Duje Caleta-Car, Marseille
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One to watch: Duje Caleta-Car, Marseille's defensive bedrock

Publish on 24/11/2020 at 23:14

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Duje Caleta-Car has silenced the doubters since his difficult start with Olympique de Marseille and is now the bedrock of Ligue 1 Uber Eats' third-best defence. What else is there to know about the Croatian centre-back?

Caleta-Car arrived at Marseille as a FIFA World Cup runner up with Croatia, but endured a desperate debut in defeat to Nîmes Olympique in August 2018 which was followed by red cards against Olympique Lyonnais - at home and away - in his maiden campaign.

 

The former Red Bull Salzburg man has gone from strength to strength since, though, and alongside Alvaro Gonzalez, now looks like one of the most assured defenders in French football - and perhaps beyond.

 

Back story:

 

Born in Sibenek on Croatia's Adriatic coast five years after the country won is independence from Yugoslavia, Caleta-Car made his first steps in the game with local side HNK Sibenik who handed him his senior debut at the age of 16. His path to prominence was a circuitous one from there, though.

 

Caleta-Car went to play for FC Juniors OÖ in the Austrian third tier 2013, and although he soon caught the eye of regional powerhouse Red Bull Salzburg, he spent the following season refining his craft on loan at second division outfit FC Liefering before being given meaningful a run in the champions' first team for the first time from late 2015.

 

He was soon making up for lost time. Caleta-Car helped Salzburg to the UEFA Europa League semi-finals in 2017-18 - a tie they lost to Marseille - and although he only played in Croatia's group stage win over Iceland in Russia that summer, had a World Cup silver medal to his name by the time he joined OM.


Duje Caleta-Car, Marseille

Style of play:

 

Marseille's patience with Caleta-Car was well-founded. An intimidating 6'4"tall, the now 24-year-old also has impressive pace, can use both feet - either to distribute out from the back or to test an opposition goalkeeper - and has blossomed into a communicative team leader alongside Alvaro. The way Caleta-Car nips attacks in the bud is outstanding. His turn of speed and reading of the game means he has invariably intercepted a forward pass with so much time to spare that laser-sighted distribution follows, sometimes with the very same touch of the ball.

 

Current campaign:

 

In Alvaro, Leonardo Balerdi and Boubacar Kamara, Marseille are spoiled for centre-backs - even if the latter has been deployed in midfield of late - but Caleta-Car's name is one of the first on coach André Villas-Boas's teamsheet. He has featured in all nine of OM's league games to date, starting eight, during which time the south coast club have conceded just seven goals, keeping three clean sheets.

 

Only leaders Paris Saint-Germain and second place LOSC have let fewer goals in, and although Caleta-Car starred in a 1-0 win over the former and 1-1 draw with the latter, it was his performance in the Round 2 win at Stade Brestois 29 which garnered most headlines, the defender scoring a left-footed volley and a header as Marseille won out 3-2 at the Stade Francis-Le Blé.

 

Watch: Highlights of Marseille's Caleta-Car-inspired 3-2 win at Brest

 

 

What they said:

 

"The first game Nîmes, I was so bad, we lost. I remember the meeting before the game, the coach [Rudi Garcia] called me to see if I was ready. I'd trained just two weeks with the team, so I was not ready 100 percent. But I told him "yes, of course I'm ready', because I came here to play. The players of the opposing team looked stronger and faster than me, so, yes in the end we lost 3-1, it was a very bad game from me. But I didn't fall down. I know that I have quality, that I need to work, work hard, now I'm feeling really good, proud, feel good on the pitch."

- Caleta-Car on his difficult start at Marseille

 

"Duje's a young player but also experienced having played a World Cup and in Europe with Salzburg. We need somebody with the kind of quality he's shown in recent years; experienced but young. He brings us a lot with his size, power and physicality, and he's also good on the ball. He brings us a lot."

 

- Caleta-Car's central defensive partner at OM, Alvaro