Name: Duje Ćaleta-Car
Club: Olympique Marseille
Goals & Assists: ⚽️ 2 🎯 1
After the decision was made to finish the Covid-19 hit 19/20 season early due to health concerns, Olympique Marseille (OM) qualified for Champions League football in 2nd with 56 points from 28 games. This season there were issues off the field for OM which impacted performances leading to a top 5 finish on 60 points, resulting in Europa League qualification. Ligue 1 suffered a setback with the breakdown of the TV deal during the 20/21 season leaving many clubs in financial problems, OM being one of those needing to sell players. This has led clubs to turn their attention to the likes of Ćaleta-Car who could be available for as little as £13m this summer.
The signing of Ćaleta-Car came in the summer of 18/19 from RB Salzburg for approximately £17m. Since signing he has become an integral part of the OM defence registering 76 Ligue 1 appearances & 91 across all competitions. Ćaleta-Car is currently away at the European Championship representing Croatia, who he have capped the defender 15 times to date. He is a powerful, ball playing & mobile Centre Back. At 6’4 he provides an aerial presence in both boxes of the field that is & despite his size has good acceleration to sharply press the opponent. Tactically astute Ćaleta-Car provides flexibility with his ability to operate on either side of the central defence or in a 3/4 man defence. Ćaleta-Car has operating predominately in a 3-4-3 setup on the left hand side of a 3 as part of a patient possession based tactic.
Heading & Aerial Ability
Ćaleta-Car is a physical defender that looks to arrive into the aerial challenge strongly to & take advantage of his 6’4 height. Within the duels, he is a dominant figure comfortable whilst tightly marking the attacker, or using his forward momentum in an aerial challenge. His ability to leap well in & out of contact ensures that he fully utilises his height in the challenges with the opposition. As he marks tightly or leaps into an aerial duel he’ll apply pressure physically to the opponent in an attempt to off balance & influence their ability to compete. His physical attributes ensure that he is strong in any challenge with the opposition although the level of aggression can lead him to overcommit.
Ćaleta-Car’s ability to leap strongly & manage good clearance from the ground is typified in the example below against Angers SCO. The Angers SCO Right Back (RB) is pressured high in the right channel by OM’s Left Winger (LW) as he attempts to progress forward. Angers SCO Attacking Midfielder (AM) takes a high position in the inside right space behind the OM midfield. As the RB clears the ball forward under pressure from the OM LW, Ćaleta-Car reads the flight of the ball positioning himself to challenge. He uses his forward momentum arriving sharply leaping with good height to rise above the Angers AM. Additionally, he imposes himself using his arm to leverage the opposition out of contention demonstrating great aggression & power as the ball is returned back upfield.
Against England, Ćaleta-Car demonstrated his strength in duels as well as the ability to challenge effectively when pressing tightly. Although his ability to press tightly & strongly is positive there is a tendency to apply too much pressure committing fouls through excessive force. As per the below, the ball is played long from England into the Croatia half with both Ćaleta-Car & England’s #9 Kane moving into position to challenge for possession. As the ball reaches them #9 is marked tightly & Ćaleta-Car controls the duel preventing #9 from challenging aerially to head the ball clear. He has good technique when heading to generate distance & power which in this instance catches the Croatia CM off guard.
Croatia loses possession with the loose ball headed back into the Croatia half by #4 Rice towards the unmarked #9. Ćaleta-Car in his determination to win the duel shows too much aggression & launches himself into #9. Whilst he wins the header the excessive force pushes #9 to the floor resulting in a foul & allowing England to reset from the set piece.
Attacking Set Pieces
During attacking set pieces Ćaleta-Car is a useful addition with his height & physical presence providing a threat to the opposition defence. His movement enables him to find space to challenge but is unable to do regularly enough to be a genuine goal threat for OM. Where he does well is when he is able to single out the opposition in a 1v1 situation to use his aerially ability & strength to control the opportunity. This was very evident against Angers SCO where an inswinging corner from the right is delivered towards the far post area. As the ball reaches the far post area Ćaleta-Car arrives unmarked leaping high to make contact with the ball. As the header connects he demonstrates his awareness & vision by playing the ball back across goal into a dangerous area. Unfortunately for OM the opportunity is to score is spurned as the attacker fails to hit the target crashing the ball against the woodwork.
