Carlos Soler 2021/22: Is the Spaniard ready for a step up to better side? – scout report
Carlos Soler is on the cusp of a big career move.
A born Valencian, Soler has spent his entire professional life at ‘Los Che’. Now 25 years old, the midfielder has become vital to the Valencia team, and his performances are attracting the attention of some big hitters. Atletico Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus are all allegedly in the race for his signature.
But Soler’s case is a strange one. Despite his high-profile suitors and recent call-ups for the Spanish national team, he’s by no means an obvious star. Even in a Valencia side that has laboured in La Liga, he hasn’t always been a stand-out performer.
The question is simple: is Soler ready for a step up in quality? In this scout report, we’ll answer with an in-depth tactical analysis of Carlos Soler. His role, his strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately, his value to his future team.
Let’s start with an analysis of his role and position.
Caught between two worlds
The paradox of Carlos Soler is that, for his club and country, he plays in two vastly different systems.
Broadly an attacking midfielder, his game is based on his ability to contribute to decisive actions. Particularly through his excellent passing range, attacking movement and outstanding dead-ball delivery.
For Valencia, these attributes are exploited in moments. José Bordolás’ tactics were possibly the most brazen in La Liga, shunning any idea of possession and control. Player positioning is chaotic and unrefined. In this side, like every other Valencia forward, Soler is on the fringes of the game, waiting for the ball to break around the edge of the box, where he can deliver a decisive pass or shot.
Here is where Soler tries to operate, between the lines, with running options ahead of him.
However, because of the inconsistency of Valencia’s system, Soler’s position has also been inconsistent. Sometimes a central midfielder, other times playing on the right of a 4-4-2, or an attacking midfield role in a 4-2-3-1.
In each of these, he is not tasked with linking play, building up from deep, or even maintaining possession, but with finding space in threatening areas, and executing when it matters.
His stats from the 21/22 La Liga season are indicative of this play style. Few defensive contributions, careless in possession, but above average for goal contributions and expected threat.
These stats are arguably unfair to Soler.
When we look at his role on an international level, things change considerably. Like Valencia, the Spanish national team try to leverage Soler’s quality as a decisive offensive midfielder. They just do so in very different ways.
Spain are a possession-heavy team, built on Johan Cruyff-style positional principles. For Soler, as a right interior in a 4-3-3, he has far more responsibility in keeping the ball and combining with the players around him. He has to hold a well-defined position and be smart enough to rotate with others during the build-up.
Here, he receives from the deep midfielder and is expected to progress the ball. Either by turning into space or finding his fullback. He chooses the latter.
He would almost never take up this position for Valencia. But he has performed well enough to retain his place in a competitive Spanish squad.
Because his duties differ so drastically from club to country, it’s worth assessing Soler not as a particular profile, but based on his raw attributes and how he might apply them in different team compositions, starting with an unsurprising one: his versatility.
Positional awareness, movement and versatility
Soler’s adaptation to different positions and philosophies is a credit to his footballing IQ. One of the biggest indicators of this is his off-the-ball movement.
Here’s an example for Spain, playing in a fluid positional system. As the ball is played wide to Ferran Torres, he immediately recognises the space in behind (vacated by the centre forward) and makes a run beyond the defence.
This in-behind movement might seem obvious, but it doesn’t always come naturally for some number 10s.
Here’s another example. Soler makes a diagonal run from right midfield to catch up with play and take up a centre forward position, precisely because nobody else has done so.
More than just being aware of space, it’s a priority for Soler to get himself into dangerous positions. This translates to a number of situations, including when the ball is played out wide. Rather than hanging around, Soler’s instinct is to attack the box.
This goal against Barcelona exemplifies that. He times the run perfectly, cutting across the centre back and blind-siding him.
Unfortunately, the evidence of Soler’s efficiency in these positions is limited. Valencia are not prolific chance-creators, placed down in 15th in La Liga for expected goals. On a personal level though, Soler has outperformed his open-play xG, scoring 4 from an xG of 2.8.
Perhaps in a more adventurous side, Soler could become a more regular goal scorer from open play. And that’s not just because of his positive movement.
A natural ball-striker
The story goes that at four years old, Soler was taking shots at half-time during his older brother’s football game. He allegedly struck the ball so well that the club wanted him to join. Four years later he was in Valencia’s youth system, scoring goals for fun as a centre forward.
True or not, that anecdote is believable based on the Carlos Soler we know today. In fact, his most valuable asset is his ability to strike the ball.
As far as shooting is concerned, you can usually rely on Soler to at least test the goalkeeper. Here he makes a typical diagonal run behind the defence and finishes with a first-time thunderbolt to the near-post.
