Player Features

Barcelona’s Rafa Márquez Regen – Breaking The Lines

Barcelona will consider the 23/24 season a missed opportunity, however, the emergence of La Blaugrana’s latest crop of young talent will be seen as a huge silver lining. Real Madrid are, at the time of writing, possibly just three games away from securing their 36th La Liga title…something Barcelona will consider a huge failing on their behalf.


With PSG able to overcome the Spanish giants in the UCL Quarter Finals and a shock loss to Athletic Club back in January ending Barcelona’s Copa del Rey hopes there has not been much to celebrate for La Azulgranas this season. However, the emergence of Héctor Fort, Lamine Yamal and Pau Cubarsí will be seen as a rare success this season.



Much of the spotlight has been on 16-year-old Lamine Yamal who has contributed an impressive six goals and eight assists for Xavi this season despite only making his first senior start for Barcelona back in August. However, 17-year-old, Girona-born, centre back Pau Cubarsí has looked just as impressive in a tactically more demanding role.


But just what makes La Masia’s latest graduate so impressive? Well, let’s take a look at his underlying numbers and find out!


Player Profile – Pau Cubarsí

Nationality: Spanish

Age: 17

Date of birth: 22/01/2007

Club: FC Barcelona

Position: Centre Back

Preferred foot: Right

Height: 182cm (5’11”)



Cubarsí has been utilised as both the left and right-sided centre-back in Barcelona’s 4-3-3 shifting over to the left primarily when Ronald Araújo slots in on the right hand of the defensive pairing. His primary role in Xavi’s possession-dominant Barcelona side (64.1% average possession) has been to serve as a ball progressing centre back and this is a role the 17-year-old has thrived in playing a mammoth 73.17 passes per 90 (no La Liga defender has averaged more) with an impressive 92.81% pass accuracy.



As would be expected with a possession-focused set-up, Cubarsí’s passes sit in the shorter range, around 19.99m, however, the youngster is not content with safe, sideways, passing and instead actively looks to drive the attack contributing with 25.24 forward passes per 90 and 5.86 passes to the final third per 90. The majority of Cubarsí’s 341 completed progressive passes this season (83.6% accuracy) sit in the 0-30m range with his progressive pass accuracy dropping to 79.6% in the 40m+ area.


However, it has been Cubarsí’s line-breaking pass capabilities that have caught the eyes of fans on several occasions. When struggling to break down defences Barcelona have been able to rely on the 17-year-old to play a picture-perfect ball over the backline typically into the path of Fermín López or Robert Lewandowski. This capability has earned Cubarsí comparisons to Barcelona legend Rafael Márquez who was known for his sensational passing range and ability to unpick defences from deep.


(The 4-3-3 utilised by Barcelona during their 4-2 win over Valencia)



Under Xavi, Barcelona are averaging a league-high of 64.1% possession with ball retention and patient play embedded in the club’s DNA. The overwhelming ball dominance has a huge impact on his defensive numbers and highlights the importance of possession-adjusted metrics. 



As highlighted previously, Cubarsí’s on-the-ball abilities are within the top percentile of La Liga defenders averaging a whopping 73.17 attempted passes per 90 whilst his 4.5 accurate long balls per 90 ranks 8th in La Liga (for defenders with over seven appearances) and is only beaten within the Barcelona squad by veteran Iñigo Martínez (5.25/90).


His 92.81% pass accuracy ranks sixth in La Liga and third for defenders whilst his 58.16% long ball accuracy ranks within the top ten for defenders once again sitting 8th with Barcelona’s Sergi Roberto and Andreas Christensen leading the table at around 73% accuracy. 


(Pau Cubarsí’s Ball Progression in La Liga 23/24)


Both Roberto and Christensen have benefited from extended minutes in central midfield which has enhanced their metrics related to forward and progressive passes which only serves to highlight how impressive Cubarsí’s numbers really are. Moving over to his defensive numbers, Cubarsí continues to shine.