Where Ćaleta-Car could improve is in situations when the area is crowded to find the necessary space for himself to connect cleanly with the ball. As in the example against Strasbourg where there is a congested area with the opposition applying a man marking system to limit space. The inswinging corner is delivered from the left to the edge of the 6 yard area dropping centrally to the advancing Ćaleta-Car. In this instance, he is unable to free himself from his marker & misjudges the flight of the ball resulting in him being slightly behind the ball. As a result of him being unable to break from his marker his leap is affected, he also gets the wrong body shape with the ball striking his back before going harmless high & wide.
As stated previously although Ćaleta-Car provides a physical presence at set pieces but is unable to consistently find the necessary space to provide a genuine goal threat regularly. If he was able to find more space at set piece his presence could prove invaluable to creating opportunities through knockdowns or via attempts at goal.
Defending Set Pieces
Ćaleta-Car is a key contributor at defensive set pieces for both club & country using his strength plus height in a congested area to challenge the delivery. His ability to mark tightly is also very useful when deployed in a man to man system, as he is able to track & limit his opponent’s threat. Positionally he is strong enabling him to place himself in the optimal position to challenge the delivery or react to additional phases of play.
Against Strasbourg (below), he demonstrated his defensive strengths at set pieces marshalling his marked opponent & clearing strongly. Ćaleta-Car was deployed in a man to man system with him occupying the far post area. The inswinging corner taken from the right is delivered towards the area he is marking his opponent. As the delivery reaches the far post he has successfully positions himself between his man & ball. He anticipates the trajectory leaping well to rise unchallenged to firm & cleanly head the ball clear in the direction of OM teammate #10 Payet. The quality of the header clears the immediate danger & enables OM to counter against the Strasbourg defence.
Ćaleta-Car’s positioning and awareness is an asset during set pieces as was evident against Montpellier in preventing a scoring opportunity after a second phase attack. A free kick is taken from the left with an inswinging delivery to the near post area. Ćaleta-Car is zonally marking the middle to front post area as the delivery enters the box. As the OM defence challenges for the ball, the initial clearance is poor from the delivery resulting in the Montpellier attacker presented with the opportunity to shoot. During this point, Ćaleta-Car has followed the action across to the near post area ensuring that the Montpellier attacker running off his shoulder is covered. His next movement is decisive as he recognises the clearance is looping towards the 2nd attacker at the front & steps to his left covering his Goalkeeper. The attacker instinctive shoots on the volley cleanly & with power, but due to Ćaleta-Car’s anticipation of the danger is able to block the attempt. His strong block provides OM with the opportunity to clear the danger further & transition quickly into an attack.
In the match against OGC Nice Ćaleta-Car’s organisational & communication was evident when defending the set piece. Prior to the inswinging corner from the left being taken he points to the OM sub their position to take in the area. As the corner is delivered he marks tightly his opponent using his strength to position himself in front of the attacker. He demonstrates his upper body strength with a strong arm leveraging the attacker into a position where they aren’t able to get near the ball in the aerial duel. As the ball is cleared from the area OGC Nice retrieve the ball & look to continue the attack. Ćaleta-Car demands his defence step up quickly towards the 18 yard line using his arms to remonstrate with the OM defenders to push up & get regain their shape back to press.
Ćaleta-Car defensive contributions at defensive set pieces, fully utilise his strength & aerial ability to clear threats into the area regularly. His anticipation & concentration levels ensure that when marking he remains in contact until he can move away to attack the ball & position himself to defend 2nd/3rd phase attacks. Overall would be a key figure in a defence to stifle the opposition & quell threats.
Build up play
OM look to build from the back adopting a controlled possession based style which suits Ćaleta-Car & his skill set well. He is comfortable in possession with good control albeit not a defender to drive into midfield with the ball & commit the opposition. Where he excels is in his control when passing the ball with very good accuracy leading to ball retention. His control ensures that even when pressed he is resistant to the pressure & able to maintain possession through smart passing combinations. Ćaleta-Car is progressive with possession & demonstrates good vision to break defensive lines with his passing ability.
