Brighton have done it again.
Just over three years ago Moisés Caicedo was playing for Independiente del Valle in the Ecuadorian Serie A. You’d never heard of him. We’d never heard of him.
But, of course, Brighton had. They swooped and picked up Caicedo for the princely sum of £4.5 million. Three years and one loan move to Belgium later, and Brighton have reportedly put a £80m price tag on his head. Talk about return on your investment.
Numerous clubs – particularly Arsenal in January and Chelsea right now – are vying for his signature.
On the surface, £80m would represent a huge fee for someone who’s only been an established starter in their team for one season. An £80m fee would make Caicedo the sixth most expensive midfielder in history.
But at the raw age of just 21, the upside of hitting on a player like Caicedo is tantalising.
So, what would he bring to his prospective suitor?
Caicedo was a key cog in Brighton’s 2022-23 season, playing a crucial role as the Seagulls registered their highest-ever Premier League finish and qualified for Europe for first time in their history. Only two players (Pascal Gross and Lewis Dunk) played more minutes than his 3,140 and the Ecuadorian featured in all but one match.
He was mainly deployed as one part of a double pivot in central midfield, although he did showcase his versatility by playing a couple of shifts at emergency right-back, most notably in Brighton’s 1-0 home win over Manchester United in early May.
He was often joined in that double pivot by one of either Gross or Liverpool-bound Alexis Mac Allister, with his partner playing more of a creative role in possession, while Caicedo was the defensive ball-winner.
And let’s start there, because the most obvious part of Caicedo’s game is his defensive work.
He’s magnificent in covering ground across the pitch. Often that’s in front of Brighton’s back four, but when their high press is beaten and opposition players break between the lines, Caicedo’s ability to recover and win the ball back is immense.
Believe it or not, in each of these scenarios below, Caicedo is the first player to get a foot on the ball:
His defensive actions map below shows how much ground he covers across the pitch for Brighton. He’s particularly adept at shuttling across to the left side of midfield to cover behind Pervis Estupiñán when he bombs forward.
From a volume perspective, Caicedo’s defensive numbers are outstanding. Only Fulham’s João Palhinha made more tackles than him in the league last season (144 to 100), and only Declan Rice made more interceptions (63) than Caicedo’s 56.
Off the ball, the Ecuadorian led all Brighton players in basically every defensive category on a per-90 basis.
But his game is not just about destruction and disruption. One of Caicedo’s key strengths is his ability to regularly regain possession for Brighton before quickly launching an attack.
In the Premier League last season, Caicedo won the ball back for his side and instigated an attack that ended in a shot on 18 separate occasions. Only Rodri (19) managed this more often.
We can also quantify the value of the attacking moves that Caicedo initiated for Brighton last season. He broke up play and started attacks worth 5.10 expected goals (Brighton actually scored 11 goals from these situations). Again, this figure was only bettered by the peerless Rodri (5.89).
As a defensive force, there are very few players capable of the industrious work that Caicedo exhibited last campaign.
In possession, Caicedo’s ball-retention ability is very strong in a Brighton side that dominate the ball. His 88.9% pass accuracy was behind only Rodri among all midfielders in the league, and he is highly accurate over short (92.5%), medium (90.5%) and long (79.2%) distances.
This tidiness with the ball is a very important aspect of Caicedo’s game, given he often acts as the first receiver from Brighton’s centre-backs as they build-up from the back.
Pivots receiving the ball directly from central defenders get pressured heavily and regularly, and Caicedo was no different last season, coming under direct pressure 23.5 times per game, more than any other Brighton player.
Close control and ability to work in tight spaces is crucial, and Caicedo demonstrated comfort under duress frequently last season. He was always willing to receive the ball from Brighton’s defenders with opponents around him, often positioning himself in between attacking players to receive a line-splitting pass.
His 86.0% passing accuracy when under pressure from an opponent was behind only Rodri (again) and Enzo Fernández (his future teammate, perhaps?)
Caicedo is crucial to the way Brighton build through the thirds, frequently involved in the build-up to their shots.
He was involved in 185 of Brighton’s moves that ended in a shot last season, and the vast majority of those (118) came when his involvement was just in the build-up. Again, only an unnamed Spanish midfielder for Manchester City (132) was involved in more build-up passing moves that led to a shot than that sum, which highlights just how much of a conduit Caicedo is for Brighton’s progression of the ball upfield.
With just one goal and one assist to his name in 2022-23, Caicedo’s direct attacking output isn’t immediately obvious. But his dynamism and tireless energy makes him a powerful box-to-box midfielder, capable of getting up and down the pitch with ease.
His creativity on the edge of the attacking box is perhaps slightly underrated, with Caicedo’s 41 chances created the fourth highest of all Brighton players last term. Combine that figure with his secondary chances created – the pass before the pass that creates the chance – and that tally of 76 is only behind Gross.
With N’Golo Kanté departing for Saudi Arabia, there’s no surprise Chelsea are heavily linked with Caicedo. He would be an ideal replacement for the Frenchman, who at his best was an elite ball-winner with endless energy reserves. Partnering him with Fernandez in the heart of Chelsea’s midfield would be a scary proposition.
Wherever he does end up, at the age of 21 Caicedo could potentially provide his next club with a midfield solution for the next decade. That, alone, is a big reason why the sums of money we’re talking about are so high.
Who were the most similar players to Moisés Caicedo across 2022-23? You can find this out, plus analyse thousands of other players in the new Opta Player Comparison tool.