Ilias Akhomach: Villarreal’s Moroccan Magician

La Liga has no shortage of promising wingers and attacking midfielders. With the likes of Savio, Nico Williams, and Take Kubo, among many others, the Spanish first division has enough young firepower to outshine even the sun on a hot Andalusian summer afternoon.


There are many styles and profiles in the league, which makes it all the more entertaining to watch. However, in the past eight seasons (possibly more if the data went back further), there is only one player to enter a La Liga season at the age of 22 or younger to register at least 900 minutes, 7.0 dribble take ons per 90 minutes, and 2.0 tackle attempts per 90 minutes: Ilias Akhomach.



Those figures might seem like arbitrary cutoffs, but they represent what is generally around the 95th percentile for La Liga wingers, meaning players with figures greater than those benchmarks fall outside the normal distribution. Translation: Ilias is an anomalously aggressive dribbler and defender given his positioning on the field, which represents a very unique profile, allowing the Moroccan to shine even among the dearth of young attacking talent in La Liga.


The Road Somewhat Traveled


Despite Ilias’ distinctive playing profile, his path to the present is not an untraveled one. He was born in Barcelona in 2004 to parents of Moroccan descent, and his youth career was shaped by his time with La Masia. He, along with fellow countrymen Chadi Riad and Abde Ezzalzouli, represented a growing cohort of gifted Moroccan nationals to come through the Catalan giant’s youth ranks.


Moreover, he chose to represent the country of his ethnicity, not his place of birth, like another current La Liga star, Brahim Díaz. Both wingers played in the Spanish youth ranks, with Akhomach going all the way up to the U-21 squad, before ultimately deciding to represent Morocco.



Ilias began his career in La Masia in 2007, when he was just four years old. He spent six years there before moving to Gimnàstic Manresa for four years, then moved back to FC Barcelona in 2017. He spent most of his time with the Barcelona B side, but made his debut on November 20th, 2021, in a derby match against RCD Espanyol.


Interestingly, he was substituted in the second half for his aforementioned compatriot, Abde Ezzalzouli. He would only make one more appearance with the first team, when in 2023, he did not renew his contract and became a free agent. He signed with Villarreal, and the rest is history. 


Player Profile


While dribble take on volume and tackle attempts are the major highlights of Ilias’ statistical profile, they are not the only strengths. He is also a high-volume crosser, above-average chance creator, and accurate passer in possession. See below for how some of his important winger stats compare to a sample group of 307 La Liga attacking midfielders, wingers, and forwards to register 900+ league minutes in an individual campaign over the past three seasons. The stats are adjusted for a team environment, so there is an element of “per possession” woven into the percentiles, in addition to the raw value.



A few aspects of Ilias’ game stand out as being weaknesses: goal scoring and take-on success. The shooting can be forgiven, as he is a creative wide player, and that part of his profile can either come along as he ages, or simply never come about, as his archetype generally focuses on chance creation. However, he has a large disparity between dribble take-ons and take-on success, which means he costs his team in possession at a rather alarming rate.


In a broad sense, there is a strong correlation between players that take on a higher volume of dribbles and players that have a lower dribble success rate (likely due to the fact that the high-volume dribblers are not picky about when they take a player on or who it is against). That said, this is definitely an area Ilias will need to clean up as he grows and evolves as a player. 



Looking at U22 La Liga Wingers, Attacking Midfielders, and Forwards over the past three seasons (n=50), only three of them commit a dribble take-on in 15% or more of their overall live ball touches. These three aggressive wingers have all done it this season, and are Nico Williams, Savio, and of course, Ilias Akhomach.


The Spaniard and the Brazilian both receive plaudits and praise for their seasons, and are either linked with, or confirmed to be moving to, larger clubs this summer. Ilias, on the other hand, does not get spoken about nearly as much, but he still deserves to be in the same conversation of “most exciting young wingers in La Liga.”



As alluded to before, Villarreal’s Moroccan Magician isn’t just flash in the attack – he has plenty to offer in terms of defensive work rate as well. Above, I plotted Tackle Attempts + Interceptions and Recoveries per 90 minutes for the U22 sample group.


Side note: of the major defensive counting stats Opta tracks, those three are the only combination where each one has a high correlation to the other two, with TklA and Int being the highest combination. Ilias has the 5th highest TklA + Int / 90 of the group, and at 3.1, his total is nearly greater than that of Savio’s and Nico William’s combined total this season (3.2). This just goes to show how unique Ilias’ playstyle really is.



Another part of Ilias’ profile that does not grade out as either a strength or a weakness, but is very important to wingers, is chance creation. While he rates towards the median in both chances created and expected assisted goals per 90 minutes, this is not necessarily cause for concern. His closest comparable data points on this plot were Lee Kang-in during his breakout campaign for Mallorca, and Mason Greenwood this season.


Setting aside both the Englishman’s and Korean’s various off-field ‘concerns’, this is pretty respectable company to be in, especially considering that Villarreal’s attack currently runs through La Liga assist leader, Alex Baena. While Ilias has never been asked to be the main man in terms of distribution when in attack, I believe it is a role he will be able to grow into as he progresses in his career.



The last aspect of Ilias’ game I want to highlight is his passing in possession. As it turns out, passing accuracy is negatively correlated to cross volume, which stands to reason. Crosses (especially ones into the penalty area) are very low percentage passes, which even at a low rate, will influence the overall accuracy mark.


With this in mind, Ilias’ intersection of pass accuracy and cross volume is very impressive. In case you are wondering – the isolated data point that scores well in both is Lamine Yamal, and the player with by far the highest crossing rate is Nico Williams from this season.




Ilias Akhomach might not be the most-heralded young attacking talent in La Liga, but he certainly deserves to be in the conversation with players like Savio and Nico Williams. Since Opta began tracking advanced stats, no U-22 player in La Liga has the Moroccan’s combination of defensive effort and aggressive dribbling mindset.


Villarreal is the perfect place for him to grow and develop, and someday maybe soon, he could become the central cog in the Yellow Submarine’s attack if Alex Baena moves to one of the bigger clubs in Europe. Ilias will get his chance to impress on the world stage this summer for Morocco in the Olympics. I hope, and anticipate, the event will be looked back on as the springboard that made Ilias Akhomach a household name in world football.


By: Spencer Mossman / @fc_mossman

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Juan Manuel Serrano Arce / Getty Images