Toma Bašić arrived in Bordeaux in 2018 from Hadjuk Split for 3.5 million euros. He has several caps for Croatia’s U-21 and U-19 national teams. His debut in France was complicated and it took him some time to acclimatise to his new team and Ligue 1. The 23-year-old Croatian played only 1,410 minutes in the 2018/2019 season, which is relatively little and he struggled to make his mark on the team. The young defensive midfielder played even less at the beginning of this season so his situation did become worrying. However, he regained playing time and the confidence of Paulo Sousa at the end of 2019. Aurélien Tchouaméni’s departure to Monaco has also given him a chance to show more and his last few months have been impressive. So much so that he has become a key element in the Portuguese coach’s tactics. In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, we’re going to look at Toma Bašić’s style of play and his role in Sousa’s tactics.
Role for Bordeaux
Since the beginning of the year, Bašić has mainly played as a central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 alongside Brazilian Otávio. The above heatmap shows that he is quite versatile and can play as a right or left central midfielder as well as a defensive midfielder. His strong foot is the left and he is 189 cm tall and weighs 80 kilos. He is above all an elegant player, who masters the ball well. As we will see in this analysis, Bašić has a lot of variety in his game, which allows him to be efficient with and without the ball. His heatmap above shows he has a presence in several areas of the field, especially in the right half-space. He likes to participate in all phases of the game, both in the build-up of the game and higher up the pitch. His teammate Otávio projects himself further forward, and this allows the Croatian to have more freedom. Similarly, Laurent Koscielny takes a lot of responsibility during the build-up of the game, and this saves the young Croatian from having to drop deeper to get the ball. He can position himself directly between the lines or stay wide to be an interesting passing solution for his team-mates. He also knows how to use his body to shield the ball from opponents thanks to his physical abilities.
His large size allows him to be efficient in the aerial game, with an average of 1.79 aerial duels played per match and 85% of his duels won. It’s an impressive stat and that makes him valuable on opponents’ clearances or defensive set-pieces. Bašić averages 6.92 recoveries per match and 2.8 interceptions. His good reading of the game enables him to anticipate opponents’ passes and detect possible interceptions. His long legs also give him a lot of amplitude in his tackles, allowing him to cut numerous passes and win his duels on the ground (about 65%, averaging 8.62 defensive duels per match). He is much more comfortable defending forward when he has the game in front of him than in static defence. When facing agile and lively opponents, Bašić’s size means it takes time for him to shift and change direction and he can have trouble dealing with short dribbles.
In the picture above, Bašić’s partners cut the passing lines to the sides well, forcing Malang Sarr to play in the middle. The Croatian notices this from the orientation of Sarr’s body and the movement of the player in front of him, that he will make the pass in the middle. He then speeds up to intervene before the Nice midfielder receives the ball and intercepts it. It is the collective work of the Bordeaux forwards and the Croatian that makes this ball recovery possible. Bašić does not have very good acceleration and compensates with a good sense of anticipation and an above-average vision of the game. Even if sometimes he is late, his long legs still allow him to retrieve the ball. This allows Bašić to cover a larger area around him. Nor is the young midfielder the most active player on the pitch. Otávio, for example, is much better in that field and puts in a lot of effort. Bašić tries to move intelligently rather than inefficiently. He analyzes the game around him in order to place himself where he will be most relevant. These recent very good performances have given him confidence in himself, and his defensive choices.
In the above action, Youssouf Sabaly goes to press on Nice number six. The Croatian compensates for his partner’s move by covering the right side of the pitch. Otávio does the same by occupying the space left free by Bašić. The Croatian midfielder’s good positioning allows him to intercept a deep pass on the right-wing. These are very important details for a midfielder, to know how to compensate for his partners’ moves and analyse the game. Without Bašić’s coordinated movement, Adam Ounas could have been released down the wing.
