Dani Ceballos was one of the leading figures in Real Betis’ promotion from the Segunda to La Liga as he has been earmarked as one of Spain’s brightest midfield prospects for the future. Gus Poyet chose to leave him out for the start of this season but once the Uruguayan was sacked and Victor Sanchez Del Amo replaced him, Ceballos saw a sharp rise in his playing time. The new manager usually played with a 5-4-1/3-5-2 formation where Ceballos either played in a free role in midfield or in the double-pivot shielding the defence. Next season Betis will play under Quique Setien who favours a more attacking style which could see Ceballos continuing as the creative hub of the team if he decides to remain in Seville.
Ceballos possesses a lanky and long-limbed somatotype which allows him to stretch the extra yard to make tackles or interceptions. Victor Sanchez Del Amo favoured a man-orientated pressing system which allowed Ceballos to showcase his talents in a man-to-man system, while he is also adept at reading spaces in a more zonal defending system. His ability to react quickly to situations to make key interceptions in midfield is one of the biggest parts of his defensive repertoire while he is also adept at defending in the wide and central areas.
For Betis, he could find himself pressing in a more central position in the first wave of pressure or in a wider position in the second wave of pressure. Something that makes him unique is his ability to quickly transition play from defence to attack. He possesses a velcro-like control of the ball and can drive it forward while he has the passing range to play intuitive line-breaking short passes forward, switch play or hit accurate long balls to put his team on the front foot.
Many believe that dribbling ability is most vital to a player, especially with most teams pressing high and many teams using man-orientated marking schemes in midfield. Ceballos is startlingly mercurial with his dribbling style as he can weave through players to drive the ball forward with his aforementioned close control or use of more elastic skills. He can sometimes hold the ball for too long though, especially when he decides to beat pressure by dribbling back into the defence and play a wall-pass to a centre-back as teams could use those instances as a pressing trigger. From a technical standpoint, Ceballos is highly developed at such an early age as he possesses the ability to drive the ball in midfield and the vision to find defence-splitting passes. Ceballos can also engage players to win fouls as according to WhoScored, he is fouled four times per game on average because his feet are so quick and his ball control is so highly developed.
Many of Ceballos’ dribbling moves also begin with a very measured first touch as although he is comfortable in distributing the ball from the deeper areas, he lacks certain motoring skills to be a defensive midfielder. The way he shields the ball upon receiving the it as well as failing to set up his body for a first-time pass means that he can lose the ball closer to his own goal. His dribbling can also mean he overruns the ball in the build-up as this facet of his game is more integral to Betis’ approach play. When Betis lose the ball in attack as they are beginning the second wave of the attack, Ceballos’ dribbling can help break lines and draw markers so players can make runs off him which has been so important to Betis as they do not play with an out-and-out attacking midfielder.
Ability to initiate moves in passing sequences and 3v3s
Combinations are all the more important to Betis’ approach play given they do not play with an out and out attacking midfielder and instead with two strikers for the most part. Ceballos’ ability in combination play shows remnants of a player who played games in close quarters and constantly had to pass and move out of situations when he was younger. Ceballos thrived in 3v3 moves as against Deportivo La Coruna there was one instance of him directing traffic with two other players, playing a one-two with a teammate directly in front of him to then chip for another teammate in behind to have an opportunity to have a shot or cross.
Build-up under Victor Sanchez Del Amo was more coordinated and focused on direct and quick passing moves to move up the pitch with a heavy reliance on moving through the half-spaces in approach play. Ceballos was crucial to this as he showed a willingness to play the ball to players in positions where the next pass in the triangle was available to them as the Spanish youngster’s timing of the pass was always perfect. 3v3 situations are regular in modern day football and Ceballos’ highly developed mindset in these situations is crucial to helping his team move the ball forward through one touch passing routines, especially in the wide areas to give Betis’ wing-backs adequate access to the 1v1s with fullbacks. These passing routines also help in beating pressure and in approach play when trying to move the ball into runners in the box.
Creativity in Distribution
According to Squawka, Ceballos completed 1022 passes at a succession rate of 81%, with 81% of those passes being forward passes as he also created 37 chances this season which was an improvement on 22, the season before. The young Spaniard always looks to put his team on the front foot, even when he is playing wall-passes to defenders to allow them to push forward an extra yard. His ability to hit early switch balls to wing-backs in early phases of build-up play to switch the point of attack is imperative while he always looks to break the line with his passing. In the defensive clips against Real Madrid, there is a situation where he wins the ball in his own box and looks to set up a counter by playing a through ball to Antonio Sanabria. There are also many situations where he manages to thread through balls through congested midfield areas.
He can also play chipped through balls to runners as he is very audacious with his passing as the 81% forward passes statistic proves. Sometimes he can be caught thinking far ahead of his teammates as he could play balls forward which his teammates fail to latch onto. He is also a master of the pass before the assist, regularly playing Betis’ wing-backs into the channels with measured passes while his assist against Deportivo La Coruna also proves that he is good in crossing situations. He possesses the slight of foot and strapping physique to hold full backs off and drive the ball near the byline to create opportunities for his teammates. He may not play as an out-and-out attacking midfielder in the future but he is already cut out to be a top box-to-box creative midfielder.
Ceballos only scored his first La Liga goal this season as he scored 2 goals and made 2 assists which do not prove to be the most flattering records. It is imperative to remember that he has played under three managers this season, each with contrasting styles as the first did not favour him and he only turns 21 in August. Defensively, he makes 3 tackles and 2 interceptions per game according to WhoScored while he wins 56% of his duels according to Squawka. He makes one key pass and three dribbles per game in attacking situations with 46 passes per game at a succession rate of 81% with 4 accurate long balls.
Quique Setien’s free-flowing style of play could be beneficial for him as he possesses the raw materials to thrive in such a system. He can play as a box-to-box midfielder, an attacking midfielder and as an interior out wide as his well-rounded set of skills made him an intriguing prospect for Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid before their transfer ban was confirmed. His measly 15 million euro release clause could also make him an option for other clubs, but he could gain more from playing another season at Betis under Setien. A regular for Spain’s U21 side, it is incredibly plausible that he develops into a key option for the senior side in the future. Ceballos is one of La Liga’s worst kept secrets and his potential is immense but he has a lot of developing to do before he can grow into the player that he is capable of being.