And here is an outrageous pass over distance to his winger, which curled out-to-in and was finished off perfectly in stride:
Again, for Valencia, these moments don’t happen as often as they could. And that’s out of Soler’s control. What is in his control are set-piece scenarios. And that’s where he really shines.
Carlos Soler is undoubtedly a set-piece specialist. Of his 11 goals this season, seven of them have been penalties. One was a direct free kick. And three of his five assists have been from free kicks or corners.
Even beyond the goals and assists, the numbers tell us just how accurate Soler is from these situations. In the 21/22 season, his Valencia side averaged 1.3 shots a game coming directly from his dead-ball passes. That’s a potentially invaluable chance-creation machine.
You only have to watch a couple of his free kicks to see why he’s so effective. This is a particularly deft ball into the onrushing Gonçalo Guedes.
To all of his potential suitors, of which Atletico Madrid look to be front-runners, this would be a useful asset. Atletico, having been known for years as set-piece masters, have been far less effective in recent campaigns. Barca too are without a dedicated set-piece taker. Soler would be a more than suitable solution.
Caught out in possession
On to some of Soler’s weaknesses. Despite being an effective match-winner, there remain some question marks over his broader game. For example, of all of Spain’s midfielders (Pedri, Gavi, Koke, Thiago), he is the least comfortable receiving the ball in tight spaces. His radar, close control and dribbling ability are not on the same level as his compatriots.
You can see the evidence for this in some of his dispossessions. Below, he neglects to look behind him before receiving the ball and is caught out as a result.
Equally, he is not an explosive dribbler. You won’t see him driving through midfield, breaking lines like a Frenkie de Jong or Kevin De Bruyne.
That isn’t to say that Soler is useless in possession. For Spain, he has been more than dependable in a team with a lot of quality. When he takes up his preferred position between the lines, he controls adeptly and moves the ball onto his centre forward.
It’s very possible that Valencia’s attacking rhythm is too chaotic to make efficient decisions. With Spain, as players take up pre-defined positions, it’s a lot easier to keep possession.
So while not a possession master, Soler is competent enough at the top level. Especially if the team around him has the right balance. Spain does this by balancing the midfield with Pedri or Gavi on the other side. These are players more comfortable dropping deep alongside Sergio Busquets and engaging in the early build-up.
This leaves Soler on the other side as a pure hole player. Running beyond the front line or finding space on the edge of the area. In other words, he operates at the end of Spain‘s attacks, not the start, and this gets the most out of his skillset.
Interestingly, if he were to sign for Barcelona, he would be playing in exactly the same system. And with most of the same players. It’s not surprising that they are looking to add him to the squad.
What certainly can be considered a weakness is Soler’s defensive profile. As the stats suggest, he makes significantly less tackles and interceptions than most midfielders. This isn’t just a result of his position. When you look at the underlying numbers, you can see that his tackling efficiency is quite poor. Only 23.5% of his tackles were successful last season. For comparison, Atletico Madrid’s current number 10, Antoine Griezmann, had 40% tackle completion.
It’s the same story with interceptions: he’s in the bottom 1 percentile for interceptions made by midfielders. That doesn’t necessarily mean Soler is a defensive liability. Positionally he’s very disciplined, and in a structured unit, he understands his job. Against Portugal, he was able to stay tight to Bernardo Silva and prevent him from turning, despite not making a tackle.
This translates to a reasonably favourable stat: Soler doesn’t often let players dribble past him. It happens less than once a game (0.95 times per 90).
So while you can’t rely on Soler to be a regular ball-winner, he can at least stick to his defensive duties. Which might be sufficient for a top team in a league campaign. But when it comes to a higher level, like the Champions League, his lack of recoveries in midfield could become an issue.
Conclusion – How high is the ceiling?
Carlos Soler is a player that delivers in moments. His attacking movement and positional understanding are supremely important at the top level. But lacking the imagination and ingenuity of other elite playmakers, his real value has to correlate to his goal contributions.
In a temperamental Valencia side, he has delivered frequently enough. His dead-ball prowess is a big part of that, and it gives him an advantage over other players of a similar ilk. Therefore in a positional team that wants dynamic attacking midfielders, like Spain and Barcelona, he could be a solid option. Perhaps not a first choice, but a good squad player.
Given any more responsibility and he might struggle in a top team. A more reserved midfield role doesn’t suit him, and he’ll never be an elite wide player.
In his niche, Carlos Soler has the potential to be an excellent addition to a competitive squad. If he gets his big move, he’ll absolutely have a lot to offer. Will he be able to keep up his impressive numbers at the top level? Only time will tell.