Alessandro Hojabrpour – Player Analysis

Alessandro Hojabrpour has been one of the standout performers of the past two seasons in the Canadian Premier League. Playing in an understated defensive midfield role where he’s required to proactively participate in all phases of the game, Hojabpour has also been a name that has gone relatively unnoticed when compared to some of his CPL peers. At 22 years of age, with the maturity of someone in their mid-twenties, Hojabrpour should be on the radar of every single MLS club, and soon enough on the radar of our national team. Here is my analysis of the remarkabilities to Alessandro Hojabrpour in 2022, and why he’s one of the best midfielders that Canada has to offer.

POSITIONING & ROLE

Alessandro Hojabrpour plays as the ‘Anchor’ for Forge FC at the heart of their illustrious midfield, always one of the deepest on the field, and one of the least fluid in his positioning. This isn’t to say that the 22-year-old lacks the mobility to get around the pitch. That would be far from the truth. But Hojabrpour is tasked with staying relatively central and reserved in his role, often as the team build out in either a 2+3 or 3+2 shape, extending all the way into their attack.

As part of that anchoring role, Hojabrpour fulfills a ‘Deep-Lying-Playmaker’ persona, where he can switch play left to right, play progressive passes, and help the Hammers play through the thirds. Of players to make 10+ appearances, only three players made more passes in the opposition’s half than Hojabrpour across the 2022 CPL Season (25.5 per 90).

As soon as the Hammers then lose possession, Hojabrpour is one of the first players to enact pressure in his positioning. Others within that 3-2-5 may have to retreat, but Hojabrpour instead must stay disciplined, timing his movement forward or wide to cover the gaps as needed.

As you can see from his heatmap, Hojabrpour is responsible for covering significant ground for the CPL’s highest possession club. He favours the right-half-spaces more than the left, where he’s often likely to combine with David Choinière and Rezart Rama. This happens as a result of Kyle Bekker’s slightly more restricted and reserved role from the left, where Aboubacar Sissoko is more likely to float up inside the opposition’s half from the right. With Choinière, Rama and Sissoko then combining in close proximity, Hojabrpour is a master of timing through passes in between the tiniest of gaps, always making his presence felt in the attack without overstepping that line within his position.

The right-half-spaces is also where Hojabrpour even began the season, such as when he scored this thunderbolt of a goal against Cavalry.

Despite featuring prominently as a ‘6’ for Pacific the season before, Hojabrpour surprised many at the beginning of the season as an up-and-down Box-to-Box Midfielder. Instead of the 2000-born Canadian, it was Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson anchoring down the midfield in the first few matches. But after the Swede’s shift to centre-back, Hojabrpour completely made that deep-lying role his own. By the end of the season, he looked far and away the most accomplished defensive midfielder in the league, playing a pivotal role in Forge’s playoff run all the way to the final.

ATTACKING PRINCIPLES

Embed from Getty Images

As a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’ in a 60% + possession-based side, Hojabrpour must stand out for his on-the-ball quality. Fortunately for Forge, they signed an absolute gem from Pacific around this time last year, ensuring they picked up a progressive passer and intelligent promoter of moves through the thirds. Hojabrpour completed nearly 88% of his passes in 2022, including 9.17 passes into the final third, and 6.78 progressive passes per 90. Even whilst contending with the dominance and control of Kyle Bekker alongside him (not to mention Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson in behind), Hojabrpour made himself a pivotal figurehead in the build-up to attacking endeavours. He performed that ‘Rodri role’ magnificently for the Hammers, jumping up to aid attack’s whilst maintaining his central position, and remaining a key mechanism for switching play, and playing that killer pass forward to create a split-second chance.

Forge often built out from the back in a 3+1 to 3+2 shape, involving Hojabrpour and his deep-lying partner in crime – Kyle Bekker. Although he could find himself bypassed in the process as the likes of Rama and Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson dominated the ball, Hojabrpour would often be afforded time and space to get on the ball with his head up, and seek those progressive passes up the field. Teams like Atletico Ottawa would sit back and allow the 22-year-old time and space on the ball, knowing that they’d have a better chance of contending the long-pass if they sat deep and allowed limited room to receive in advanced areas. But this only allowed a player like Hojabrpour to grow into the game and advance into the attack on his own, where he was able to inject variety into the team’s attacking play closer to goal. It also allowed the 22-year-old to drop into the back-line or shift wide of the two centre-backs to receive, again injecting variety into the team’s play in pushing others further forward.

The Canadian midfielder completed nearly 67% of his long passes in 2022, and no one with a higher percentage completed more than his 2.88 long passes per 90.

His constant scanning of the field again allows for these smart switches of play, where his first touch will often be into space, where he wants to go, and in the direction of an open teammate. He frequently made a habit of switching the play to Ashtone Morgan as the left-back advanced into open areas down the left wing; but formed a fantastic partnership with David Choinière toward the end of the season – benefiting the wing wizard’s brilliant running in behind. Even under pressure, Hojabrpour coolly handles his own, and picks out the right teammate. There was perhaps no better example of this than the first-leg semi-final against Cavalry, where Hojabrpour made himself the one key progressor pushing the envelope at the right moments rather than the wrong ones.