As mentioned earlier, Bašić doesn’t excel in one-vs-one situations where he is quite vulnerable. In the pictures above, Pierre Lees Melou eliminates Bašić using a successful dribble. The latter takes time to shift direction to stay close to the Nice midfielder. We can see that the space between the two players is quite important, which allows Lees Melou to easily pass the ball to Ounas. It was a counter-attacking situation for Nice, and that’s an area where the Croatian is not very good. He suffers in defensive transitions and prefers to defend forward, aggressively.
Flair and unpredictability
What characterizes Bašić is the ability to do things you wouldn’t expect him to do. The Croatian is unpredictable in the way he plays and is capable of world-class actions. Within Sousa’s tactics, he plays behind a number 10 but is still creative. Otávio played alongside him and is very safe in his game and looks to play simply above all. For the Croatian it’s different, he gets fewer balls than his Brazilian partner (on average 51 against 74 for Otávio), but he shows a real desire to improve his team’s game. The Croatian makes an average of 6.49 progressive passes per game. He also makes an average of 1.5 key passes per game and has three assists this season.
Bašić has the intention to play forward, especially between the lines. The 4-2-3-1 tactic seems to suit him better than the 3-4-2-1 tactic because Bašić has more offensive support between the lines with the presence of an offensive midfielder. We often see him combine in a triangle with the offensive midfielder and the left-winger, which allows him to find interesting passing solutions. Sousa’s confidence in him since the beginning of the year is doing him a lot of good, and he feels much more comfortable in his choices. He’s at 1.54 xA in the last four games, twice as high as all games played previously this season. Moreover, he’s very good at set-pieces, especially corners. He has the ability to strike them with a very efficient trajectory.
What also makes Bašić versatile and complete is his ability to drive forwards with the ball. He is fluid in the way he moves forward with the ball and shows a lot of composure. The young midfielder also has this ability to eliminate his opponent with a short dribble or fake pass. Bašić averages 1.3 dribbles per game, which is quite high for his position. He makes big moves to dribble but it is all done with a lot of intelligence and mischief. He knows how to hide his intentions until the last moment and deceive his opponents.
In the picture above, Bašić uses his body perfectly to protect his ball from PSG players. He never turns his eyes or his body away from his free partner in midfield. This leads the former Everton midfielder Idrissa Gueye to anticipate this pass and try to intercept it. At the very last moment, he makes an inside dribble that allows him to advance towards the goal. The Croatian then showed great vision to pass the ball deep to Hwang Ui-jo for a scoring opportunity.
A world-class action against Nice that ends with a goal and an assist for Bašić. As you can see in the picture above, he starts from a very deep position on the field and resists the charge of several Nice players. His dribble is perfect and he eliminates Dante. After a run of more than 30 meters, he still has the lucidity to serve Nicolas De Préville perfectly. He waits for the last moment and the attempted intervention of the opposing defender, to give a perfect pass using the outside of the foot. His pass between the two defenders allows De Préville to face the Nice goalkeeper in a one-on-one.
Despite the Croatian’s creativity and good performance in recent months, he still needs to be more precise. He has weaknesses in his game and doesn’t always make the right choices. His vision of the game sometimes allows him to make choices that few players would have seen, but sometimes he lacks lucidity and doesn’t make the right decisions. His pass rate is about 85%. He makes an average of 15 passes per game in the opposing camp but with only 68% accuracy. In a team that plays possession-based style and presses high (54% possession, 3rd highest in Ligue 1), this can be detrimental. Similarly for long passes, he makes an average of 1.8 long passes per game with 52% accuracy. Bašić has the technical ability to limit these errors, but at times his decision making lets him down. This is something he will improve with the playing time he is acquiring. He’s still young, and he’s finally got a starting place at Bordeaux which will enable him to assert himself even more over time.
It’s an amazing step-up for a player who was very disappointing in his Bordeaux debut. Bašić’s finally showing the level we were expecting him to reach and he still has plenty of area for improvement under Paulo Sousa. The Croatian midfielder knows how to do a lot of things but still needs to gain precision and lucidity in his decision-making. As we have seen in this analysis, he will certainly be one of the key elements in Sousa’s tactics next season.