Koke, a native born resident of Madrid, joined Atletico Madrid’s youth ranks at the age of 8. In 2008, when Koke was just 16, he made the move to Atletico B and immediately grabbed the first team’s attention. Then manager Gregorio Manzano took special interest in Koke and handed him his debut for the first team in 2009 against Barcelona. He completed his first full 90 minutes of senior football against Getafe, in a 3-0 home loss, that same season.
He maintained a fairly limited role in the first team but grabbed his first goal for the club with a header against Sevilla in 2011 to level the score at 1-1. That was his most prominent season at the club up to then, as he made 17 first team appearances. He went on to score one more time that campaign, after just 2 minutes vs Espanyol in a 2-2 draw. His breakout season came in 2012 as he made 48 appearances for Atletico, 38 in the starting XI, scoring 2 goals.
This season, he’s been a pivotal member of Diego Simeone’s squad that has shocked much of Europe with it’s incredible start to the season. With 7 assists and 2 goals already to his name, Koke is among the most dangerous midfield players in La Liga and is drawing international attention, and the eye of Vicente del Bosque, Spain’s National Team manager.
In October, Koke won the LIGA BBVA Player of the Month for October, while Diego Simeone picked up the managerial award.
Koke also won 3 different individual awards, and was named in 2 team awards at Outside of the Boot’s inaugural #TalentRadar Young Player Awards, including #TalentRadar Player of the Season.
Style, Strengths and Weaknesses
Koke’s style is in the vein of the versatile attacking midfielder that is so coveted these days. He can easily slot in anywhere across the midfield and has done so to great effect this season. Diego Simeone prefers to put him on the left side of the midfield as an inverted winger. This allows him to either get down the wing and cross or cut inside and overload the middle of opponent’s defenses. So far he’s most often been on the left of a 4-4-2 but with the dynamic nature of Atletico’s attacking players such as Diego Costa, David Villa and ArdaTuran, they can constantly change positions and Koke’s ability to do so has served him well this season.
To start, Koke’s main strength is his passing. He has that innate ability to unlock opponents’ defenses with a single pass. In Atletico’s last match against Athletic Bilbao, which Atletico won 2-0, Koke had a fantastic performance on the left hand side and capped his performance with an assist to the currently on-fire Brazilian-turned-Spaniard Diego Costa. That assist was 1 of 4 attempted through balls by Koke in that match, all of which were completed and all of which were key passes.
That assist to Diego Costa was one of 7 so far this year for Koke. He is currently joint assists leader with Neymar and CescFabregas of Barcelona. He has created 23 chances for his team in just the first 12 matches. This is more than any other player on the Atletico roster. His ability to create chances for his team is crucial to Atletico’s success. The brilliance of the movement of the front two is for naught if no one can find that killer pass. Koke has been the one to find it so far this season.
Koke has completed 79% of his passes this season, which may seem like a decent number but nothing spectacular. The difference is that his average pass length is 17m for the season. His long balls average a length of 37m. That means a 40-yard pass is a normal occurrence for him. And more often than not, those passes are right on the money. He is incredibly dangerous from anywhere on the pitch and these statistics are comparable to those of Xavi, Iniesta, and other top players in La Liga. Koke is establishing himself as one of the most effective passers in Europe.
His second main strength is his ability to hold on to the ball. He rarely loses possession and can take on opponents when he cannot find the right pass. Nearly half of his take-ons are successful. His ability to hold on to the ball through the midfield gives the rest of the team the time to find space. And Koke has shown that he will find that space if someone makes it for themselves.
He’s also a solid piece of Atletico’s pressing defense. He’s attempted 23 tackles this season and been successful 19 times which is the highest percentage of anyone in Atletico’s regular XI. He is not afraid to get stuck in and having a wing player capable of tracking back is hugely important to any side. Disrupting the other team’s wingers and full backs is vital to keeping dangerous attacks from materializing as well as creating chances going forward. Gaining the ball in midfield and finding a quick pass can create something from nothing, and Koke gives Atletico that ability.
Another strength of Koke’s is his shot accuracy. As he fancies himself as more of a creator than a goal scorer, he has only attempted 13 shots in 13 appearances. However, he put 9 of those efforts on frame. As a creative midfielder, he is not going to find himself in true scoring positions and therefore has to take those opportunities as often as possible. Nothing can be more frustrating to a team than a player shooting off target when other options were available. His ability to test the keeper means he will add to that goal tally very soon.
One weakness that could be spoken of is Koke’s aerial ability. At only 176cm, he does not have the physical presence to win many aerial duels, and has only succeeded in 30 percent of them. However, in the position he normally plays, he will not be expected to go into many duels of that nature. Offensively, in Atletico’s latest 1-1 draw against Villareal, he created problems in the air for Villareal and forced Mario into the mistake of scoring an own goal.
Another aspect is his endurance. He’s often substituted in the second half and he’s only completed a full 90 minutes in 6 of the 12 matches this season. This trait should improve with time and as he gets more experience at the top level I expect he’ll complete more matches.
Koke’s final weakness is his performance in Europe. He appeared in Atletico’s games against Zenit and Porto and has not lived up to his La Liga form. This could be a red flag for teams looking to buy the Spaniard as he seems to drop in form against foreign opposition. He just seems more able to compete in Spain. I personally see this as a lack of experience at this level where the rest of the Atletico roster has seen Champions League football of some flavor during their careers. However, Koke will need to perform at the top levels if he wants to be seen as a top player.
Overall, Koke is the type of midfielder that every great team needs. His ability to find that killer pass has given Atletico Madrid a deadly weapon that they have used to great effect. He has set himself apart as one of the best creative midfielders in the top European leagues and, with improved performances in Europe, he’ll be able to climb the rankings and for me, the sky is the limit. Not bad for a kid who grew up with Atletico as home.
“Koke has been playing really well for his club. He’s a very complete midfielder and he does virtually everything in that role.”
— Vicente Del Bosque, Spain National Team Boss, quoted by Marca
This Scout Report was written by @BakiBalboa
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