Wilfried Gnonto 2021/22: The former Inter Milan academy product helping lead FC Zürich to league title triumph – scout report
At only 18-years old, Wilfried Gnonto has become one of the best young players currently in the Swiss Super League. Gnonto was born in Verbania, in the northwest of Italy, close to the border with Switzerland. He is a product of Inter Milan’s youth academy, where he progressed up through the age groups before leaving and joining FC Zürich on a free transfer in 2020.
This season, Gnonto has broken out, with 9 goals and 2 assists for the Zürich based side in 31 matches played. His performances have played a large part in FC Zürich locking up the Swiss Super League title, with his side currently 18 points clear of second-place FC Basel. His performances have also attracted the interest of clubs around Europe, with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven currently being heavily linked with attempting to secure Gnonto’s services this summer. This tactical analysis and scout report will take a look at some early strengths that Gnonto is beginning to display.
As the heat map above shows, Wilfried Gnonto typically enjoys drifting out towards the left wing during matches. Normally, FC Zürich boss André Breitenreiter sets his side up in a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Gnonto normally deployed as one of the two forwards. As matches progress however, he likes to leave his more central position and drift wide left; where he is able to be isolated against opposition fullbacks 1v1, as well as help to create overloads with his wingbacks getting forward into advanced positions. Gnonto is a high output dribbler, which combines well with the positions he likes to take up during matches.
As just previously mentioned, Gnonto is a high output dribbler, with him attempting 7.34 dribbles per 90 this season in all competitions for FC Zürich, with a success rate of 53.3%. His attempted dribbles per 90 is almost four more than the next highest out of all of Zürich’s attackers (Assan Ceesay, 3.69 dribbles per 90). This section will take an in-depth look at the quality of Wilfried Gnonto’s dribbling ability.
The image above shows a great example of the dribbling ability that Wilfried Gnonto possesses. In Zürich’s attacking phase above, Gnonto has drifted out to the near touchline and isolated himself 1v1 against the opposition’s fullback. The ball is played into Gnonto’s feet, and he proceeds to take a touch around the fullback and use a burst of acceleration to get past him and into the space, leaving the defender on the ground as a result. Gnonto is then able to continue driving forward into the box, before attempting a shot on goal.
Above shows another example of Gnonto’s close control and dribbling ability, as well as the ability to still make space for himself in 2v1 situations. In this attacking phase for Zürich against Young Boys, Gnonto receives possession near the edge of the Young Boys penalty area. Gnonto drives into the box and uses his close control to get past the opposition centre-back, while also sneaking past the fullback who has come back to help. As a result, Gnonto is able to get a shot on target, which unfortunately, is saved by the goalkeeper. Though Gnonto was not able to score, his ability to utilise close control and dribbling in tight spaces inside the penalty box allows him to create goal-scoring chances for himself and his teammates.
It is not just in wide positions isolated 1v1 that Gnonto excels at dribbling. The image above shows an example of Gnonto’s dribbling to get past the opposition centre-back that finds himself out of position up the pitch. The defender looks to close down Gnonto near the halfway line, but Gnonto is able to get the wrong side of the defender and pass the ball around him, getting the defender off balance as a result. This allows Gnonto to run back onto the ball and into the vacant space centrally; but unfortunately, Gnonto’s ensuing through ball into the run of the forward is overhit, allowing the keeper to come out and claim.
The final example for this section illustrates how Gnonto’s close control and dribbling ability allows him to win fouls for Zürich. In the phase of play above, Gnonto is the receiver of the throw-in, with him receiving the ball at his feet before turning and playing the ball past the FC Sion midfielder. As a result, the Sion player fouls Gnonto, with Gnonto’s dribbling being too quick for the opposition player to react and commit a clean challenge.
Accurate with crosses
Another strength for Gnonto is his accuracy with crosses, and his tendency to consistently put them into good positions for teammates. With his tendency to drift wide during attacking phases of play, if he is able to get past an opposition fullback with his dribbling ability, he will often drive towards the edge of the box and attempt to send a cross into the danger area. This section will take a more in-depth look at Gnonto’s crossing ability.
