FIFA
#World-class skills

Sofyan Amrabat: Play-breaker to playmaker

FIFA, 30 Jan 2024

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In part five of our world-class skills series, we explore the talents of a midfield maestro who thrust his name into the limelight and significantly elevated his standing in the global game after turning in a series of eye-catching displays at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™.

His laser-focused recovery runs, smash-and - grab raids of the ball and marauding bursts out of defence were amongst the highlights of a stellar tournament campaign that saw his nation record a remarkable fourth-place finish. We are referring to the engine in the Moroccan machine, Sofyan Amrabat.

From winning the ball to dictating the play, the Fiorentina man, who is currently on a season-long loan at Manchester United, is a three-dimensional defensive midfielder in the moment for every moment of a match. Ever-ready to carry out his defensive duties, he constantly has an eye on attack and an instinctive urge to get forwards. Not content with merely averting danger, the Moroccan linchpin looks to turn defence into attack at every opportunity, driving forwards as he seeks vertical passing options that pick out team-mates occupying space between the lines or making runs in behind. The following video footage illustrates Amrabat’s play-breaker to playmaker signature skill set in various scenarios.

Key insights

  • When defending in the final third, Amrabat is quick to perceive danger and seek to gain a tactical advantage. He protects central areas positioning himself in between or slightly behind opposition players, with a view to reducing the space available to them and in readiness to press. When the opposition probe in wide areas, he makes sure that he is ahead of play, which enables him to double up defensively and close off attacking avenues. Even quicker at eradicating attacking threats, Amrabat often takes opponents by surprise with the speed and bite of his challenges, the sheer force of which knocking them off balance as he presses to win the ball with an authority and personality assured by his own physicality.

  • After winning the ball or when receiving it under pressure, Amrabat’s footballing instinct is to seek transitional advantage. His burst of pace and deceptively agile technique allow him to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye, as he evades the attentions of opponents and explodes into pockets of space in the middle third. Disregarding regressive, sideways football, his natural inclination  an attribute shared by a host of iconic deep-lying midfielders – is to get his head up and look long for more penetrative, vertical passing options to team-mates  in areas between the lines or shaping to make a run in behind the opposition’s defence.

  • From a tactical perspective, Amrabat’s signature skill paves the way for attacking opportunities. His forward forays, often launched from inside his own defensive third, with such intent that they tend to catch opposition teams off guard, with a number of players ahead of the ball and the backline pushed up towards halfway. His in-behind passes seek to take advantage of  compacted distance between himself and a high defensive line that is vulnerable to penetration. When this passing option is not available, he instead runs with the ball and delays his pass to draw opponents towards him, which serves  to create space for his team-mates to exploit.

Safety first or play the runner in behind?

Our opening clip, which features a sequence from the first half of extra time in Morocco’s round-of-16 meeting with Spain at Qatar 2022™, illustrates Amrabat’s signature skill perfectly. The footage provides a snapshot of his footballing mindset, which revolves around looking forwards and playing vertically, while also highlighting his impressive physical force on the ball and unerring ability to identify optimal attacking solutions. We pick up the action with Amrabat, who is the deepest lying defender in this instance, receiving the ball under pressure and turning towards his own penalty box.

Finding a way to play forwards

The footage below, also taken from Morocco’s last-16 showdown against La Roja, illustrates a slightly different aspect of Amrabat’s collective skill set, focusing instead on the defensive side of his game. It emphasises his tactical qualities when called into defensive action and the composure and tenacity he displays to find an optimal solution to progress play when under pressure. The sequence also highlights Amrabat’s game awareness when looking for passing solutions and reflects how his decision-making is based on the information he gathers. We join the action with Amrabat acting as a defensive shield in front of his backline as a trio of Spain attackers pour towards him.

From winning the ball to dictating the play

Our third clip, which comes from a sequence that took place in the sixth minute of additional time in Morocco’s quarter-final encounter against Portugal in Qatar, offers a splendid example of Amrabat’s transitional force, while also showcasing his game craft and physicality as he extinguishes an opposition attempt to make inroads down the left flank. The footage also displays his instinct and resolve to power forwards from deep defensive positions in an effort to influence proceedings by playing penetrating vertical passes. The sequence begins with a Morocco defender heading the ball clear towards halfway, with Amrabat the first player to react to the next phase.

Impenetrable barrier and unstoppable force

Our final sequence – taken from the latter stages of the second half of the Atlas Lions’ final group-stage match on Qatari soil, against Canada – features Amrabat’s signature skill in all of its glory and illustrates the speed with which he blocks off central areas and forces his opponent to relinquish possession. The footage below also offers evidence of Amrabat’s footballing mindset as he takes advantage of a transition in which the opposition are caught high up the pitch. We also witness how he harnesses his considerable power to create space for a team-mate to exploit. We pick up the action with Amrabat positioned between the penalty arc and the right-hand edge of his own box as he anticipates a diagonal pass played into Alphonso Davies.

Summary

A defensive stalwart in one guise, a playmaker in another, Amrabat’s dual-role profile offers a fine blend of destruction and creativity. Tactically agile and highly attuned to potential threats, he consistently positions himself in the right place at the right time and then calls on his imposing physical prowess to hustle the ball from opponents before embarking on determined forays towards opposition territory. The transitional force Amrabat brings to his team in the seamless shift from play-breaker to playmaker in one fluid motion is a joy to behold. Of particular note is his ability to initiate transitions from deep inside his own half as he capitalises on the opposition’s high defensive line and exploits spaces left unguarded by opponents who have ventured beyond the ball. Amrabat exudes an air of serene calmness and irresistible individualism, all while maintaining collective intent. Whether progressing play through opposition lines by playing incisive vertical passes or delaying the pass to entice an opponent towards him, the talented ball-playing midfielder consistently strives to unlock defensive doors and create strategic advantages for his team.

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