Eric Garcia: Promising Successor of Gerard Pique

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After the departure of Barcelona veteran, the legend, Carles Puyol, Barcelona was left with Gerard Pique and the Argentinian Javier Mascherano as centrebacks. The duo helped Barcelona win the treble but after the departure of Javier Mascherano, Barcelona brought in Samuel Umtiti who perfectly complimented Pique until 2018 when he started to face constant injuries. In came Clement Lenglet from Sevilla who is now one of the best Barcelona players.

In the mix of all this, Barcelona tried various centre backs in Pique’s position but none settled quite well. Just this week, Pep Guardiola confirmed that Eric Garcia who is an ex-La Masia player will not sign a contract extension with Manchester City, giving clear indicators that the La Masia lad wants to return back to Barcelona. The Culers around the world are massively hyped up for the Spanish international to arrive at the Camp Nou back, to his home. But what makes Eric Garcia the heir of Gerard Pique, let’s find out by analysing the young prospect:

Analyzing Eric Garcia:

Eric Garcia is a 19-year-old centre back born and brought up in Barcelona, Catalonia. Garcia spent 9 years at the Barcelona academy and later he eventually decided to join Manchester City with Carles Puyol being his agent. The centre-back made his debut for the blues on 18th December 2018 against Leicester City in the EFL cup Quarterfinal. On 17th June 2020, Garcia found himself starting for Manchester City’s first game post corona break against Arsenal. The youthful centre-back also started against Manchester City’s biggest rival Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium. Let’s focus on what he offers on the pitch.

On the ball abilities:

Like Pique, Eric is also comfortable on the ball being a ball-playing centre back. He moves around with the ball with much ease compared to his competitors. The Catalan is intelligent so before making any pass, he will check around and spot which player is free. Once he spots the player, he will give a perfectly weighted pass with precision. If the opposition is pouncing on him, he will give a pass back to the keeper and move wide from his presser. This way, when he receives the ball back, he has time to play a better pass without being pressured.

Positioning:

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Garcia pinning Mane

Garcia is tasked to mark Mane and he does it when Fabinho regains position.

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Henderson is about to receive the ball, Mane being very alert makes a daunting run deep into space behind Garcia.

In this situation, Garcia is left with two options. Either catch Mane which is not possible since Mane is very pacy or block the passing lane.

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Garcia opts for the latter. Garcia stations himself perfectly in an angle that if somehow he doesn’t intercept the ball, he can move his body and make a run but Henderson’s pass was poor and Eric comfortable took the possession thus stopping a potential threat of 1v1.

Another example of his intelligent positioning can be explained:

Eric Garcia
A long ball from Van Dijk

Van Dijk attempts a long ball directly to the forwards. Here, Laporte is on Salah and Firmino is on the blindside of Garcia.

After dribbling diagonally on the right, Salah attempts a shot which is brilliantly swayed away by Ederson.

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Ederson making full stretch save

If you closely observe, Ederson, Garcia, Firmino are almost in a linear line. Garcia is equidistant to Ederson and Firmino. This is a perfect position for Garcia. Since Ederson has made the save, there is a chance that the ball can directly land near Firmino. It is no brainer that Liverpool forwards are very vigilant in catching 2nd balls especially a player like Firmino. Garcia from his space can easily avoid that threat.

Body orientation:

This is a small yet very effective way for a footballer to get a good advantage in making any type of runs or moves. We will study Eric’s body posture while he is defending.

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City defence

Liverpool has the possession and City are defending with a very high backline. If you observe Garcia, his upper body is leaning at a good 30° angle. This seems a bit weird but this is a very good technique in case of making a sudden run during trackback.

A high line means if Liverpool plays the ball in that huge chunk of space behind City’s defence, the defensive line has to make a run to cover the space. With Garcia bending, he can easily turn and make a timed run. His body will be ready for the action. This wasn’t the first time, Garcia did this. Throughout the game, he was very alert and in a ready position.

Scanning:

This is something every coach/player advice repeatedly. Scanning is very vital for a player. It is often overlooked yet this one skill can give a player an edge above others. Barcelona legend Xavi constantly scans around before receiving the ball. This way he can feed all the possible spaces and dangers in his brain and work accordingly.

Eric Garcia does the same. He constantly checks shoulder since he is a defender, he has to compulsorily do it to avoid any possible scenario of opposition scoring goals.

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Mane is in the final third with Kyle Walker chasing him down. Instead of closing in Mane, Garcia while running checks behind him and he spots Salah. This way he knows which player is around him.

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Since Walker delayed Mane in the wide area, the other defenders and midfielders dropped back on time giving a numerical advantage. Garcia now checks in the vertical space to see if someone is making a late run in the box(usually midfielders do that).

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To see whether how good Garcia is especially on the ball, we selected a few ball-playing defenders to see how Garcia at this age performs.

Note: Graphs taken from FootballSlices. All the other players have played more minutes.

Mats Hummels:

Mats Hummels vs Eric García 1

The German is an orchestrator from the back and gives terrific long balls to his teammates. Eric competes with him very closely in possession adjusted interceptions and clearance. But the Spaniard is ahead of Hummels in Long pass completion and pass completion. Though Hummels very slightly wins in the progressive distance.

Presnel Kimpembe:

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Kimpembe’s vertical passing is a crucial aspect of Thomas Tuchel’s system. Though Kimpembe clearly wins more aerial duels and tackles Garcia leads passes into final third and clearance.

Virgil Van Dijk:

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The best defender in the world for the past 2 years clearly dominates Garcia but Garcia is ahead in possession adjusted interceptions.

Gerard Pique:

Finally, the player whom Garcia is going to replace.

 

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Garcia again is very close to Pique in a lot of metrics but Pique outsmarts him big time in aerial duels.

The above players were selected due to the similar system in which they all play. De Ligt was the player whom we wanted to include but his stats this season are down compared to Garcia. Though the correct way of comparing them would be his stats from last season they weren’t available.

Conclusion:

Despite having just 13 appearances and being 19 years old, Eric Garcia is highly rated and the only player who can come close to replacing Pique. Manchester City wants 20 million but Barcelona is negotiating for 15. With Garcia’s heart set for a Barcelona return, if City doesn’t agree to comply with Barcelona then, he can be signed for free in the next summer transfer.

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