Alejandro Grimaldo has been a revelation since joining Bayer Leverkusen last summer. - © DFL
Alejandro Grimaldo has been a revelation since joining Bayer Leverkusen last summer. - © DFL
bundesliga

Tactics corner: Bayer Leverkusen's wing-back wizard Alejandro Grimaldo

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Alejandro Grimaldo has been a key component of Bayer Leverkusen's league-leading performances this season - bundesliga.com dissects the Spanish wing-back's game.

Alejandro Grimaldo has turned out to be one of the greatest bargains of Bundesliga history with the free transfer summer signing making a massive contribution to Bayer Leverkusen's title challenge.

bundesliga.com takes a closer look at what makes the Spain international so good.

Technique

It will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi play that - as a fellow graduate of Barcelona's La Masia academy - Grimaldo has weighty technical baggage.

Early in his career, he honed that as a central midfielder or as a left-winger, and developed positional know-how that serves him and his team well to this day.

His 90 per cent pass completion ratio in his own half means he is a safe outlet to move his team up the pitch, and his quality is seen in that he only drops to 88 per cent when he steps into the frenzied climes of the opposition half. Cool under pressure, 87 per cent of his passes still find a teammate despite opponents breathing down his neck.

Grimaldo offers a sense of calm whenever in possession for Leverkusen. - DFL

Grimaldo can pass and move, but his 77 per cent quota of successful dribbles also suggests a player that will happily go one-on-one with an opponent when he has to.

His ability on the ball is a huge asset when he drops into what is essentially a back four when his right-flank counterpart, Jeremie Frimpong, pushes forward on the opposite side of the pitch.

That draws Grimaldo deeper into his own half, operating more as a conventional left-back, but he still has attacking intent. His passing range means he can find teammates in space on the left side, notably Florian Wirtz, or he can also bring the ball forward himself, quickly transitioning his team's attitude from defence to attack.

The game against Augsburg was a case in point. Level with the top edge of his own penalty area, Grimaldo played two quick one-twos sandwiching a short dribble in between to play his way round four opponents, and bring the ball out of a potentially dangerous area.

Grimaldo often plays out of tight spaces and helps Leverkusen move quickly from defence into attack. - DFL

Providing width & a goal threat

Even without the ball, Grimaldo poses opposition teams a problem. Given his potential threat wide on the left, opponents have to station one or two men near him, ensuring they cannot close up space through the middle, and giving Leverkusen's central players more room to manoeuvre in dangerous areas.

Grimaldo, by contrast, does look move into a more central position when his team approach the opposition penalty area, making him a potential target for a cross or putting him in an area where he might pick up a second ball, and with it a shooting opportunity.

His ability to make the ball dip just before it reaches the goal has helped him score three times from distance (albeit only once from open play) already, while his seven league strikes this season makes his Leverkusen's second-top scorer. And remember: he's a wing-back.

Like Jeremie Frimpong on the opposite flank, Grimaldo plays high and wide when his team are in possession. - DFL

He also moves into a deeper central role when Leverkusen look to get Wirtz on the ball. The Germany international's tendency to drift wide left means that - when he does occupy that space - Grimaldo will move inside, bringing the opposition winger with him, and creating a pathway for the central defenders to find Wirtz.

It is that intelligence of movement he employs when he steps into the middle to provide a passing option when the ball is on the right, before racing back out to the left when his team has possession in a central zone. There, he is often found by the left-side centre-back, usually Piero Hincapie, but also Edmond Tapsoba when Xabi Alonso employs the Burkina Faso international defender there.

On the ball in the centre of the pitch, Grimaldo reverts to the number 8 role he played in his youth: moving the ball quickly, but also making runs to drag defenders away and create space for others. Wirtz, in particular, benefits from this with his teammate creating one-on-one situations for Leverkusen's most gifted individual.

Grimaldo forms part of a fluid system adopted by Xabi Alonso. - DFL

Defensive duties

Like everyone, Grimaldo does have a weak spot. He wins only around 49 per cent of his challenges - 52 per cent if you remove aerial duels - but he is a long way off the 65.8 per cent set by Union Berlin's Robin Gosens, the league's leading left-wing-back in the category.

But Leverkusen have his back. Literally. The three-man backline plus defensive midfielder Granit Xhaka quickly shut down situations that arise from Grimaldo's flank, while the Spain international's intelligent role in his team's pressing means he often wins possession back high up the pitch to launch counter-attacks.

He was in the right place at the right time to snatch back the ball in the derby against Cologne and cross for Frimpong to score. After Victor Boniface's wayward pass intended for Wirtz saw possession surrendered against Union Berlin, Grimaldo intercepted the ball being played out, swapped a one-two with Wirtz, and fired home to give his team a 1-0 lead. Such an approach is risky, of course, but when it works, it usually pays dividends in the form of a goalscoring chance.

If Grimaldo does lose the ball, he has plenty of support to win it back high up the pitch. - DFL

Set-piece mastery

Already five times this season, a Grimaldo dead-ball delivery has breathed life into Leverkusen's title tilt: he has scored two free-kicks himself, while also sending over three corners that have created a goal. No Leverkusen player can match that tally, not even Jonas Hofmann, who was so prolific from set-pieces with Borussia Mönchengladbach last season.

Given those impressive stats, it is all the more curious that his 47 crosses - the third-highest tally league-wide - have not led to a goal. But only Bayern Munich's Leroy Sané (10) has more assists than Grimaldo's eight this term, another reason why he is firmly in the debate for (free) transfer of the season.

Niklas Staiger