Last week, Barcelona officially signed Samuel Umtiti for €25 million - a French defender formerly with Olympique Lyonnais. Umtiti became Barcelona's second signing of the summer, and projects to be the third string CB - behind Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano. The plan, from what we can tell, is for the Frenchman to learn from Javier Mascherano this season, and take over the starting LCB role next season - with Mascherano either leaving or moving to the bench. Given Umtiti's potentially vital role to the squad, and him being relatively unknown, I thought it might be helpful to take a closer look at the way he plays and the attributes he brings.
It seems odd to start with offensive positioning for a defender, but Barcelona's high possession rates and demand for attacking football makes the offensive output vital - even for central defenders and goalkeepers. When his team is in possession, Umtiti likes to move out wide on the left.
As Patrice Evra pushed forward, Umtiti would move wide to cover Evra's vacated space - with either Bacary Sagna tucking in from the right or Pogba dropping deep between the two central defenders to form a back three. Moving wide suited him well, as it gave him more space and time on the ball and allowed him to step up into that space to make passes.
One thing to note with his positioning is that he rarely pushes too far to the left. He seems to be very cognizant of potential counter attacks, and does well to play wide and take advantage of the available space without leaving the other defenders vulnerable to a fast attack going the other way. That should play very well within Barcelona's system, as he'll have plenty of space vacated by Alba but still has the positional awareness to keep stability within the backline.
That said, his defensive positioning still has some work that needs to be done. He's certainly no liability in the backline, but he does have a tendency to be too bold when he steps into the midfield to make a tackle. On more than one occasion - just throughout the Euros - he pushed forward to make a tackle and allowed his man to slip in behind him.
In this specific instance, he correctly follows his man (Joao Mario) into the midfield.
After Mario passes the ball, though, Umtiti follows the ball instead of the man. This leaves a gaping hole in the French defense, which Joao Mario correctly identifies and takes advantage of.
Umtiti was bailed out by a poor pass from the Portuguese player wide on the right side, but a better pass leaves a dangerous player, with space to utilize, and time to build speed running at a fragmented French backline.
On other occasions he was able to foul his man before the pass could be gotten off. Still, that's not an ideal situation. It's always nice to see a young defender eager and bold in his decision making off the ball, but he'll need some help from Pique and Mascherano in his timing and overall decision making.
Aside from that, his positioning and awareness of his surroundings seems to be very good. He's excellent at marking his man inside the box, and reacts quickly, decisively, and has the aerial skills to win a hefty majority of his challenges. He's got the quickness and a decent amount of strength to prevent his man from shaking him, as well. Once he's improved his decision making on when to step forward and when to stay back, he'll be a very good defensive player - with just a few minor adjustments to be made here or there.
As you could probably tell from the clips above, Umtiti is a very strong passer. It's a major reason Barcelona were even interested in signing him (or any player, really). Umtiti has great vision and confidence in his passing ability, and it shows.
Throughout his league, Champions League, and Euro campaigns, Umtiti completed roughly 87.7% of his passes with an average distance of 20.5 meters per pass. On passes over 25 meters, he completed roughly 52% of his attempts (for reference, Pique completed 58% while Mascherano completed over 74% of his attempted longballs).
As I've mentioned before, Umtiti is very confident in his challenges. He makes a decision, and he goes for it. While he does occasionally make the wrong decision, confidence and boldness are very positive attributes for a young defender to possess. His decisiveness allows him to break up plays before they can become a danger to the squad.
He wins over 80% of his tackles and wins nearly 1.5 tackles per 90 minutes. His tackle success rate was higher than either of Barcelona's starters last season, and only Mascherano won more tackles on a per 90 basis. In the air, no one in our backline truly competes with him. He wins aerial duels at a much higher rate than either of the incumbent defenders (about 70%, compared to Pique's 62% and Mascherano's 59%) and wins them much more frequently (nearly 3 per 90, compared to 2 for Pique, and 1.2 for Mascherano).
As previously mentioned, his positioning is good enough for him to be able to make plays on defense quite well. Last year, he intercepted over 2.5 balls per 90 minutes (the highest between him, Mascherano, and Pique), and made 3.97 tackles+interceptions per 90 - which was only out-done by Mascherano's 5.09 per 90.
Overall, Umtiti looks to be a great fit for Barcelona. He's positionally aware, he's an excellent passer, he's fast, strong in the air, and decisive. While there are a few areas of his game that need to be improved, there's nothing unique or detrimental to his game that projects to impinge his progress. From everything I've seen, Samuel Umtiti should fit in Barcelona's backline for several years to come.