Since leaving Birmingham City in 2019, Bez Lubala has gained interest from championship clubs for his impressive performances at Crawley Town. With Crawley themselves not being one of the frontrunners for promotion this season, it has seen players like Lubala go slightly under the radar when it comes to the picks of the bunch in the Sky Bet League Two.
Lubala has been a regular for John Yew’s side having rejected a contract with Birmingham where he was used only sporadically. The right-footed left-winger has seen rapid improvements this season, becoming without doubt Crawley’s key player with 12 goals this term.
The role Lubala plays
Yew this season has operated often in a 4-4-2 as seen in the image below from Crawley’s 4-0 victory over Northampton Town in December. The style of play has remained consistent throughout with Yew rarely drifting from his favoured structure.
Crawley look to play the ball forward quickly, to give their wingers the best chance of taking on a full-back in a 1v1. When in possession the wingers will look to drive infield to play penetrative passes towards the mobile forwards who will operate the channels and look for a cutback towards the centre of the six-yard box. Often both wingers will look to operate to create an overload in front of the opposition back four, allowing overlapping fullbacks the space to cross.
In defence, Crawley operate with a medium block and tend to delay often to allow their wingers to recover and support their full-back. Their shape is narrow and compact, often looking to concentrate their players on to one side in order to create overloads or at least create numerical situations.
Lubala often operates on the left side, although he has been given the freedom to roam and often is found on the right or through the middle. This shows versatility and tactical flexibility as Lubala can play in a number of different positions and a number of different offensive/defensive roles. With this it allows Lubala to express himself, seek out space, and find opportunities to attack vulnerable defenders with his pace and quick feet. As mentioned he likes to cut inside onto his stronger right foot often picking up a wider position to start with. When he received from deep he draws opponent towards him, looking to drive forward opening up space for teammates to occupy in-between lines.
Due to his free roam with his role, it can leave his side vulnerable defensively. Often as Lubala likes to drift inside, in transition, his side becomes overloaded on his wing resulting in the fullback having to delay allowing Lubala to make a recovery run and support. Although this a tactical problem, Lubala can be seen to ball watch often, an area that will be highlighted later in this tactical analysis/scout report.
At a glance, Lubala shows good ball control and dribbling ability moving inside from the left but he still has areas to improve if and when he makes the step up. He has the tendency to receive with his right foot and drive infield often using the top of his foot to push the ball in front and past defenders. At times however he can be seen to be too reliant on his pace often pushing the ball too far in front, chancing losing possession or worse a horrible injury. He tends to shield with his left side and angles his body to encourage defenders to barge through him often giving away fouls. This shows good intelligence, Lubala knows what his role in the side is and accepts this will bring some battle scars.
Below you can see Lubala’s heatmap this season, showing his more prominent side being the left and there you can see his tendencies in positioning and movement. From the left, it is clear that Lubala likes to move towards the number 10 position in zone 14 often occupied by an opposition holding midfield player. This also shows Lubala’s lack of hitting the byline to achieve a crossing position which is an area Lubala doesn’t thrive in.
Instead, Lubala is tasked to move inside and attract opponents towards him, opening up space for teammates to move into, shown in the example below. This allows an overlap into space left by the opposition fullback following Lubala. The opposition also has to rely on their attacking players to recover effectively to prevent unopposed crosses.
Lubala is seen to be a highly effective dribbler with the ball statistically wise. Lubala averages 8.21 dribbles per game at a success of 53%, which is enough to put him ninth in League 2. What shows the importance of these dribbles is the fact Lubala produces the 11th highest number of progressive runs in the league with 3.2 all contributing to an effective attribute.
Although his dribbling stats are impressive, it’s the end product that Lubala shows which really stands out. His shooting will be looked at later in this scout report but first let’s look at his passing. The ability to attract players and create space for others has been mentioned, however being able to make the right decision to take advantage of such space is where Lubala has become very effective. Lubala will look to make passes that have an impact in the final third, predominately into the channel for willing forward runners or through to teammates making blindside runs as shown in the example below. He averages 2.7 passes into the final third with a success of 67.2% highlighting the end product Lubala showcases.
These attributes are certainly part of what has caused a stir of interest from Championship clubs such as Sheffield Wednesday. Analyzing the movements of Lubala is very similar to that of the wingers for the Yorkshire side, managed by Lubala’s former head coach, Garry Monk. As seen in the example below, Kadeem Harris makes a diagonal dribble towards the centre of the opposition attack to attract the full-back to be narrow and create an overlapping opportunity similar to Lubala’s role at Crawley. Observing Wednesday this is clearly a plan to play with inverted wingers and encourage movement inside. Therefore, its easy to see why there is such interest in Lubala given his impressive statistics and clear physical attributes.