Before adjusting for possession, he is averaging 6.32 combined defensive actions per 90 (interceptions + clearances + tackles) which ranks top amongst Barcelona defenders. Individually, Cubarsí ranks second for tackles per 90 (1.5), fifth for interceptions per 90 (0.71) and first for clearances per 90 (4.11).


(Pau Cubarsí’s Recoveries in La Liga 23/24)


He sits within the top 4% of La Liga centre backs for tackles in the defensive third per 90 (1.64) and for his incredible 90% success rate in dribbler dispossession. In his first ten games across La Liga and the Champions League, Cubarsí produced 6.5 defensive duels/90, 3.9 aerial duels/90 and 2.5 loose ball duels/90. He was dominant in his defensive actions winning 77% of his duels and 52% of his loose ball duels.


(Pau Cubarsí’s Successful Defensive Actions in Own Third)


Standing at just 5’11 it is no surprise that his weakest defensive metric was his aerial duel win rate which sat at just 48.7% which ranks second lowest for Barcelona defenders sitting only in front of Sergi Roberto (5’8”) with a 41.18% aerial duel success rate.


Perhaps the most evident piece of data to show the importance Cubarsí holds within this Barcelona team despite his young age is that in his 14 La Liga appearances Barcelona boasts a 71.43% win rate, losing just twice (a 5-3 loss to Villareal in January and a 3:2 loss to rival Real Madrid in April) and keeping clean sheets in 50% of their games including a five-game run of clean sheets between March and April 2024.


Without Cubarsí in the squad, Barcelona’s win rate drops to 57.89% in La Liga with the club keeping clean sheets in just 36.85% of their games. Los Catalanes have been high on Cubarsí since he burst into the squad against Betis back in January, however, it was his record-shattering man-of-the-match performance against Napoli in the Champions League that catapulted Cubarsí’s name onto the global stage.



Becoming the youngest player to debut in the Champions League knockout stages, Cubarsí produced a performance of the highest standard winning 100% of his aerial and ground duels, producing five clearances, three tackles and recovering the ball a staggering five times.


In possession, Cubarsí shone as well producing nine accurate long balls, four passes into the final third with a pass accuracy of 89.7% and a key pass for good measure. Per Opta, during this match, Cubarsí shattered a twenty-year record by recording 50+ passes, 5+ clearances and winning 100% of his tackles on his UCL debut. 





Ball Distribution/Retention – Sitting in the top percentiles for passes per 90, pass accuracy, xGBuildup per 90 and forward passes per 90 it is no surprise that the first notable strength of Cubarsí is his fantastic ball progression and retention.



Despite his lack of senior football Cubarsí does not panic in possession and is rarely forced into a turnover in possession. His 7.97 losses of possession per 90 is the second lowest of any Barcelona defender (with over seven appearances) and is only outperformed by Andreas Christensen at 4.86/90. This ranks Cubarsí within the top 15% of all La Liga defenders before adjusting the metrics for possession.


His 25.24 forward passes per 90 helps contribute to an xGBuildup of 0.53/90 and an xGChain of 0.55/90. Looking at the pass radar below you can see the progressive and accurate nature of Cubarsí’s passing game as well as understand the role of a centre-back in Xavi’s system to a greater extent.


(Pau Cubarsí’s Pass Radar – La Liga 2023 – 2024 Season)


Defensive Duels – As highlighted throughout this report Cubarsí is a defensive monster, his volume of defensive action and the accuracy at which he does it highlight both an incredible technical ability but also a fantastic reading of the game. Breaking down his La Liga stats this season by defensive area we see the following:


Inside ‘Zone 14’ is winning an average of 2.25 duels per 90 and is losing 0.64 duels per 90 a zonal duel win rate of around 72%. Within the penalty area, Cubarsí is winning 1.75 duels per 90 whilst losing just 0.8 duels within the same area which have produced just 5 shots on target and an xG of just 0.06 per 90.


When drifting over to the right flank Cubarsí has won 16 of his 18 total duels producing a duel win rate of 88.89% whilst his activity on the left flank is smaller in volume (just 11 total duels) he is still producing an 81.82% duel win rate in this area. Cubarsí is producing just 1.03 fouls per 90 which ranks third in Barcelona’s defence behind Ronald Araújo (1.2) and João Cancelo (1.39).



