Club: RC Lens
Position(s): CB, LCB, LB
Preferred Foot: Left
Strengths: ball-carrying, technical ability, passing range, aggression
Areas for Improvement: weak foot, aerial duels
Lens were bottom of Ligue 2 in 2017, but today, they’re headed to Europe’s premier competition for the first time in 21 years, having finished one point behind Paris Saint-Germain in second place and booked a ticket in next season’s UEFA Champions League group stage. One player who has been vital in their ascent under Franck Haise is Argentine defender Facundo Medina.
Born in Villa Fiorito, Argentina, Medina bounced around from River Plate to Talleres before making the move to Lens in 2020 following the club’s promotion, signing a three-year contract with Talleres receiving a fee of €3.5 million. Despite registering just 37 appearances for Talleres, the Argentine quickly emerged as a key figure in France as Lens finished seventh, missing out on European football on the final day of the season.
Another seventh-place finish would follow, with Lens missing out on Europe on the final day of the 2021/22 season, but despite losing key players like Cheick Doucouré, Jonathan Clauss and Arnaud Kalimuendo, Lens have finished second in the table, and had it not been for Salis Abdul Samed’s 19th-minute expulsion in their 3-1 loss to PSG on April 15, they may very well have gone on to win the league title.
Haise’s system mandates that the wide center backs pull wide in possession in order to progress the ball through the lines and launch attacks. Medina is the epitome of the modern-day, ball-playing center back, boasting the most progressive carries (2.62) & progressive passes (7.71) for center backs in Europe’s top five leagues. He has an elite level of technical ability with 81.16 attempted passes p/90, the highest at Lens and ranking in the top 2% for center backs in Europe.
He contributes with goals and assists due to having great composure in the final third. Medina has a deadly line-cutting pass & this is particularly useful to play through the half-spaces to find attackers running in behind the defense. It’s this unique skill set that would not only make him a good fit in central defense, but as an inverted left back.
Many inverted fullbacks dazzle in possession but lack 1v1 defensive ability such as Oleksandr Zinchenko, Trent Alexander-Arnold or João Cancelo, but Medina is an impressive defender. An aggressive tackler who loves to get stuck in, he remains focused and determined to win the ball back for his team and launch counter-attacks.
Medina boasts the technical ability of a central midfielder, allowing him to slot into a number of positions such as a left back who transitions into a left center back role in a 3-2-2-3 WM formation. His long passing is top-notch and playing on the left side opens up the pitch to him and allows him to switch the play with ease.
With more and more top clubs prioritizing ball-playing center backs who can slot into the fullback position, be that Nathan Aké or Ben White, Medina is a valuable asset for any team. Not only is he a great ball-carrier, but he’s actually got a bit of flair and is very agile too. However, one area for improvement is his weak foot. He’s rarely used his right foot as he’s not as comfortable on it, whilst his aerial ability — standing 6’0″ — may be good enough for that of a left back, but it is a cause for concern if he is to play as a center back in a back four.
Medina recently penned a contract extension until 2026 in January, and after recently making his Argentina debut in October, it’s clear that he won’t come cheap. However, the 24-year-old is set to be the object of interest from various clubs this summer due to his impressive performances for Les Sang et Or. He would be best off joining a team where he could play as the left center back in a back 3/5 where he’s given the license to be the main progressive center back and a creative force from deep, or a team that plays a mixture of inverted fullbacks and center backs in the fullback positions.
Arsenal haven’t had an Argentine player since Emiliano Martínez departed for Aston Villa in 2020, but they would be wise to sign Medina this summer and make him their fourth Argentine player in the club’s history. Should Kieran Tierney leave, Medina could slot into a number of roles from left back to left center back, enabling them to play with four center backs in White, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes and Medina at times.
It’s no secret that Arsenal were chasing Lisandro Martinez from Ajax before he joined Manchester United last summer, but Medina would be a cheaper alternative who shares similarities with his compatriot. Signing Medina would also allow Zinchenko to move forward into midfield, enabling the Ukrainian’s creativity to shine and masking his defensive weaknesses.
Whether at the Emirates Stadium or at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, one thing is becoming increasingly certain: Facundo Medina will be playing Champions League football next season.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Scoop Dyga / Icon Sport