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‘He is a decisive player’ – Ex-Red Devil Angel Gomes’ evolution into Lille’s satellite star – scout report

Last summer, Manchester United academy graduate Angel Gomes walked away from the EPL giants “to pursue a different path” for his career, joining current Ligue 1 leaders Lille as a free agent before getting sent on loan to Portuguese top-flight relegation-battlers Boavista for the 2020/21 campaign.

While Boavista haven’t enjoyed a successful season, Gomes has been one of the few bright sparks of their campaign, with the 20-year-old Englishman directly contributing to 12 of Os Axadrezados’ 36 Primeira Liga goals, scoring six and assisting six. This is the most goal contributions any under-21 player has made in Portugal’s top-flight this season, which is especially impressive when you consider he’s playing for a side currently sitting third-from-bottom.

Boavista manager Jesualdo Ferreira – a one-time public rival of soon-to-be new manager of Serie A side Roma, José Mourinho, spoke in glowing terms about Gomes’ contributions to his side’s survival charge earlier this year, saying of the Lille loanee: “He is a decisive player.”

This tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, provides analysis of Gomes’ evolution from free agent to star player for Lille’s satellite club Boavista over the course of the 2020/21 campaign. We’ll provide analysis of the 20-year-old’s role within Ferreira’s tactics, while our scout report also highlights some key strengths and weaknesses of his game for Lille fans to know before his impending return to Ligue 1.

Spatial awareness

Firstly, we’ll analyse one of Gomes’ biggest strengths – his spatial awareness. Gomes has primarily played as a ‘number 10’ this season, though he’s also played some games as a left-winger, which sees him cut into the half-space onto his stronger right foot, and some games as a centre-forward – often in a two-man pairing that sees him drop off into deeper areas a lot.

One overarching theme that remains consistent with these roles is that when Boavista are attacking, Gomes tends to be situated in the ‘10’ position or the half-space. This is sensible because he’s excellent at finding space just outside the penalty area, he’s quite diligent about scanning his surroundings, and he’s good at separating himself from opposition markers.

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Figure 1

In figure 1, we see an example of Gomes’ scanning. In this particular game, he was deployed in the left-sided centre-forward position and just before this image, Boavista played the ball to the left-wing. As the ball made its way to Ricardo Mangas, Gomes began making himself a viable forward passing option for the left wing-back. In this image, we see that he’s moving to the left while scanning over his left shoulder to get a clearer picture of his surroundings and ensure that he’s in space to receive the ball.

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Figure 2

Just moments later, in figure 2, we see that Gomes then scanned over his right shoulder as he continued making his way towards the left-wing. In doing so, he created an even more detailed picture of his surroundings and ensured that no opposition players were too close to him on the other side so they could intercept a pass from the left wing-back.

We see that via his movement and scanning, Gomes carved out a little pocket of space for himself in the left half-space, in the centre of a square comprised of an opposition player (right-back, right centre-back, right-winger, and right central midfielder) at each corner. It’s common to see Gomes positioned between multiple opposition players but at enough of a distance from each one that he could plausibly receive the ball because the 168cm (5’6”) tall playmaker excels in tight spaces and has good close control, so tends to do well in these situations and attracts pressure from the opposition players around him, thus creating space for teammates elsewhere.

As this passage of play moves on, Gomes receives the ball to feet and immediately attracts pressure from three of the four opposition players around him. This prevents him from turning, but thanks to his close control, he manages to evade their challenges while retaining possession, dribbling out of the tight space and laying a pass off to a deeper teammate. Quite often, the Englishman is able to turn when receiving the ball in these positions but when he isn’t, he’s still generally very difficult to dispossess and can help his team via the pressure he attracts.

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Figure 3

Figure 3 highlights Gomes positioned in the right half-space in the kind of position we know he likes to take up once again, between multiple (on this occasion, four, who form a square, again) opposition players but positioned at a distance from all of them. In addition to giving himself more space, this can make it difficult for the opposition to decide who’s job it is to press Gomes once he does receive the ball because he’s somewhat in-between zones. This can result in more than one player pressing him, as was the case in the passage of play examined in figures 1 and 2, creating space for teammates.

