By Bradley Lovell
Academy Life and Career
Killian Sardella was born in Brussels on the 2nd of May 2002 to an Italian Father and Congolese Mother. Sardella joined up Anderlecht's youth side got a first taste of prestigious competition, albeit watching on, at the Future Cup in 2013 which is an Easter tournament that hosted by Ajax which plays host to some of the best youth sides in the world. Anderlecht would go on to beat Ajax 2-0 in the final, although Sardella was not involved and on the periphery at this time it is one of many valuable experiences he would go on to experience during his time with Anderlecht's academy.
It is important to delve into a little bit of history here as RSC Anderlecht have an elite academy setup "The Purple Talent Programme" which has been running since 2008 where the father of a little known Romelu Lukaku suggested a more complete philosophy to academy development by providing accommodation, schooling, and specialist training like other clubs such as Lille, and Saint. Etienne were already offering Romelu.
Fast forward 10 years to the 2018 World Cup, Anderlecht academy graduates made up for 35% of the squad including names such as Vincent Kompany, Dries Mertens, Youri Tielemans, Michy Batshuayi, Marouane Fellaini, Leander Dendoncker, Adnan Januzaj, and of course Romelu Lukaku.
Jean Kindermans - Academy Director described Brussels as "like London, Paris or any other big city. A mirror of the community and the multiculturalism locally is an advantage to us. We try to have the best young players in Brussels before we move to 11-a-side at Under-13's with children as young as six at the academy" (Alex Clapham, 2018).
The reason this is important is that like many others Sardella has come through a rigorous, extensive and elite academy setup which has put the foundations in for a brilliant playing career by developing technical, physiological, and psyhcological traits from such a young age. Enabling coaches to mould and nurture young players so they can flourish at senior level typically a bit younger than most setups.
Profile and Tactical Functions
Predominantly a right-back by trade although offers versatility across the back four as he can slot in at fullback either side as well as being used as a centre-back. Competence on his weaker foot gives him balance when moving the ball out from the defence on either side. Playing 54.55% of games this season at right-back indicates that is where he is seen long term.
Sardella is not your typical marauding fullback as he tends to sit deeper and impact the game with great passing ability rather than lung-bursting runs overlapping the winger before crossing into the box. He has a low dribble success at 42.11% which may indicate why Vincent Kompany seems reluctant to allow him to join attacks receiving the ball higher and wider when he is inconsistent beating his man.
Instead illustrated in this GIF, Sardella moves from his initial 4-2-3-1 starting position before moving narrow, infield to a back-three where Sardella features on the right side and will be at close hand for possession which utilises his composure and calmness on the ball as well as progressive passing abilities to move the ball to electrifying attacking talents such as Yari Verschaeren in pockets of space.
The position he takes up allows good passing angles to Mukairu (RW) but also as the opposite fullback goes high and wide with the left-winger moving inside the half-space there are many potential suitors for progressive passes from deep positions where they can receive the ball in dangerous areas.
In the pass-maps below it is evident that Sardella is not the stereotypical fullback. In the three games I watched Killian played in 3 different positions but his role in possession remained largely the same as we touched on earlier, he sat narrow and remained a feeder for more advanced players and was largely neat and tidy in possession despite a team off-day at FC Kortrijk where Anderlecht lost 2-0.
Good pass accuracy of 90% and 87.5% against Zulte Waregem and Waasland-Beveren respectively with long passes to half spaces and narrow so that wingers coming inside late in the attack can receive the ball. The passing ability possessed makes him a regular outlet as Anderlecht build out from the back.
In an attacking profile of what Sardalla offers in possession compared to under 23 RB's in the top five European leagues, Holland and Belgium this dashboard below gives a really good insight to his strengths and downfalls. His crossing percentages of 40% accuracy from the left flank and 33.3% from the right place him high on the percentile bar graph showing he has a good cross accuracy but only completing 1.42 crosses per 90 simply shows that although his cross accuracy is not bad the frequency he is in an area to cross is small given his role in the side.
That said, he has high percentile ranks for accurate passes into the penalty area (46.81%) and deep completions per 90 (0.85) which further underlines he does still have an impact in the attacking third although he supplements the forward line through more unorthodox methods for his role.
The scatter graph in the bottom left highlights progressive passes per 90 and the accuracy at which they are played at, Trent Alexander-Arnold obviously smashing the trend on this metric. But Sardella being just 18 performing exceptionally well and this will be a desirable quality for teams if they like to have possession and often come up against low-blocks that can be hard to breakdown.
Out of possession
Sardella's position when in possession of the ball makes the most of his natural athleticism to be able to cover the space vacated out wide whilst keeping narrow so to fit tactical instructions from the manager. So, when presented with a counterattack and opposition wingers look to exploit the space in-behind and wide. In the GIF created I marked the area in which Sardella marshals whilst he pulls infield to the RCB role.
Sardella is quick to recognise danger in this space and is often fast and aggressive in how he pushes and presses wingers and overlapping fullbacks in this area and will keep pushing them high and away from his defence. This is helpful at times but can lead to him being dragged away from his position and disrupt Anderlecht's defensive structure.
Sardella much like his pressing is fast to engage in the tackle preferring to pinch the ball early rather than jockey in a more cautious approach. This has its benefits in that he can win the ball back higher which can lead to easier progression of play for Sardella as he is already a distance into the opposition territory. However, he does give away fouls doing this that can endager his team (1.5 per 90).
In a defensive profile above again comparing to under 23 RB's in the top 5 European leagues, Holland and Belgium, it shows a pitch plot of where his defensive actions were in the three games video scouted against Waasland-Beveren, FC Kortrijk and Zulte Waregem. You can see where Sardella is looking to intensely apply pressure to opponent's high up field tending to use his body to seal out the opposition rather than using interceptions. 64.84% of defensive duels won this season is an impressive number and one of the highest in the percentile rank bar graph.
Sardella is a RB that is very assured on the ball who will tend to use his passing ability as the main outlet from defence to distribute to the wingers either by cross field lofted passes or simple passes up the line but then preferring to sit tight in defence rather than overlap, which allows more space for the wingers with exceptional dribbling ability to face up defenders.
His versatility is a great asset although through a combination of his concentration out of possession dragging him out of position and his height at 5'10 and aerial duels won (%) of 38.24 may prevent him from ever permanently moving into CB.
It is certainly a case of 'remember the name' with Sardella as if his progression continues and he irons out some deficiencies he has going forward or at the back then he can mould into a very impressive defender who will be in one of the big 5 European leagues.
Thanks for reading! References are below, as well as a link to send a few pence for more data and tools to do things like this!
All graphs and GIF's done by @Analytics_SS
Data from Wyscout and Whoscored
Graphs made using Tableau
Quote on Purple Talent Programme - https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/jul/05/belgium-golden-generation-world-cup-anderlecht-lukaku-kompany