The false number 10
With Lubala given the freedom to pick up spaces, he can often be found playing in a false number 10 role. This role allows him to find passes into the final third often finding space in between the lines. With this movement, Lubala will often receive the ball and deep and move into the area in front of the opponents back four or instead look to drift infield and receive in the space. In these spaces, Lubala can showcase his close control to recognize space in either of the 5 channels to mimic that of a Raumdeuter, translated to space invader.
When he finds this position often, Lubala doesn’t shy away from risky passes. As seen in the graphic above Lubala’s passes result in a multiple number of shot assists, where teammates have received the ball from Lubala to create an effort at goal. What can be seen from this is a number of passes from the edge of the area into the channels of the box, an action he averages 3.2 per game at a success of 52%. This highlights his vision for a risky pass to showcase his playmaking abilities with an end product to show for it with 1.61 deep completion passes per game.
An example of this in action, shown below considers Lubala being a pivotal cog in the build-up to chances and taking advantage of vacant space. Lubala often looks to cut inside as we mentioned earlier, often against sides playing without a holding midfield player, this movement encourages a central defender to step out and leave occupied space behind. The space left encourages a forward to make an opposite run, inside to out, to create a passing option or move away from an opponent for a late run into the area from a deeper midfield player.
Another example of Lubala occupying this space can be shown below with Lubala driving towards the centre of the opponent with pace and power. This makes it very difficult for opponents to scan at pace and attracts them to the ball, leaving teammates to make movements away into pockets of space as shown.
Lubala is an essential link in the attacking patterns, by playing as a creative player he has a responsibility to ensure he makes the right passes to open the game up. When this works, Crawley is extremely dangerous in entering the final third.
With 12 goals this term as eluded too earlier, Lubala is clearly Crawley’s top league goalscorer this term. Lubala has another statistic however which tops the charts being his volume of shot this season in the league totalling 132.25 more than his closet challenger at an average of 3.87 per game. As shown in the graphic below Lubala often occupies space to the left of the centre of the pitch and this is shown with the number of shots in this grouped area.
As eluded to, Lubala likes to move inside and often finds himself in areas just in front of the opposition defence. With the movement of his teammates, space is often created for Lubala to be creative and the opposition highlights him as the creator for Crawley. This can see a lot of Lubala’s teammates closely marked opening up space for Lubala himself to drive into unoccupied space and have attempts at goal.
Statistically, 91 of Lubala’s shots are taken from outside of the area with 24.2% on target. Lubala also shows an impressive output from outside of the area shots, with expected goals of 2.96 yet scoring four from this position.
This shows that although many have claimed Lubala to be wasteful, in fact, he has been effective from this position taking advantage of the space available. As the example shows below, Lubala is in an area where he has the option to shoot with opponents closing him down, but also the option in the wide-area for a pass. In this instance, Lubala has a shot that causes a save resulting in a set piece for his side. It can be argued that he has made the wrong decision in this position, however a player with the stats to back him up it shows courage to trust in his own ability.
In this second example, Lubala has made a late move into the area resulting in one of his 12 goals this season. With a late diagonal movement in between lines, Lubala is able to finish smartly across the keeper into the far corner. A close-range effort, this example shows a different side of Lubala making good movement off the back of work made by his teammates. This movement showcases Lubala gets himself into areas of the pitch to have efforts adding to his overall shot statistic.
Lubala’s goals have come from a range of areas, but it is the volume of efforts he has which has caught attention this season. Some claim to be wasteful but the intelligence to get into these areas to have shot can not be underestimated.
Where Lubala may look to improve his game is off the ball, especially when it comes to being attracted to the ball. As mentioned earlier, Lubala has to make a lot of recovery runs due to his movement inside but this can be put down to the tactical structure he is placed in. Lubala must improve his game insight when it comes to his observation of opposition players not in direct possession.
As shown below, Lubala tends to ball watch, allowing overlapping full-backs to move into crossing areas with blindside movements. These movements can be easily rectified, and it all begins with Lubala positioning himself better. His need to have a more open body shape to be able to see man and ball comes down partially to his late recovery run but also his intelligence to recognize danger.
Potential suitors are likely to focus on Lubala’s attacking attributes rather than his defensive ones. However, as he will now be commanding a fee for his services, there is a need for him to showcase a broader range of attributes especially to play at a higher level. Therefore, Lubala will need to work on this, but at 22 he has much to learn and he’s only just started showcasing what he can do with the ball at his feet.
Having signed a two-year deal in 2019, Crawley may find it difficult to fend off interest if bids do arrive this summer. Vultures have already started to circle and interest from the championship is well know about for this direct and effective inverted winger.
At 22, Lubala is a no brainer for multiple clubs who seek a player willing to get on the ball and progress his side up the pitch almost single-handed. Clubs such as Wednesday with their financial problems would be unwise to not consider a cheaper option given Crawley’s position.
Lubala has developed very well at Crawley and he certainly will leave a hole to fill if he leaves. It will be very interesting to keep tabs on his development and watch for any moves he makes as well as he sees if he can fix those off the ball problems.
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