The variances and niches of football in England are made for Emiliano Buendia.
Now in his third year in English football, the Argentine continues to grow and prosper. Despite playing two of his campaigns in the second division, Buendia is regarded as one of the great attacking midfielders in the country.
So just why does he continue to ply his trade below the top tier? Will that return to the Premier League be with Norwich City, or a new interested party?
Buendia in the Big Time
Finishing thirteen points adrift of the next lowest team in the 2019/20 Premier League campaign was a bitter blow to Norwich City.
Nonetheless, there were some flickers and glimpses of promise during this stint to instil optimism for the future.
Their league low 26 goals was at least twelve points lower than xG predicts they should have scored. Similarly their 76 goals conceded was significantly more than their xGA of 61.9. This revised tally would have ben higher than at least four other clubs, so may well have seen them survive.
A young team bustling with promise and enthusiasm, Norwich were a bright presence within the league. The broad and personable manner of Daniel Farke garnered positive receptions amongst the league. Teemu Pukki superseded expectations in scoring eleven league goals. In Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey the Canaries possessed three quick and intelligent British defenders. Todd Cantwell also broke through as a promising creator in scoring six goals and assisting two.
Then there was Buendia. There was muted excitement for the Argentine’s arrival in the league ahead of 2019/20. Eight goals and twelve assists in their Championship winning side the year before validated this anticipation. For him to make the impression he did however was a major stamp on his credentials.
A Buendia shaped beacon
The line between entertaining attack and defensive naivety is a fine one in the top leagues. Noriwch demonstrated this perfectly, setting up with an expanisve 4-2-3-1 for most of the campaign in 2019/20.
Buendia was stationed as the right sided attacking midfielder behind Pukki. With Cantwell cutting onto his right foot on the other side, Buendia would drift centrally and find pockets between the lines. Also a right footer, Buendia was himself looking inwardly rather than spreading width. This allowed right back Max Aarons to overlap, and give the Argentine more creative license centrally.
Norwich rarely settled on a creator to sit between Cantwell and Buendia. Marco Stiepermann was regularly used there, but started only fourteen games. The German was a limited presence in attack, not contributing to one goal and taking fewer than 1.5 shots per game across the season. His inclusion attracted attention away from Buendia, who could take up central space as a result.
He registered fantastic creative metrics. Beneath his seven league assists, he made 79 key passes (sixth highest in the league). 173 progressive passes were within the top ten in the league. Sixteen through balls across the season were bettered by only Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez. 138 Shot Creating Actions (SCA) were the seventh highest among all league players. These are the numbers of a high level creator operating in a functioning, well oiled attacking unit. Not of a side that would finish bottom of the league by over ten points.
Yet there is more. The Argentine won 58 tackles, bettered only by seven players in the Premier League. 791 pressures were again within the top ten across the division. An aggressive presser and proficient ball winner, achieving these numbers put Buendia among the league’s best defensive players. As a creative midfielder, this is a significant asset to possess. It would not save Norwich, but this is far from the end for either party.
A cut above the Championship
At the time of writing, Norwich sit top of the league. They along with fellow demotees Bournemouth and Watford occupy the top three positions in the league. This alone is evidence of the quality of player now plying trade in the second tier.
Despite the talent around the league, Ismaila Sarr, David Brooks and Michael Olise to name but three, the Norwich attacker remains the golden standard.
Having thrived in the Premier League it is unsurprising that he has continued where he left off in 2018/19. 0.65 goals and assists per ninety minutes. His shooting output has rocketed from 1.46 to 3.16 per ninety. The difference in opposition encountered in the Championship goes a way to explaining this. Yet it shows the quality and dominance Buendia looks to assert at this level.
He still makes over three key passes, and makes over two tackles per game. Norwich retain the ball at a higher rate than any side in the league, yet Buendia presses to the extent to win the ball high. In the Premier league he was sitting deep and pressing within his defensive third. Pukki and Cantwell making vertical runs would be found by Buendia on the counter.
This season, Buendia is tackling much higher by virtue of Norwich dominating games as the league’s best team. If ever there needed to be evidence of how Buendia could mould into different systems, this is it.
Bringing Buendia back
So why does Buendia still languish in the Championship? It has not been for a lack of suitors.
Leeds were interested, but eventually signed Raphinha. An Aston Villa move would have created a mouth-watering front four of Jack Grealish, Ross Barkley, Buendia and Ollie Watkins. Arsenal’s current attacking shortcomings have ignited debate of a transfer for the twenty three year old.
His quality both in attack and defence are enough to warrant this debate, and for it to have come to fruition.
For all the benefits of having an aggressive attacker such as Buendia defending from the front, it brings pitfalls. Four red cards in the last five seasons demonstrate that his youthful energy needs taming. His dismissal versus Burnley lasts season via a nasty elbow was that of a frustrated young player.
Curbing this reckless streak to his game might be the key to prospering at an elite club. The risks of pressing with the ferocity Buendia does is the lack of control, something that big clubs rarely have time to harness.
There lies a player of rare quality within his small stature. One that would prove a great asset to any side seeking pressing quality and creative prowess. Signing him could prove transformative, regardless of the size of club acquiring him.
His return to the Premier League could even be with the Canaries. Their dominant start has made them favourites to win promotion once more. However it is likely that Buendia will start to demand the attention and esteem of European contests, or at the very least consistent Premier League status.
Norwich can owe a lot to the diminutive creator. He may not have saved them last season, but since his arrival he has proved a terrific player. Now it is time that those outside of Norfolk start respecting and idolising Emi Buendia. He could prove one of the shrewdest acquisitions for many years.