We see Gomes gesturing for his teammate to play the ball into his feet here, effectively backing his ability in tight spaces, however, the teammate opts to hold onto the ball for slightly longer, to the potential frustration of Gomes. We established from figures 1 and 2 that Gomes likes operating in spaces like this, and he does have a skill set that allows him to thrive in these areas.

Nevertheless, as this second passage of play moves on, despite missing out on receiving this pass in figure 3, Gomes stays active off the ball, continuously looking to put himself in the best possible position where he can provide his teammates with a good option.

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Figure 4

The Boavista man in possession carried the ball forward and further infield himself instead of passing to Gomes, attracting pressure from the opposition midfielder in front of Gomes. This created even more space for the playmaker on his right side and as we see in figure 4, he availed of that space. As the central midfielder pressed the ball carrier, Gomes intelligently took the opportunity to increase the space between him and the defenders on his left shoulder, making a very quick outward movement that demonstrated good spatial awareness.

This made him too good of a passing option for the ball carrier to ignore, and the loanee ultimately received the ball in a lot of space in a dangerous position just on the edge of the box.

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Figure 5

Boavista have kept the least possession (43%) of any side in Portugal’s top-flight this season. As we’ll discuss at greater length later in this piece, Gomes is a highly technically proficient player whose movement and passing quality is often highlighted best when operating in tight spaces and playing a one/two-touch game. However, with Boavista often relinquishing the lion’s share of possession, Gomes often finds himself in counterattacking situations like in figure 5.

Just before this image, Boavista regained possession inside their own half and as they burst forward, we got to this point where the ball-carrier on the right-wing spotted Gomes in acres of space centrally and decided to use him, cutting a pass back inside to the loanee from Lille.

On counterattacks, Gomes frequently demonstrates his intelligence and good spatial awareness to create lots of space for himself in a central position by scanning his surroundings and adjusting his pace. For example, in figure 5, Gomes had been moving at a similar pace to his teammates, but before receiving this pass, he slowed down, and by doing so, created a greater distance between himself and opposition players, while creating a better angle for the ball-carrier to find him by getting out of the opposition midfielder pressing the ball-carrier’s cover-shadow. This can give him more thinking time on receiving the ball, helping him to choose his next pass, which can be a defence-splitting through ball from a position like this, which we have seen from him a lot this season.

Technical ability

In the next section of this tactical analysis, we’ll provide some analysis of another big strength in Gomes’ locker – his technical quality. Here, we’ll analyse his passing ability, which we touched on briefly in the previous section, and his dribbling quality.

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Figure 6

At the end of the last section, we looked at Gomes’ movement in a counterattack and how it can help him to create more thinking time for his next pass – a potential defence-splitting through ball. Here in figure 6, we see that as that passage of play progressed, this is exactly what happened. In addition to having excellent spatial awareness, Gomes is an excellent passer. One area of passing in which he excels is with through balls, which is partly why he tends to spend a lot of his time just outside of the penalty area – a position where he’ll generally enjoy plenty of opportunities to play defence-splitting through balls.

After receiving the ball in space on the counter in figure 5, Gomes carried it forward at his own pace, without rushing. This gave Gomes’ more advanced teammates time to find space of their own and plot a run, while it also gave the opposition time to get more compact, potentially making a defence-splitting pass more difficult. However, Gomes didn’t worry about that, and he was right to do so. He gave himself the time that he had to observe the game unfolding in front of him and plan his next move, which ended up being a very well weighted and very well directed through ball to the forward closest to the right-wing. As play moves on, this player ended up through on goal in the penalty box.

This passage of play highlights how dangerous it can be for Gomes to have so much space – he’s good at observing both the opposition and his teammates’ movement ahead of him, while he’s got the technical quality to pull off very dangerous passes if given space like this, even if the opposition’s defensive line gets tight. These two qualities – his spatial awareness and his passing ability – combine to form a dangerous playmaker.

