Ilaix Moriba: RB Leipzig’s New Midfield Motor Scouted

RB Leipzig signed Barcelona’s Ilaix Moriba on deadline day (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty … [+] Images)

AFP via Getty Images

It was a busy final days for RB Leipzig ahead of transfer deadline day. On Monday, the club sold captain Marcel Sabitzer to Bayern Munich for $16.5 million. But Die Roten Bullen had a replacement lined up, signing talented Barcelona midfielder Ilaix Moriba on Tuesday night. 

The 18-year-old midfielder was in high demand; Leipzig aside, Tottenham was also closely linked to the Guinean national. But RB Leipzig won the race. On Tuesday, Barcelona confirmed that the club had received $17.6 million up-front and that they will receive an additional $6.6 million in bonuses. The Catalans will also receive 10% of any future fee. 

“We have been able to land an exceptional talent in Ilaix Moriba,” commercial director for sport Florian Scholz said in a club statement. “We are very proud that he has chosen RB Leipzig, despite many offers from several top clubs in Europe, and that we were able to quickly convince him of our philosophy. We would like to thank FC Barcelona for the open and honest discussions. Signing Ilaix brings this transfer window to a successful close for us, one in which we made several strategic changes.”

The transfer concludes a period of restructuring for RB Leipzig. The Red Bull-owned club sold 13 players for $123.2 million and brought in 14 new players for $118.38 million. Those fees do not include the $25 million the club received from Bayern Munich for head coach Julian Nagelsmann. RB Leipzig managed to make a transfer profit of almost $30 million once the Nagelsmann fee is included. 

It is a good profit, and on paper, Leipzig has added significant talent to the squad. New signings Josko Gvardiol, Mohamed Simakan, André Silva, and Brian Brobbey, in theory, should be more than enough to fill the void left by the club’s departures. Furthermore, in Dominik Szoboszlai, a key midfielder is finally fit, and Dani Olmo resisted temptations to return to Spain.

But new head coach Jesse Marsch has produced just three points from the first three games in the Bundesliga this season. One major component that was lacking was organization in midfield. And while Sabitzer was not always the most dominant player in that area, the Austrian did provide a semblance of structure that was crucially absent from Leipzig’s opening games this season. 

Ilaix Moriba is expected to bring more structure to RB Leipzig’s midfield (Photo by Peter … [+] Endig/picture alliance via Getty Images)

dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Some semblance that Leipzig is now expecting from new signing Moriba. “Ilaix Moriba is what we call a box-to-box midfielder,” technical director Christopher Vivell said in a club statement. “In addition to his technical ability and his intelligence on the pitch, he is also strong in the tackles and in the air. He is able to cover a lot of ground and can read the game well, meaning that he is able to defend while also posing a threat in front of goal.” 

The main question for Leipzig fans is whether Moriba can replace Sabitzer and give their team more structure. The first question is easy; Moriba is going to provide a very different toolset. The 18-year-old is a far less dangerous goalscorer and assist provider than Sabitzer. 

Moriba, however, has more attacking actions than Sabitzer overall. Over the last calendar year, Moriba had 3.7 successful attacking actions per 90 minutes. Sabitzer was at 2.78. Moriba also is a much better passer, completing 89.13% of his passes, Sabitzer managed 82.49%. The Austrian had more forward passes per 90 minutes (16.03 vs. 10.88), but Moriba was more accurate, completing 74.5% of those passes. Sabitzer managed 68.64%. 

The two players managed about the same amount of passes per 90 minutes over the last 12 months. Sabitzer played more longer passes (6.88 per 90) than Moriba (1.74 per 90). That, however, might be a good thing, as Moriba will be asked to be playing in a deeper role, and with the club looking to bring more structure to its midfield, the Guinean could be the answer. 

In fact, Moriba brings some qualities to the club that have not been seen in Leipzig since Naby Keïta left for Liverpool. With one added attribute, Moriba is 185cm tall and strong in the air. An attribute that neither Keïta nor Sabitzer were able to show consistently and could make Moriba the most complete midfielder to ever play for the Red Bulls. 

Manuel Veth is the editor-in-chief of the Futbolgrad Network and the Area Manager USA at Transfermarkt. He has also been published in the Guardian, Newsweek, Howler, Pro Soccer USA, and several other outlets. Follow him on Twitter: @ManuelVeth 

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