Despite the myriad solutions and boundless possibilities that data analysis in football offers, there are still players who confound regardless of how many times you watch them play or how long you pore over their data.
One player who remains so enigmatic, despite the mounting evidence we have to make a case for or against him, is Ángel Correa.
This has been a breakout campaign for the 26-year-old. After years of promise, and plenty of chances, Correa is one of eight Atlético players to tally 2,000 minutes or more this season. In Diego Simeone’s eyes, he is a starter and of that there is no doubt.
But is he any good?
Correa is in a perpetual state of chaos. More precisely, he is in a constant state of the extreme, either wheeling away after scoring a carefully-finished strike or hiding his face in his hands after squandering another chance. It’s what makes him one of the most difficult attackers to defend in LaLiga, but also one of the most inconsistent and frustrating to watch. What’s he going to do next? Even he doesn’t know.
In Luis Suárez’s absence against Eibar on April 18, Correa started as Atlético Madrid’s main striker having spent the majority of the season playing just off his Uruguayan teammate. Resting your hopes on the sometimes prolific, often profligate, attacker when Real Madrid and Barcelona are chasing you in a title race is not good for the nerves.
But just like always, Correa did the exact opposite of what most thought he might do and scored a brace in a 5-0 victory, sending Atlético four points clear with their two main rivals still to play. He followed that up with the opener in a 2-0 win over Huesca just a few days later. Atlético, thanks to Correa, finally had their title charge back on track.
That Atlético are in this position, needing a late rally to claim the title, might be down to two massive misses from this same player against Levante and Real Madrid with those games in the melting pot. Both of those games ended 1-1, and Correa’s chances came at crucial moments.
A better question to ask about Correa might be, can you rely on him?
Shooting technique is not discussed often enough in the football world because it’s not the hardest of sciences and it’s not very exciting, but it matters. Diego Costa’s shot mechanics helped him become a prolific goalscorer, the speed at which he struck the ball catching defenders off-guard by the millisecond he needed. His was an unorthodox style but it was a style.
Think of most strikers and you can pick their favourite type of shot — the shot they will revert to, all things being equal. Most “natural finishers” will opt for the inside of the boot.
Correa doesn’t have a shot like that in his locker. The Argentine does what he feels as soon as the ball lands to his feet, and it can often have disastrous consequences. And there appears to be a trend.
What’s interesting about Correa is that his expected goals match up to his actual goals — the reason being that he scores the hard ones and misses many of the easy ones that might propel him into the “elite” category.
This only adds to the frustration, because if he could just keep taking the big chances and improve on the easy ones, we might be talking about one of the best attackers in Europe.
What Correa has achieved this season is no mean feat — he’s kept João Félix and Thomas Lemar at bay in a team with increasing competition in attack. We don’t know what Simeone’s criteria is to become a starter other than “be able to run a lot and defend without qualms,” but whatever it is Cholo asks for, Correa has it in abundance.
But back to the sitters, and the point of the article. The miss against Levante in February has no logical explanation. How do you explain this one to your boss on Monday morning? A pure lack of concentration?
And the miss against Madrid feels more like an issue with technique, a result of being over-excited that the chance had fallen to him. Correa shuffles his feet in an awkward way and ends up completely messing up the shot. At 2-0 up after an hour at home, you would have fancied Atlético to wrap up all three points.
So the big question remains: is Ángel Correa good?
I don’t really have an answer. He is 26 now and not likely to improve massively on his finishing, but if he could score the big chances, this article would have looked entirely different or might not exist. Our brains are wired to remember the big misses and draw conclusions from them, and the reason Correa misses these chances is because he is in the position to take them, which is another worthwhile point to make. Every other aspect of Correa’s game is good, but his finishing looks like it will never be polished.
Correa’s essence is his unpredictability, and any manager that starts him in his team accepts that premise. Every defender marking him must acknowledge the same. The best I can do is say that “Ángel Correa is unique; and that counts for something.”