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Figure 7

In figure 7, we see another example of Gomes playing a defence-splitting through pass from a very similar position to where we saw him in figure 6, but here, he’s under slightly more pressure, with an opposition player closing him down aggressively from the left. This doesn’t faze Gomes, however. He took all of the time that he had, as he did before, allowed his teammate to plan and make his run, before playing the through ball at the right moment.

If given time to think and observe, Gomes is lethal in these positions, as he’s got the passing quality to pull off the creative moves he thinks of beforehand. Additionally, he doesn’t often panic under pressure and it doesn’t affect the quality of his passes after he’s already had the time to plan.

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Figure 8

As mentioned earlier, Gomes has demonstrated that he truly excels in tight spaces and when playing a quick, one/two-touch passing game this season. We see an example of one occasion where he proved this in figure 8. Just before this image, Gomes’ teammate Alberth Elis carried the ball inside from the left-wing at pace, while Gomes had been in a slightly more advanced and central position, but quickly adjusted his positioning to find slightly more space and create a better passing angle for Elis.

The winger took this option, passing the ball to Gomes, and in figure 8, we see that the playmaker has a lot of space at this moment, partially thanks to his movement and partially thanks to Elis’ dribbling which attracted pressure from several opposition players. As Gomes received the ball, Elis continued his run into the box and Gomes quickly played the pass through to him with one touch, at pace, but weighted perfectly for the winger to receive the ball, continue his dribble, and ultimately score a goal.

The playmaker likes taking part in these types of offensive moves that suit his technical quality and spatial awareness. Thanks to his spatial awareness and his quality in one-touch moves like this as well as moves where he has more time to think, as seen earlier in this section, Gomes has played 1.68 through balls per 90 this term – which is more than any other Boavista player. It’s clear that his ability to play the final ball has been an important aspect of his role this term.

At 168cm, Gomes is evidently not a very tall player. This has pros and cons, but one pro is that his low centre of gravity helps to make him very agile. This, along with excellent close control, makes Gomes difficult to dispossess. This leads to the playmaker winning a lot of fouls for his team, as well as a lot of instances of Gomes retaining possession in tight spaces, having attracted pressure from several players, to the benefit of his teammates who enjoy more space as a result.

This doesn’t mean that Gomes is the best dribbler. He’s attempted an average of 4.45 dribbles per 90 this season – the fifth-highest number of any Boavista player – achieving a success rate of just 39.5%, which is nothing to write home about. This comes as a result of Gomes arguably trying to take the ball past multiple players too much, which isn’t his biggest strength.

Yes, he’s agile, and yes, he’s got great close control. This helps him to evade challenges and retain possession, but when trying to beat players – especially multiple players – an attacker must be the aggressor, while other factors like pace can also have an impact, and Gomes isn’t extremely fast. Additionally, he can lose control of the ball more easily when trying to knock it past players compared to when he’s got it at his feet, with the defenders taking the role of the aggressor in trying to dispossess him.

Gomes often doesn’t do well when he needs to be the aggressor with the ball. If defenders sit back and invite him to attack, then they can get the better of him if he decides to try and beat them alone.

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Figure 9

Gomes fares much better, however, in situations like the one we’ll analyse here, starting with figure 9. In this image, as Gomes receives possession to feet on the left-wing facing his own goal, he attracts pressure from one player behind him and one player in front of him. Meanwhile, one teammate is in some space centrally, with a somewhat open passing lane existing between the two, though the opposition are clearly watching the central passing option.

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Figure 10

In figure 10, we see that as play moves on, Gomes turns to briefly face this central passing option, while this movement also draws the defender behind him to attack him on the inside. However, we can already see that this was Gomes’ intention, as thanks to his agility and hip mobility, he can essentially turn at an almost 180° angle, which throws the defender completely off.

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Figure 11

In figure 11, we see that this movement helps Gomes to completely wrong-foot the defender, who committed too much to attacking the inside, not anticipating Gomes to pull off this move with his agility and hip mobility. As play moves on, the Boavista loanee soars past the defender on the outside, continuing this attack down the wing.

