Plymouth Argyle have finally made their first move in their transfer window. 26-year-old Spanish defender Julio Pleguezuelo has joined on a free transfer from Dutch Eredivisie side FC Twente. Pleguezuelo. Have you considered how the bloke behind you at Home Park will try pronouncing his name? Isn’t it painful to think about?
Anyway, if you’re anything like me, the name Julio Pleguezuelo will have been pretty alien to you until about 4pm on Wednesday. At first glance, the signing of a defender with the versatility to play at centre back, right back and in a holding midfield role seems shrewd. He’s been in numerous top-tier academies, he played regularly in a team that made it into Europe last season, and his English is perfect. It may take him a while to pick Janner up but hey, we’re working from a solid base.
Still, I’ve tried to delve a little deeper to see if Pleguezuelo lives up to the hype. I’ve tried to work out his style of play, and what the numbers say about how he’d fit into Argyle’s system. Admittedly, I have to concede I am no expert on the Eredivisie. But there are some interesting conclusions we can draw as we look to assess how Argyle can utilise their first ever Spaniard.
Opportunity seized to open doors
If nothing else, Pleguezuelo 2022/23 campaign can be described as opportunist. He began as starter, but a couple of muscle injuries made the first half of his season a little stop-start. An abdominal strain kept him out for around a month from late August, and a calf injury picked up in February saw him miss another few weeks. It’s perhaps something the Argyle physio room may want to keep an eye on, particularly after he missed much of the 2020/21 season due to an ACL rupture.
After recovering from his various knocks last term, he found it tough to make an immediate return to the side. But it was another injury, this time to starting centre back Mees Hilgers, that gave Pleguezuelo the chance he craved. After replacing Hilgers in the first half against AZ Alkmaar in March, Pleguezuelo started every game between then and the end of the season.
His highlights in that time have been well documented. Pleguezuelo scored twice in the final two games of the Eredivisie final season, both from set piece situations. The first was a walloping drive from a corner against RAC Waalwijk.
The other was a header from a free kick against four-time champions of Europe Ajax. He did brilliantly to buy himself a yard of space, and was aided by a dire Ajax defensive line.
Having impressed in the run-in, Pleguezuelo played every minute in the Eredivisie European playoffs. That involved two-legged ties against both Heerenveen and Sparta Rotterdam. Twente won both ties, conceding just twice across the four games in the process.
There’s not nearly enough evidence right now to describe Pleguezuelo as a ‘clutch’ player. But being a near ever-present in a run-in that saw his side qualify for European football is a feather in his cap. Pleguezuelo jumped at the opportunity handed to him after a potentially frustrating first half of the season, something Argyle and the other clubs in for him were bound to notice. If he can deliver in the big moments at Home Park, he’ll go a long way to making a success of himself back in England.
Excellence on the ball
Something that’s been highlighted on social media since Pleguezuelo was announced is how comfortable he is as a ball-playing defender. Having looked at his stats across last season, I’m inclined to agree.
We’ll look first at a basic headline: Pleguezuelo had a pass success rate of 82% last season. Had that figure been replicated at Argyle, it would give him the 3rd-highest pass completion rate in the squad. Of those above him, we can discount Finley Craske who attempted (and completed) precisely one pass across the entire season. That leaves just James Bolton, who also has a much smaller sample size. Bolton completed 159 passes in 2022/23. Pleguezuelo completed 833.
His success rate become more impressive when you compare them to the rest of Argyle’s defence. Bolton again comes out on top, but with the same extreme caveat attached. 132 of his passes (83% of his entire season’s total) came in a home game against lowly Forest Green Rovers, the only time he completed 90 minutes in the entire campaign. Against Argyle’s regular starters, Pleguezuelo’s numbers are strong.
|Player||Passes Completed||Success Rate|
There are a few things we can take from this. Ok, he’s not completed as many passes as some of Argyle’s defenders, but that’s not a notable concern. He’s played fewer minutes, and his number of passes completed per 90 minutes is completely fine. His success rate does however suggest he plays plenty of short passes. You suspect that he’ll be required to play some more long balls into the channels at Argyle, particularly with the step up to the Championship.
That could impact his pass success, but is Pleguezuelo particularly below par when going long? Absolutely not. Compared again to Argyle’s defenders he seems perfectly adequate.
|Player||Long Passes Completed||Long Pass Success Rate|
It’s clear to me that Pleguezuelo is comfortable passing the ball. It also appears that he’d be competent doing so in various different systems, and various styles of play. That could be crucial against Championship opponents of many different standards.