Cubarsí ranks 83rd in the league for fouls committed (Joseba Zaldúa leads with 2.4/90) and will just 0.28 yellow cards per 90 (a booking roughly every 3.5 games) he has shown to be a composed, intelligent defender inside his own area.


Positioning/Ball Recovery – Part of the reason Cubarsí can minimise his defensive losses and fouls committed is that his positioning inside the area and movement/reading of play is to such a level that he rarely needs to go to the ground on a tackle.


From his 625 recovery actions (any action that ends possession of the opposition team) just 2.24% (14) were sliding tackles with the majority (62.4%) being flagged as positional recoveries, 22.56% were flagged as counter-pressing actions and 12.8% noted as interceptions.



Breaking down Cubarsí’s defensive actions further we can see that he has only gone to ground inside his own third on nine occasions (0.64/90) and produces the majority of his ball-winning counter-pressing actions within the central and final third (5.14/90).


It is these actions that have enabled Cubarsí to transform this Barcelona defence and help contribute to the build-up of a goal roughly every two games, he is dynamic, intelligent both in and out of possession and capable of covering for Barcelona’s bombing wing backs.




Aerial Ability – Both of the flagged weaknesses for Cubarsí are with a huge note that these are admittedly harsh but are areas that if I were to watch the 17-year-old in an isolated match for the first time may flag as potential areas for improvement. Cubarsí’s 1.66 aerial duels won per 90 ranks fifth for Barcelona defenders and his 46.67% win rate is second worst in the backline above only Sergi Roberto with 41.18%.


He is not shy in the aerial duels but needs to improve on his consistency in the air to ensure this is not targeted in future matches and to enable him to work with a range of centre-back partners not just alongside an aerial monster such as Ronald Araújo who produces just shy of three successful aerial duels per 90- with a 72% win rate which ranks him in the top three in La Liga (for defenders with over two successful aerial duels per 90).



Pace – Again, another harsh note, Cubarsí is not excessively slow and his intelligent positioning generally enables him the extra yard or two he needs to combat faster attackers, for example when he kept Victor Osimhen quiet over 90 minutes in the Champions League. However, with the importance of a high line to Barcelona and his speed likely only reducing over time, it would be beneficial for the youngster to ensure he can maximize his physical abilities and help play against teams who will sit on the counter against Barcelona or look to exploit space in behind the high line, although again he is only 17 so he could grow two inches and improve his speed in six months.



Before I advance with this final section, it is only fair that I credit Target Scouting for this scouting report grading system. Please check them out and support the awesome work they do at At the end of each player review, I will be giving a final grade on a scale of A1 to D – in order to give a consistent and clear final review of how I see Cubarsí as a player now and where he could potentially end up. The scale is as follows:


  • A1 – Very good, could play higher
  • A2 – Strong potential to play higher
  • B1 – Good, strong player at this level
  • B2 – Potential to be a strong player at this level
  • C – Average for the level
  • D – Below average for the level




It is always tough with young defenders to predict how they will develop as often it depends on their environment, luck with injuries, physical development and the coaches they work under. Luckily for Cubarsí, a lot of this is less relevant in the immediate future at least.


With Xavi announcing he plans to remain at Barcelona he will be playing once again under a coach who claims he “plays like a captain” and prioritises youth. He will be playing in the same Barcelona, possession-based, system that he has thrived in, additionally, he will be playing in a role and partnership, alongside Ronald Araújo, that minimises his physical drawbacks.


Now, that doesn’t mean that a series of unforeseen injuries could not arise and all of a sudden, Pau Cubarsi goes from the next Rafa Márquez or Carles Puyol to the next Ansu Fati, but all the data and evidence so far paints the picture of a potential Ballon d’Or winning defender who could lead Barcelona and Spain to glory over the next decade.


By: Liam Stewart / @LiamAStewart

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Soccrates Images / Getty Images


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