This agility and impressive hip mobility is something Gomes uses quite a lot via this exact movement, which is something of a signature in his game. It’s very common to see him get past opposition players behind him with this move, with defenders often ending up like this one having not accounted for Gomes’ agility and hip mobility. Gomes likes receiving the ball to feet in tight spaces, as we’ve established, and this is one technique he’s developed to evade challenges and get past opponents in these scenarios.

Decision making

Gomes has demonstrated some poor decision making at times this season, specifically with poor shot selection. We’ll provide analysis of this potential area for improvement in our next section.

The 20-year-old has taken more shots, in total (50), than any other Boavista player this season. This translates into the third-highest number of shots per 90 (1.87) of any Boavista player this season, while he’s also taken the most shots from outside the box (37) of any Boavista player in Primeira Liga during the 2020/21 campaign.

Meanwhile, Gomes has got a relatively poor shot accuracy rate of just 32% for the season, which is significantly lower than the team average of 38.6%, and probably not the level of shot accuracy Ferreira would want from the player who’s taken most of his team’s shots this term.

Gomes is Boavista’s second-highest goalscorer for the 2020/21 campaign at present, and a couple of those goals have been very impressive longshots, so the player does have the ability to score from range, however, he must be more selective in terms of when he does and doesn’t opt to avail of a longshot opportunity, as plenty of his longshot decisions have been questionable.

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Figure 12

We see an example of one occasion where Gomes took on a questionable longshot in figure 12. He received the ball centrally, in a slightly deeper position, just before this image and after carrying the ball a few steps forward and advancing to where we see him now, he clearly only had one thing on his mind. Despite being in a far from optimal shooting position, very far from goal and with a couple of opposition players in shot-blocking territory, Gomes decided to shoot here and as play moves on, we see that this shot unsurprisingly fails to trouble the goalkeeper, flying wide.

We know that Gomes is an extremely dangerous playmaker in these positions, and while he has demonstrated ability while shooting from range at times this season, you’d back him to play an impressive defence-splitting through ball from here far more than you’d back him to score. Considering that he had one player ahead of him centrally, threatening in behind the opposition backline, and two players out wide, one on either wing, in acres of space to advance this attack into a much more dangerous position than where Gomes opted to go for broke, you could certainly argue that taking one of those passing options would’ve been a much better decision here.

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Figure 13

In figure 13, we see another instance where Gomes took on a shot from a very unlikely position, this time at the corner of the box at a very difficult shooting angle. He’d just received the ball before this image, quickly turning and immediately lining up this shot, but considering how much space he had to move into behind him, and the fact that he’s arguably in a much better crossing position than shooting position here, it’s arguable that there were plenty of better options than shooting in this case, which Gomes opted not to take. As play moves on, the Manchester United academy product attempts to score in the far corner of the net but ultimately sends the ball well wide of goal.

There are plenty more examples of this from the 2020/21 campaign. Gomes is wasteful with his shots at times and if he improved this area of his decision-making, it could go a long way to making him an even better player, so while Gomes is clearly confident of his ability and is capable of scoring from range, it may be wise for him to be more selective with his longshots and try to focus on creating better quality chances for himself and his team.

Defensive contribution

The final area of Gomes’ game that we’ll discuss in this scout report is his defensive contribution. The loanee from Lille isn’t exactly known for his defensive qualities, but this area of his game isn’t terrible. It’s fair to say that he’s not an elite defender, as we’ll discuss, his defensive techniques and obvious physical disadvantages don’t help him, but Gomes’ defensive work rate is difficult to criticise.

Boavista don’t press very aggressively. They tend to try and win the ball in deeper areas more than advanced areas of the pitch and with Gomes typically occupying an advanced area of the pitch during the opposition’s build-up, he’s not always required to hunt the ball from opposition defenders. Instead, a key aspect of his role is often to cut passing lanes between defenders and midfielders, with the aim of preventing the opposition from playing through the lines via the centre of the pitch.