I’ve also been impressed by his ability to bring the ball out from the back. Take a look at his dribbles completed per 90, which comfortably beats the rest of Argyle’s defence. Well, Bolton runs it close, but his number is skewed by a small sample size again. It actually accounts for just a single dribble completed all season, again against Forest Green.
|Player||Dribbles completed per 90|
I picked on Bolton, but the sample size is admittedly fairly small all round – central defenders don’t tend to go on too many mazy dribbles. But it does provide an interesting indication. Last season, Pleguezuelo completed a dribble at least twice as regularly as anyone who consistently lined up in Argyle’s defence. If he continues that intent, it could give Steven Schumacher’s side another dimension to building attacks from the back.
Potential defensive concerns
As always, nothing is ever perfect. I’m enamoured by Pleguezuelo’s skills with the ball at his feet. Aside from what I’ve mentioned above, he lost possession fewer times per 90 than every Argyle regular aside from Ryan Hardie, who wasn’t in possession often enough to lose it frequently. But with all that in mind, I’d still be lying if I said I didn’t have at least some concerns over Pleguezuelo defensive ability.
Cast your minds back to FC Twente’s season. As I mentioned, Pleguezuelo’s season really kicked off when he replaced the injured Mees Hilgers against AZ Alkmaar. Well, he’s lucky Hilgers didn’t recover swiftly, because he may well have lost his place again immediately. That’s because in the second half, Pleguezuelo made an Opta-defined error leading directly to a goal. He slid in and swiped at the ball, barely touched it, and allowed Jesper Karlsson to go on and score.
For reference, Argyle as a collective only made one Opta-defined error leading to a goal all season. That was Brendan Galloway for the opener during the famous 3-2 win at Derby County.
Look, anyone can make a mistake, and it should be said that Pleguezuelo didn’t make another error leading directly to a goal or a shot for the rest of the campaign. Nonetheless, a few concerns remain about his general defending. One thing that has stuck out for me is his aerial duel success rate. On the face of it, he appears to be less competent in the air than Argyle’s previous first-choice defensive trio of Wilson, Scarr and Gillesphey.
|Player||Aerial Duel Success Rate|
My initial reaction when Pleguezuelo was announced is that he seemed like a direct replacement for Wilson. Now I’ve looked into it, I’m beginning to think he resembles a replacement for (and upgrade on) Lonwijk. Lonwijk was fairly comfortable on the ball, but wasn’t as successful defensively as those alongside him. He could also fill in successfully at right back, which proved useful when Argyle wanted to switch to a 4-4-2. Pleguezuelo strikes me as someone who could do exactly the same, but is even more comfortable on the ball.
I’ve spent time planting fears, but I’m not wholly concerned by Pleguezuelo’s regular defending. He still completes enough defensive interactions (consisting of clearances, blocks, interceptions and tackles) to show a general level of proficiency. And last season’s ground duel success of 67% is solid. But it may just be that how he adapts to the aerial requirements of the Championship will define the success of his stay.
Transition is key
Indeed, a vital element to Pleguezuelo’s first few months at Argyle will be how he adapts to the Championship. He clearly wants another go at playing in England, demonstrated by the fact he joined the Greens in the first place. But how will he be able to handle the transition between the Dutch top flight and the English second tier? That’s anyone’s guess.
We could try to compare the respective strengths of the two leagues. Twente, for example, went out in the qualifying rounds of the Europa Conference League last season. But it was to eventual finalists Fiorentina, and only by a single goal over two legs. That’s got to mean something. And it’s part of a trend of Dutch sides holding their own in Europe. The Netherlands is currently 6th in UEFA’s coefficient ranking, and a hair’s breadth away from usurping France in 5th.
I’d bear in mind though the Eredivisie, like many top tiers across Europe, has a wide range of teams. Sure, the likes of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord could probably ease to promotion in the Championship. But I’d fancy Leicester or Leeds to destroy SC Cambuur all day long. As you can tell, getting a feel for the comparison of standards in the league is tricky.
But it’s particularly important in the context of Pleguezuelo’s potential weaknesses. We can look at the passing stats of any player in the world and get a feel for their style of play. But duels by their very nature pit player against player – the ability of those players matters. Pleguezuelo wasn’t outstanding in his aerial duels last season, but who’s to say if he was facing League One players, rather than those from the Eredivisie, he wouldn’t be dominant in the air? And who’s to say that the likes of Scarr and Gillesphey will be just as dominant with the step up to the Championship?
How Pleguezuelo adapts to the English second tier will be decisive. Because if he asserts his authority early and becomes as good in the air as he is on the ball, he’d have all the ingredients to be a terrific signing. We’ll soon find out how he performs.