Albion Analytics: Marc Cucurella

The Spain international signed for Albion on deadline day.

By Liam Tharme • 02 September 2021

By Getafe
The Spain international made 85 appearances for Getafe.

Brighton confirmed the signing of Getafe and Spain defensive winger Marc Cucurella on Tuesday and he comes to the club having put up some impressive numbers in La Liga last season.

Cucurella becomes the 13th player that Brighton have signed aged 23 or younger since the start of the 2019/20 season. Albion have signed just seven players over 23 in that time. Such a trend is evident of Brighton's recruitment philosophy because, despite his youth, Cucurella does not lack experience. The La Masia (Barcelona) academy graduate has already clocked up over 100 La Liga appearances. Internationally, the 23-year-old has been capped at senior level for Spain and has 17 caps for the under-21s, under-23s and Olympic team combined, and also boasts Europa League experience.

Getafe’s top boy in the last La Liga season for minutes played, pressures, shot-creating actions and dribbles/passes into the penalty area, Cucurella provides the perfect case study to evaluate the effective use of data within player recruitment.

As mentioned, in playing the most minutes of any Getafe player, Cucurella has more opportunity to generate higher numbers, which is why outputs are often adjusted 'per 90' – simply the total number is divided by total minutes played to calculate a per-match average.

For instance, Cucurella received 158 progressive passes last season, with Leandro Trossard (222) and Neal Maupay (234) the only Brighton players to receive more. Adjusting Cucurella’s output to per 90 minutes, a further four Brighton players (600+ minutes played) received more (Alexis Mac Allister, Adam Lallana, Danny Welbeck and Aaron Connolly). For positional context, no Brighton wing-back received more progressive passes per game than Cucurella last season. He ranks highly, adjusted for Premier League standard, in smarterscout’s link-up play metric.

Another form of adjustment is for possession, which is typically done by measuring the frequency of actions per 100 touches for an individual player, or per 1000 opposition touches when measuring defensive actions.

Brighton had, on average, 51.3% possession last season, around 8% more than Getafe per game. More time in possession equals more opportunity to complete attacking actions and fewer opportunities to complete defensive ones – vice-versa for lower possession. Thus, Cucurella’s immense defensive numbers are closely tied to Getafe’s playing style, so he should not be expected to maintain such an output when operating in a higher possession Brighton team, but at the same time one would expect his attacking output to increase.

Adjusting for possession – which is typically abbreviated PAdj – Wyscout data has it that Solly March made interceptions more readily than Cucurella last season. This data provider also has March as one of the Spaniard’s top 20 most similar players last season. Comparatively, StatsBomb data has Burnley’s Dwight McNeil and Johann Berg Gudmunsson as the two most similar Premier League players to Cucurella last season, though again that may also be reflective of the similarities in play style between Burnley and Getafe.

To understand individual styles better when team styles are very different you should consider the relativity of actions. Take these ‘defensive doughnuts’, which utilise StatsBomb’s six fundamental defensive actions. Comparatively, we see that Solly March does a lot more ball contact defending than Cucurella, who does a higher proportion of pressing.

In terms of attack, around a quarter of Cucurella’s direct involvements in Getafe’s chances last season were him shooting (the rest being shot-creating actions), while for March this figure was closer to a third, suggesting – compared to Cucurella – March is more involved in the conversion than the creation of chances. Cucurella’s creativity off the left could be crucial, as Brighton only assisted twice from high and wide in the left channel last season.

The Spaniard is very much a chalk-on-the-boots wide man, but his touches in the final third (898) last season were over triple that in his own defensive third (238), highlighting a clear tendency to get forward.

One of the fastest players in La Liga last season, clocking over 33km/h, Cucurella likes to combine – he makes plenty of forwarding, penetrating over/underlapping runs, but will primarily play more intricate passes. He averages six short/medium passes per long pass, whereas Solly March’s figure is 3.5. Interestingly, Cucurella plays a quarter of passes with his non-dominant right foot, which is well above the average (14%) and comfortably clear of March (7.5%). Adam Lallana (32.6%) was the only Brighton player last season to outperform Cucurella in terms of the proportion of non-dominant foot passes played.

Last season, March was involved in 49% of Brighton’s moves ending in a shot, and 70% of moves ending in a goal when he played. For Cucurella, these figures were 49% and 50%, showing a clear dependence from both sides to utilise these wide men in their attacks. Such metrics allow us to understand a player’s proportional involvement in their team, especially given the difference in play style. Brighton had 123 more shots than Getafe last season.