Game of Numbers #19 – How to cross like Pervis Estupiñán

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Any time you lose your Player of the Season, you’re generally in for trouble. But if you can find a way to replace that personality with someone who perfectly exemplifies the club’s philosophies and playing style, you’re always on an amazing track toward making up for that loss.

That’s exactly what Brighton accomplished when they swiftly replaced Marc Cucurella with what many consider to be an upgrade in Ecuadorian defender Pervis Estupiñán.

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Cucurella filled the void of a defensively-minded full-back, who excelled with his on-the-ball decision making. Estupiñán on the other hand has almost played like a left-winger for the Seagulls this season. Just check out how high he’s operating when he bags his first goal of the season against the Gunners.

The former Villarreal man has excelled as a high-flying ‘Wing-Back’, galloping up and down the left-hand-side to form brilliant connections with the likes of Leandro Trossard, Kaoru Mitoma and Moisés Caicedo down his side. In particular, he has an uncanny understanding with Caicedo, with the two also linking up with each other for Ecuador at the 2022 World Cup.

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Even despite holding such a prominent role for Ecuador at a busy tournament, he’s continued to be one of the main faces at Brighton & Hove Albion all season. His goal output has vastly outperformed that of predecessor, who has now only notched 1 goal and 3 assists between 2021-22 and 2022-23 combined. Estupiñán on the other hand has been a creative threat all season, securing 1 goal and 5 assists to his name in 31 appearances.

The 25-year-old had one of his best performances of the season this past Sunday, as Brighton tore Arsenal apart on the break. Estupiñán accumulated not only a goal and an assist on Sunday, but remained a thorn in Arsenal’s side throughout, taming the beast of Bukayo Saka. We thought it fitting to centre our nineteenth edition of Game of Numbers around the Ecuadorian’s performance, and discuss the immaculate job he’s done across the campaign.


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Even if it hadn’t been for his goal output, there would be a strong argument to make that Pervis Estupiñán has been the best left-back in the league this campaign. The Ecuadorian’s been incredibly dynamic and forward-thinking in a variety of forms, such as through his 5.3 progressive passes, and 6.3 progressive runs per 90. He’s magnificent with his overlapping runs around the outside of Mitoma, and then combines that with a deft weight of pass to perfectly find the noggin of a teammate.

His assist against Arsenal came from a carbon copy to the example above, where the 25-year-old’s rampaging run around Mitoma freed him up to deliver the ball into the box. While his first floater found the opposition instead, he remained engaged to caress the ball back into the box on the second bite of the cherry, and find his mate for the assist.

Crucially for his role as a ‘Wing-Back’, he’s one of the best crossers of the ball in the division. That has translated in over 3 crosses and 1.6 key passes per 90 in league play. It’s the awareness of when to keep the ball on the grass or when to raise the ball in the air that comes as such an underrated skill, and one that often allows the Ecuadorian to set his teammates up for a real chance of scoring.

For example, with his teammates crashing in on goal, a high ball is more likely to be claimed by the keeper. But a low, fast-paced, driven ball across the penalty area could be deflected into the back of the net by anyone.

High crosses also have their advantages, and Pervis Estupiñán cleverly recognizes when to play them: When there’s a defender in the way of the pass, he’s further away from goal, or he’s looking to beat several defenders to the punch toward the back-post. In this moment against Wolves, he combines all in one.

He’s even uber smart about when to time the cross into the box based on the set-up of the opposition. Here’s an example where the Ecuadorian is faced with a tight 2v2 situation. Instead of forcing the delivery and having his cross blocked, he pauses on the ball, plays it backward, moves the opposition with the help of Mitoma, and then delivers the cross at the vital moment.

Beyond reading the opposition, he’s also a master of how to match the runs of his teammates. Check out this cross against Leicester, where he pegs it back toward the top of the box to perfectly find his late arriving teammate in the gap.

In all of these examples, Estupiñán’s brilliantly created space for himself to deliver the perfect cross, either through his intelligent perceptions of space, or through his deft weight of touch. Check out that cross against Wolves once more, and watch the way he quickly stops the ball dead, forcing the defender to become flat footed. He then quickly shifts it onto his stronger left foot to set himself up, before the opposition can even blink. It’s the same in the assist against Leicester, where he has a momentary pause (a skill the Spanish call La Pausa), before speeding back up to catch the defender off guard.

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It’s this kind of knowledge that separates Estupiñán from a player like Marc Cucurella, and makes the Ecuadorian such a dangerous creator.

But wait, don’t order yet! There’s more!


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The Ecuadorian has been completely and utterly solid defensively this season, never looking susceptible to major errors or mistakes. He ranks right up there with the best when it comes to his interceptions, recoveries and aerial duel percentage, making him an irreplaceable figure at the back for the Seagulls.

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When it comes to those 1v1 battles, he’s a tough nut to crack. The 25-year-old possesses unbeatable pace that already makes him tough to beat on the dribble, but combines that speed with an immaculate sense of strength, and how to use his body to safely usher the ball away. That means even if he finds himself the wrong side of an attacker, he can quickly shift his footing to the right side and then hold the player off from gaining momentum.

When going back toward his own goal, he’s never unnecessarily quick to dive in, ensuring he stays on his feet and waits for the right moment to challenge. Dynamic dribblers like Saka have every intention of taking advantage of this as they take matters into their own hands, but it is still often the best approach to take.

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Against Arsenal on Sunday, the Ecuadorian caused a few unnecessary fouls as he went toe to toe and man to man on Bukayo Saka higher up the field. The approach worked in stopping Saka in his tracks, but this will be something that Estupiñán needs to develop, utilizing his imposing physicality to ward off attacks, rather than bulldozing players off the ball.

Here’s a great example of exactly that, where the left-back maintains decent distance until Saka has a loose touch inside. As soon as Estupiñán perceives the moment, he then gets touch-tight, uses his physicality, and allows his teammate to swiftly win the ball.

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With his defensive quality backed up by his attacking acumen, it’s hard to ignore Pervis Estupiñán as a candidate for best left-back in the Premier League this campaign. He’s been that good, that important for Brighton, and an absolutely transformative signing in their European football dream.

Latest editions of Game of Numbers…

-> Game of Numbers #18 – Trent Alexander-Arnold in central areas
-> Game of Numbers #17 – Valentín Castellanos – Scanning to score four against Real Madrid

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