Long Reads

Daniel Stefulj: Croatian Wing Back With Raw Talent

Daniel Šteful
Image: HNK Rijeka

Stefulj predominately plays as a left wing back in a 5-4-1 but is given freedom to progress and plays as a LM in a 4-1-4-1 when Rijeka are in possession. On the ball Stefulj is very comfortable going forward and defensively ok. His first touch is good and is often used to take him inside as he’s usually very close to the touch line. He could be viewed as a safe passer but I think that he’s very good at not taking too many unnecessary risks and retains possession well by dropping balls into the midfield. He’s capable of playing disguised passes through the lines. However he’s an excellent crosser and can put in a variety of crosses that cause the opposition a lot of problems. Daniel is very good at whipping balls into the box first time and swinging them away from the Goalkeeper which forces him into making a decision on whether to come for it or to stay.

When Stefulj receives the ball near the touch line he often takes a touch to shift the ball out of his feet to create a better angle that allows him play deeper crosses or switches. The majority of Stefuljs crosses are into dangerous areas and he still finds these areas with a variety of crosses(drilled, floated, deep etc). Daniel has good vision and is able to open his body and play passes inside when he’s pinned to the touchline. He’s comfortable taking players on but prefers to cross early rather than drive into the box and shoot.

Defensively Daniel Stefulj is pretty raw and it’s an area of his game that needs improving especially if he’s going to play as a left back in a back four long term. He’s an aggressive ball winner but sometimes fly’s into challenges when it’s not always the wisest thing to do and does seem to slide tackle often which then limits the speed of the counter attack if/when he wins the ball. However he does use his body very well when defending and makes it very difficult for the attacker to get past him given his height and build and the fact that he seems to tangle his legs in between the ball and the opponent which makes it tough to beat him. However he’s still pretty raw when defending 1v1 and isn’t the most intelligent in these situations due to the fact that he often commits early to win the ball as opposed to shepherding the player away from goal. Daniel reads the game pretty well defensively and uses his body to intercept passes and launch balls forward to counter.

When competing for loose balls Stefulj sprints at a great intensity to be the first to the ball but struggles to decelerate so often loses the 50/50 due to this. However, if he does some work off the pitch that can improve his deceleration then he can become a great presser as he is a great runner off the ball and loves to close passing lanes. Stefulj doesn’t try and over play at the back and isn’t afraid to put his foot through the ball to clear it, this shows a good level of defensive maturity in my opinion. Aerially Daniel is ok and can defend high balls but doesn’t have to defend crosses as frequently due to the fact he’s a LWB in a back 5 but this would change if he’s to be used in a back 4.

Physically Daniel Stefulj is great and has a great engine. Stefulj is quick over 10 yards but struggles to reach higher speeds over longer distances. He’s strong and protects the ball well when necessary, he’s got great upper body strength which is useful when keeping the ball in the corner to run down the clock. He’s a player that likes to under lap when he moves into the final third as it creates different crossing angles and opens up the opposition defence. Stefulj isn’t the quickest to turn and isn’t the most agile in defensive situations so up against a tricky winger he could face some difficulty. Stefulj has great stamina and is able to get up and down the pitch for 90 minutes and makes it look easy and he still covers a lot of ground. Something I like about Stefuljs game is the fact that he’s not one paced and can inject pace into some moves with his ability to overlap and under lap if players drift wide.

Positionally Stefulj is good and has good awareness of attackers behind him that float into channels. Given the fact that he plays as a wing back for Rijeka he rarely finds himself touch tight to an opposition so he must be aware of the full back in front of him and the winger behind him. Stefulj manages this well by frequently looking over his shoulder to make sure he’s aware of his surroundings. However sometimes he does get caught too high up the pitch where he’s too eager to win the ball back in high areas. When his team are in possession he retains width excellently and is disciplined in this so doesn’t find himself drifting inside which gives attackers and central midfielders space to roam in. Stefulj likes to make late runs into the box at the back post but is slightly hesitant at times and doesn’t ‘gamble’ on crosses as much as he could, and he could add some more goals into his game by doing this.

The Future

Due to his crossing ability, great stamina and physicality I can see Stefulj being used as a left back long term. If he can improve defensively this season he’ll have potential to be a very good one that’s capable of playing in a top 5 league. I think that Stefulj would be available for a relatively low fee (under £5m) but does have 4 years left on his contract. I believe that he would suit a side that play with a high intensity and he could be perfect for Oliver Glasner’s Wolfsburg if he’s given time to improve defensively and adapt to playing as a left back – wouldn’t be much pressure to instantly adapt due to Jerome Roussillon being one of the best in the league in this position. In the short term I think that it’s best for Stefulj to remain at Rijeka for a season at least so that he can improve defensively and this should come given their participation in the Europa league, where he’ll be playing against AZ, Real Sociedad and Napoli so he’ll be tested against some top wingers. Daniel Stefulj is a player that I really like and see him becoming a good player at a high level but does have room to improve defensively.

Article by @scoutxd1

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