to perform as a winger. His great vision, movements, spacial awareness, and ball handling suggest he can perform as a central midfielder, in the Modric or Kroos role. His long shots, solo runs, and ability to start attacks are signs of him possessing the necessary requirements to be a ‘number 10’.

To know what position the future will hold for Asensio is impossible, however his characteristics make me believe his future will be as a ‘number 8’ or a ‘number 10’. His pace, special awareness, vision, and goal threat suggest he may turn into a type of Angel di Maria under Carlo Ancelotti, who played on the Left Central Midfielder in a three-man midfield.