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Figure 14

We see an example of this in figure 14, where Boavista’s opponents are playing out from the back, with the right centre-back on the ball, and Gomes, as the left-sided centre-forward, blocks off the passing lane between this player and the opposition’s right-sided central midfielder. You can constantly see Gomes scanning in these situations, ensuring that central passing options aren’t opening up for the man on the ball via other players’ movement and ensuring that he or a teammate are cutting off the potential passing options that are there. You’ll often see Gomes pointing out potential danger men to his teammates, as well as blocking them himself, as a result of his awareness of these central passing options.

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Figure 15

As this passage of play continues into figure 15, we see that the right centre-back was forced to play the ball out to the right-back with no central options available. This is a better area to press for Boavista, thanks to the sideline limiting the area of play available to the right-back, and as he receives the ball, Gomes, as the nearest player, leads the press on this player, as Ferreira had likely intended.

It’s worth noting, however, that while the Boavista attacker presses the opposition right-back here, he ensures to angle his run to cut off the passing lane between the full-back and the right-sided central midfielder that he’s been covering the whole time. By doing so, Gomes prevents the opposition from simply playing around him and rendering his efforts at cutting the original passing lane redundant. Gomes also allows his deeper-lying teammates to stay in their position, covering other space and making it more difficult for the opposition to play through them, by keeping that right central midfielder in his cover shadow, than if he allowed the opposition to play around him, catching him out of position and getting this right central midfielder on the ball in space.

It’s very common to see Gomes make a deliberate effort to press like this. He’s very aware of his surroundings and the danger in the centre. This demonstrates good tactical discipline and intelligent pressing.

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Figure 16

It’s common to see Gomes track back and press opposition players from behind when a pass is played backwards, as was the case here in figure 16, where the opposition player on the left-wing has just passed the ball to the man in possession here, attracting pressure from Gomes, who’s sprinted back from his more advanced position to offer support and attempt to regain possession.

Boavista’s deeper players are generally more reluctant to press aggressively in these situations, as they’ll have to leave their positions and ultimately risk opening up space for more advanced opposition players in order to do so. However, with Gomes typically playing in a more advanced position, it’s common to see him drop into these deeper areas in situations like this when he thinks he can make an interception, tackle, or at least force a poor pass via pressure.

This demonstrates another of Gomes’ admirable traits – his defensive work rate. The Englishman is active off the ball, constantly willing to press, either by pushing into more advanced positions or dropping into deeper positions. Thanks to his awareness of these passes, he’s sometimes successful with nicking the ball off of a ball receiver’s foot and kickstarting a counterattack for his side.

However, a lot of the time, if Gomes doesn’t pop up to make the interception and instead opts for a tackle, his defensive efforts aren’t very successful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we know that Gomes isn’t very big or strong, and sometimes when he engages in defensive duels, opposition players can carry the ball upfield while holding off his challenge without much trouble, essentially shrugging him off. Secondly, Gomes rushes into tackles at times and it’s common to see him give away free kicks quite easily in these situations, especially when pressing from behind.

So, while Gomes’ defensive work rate is very difficult to fault, and he’s been driven and diligent enough to track back even as far the full-back position on a couple of occasions to successfully prevent his side from being exploited on the counter, he has some clear areas to work on defensively – his size and his tackling technique, specifically with how he jumps into challenges on occasion.

Conclusion

To conclude our tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, as Boavista boss Ferreira indicated, Gomes has been a key player on loan at the Portuguese side this term. His playmaking ability has stood out as a major strength thanks to his spatial awareness, passing, and quality close control. Considering that he’s made more goal contributions than any other U21 player in Portugal’s top-flight this season by some distance, it’s safe to say that his loan from Lille has been a successful one and fans of the Ligue 1 side should be encouraged by his development over the course of the season.

Gomes is undoubtedly still rough around the edges and needs some polishing before he’s the finished product, but he has some very exciting natural ability, and Lille has proven to be a good place for budding young stars to develop in recent years, so the 20-year-old’s progress will be very interesting to track next term on his return to France.