Whilst Ćaleta-Car looks to make short lateral interchanges with the defence & into midfield to retain possession there is a more expansive side to his quality. He has the ability to play penetrative passes through the lines consistently to break the defensive line or accurate long passes exploiting spaces. His awareness of where space is on the field is impressive & has the ability to find teammates accurate as they look to stretch the opposition. An example of this can be found again Saint-Etienne (ASSE), where he receives the ball in the RCB position as the opposition regain their 4-4-2 shape. As he moves with the ball he is able to see that both OM Wing Backs are pushed high & wide against the opposition. He has a simple pass out to #29 Pol Lirola on the flank to progress the possession, but acutely aware of the ASSE Left Back (#13 Miguel Trauco) shaped to press in the flank. In addition to the #13 primed to press both #20 Bouanga & #19 Neyou Noupa are moving across to limit the space available. Ćaleta-Car spots space in behind #13 & recognises the movement of OM #26 Thauvin who takes a position on #13’s shoulder running in behind. The movement triggers Ćaleta-Car to play a long pass into the channel as ASSE #9 Abi moves across to press. His awareness & vision to recognise the run into space forcing the ASSE team into running back towards their goal by changing the orientation of the attack. Unfortunately for OM #26 chose to play the ball off #13 with a backheel to earn a corner instead of controlling the pass to attack space at the byline.
The range of Ćaleta-Car’s passing was fully utilised against England in the European Championship & he was a key figure. His contribution was vital in the patient build-up play & was an orchestrator from deep to progress through England’s defensive setup. With Croatia in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Ćaleta-Car was used to recycle possession within the backline & connect the defence with the midfield. His other role in possession was to play progressively attempting to exploit any spaces in the defensive lines. An example of his progressive passing to exploit spaces in the English defensive line can be found below. As he receives the ball on the halfway line England is in a compact low block restricting space through the centre. Ćaleta-Car has the opportunity to play a simple pass into the feet of #10 Modric, but has the bravery & vision to be more progressive. He is able to recognise that #4 Perišić is in space on the inside left channel & been able to isolate himself against England’s Right Back #2 Walker. The pass played over the midfield line is accurate & arrives at the feet of #4 who is unmarked. #4 has time & space to turn before driving at the defence with a potential 2v1 situation as #25 Gvardiol has pushed high into the left channel. Unfortunately, the move breaks down with #25 drawing the attention of England’s #2 before the ball is delivered into the area, but the delivery is poor & gathered by the Goalkeeper. His ability to find the pass meant the defence was stretched & forcing the midfield to drop deep, creating a 2v1 overlapping opportunity in attack for Croatia.
Another example of his passing ability between the lines came as Croatia recycled the ball in defence with England in a 4-4-2 defensive mid block. With the play switched to the left, there is space for Ćaleta-Car to move into which he does travelling with the ball into midfield. As he progresses he is aware of the space in the left flank & makes the decision to pass through the gap in midfield through to the unmarked #4. The ball is played with good pace & accuracy allowing #4 to take the ball in his stride before attacking England’s #2 in a 1v1. Had the delivery been of quality there was an opportunity to challenge the defence.
Ćaleta-Car’s passing accuracy ensures that his team is able to retain possession with a calm composed build up. His technical ability plus vision provides his team with a player capable of changing the tempo with incisive & progressive passing altering the state of play.
Defensively Ćaleta-Car is very combative & demonstrates good aggression imposing his physicality on the opponents. His level of physicality provides him with an advantage in aerial situations & when marking his opponents as able to use his strength in regaining possession. He looks to press sharply with intensity in order to regain possession & limit the space for the opposition to attack. He has good pace & acceleration over a distance to close down any space effectively. Whilst his aggression enables him to regain & pressure the opposition in defensive duels it can also lead to fouls resulting in cautions. Additionally, his aggression can create mistakes in his approach play when defending as he overcommits leaving opportunities to be dribbled past. With that being said his defensive work is very strong with a high level of concentration & awareness to consistently stifle opposition attacks.
In the early stages of the England game, Ćaleta-Car set the tone for his defensive performance as he marks tight against #9 as England patiently build in the left channel. As #19 Mount plays into the area Ćaleta-Car successfully holds up #9 using his strength to prevent the CF from turning on goal. England’s #10 Sterling finds space behind #2 Vrsaljko (Croatia) in the area with the #9 able to slide a pass into his feet. With the ball at his feet, #10 advances into space on the edge of the 6 yard area unchallenged. Ćaleta-Car shows great recovery speed to accelerate back into a position where he can challenge, & arrives with a strong block tackle to concede a corner.