Hojabrpour’s passing map vs. Cavalry on October 15, 2022

In fact, the ability to play under pressure is what consistently separates Hojabrpour from all the other defensive midfielders in the league. The 22-year-old found himself dispossessed just 0.46 times per 90 in 2022, losing possession only 8.55 times, despite all of Forge’s dominance on the ball. The weight and precision of his first touch is particularly imperative to this process, as he’s astutely able to take the ball away from the pressuring defender, and release at the right moment.

Incredibly intuitive when reading body position, Hojabrpour will often disguise his first touch before taking it in the opposite direction, and playing with a forward-thinking edge to his play. He wants to play that killer pass through several bodies when the right opportunity presents itself, and this became essential for the Hammers in the lead-up to the CPL Final. It was his killer pass that assisted David Choinière in the 2-1 win over Cavalry, and it was his killer pass that gave the same man Forge’s best chance of the match in the first leg of that semi-final match-up. If given a more advanced role again in a different unit, Hojabrpour could easily bring greater incisiveness and playmaking into his persona higher up the pitch, and up that assist tally to great heights.

DEFENSIVE PRINCIPLES

Hojabrpour magnificently fulfills his defensive responsibilities for Forge, performing the exact role you’d want of a defensive midfielder in a high-tempo team. This is the act of helping to immediately break up play in transition, where Hojabrpour excels in reading the play and shifting out of his normal position to aid the cause. As others race back into position, the 22-year-old is able to hold his own, angle his opponents toward the touchline, and help his team win back possession.

In the team’s low-block, Hojabrpour’s role is again an integral one. He’s responsible for compacting the midfield in relation to the men either side of him, and the centre-backs behind him. He then must situate himself just in front of the back-line, where he constantly scans for the movement of opposition players into his zone. In these moments, Hojabrpour remains in front of the strikers as a screen, and then steps up on ball-carriers when they enter a dangerous moment, and the time seems right to do so in relation to the movement of those in behind.

Hojabrpour will also smartly position himself beside the nearest attacker, luring the opposition into thinking they can play into that player. The former Pacific man will then immediately shift across at the time the pass is made, ensuring he wins the pass before the opposition.

When the ball makes its way out wide, Hojabrpour is excellent in dropping into the half-spaces to help the potential for a 2v1 overload against his fullbacks. If the attack continues down the wing, the 22-year-old is again excellent in his awareness of where to situate himself in the box to help clear the ball out of danger.

Across the phases, his ability to anticipate and intercept a pass is practically unrivalled, and allows the Hammers to continue to go on the hunt in attack and maintain all of their wonderful possession. He’s astutely aware of when to step vs. when to drop, which is essentially the greatest crux for any defender to sort out in their decision making. When you combine this awareness and tactical nous with an expert-level timing in his challenges, you get one of the most formidable defensive midfielders in Canada. Hojabrpour won an astonishing 69.5% of his defensive duels in 2022, whilst being dribbled past just 0.8 times per game.

When combining the two, this puts Hojabrpour on a league of his own among defensive midfielders in the league. Even in the high possession of Forge, he reached 2.91 tackles + interceptions per 90, making just 0.77 fouls in the process. As you can see from the stats, Hojabrpour is an incredibly mature and sharp-witted player, who understands how and when to win the ball back from the opposition. His constant scanning of the fieldaids in this process, allowing him to constantly position himself in the perfect place to step up to challenges when appropriate, or stop forward thrusts from happening altogether.

His low body stance in 1v1 situations also allows him to quickly shift the weight from one foot to the other, which is often essential to stopping right-footed players cutting onto their strong side from the left.

Higher up the pitch, Hojabrpour remains essential to the team’s press, even if remaining less involved in the overall process of winning back possession. His task of holding rank and stopping the opposition’s ‘number 10’ from receiving the ball is an important one, often positioning himself at the base of their diamond press. In the wide areas, he will shift across to help aid the team’s pressing endeavour, and then look for the moment to shift back inside when attempting to intercept a central thrust or progressive pass through the middle.

If participating more actively in the attack, Hojabrpour then participates immediately in the counter-press, where he can exude his quick mobility across the grass and excellent timing of challenges, to aid the team’s cause in winning back possession high up the pitch.

So even despite being a progressive, forward-thinking playmaker and pivotal to the team’s plans in playing through the thirds, Hojabrpour completely holds his own as one of the best defensive midfielders in the league from a defensive perspective too.

CONCLUSION

When combining the ability to play under pressure and the ability to break up play with his own pressure, Alessandro Hojabrpour stands out above the pack of CPL midfielders. He’s immaculate in timing his challenges, often acting as the key force behind limiting penetration across opposition counter attacks. He’s then essential going the other way as a progressive switcher of play and dynamite through passer, ensuring he fulfills his ‘Deep-Lying-Playmaker’ responsibilities to a tee. After a fantastic league-winning season, Alessandro Hojabrpour should be on the radar of every single MLS club. But if he’s to stay with Smyrniotis’ side instead, the Hamilton-based club can head into 2023 knowing they have a player who may just be the best defensive midfielder in the league.


So there it is! A tactical analysis of the brilliance behind Alessandro Hojabrpour. Be sure to check out more of our Tactical Analyses, and follow on social media @mastermindsite for more. Also don’t forget to check out our related articles, which also detail Hojabrpour’s brilliance across the 2022 season.

-> Atletico Ottawa 0-2 Forge FC – CPL Playoff Final – Match Analysis
-> Canadian Premier League Scouting Database – Defensive Midfielders
-> Bobby Smyrniotis – Forge FC – Tactical Analysis

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