The image above shows a great example of the crossing ability of Gnonto. He is found by a teammate unmarked in an advanced position. Gnonto then proceeds to drive to the byline before sending an accurate cross to the head of the forward positioned near the penalty spot. The cross needs to be perfect, as the forward is surrounded by three opposition defenders. Unfortunately, the ensuing header by the forward is easily caught by the goalkeeper.
Once again, a similar situation is shown above. In this attacking phase of play for Zürich, Gnonto has just dribbled past the fullback and has proceeded to drive towards the byline. Just before the ball rolls out of play, Gnonto plays a floated cross right to the head of the forward positioned on the penalty spot. Unfortunately, the ensuing header by the forward is sent just wide of the post.
It is not just from the byline where Gnonto is able to demonstrate his crossing ability. In this attacking phase above for Zürich, Gnonto is closed down by the opposition defender before he is able to reach the byline. As a result, Gnonto instead decides to play an accurate ground cross into the feet of the forward positioned near the penalty spot. Once again, unfortunately, the forward’s shot is blocked behind by one of the opposition defenders, resulting in a Zürich corner. However, this does not take away from the accuracy of the delivery from Gnonto.
The final example for this section is shown above. Gnonto once again finds himself positioned near the edge of the opposition’s penalty area. Instead of just driving to the byline and crossing into the box with his left; Gnonto instead cuts back onto his right foot which allows him the space to cross. He then sends an accurate cross towards the back post where the forward is moving towards, sending it right to the forward’s head. Unfortunately, the effort is once again headed wide.
Wilfried Gnonto is an accurate crosser when he finds himself in positions close to the byline and near the edge of the opposition’s penalty box. Though he only has two assists this season, it could well be more with the consistent accuracy of his crossing.
Shot selection and finishing
When it comes to the type of goalscoring season that Wilfried Gnonto is having for FC Zürich this season, it is his best professionally. Across 31 appearances in all competitions this season, Gnonto has managed 11 goals, not bad for an 18-year old with less than two full professional seasons under his belt. All of these goals are down to his heavy involvement inside the penalty area for Zürich, with Gnonto averaging 4.51 touches per 90 inside the box this season, as well as 2.95 shots per 90, with 53.1% of those being on target. This final section will take a more in-depth look at both the shot selection and finishing ability of Wilfried Gnonto.
The image above from a Zürich attacking phase of play against Young Boys shows an example of Gnonto’s shot selection. Previously in this attacking phase, Gnonto cuts inside from the edge of the penalty box, which opens up the space between the two Young Boys defenders. This allows Gnonto to fire a snapshot towards the goalkeeper’s near post, which does end up getting saved, however, still is able to demonstrate Gnonto’s ability when it comes to shot selection.
FC Zürich’s attacking phase above shows the type of quality that Gnonto is capable of at times with his finishing ability. In this phase, the ball is headed back to Gnonto on the edge of the opposition’s penalty area. Gnonto then shoots on the half volley, firing the shot past the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the goal. Though this goal could be considered a 1 in 100 chance, it still shows what Gnonto is capable of when given the opportunity to shoot from range.
It is not just with his feet that Gnonto can show his finishing quality, but he also is accurate when it comes to his aerial ability to. In the image above from Zürich’s match against Young Boys, this is on full display. With Gnonto aware of the possible cross being delivered into the box from the wide area, he makes a darting run behind the opposition centre-back as the cross is played in. The result is a free header that Gnonto is able to score with ease.
When it comes to the finishing ability of Wilfried Gnonto, it is definitely still developing, but the early signs are promising. With 11 goals for FC Zürich so far this season, there is no reason to believe that the goal-scoring ability will drop or plateau.
This tactics and analysis piece has been able to show some of the strengths that are beginning to develop in Wilfried Gnonto’s game now that he has become a full-fledged senior professional. He may as well be on the move this summer, with Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven interested in the former Inter academy product’s signature. The Eredivisie looks like the perfect next step for Gnonto, and it would also not be surprising if Ajax get involved at some point this summer. After helping FC Zürich to their first league title since the 2008/09 season, it would not be a surprise if Wilfried Gnonto were to move on this summer.