Ćaleta-Car positional play in defence is good & sensing the intentions of the attacker to block a dribble from progressing or cutting out passes. His positioning paid dividends against Angers SCO where he finds himself in the centre of the 3 CBs, as the attack advances. While play develops he is consistently observing the play & other potential threats aware of the Angers SCO CF free centrally, but well placed to press should he need to. Angers SCO plays a sharp combination centrally to free the midfielder to run directly at the OM defence. Ćaleta-Car is aware of the space to his left which is where the attacker intends to attack looking to exploit the gap between CB & LCB. With him anticipating the intentions of the attacker he quickly moves to his left & then engages in a sliding strong challenge to close the avenue of attack. The challenge is fair & dispossess the attacker clearing the immediate danger removing the momentum gained by Angers.
In 1v1 situations, he is largely patient to wait for an opportunity to commit to the tackle. A good example of his ability to track runners from deep & remain calm in a 1v1 situation can be found during the match against ASSE. With the ASSE Left Back (LB) #13 receives the ball by the touchline their Left Winger (LW) #20 moves infield finding space behind the midfield & in between OM’s Right Wing Back (RWB) #29 & Ćaleta-Car. The LW #20 makes a good movement running between #29 & Ćaleta-Car into space in the flank. Ćaleta-Car is aware of the attacker & open space behind, therefore tracks the runner as they look to receive the ball played into the inside channel. With #20 approaching the area Ćaleta-Car takes up a good body position so that he can go with the runner into the channel in the event of continuing to run or press for a tackle. The pace is slowed down by #20 before attempting to burst into space but he is prevented from doing so by Ćaleta-Car. He reads the intentions of #20 as they attempt to cut onto their right foot & drive towards the area, sticking out a firm left foot to tackle the opponent. With the tackle, the threat to the defence was removed allowing OM to regain possession with #29 retrieving the ball.
An area of his defensive approach which can be exploited is his aggression to win back possession which can lead to him being caught out of position or committing fouls. The desire to win the ball back quickly can impact his decision making as he presses too quickly leaving himself vulnerable. The more aggressive pressing style appears more evident in a 3 man defence than in a back 4 where he is more controlled in his approach. Defensively Ćaleta-Car is willing to sacrifice himself in dangerous situations by committing cynical fouls & stop the attack. This was very much the case against Montpellier as the defence is pulled across to the left with the opposition attacking options overloading both flanks. As #12 Ferri regains possession he clips the ball into space down the touchline towards #6 Sambia who is unmarked as OM LWB #11 Luis Henrique is pressuring Montpellier #12. Ćaleta-Car moves out to the flank to close down space but then sprints & dives into the challenge aggressive force to stop the attack. Whilst he prevented the #6 from dropping the ball into space for them to take advantage of the overload his decision to challenge which such force was excessive resulting in a 2nd yellow & red card.
Ćaleta-Car is a strong defender with good pace & stamina to cover over a distance with the ability to recover the ball in 1v1 situations. His combative nature is both a virtue & a potential weakness but it does largely fall on the side of positive.
With the financial issues in Ligue 1 & OM, there is a very likely chance that Ćaleta-Car could be picked up for a bargain price this summer with £13m mooted. With his tactical flexibility along with his experience at the International & European level, he would be a solid acquisition for a team challenging consistently for football in elite competitions. His physical presence would ensure that should he travel to the English Premier League he’d settle into the league’s physicality well. He is strong tactically & technically too which would ensure he would be an asset in any of the top 5 leagues in Europe.
For Ćaleta-Car to reach the elite level clubs his decision making & aggression would need to be more measured as his level of cautions resulting in suspensions. His progression with the ball would likely need to improve with him breaking out of defence in possession too creating overloads centrally. That being said at an elite level has much to offer with his strength, height & aerial ability making him an asset in either area. He has good passing ability to compliment a possession based build up style but the ability to play progressively through the lines or accurate long passing to stretch the opposition. For teams looking for a solid, ball playing CB this summer Ćaleta-Car would be a smart & potentially inexpensive solution that has the potential to continue developing to a very high level.