Rico Lewis – The English Lahm by Tomás Reis
In Istanbul, Guardiola and the thousands of English fans at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium were all smiles when Rodri broke the deadlock with a beautiful shot. After last season’s nightmare at the Bernabéu, the Cityzens were about 25 minutes away from putting their name on the list of winning clubs in the prestigious UEFA Champions League. The Nerazzurri, led by Simone Inzaghi, played at a higher level than expected, but the English held on to their precious lead until the final minute. City won the title for the first time, and Guardiola won it for the third occasion. The English finally achieved their major objective, and the Arab investment paid off in today’s most important club competition.
City is now one of the most powerful sides in the European scene, thanks to the influx of money from the UAE beginning in 2008. The club has managed to reinforce itself with world-class players and has invested heavily in its academy, from which several stars have emerged. Some of these young talents, such as Sancho, have joined different teams, while Foden and Rico Lewis are becoming important players for the club’s present and future. Phil Foden, or “Stockport Iniesta,” as he is known in Manchester, is already a key piece for Guardiola’s side. Rico Lewis is not yet on the same level as the English fantasist, but he is a young man with attributes that Pep Guardiola strongly admires. Rico joined the Skyblues academy at the age of 8 and made his first-team debut aged 17 against Bournemouth in a 4-0 win at home. His rise has been spectacular, and I believe that this could be his breakout season.
He’s a player with a unique profile. Young talent with the ambition and technical qualities which Guardiola looks for in a player. In Pep’s system, Rico takes on the role of inverted fullback, where he stands out for his excellent passing and ability to control the speed of the game. A player to fulfil the role of inverted full back must be technically and tactically proficient. Despite his young age, the Englishman already possesses all of the requisite attributes.
When we compare Rico Lewis to any of the other fullback options, it’s clear to see why Guardiola is such an admirer of the young talent. Kyle Walker, in terms of defense, is a solid player in duels and depth control. One of his greatest advantages is his speed. However, he shows various technical deficiencies and isn’t at the same level of his teammates. When it comes to Cancelo, his technical ability is unrivaled, but he does have defensive limitations. In addition, he is a difficult player to manage and may create a bad atmosphere in a team’s locker room if not used on a regular basis. Guardiola likes his teams to dominate and Lewis’ presence on the pitch allows him to do so. The young Englishman has sublime passing ability, can play under pressure and is extremely intelligent in the way he positions himself on the pitch. In my opinion, defence is where he needs to develop his game the most. Nonetheless, when it comes to duels, he’s an extremely aggressive and intense player. The City-trained player resembles Philippe Lahm in many ways, and in Guardiola’s hands, he will undoubtedly mark a generation of fullbacks like the German.
Figure 1: Rico’s positioning in the build-up
Figure 1 shows Rico’s positioning in the build-up phase. The two centre-backs and the left back form a line of three, while Lewis moves to a more central area, forming a sort of double pivot with Rodri. Rico Lewis’ placement in the center can be interpreted in a variety of ways. With an extra man for defensive duels, City is definitely better protected in the case of losing the ball in a central area. This makes it easier for City to defend against counter-attacks, which is their opponents’ major approach. Furthermore, the goal is to break down the opposition’s pressure and allow the most gifted players to receive the ball unguarded.
Rico Lewis is an extremely calm player when his team has the ball. His decision-making is quick, as he is a player who is constantly scanning. The scan is basically the active movement of the player’s head in which the eyes are temporarily directed towards a certain space and away from the location of the ball, the purpose of which is to gather information about teammates/opponents/space in order to prepare his next action with the ball. This action increases the percentage of correct passes, drastically reduces decision-making time, and benefits communication with teammates to correct or alert them to an opponent’s behavior more quickly. He’s not a player who makes the so-called “Hollywood passes”; on the contrary, he favors small combinations and passes that break the opposition’s first lines of pressure.
Another of his great qualities is his ability to escape opposition pressure. He’s a highly developed player when it comes to dribbling, ball control, and targeted receptions. With so many technical resources, it’s not surprising that he’s able to play under pressure and almost always makes good decisions.
The figures above highlight Rico Lewis’ good ability to receive the ball and play in the midst of opposition pressure. Initially, he positions himself in the middle of three Leeds United players and receives a pass from Akanji. He then just needs two touches, and the ball is quickly moved into Rodri who finds De Bruyne free from pressure. The Belgian returns the ball to Rico with a simple back pass, allowing him to penetrate the opposing defense.
Figure 5 shows Rico positioning himself behind Burnley’s first line of pressure. I would like to draw attention to his body shape, which allows him to see if he’ll be pressured from any direction. This is something that great players do, and it’s fantastic to see Rico doing it at such a young age.
Although he essentially plays as an inverted fullback, Rico is also capable of playing as a traditional fullback. He sets up his teammates well in the final third, either through a cross or a delayed pass, and is physically well-prepared to help his team in attack for the full 90 minutes. Figure 6 shows the above mentioned.
Figure 7 shows the intelligence in Rico’s movements. Rico explores the space given by Burnley’s defense and Aké attempts a through ball into the Englishman.
During the previous season, the 18-year-old registered a total of 7.19 defensive duels and 0.74 aerial duels per game. The percentage of defensive duel wins is 51.3%. He also ended with an average of 1.84 intercessions per 90 minutes. Defensively, his best qualities are aggression and anticipation. He possesses good game reading ability, which allows him to predict the movements of his opponents. Figure 9 illustrates a play in which Burnley’s center-back attempts a long pass to his right winger. Lewis doesn’t give his opponent any space and ends up outplaying him, recovering the ball for the Cityzens.
Rico Lewis will be City’s right back for the next 15 years. His versatility, technical skill, and mentality elevate City’s game into a new dimension in the attack. In lavishing praise on the youngster, Pep Guardiola assumed that he possesses something very rare to find in a player. The young talent has the ability to make everyone around him perform at a higher level. Strong words from Guardiola about Rico, who in my opinion will be one of the most important fullbacks of the new generation.