Gonçalo Guedes 2019/20 – scouting report
Two years ago to the day, Total Football Analysis released a scout report of a young Portuguese winger at Valencia. The PSG loanee was taking the league by storm, leading Los Che to make him their record transfer signing.
Fast forward to the present and Gonçalo Guedes, who’s still just 23 years of age, is standing on unsettled ground. After opening the 2019/20 season with some relatively poor performances, the winger picked up an ankle injury in October and missed nearly four months.
During that time, Albert Celades’ side struggled for consistency. Guedes’ appearances have primarily come as a substitute, so, while he’s not to blame for the side’s poor form, appearances would indicate that he isn’t helping much either.
In this updated scout report, we’ll focus on the technical and tactical strengths of Guedes, then end with a brief comparison to the current starters in the Valencia wings. A combination of data and in-game sequences will offer some insight into Valencia’s preferred midfield options as they look to secure European play for the 2020/21 season.
As mentioned in the previous scout report on Guedes, he’s an electric dribbler. Due to the quality of the previous analysis and depth in which the topic was covered, we’ll address his dribbling primary through a data-driven approach.
Plotting the top dribblers in the 2019/20 La Liga season, Guedes’ performances, even while slowed by injury, place him in the upper right-hand quadrant of the chart. This chart features every forward and wide attacking midfielder in La Liga. Placement in that quadrant means Guedes ranks among the top players in La Liga in both dribble frequency and success. Among the players in that quadrant, only Gareth Bale of Real Madrid has a better success rate. The greater the usage, in theory, the more difficult the success rate as the opposition tailors their defensive tactics to account for the known threat. Guedes’ place on the chart is an area occupied by the elite dribblers in the league.
Part of what makes him such a fantastic dribbler is his awareness of the opposition. Before the ball arrives at his feet, he goes to work identifying the best available spaces near him and corrects his body orientation, allowing him to make a decisive action. His first touch is often deceptive as he uses his body well to sell the first defender on the wrong course of action.
Highlighting the quality of his first touch, as well as the awareness and intelligence underlying it, is a sequence against Granada. Prior to receiving, Guedes checked in between the lines, maximizing his time and space once in possession. With Guedes checking into that space, the first defender needed to hurry forward to deny the Portuguese the opportunity to play a progressive pass to his two forwards.
A quick glance over his left shoulder alerted Guedes of the oncoming defender. Knowing the forward momentum of the defender was too aggressive, Guedes took a heavy first touch around him. This is a perfect example of technical ability, which I define as ball mastery contextualized. Seeing the onrushing defender, Guedes opted for the right touch in the right situation.
Between the defender’s forward momentum and Guedes’ pace, he was able to get around his mark. Fouling the streaking Valencia man was the only way to prevent a 3v2 attack, so the defender took the tactical foul and resulting yellow card. Guedes’ recognition of the emerging space behind the defender is a perfect example of his off the ball awareness and corresponding technical skill to execute a dynamic decision.
While his dribbling and first touch are generally fantastic, his passing ability is the most underrated part of his game. Much like those other two qualities, Guedes will commonly use deceptive movements to open up passing lanes. His ability to play through balls and to teammates positioned between the lines is a real threat to opponents. Plus, given that he’s inherently a very direct play, he always has an eye out for teammates running behind the backline.
During an October 2019 matchup against Deportivo Alavés, we saw Guedes showcase his passing ability. Isolated on the wing with little pressure from the defender, Guedes saw Maxi Gómez draw his central defender into the midfield. With the defender pushing too high up the pitch and Guedes in a position to play forward, Gómez took off behind the line.
Guedes’ pass was a beauty, dropping directly into the path of his teammate. Gómez made the mistake of letting the ball bounce, negatively impacting his timing of the touch. The result was a collection by the keeper, but the quality of the delivery is undoubted. The young Portuguese is a very well-rounded player, blessed with exceptional pace and the creativity to compliment his technical skill.
Tactical usage at Valencia
Guedes’ 6.71 successful attacking actions per 90 minutes rates ninth among players with at least 500 minutes played. For a player having a down season, he’s somehow still producing elite numbers in most statistical categories. While it’s impossible to pin this success to a single quality or two, his high footballing IQ is certainly a big part of his success.
In terms of progressive runs, he’s making fewer this season than in years past. In 2017/18, he averaged 3.58 progressive runs across all competitions, following that up with 3.46 per 90 in 2018/19. Those numbers would have him in the top 10 this season. However, he’s only averaging 2.22 in all competitions. Though he’s not making as many runs behind the lines, no doubt due to fitness issues, he’s still shown an excellent variety of his attacking actions and picked his spots well.
On the whole, Guedes is very direct, looking to run at or beyond opponents whenever possible. If isolated on the wings, he’s happy to take on his mark with the dribble. If the dribble is not an option, look for him to either make a run behind the lines or combine with teammates to create a gap the lines for Valencia to exploit. His combination play is a major strength. Watching Guedes play, each pass in tight space serves the purpose of creating gaps in the opposition’s defence. Once he creates that gap, watch him run into it once a teammate can play forward.
A sequence from the UEFA Champions League away leg against gives an idea of Guedes’ impact on the dribble, as well as why Valencia target him so frequently. As Gómez set to Dani Parejo, Guedes activated his direct tendencies to run into the space behind Atalanta’s backline. Parejo’s pass was brilliant, splitting the defence and leading Guedes down the wing.
Isolated 1v1, the Portuguese looked for the opportunity to utilise his 1v1 talent. A quick nutmeg of the defender and burst of pass around him saw Guedes get into the half-space with an eye on attacking the central channel.
Mattia Caldara beat, Josip Iličić stepped in to hack Guedes to the ground, but not before he poked the ball to a teammate. The shot from Gómez was blocked, but the missed opportunity to play 2v1 into the orange box highlighted in the image was a critical error. Atalanta was unbalanced, defending 5v2 on the right half of the pitch while conceding a 2v1 on their left. This unfortunate sequence sums up the tie quite well.
Moments after the last sequence, we witnessed some versatility from Guedes. After playing a negative pass, he read the checking run of Gómez and identified the arrival of Caldara.
With Gómez successfully provoking Caldara to leave that space, Guedes made his progressive run behind the line. A simple through ball from Gayà onto his run sent the Portuguese into the box with no one between him and the goal.
Guedes opts for the far post pass and nearly connects to level the match. A couple of points to unpack are that, first, Guedes is showing his tendency to play more directly, attacking the space behind the line as the defence moves higher up the pitch. With his pace, he’s such a dangerous threat to break the backline.
Secondly, when making runs into the box, he does have a tendency to lack that selfishness that drives elite goal-scorers. A better first touch would have corrected his angle to goal, allowing him to set up a shooting opportunity on his preferred right foot. Instead, he looked to play in a teammate. Guedes is a player who has routinely outperformed his xG throughout his career, but the low xG total is an indicator that he’s turned too many goal-scoring situations into opportunities for teammates, even if Guedes was the player better suited to take the shot. More selfishness and shots from Guedes would benefit his individual stat line, but also help his side finish off high-quality chances to goal.
Does he fit in the starting XI?
With an understanding of Guedes’ key attributes, we now have to see how he fits into the starting XI. Torres and Soler have earned the majority of the starts and the side has produced respectable, though not spectacular numbers. For Guedes to return to the starting lineup, it’s preferable for him to play in the wings, leaving Gómez and Rodrigo to start up top. Celades has mentioned Guedes competing for minutes up top, mentioned that he likes the balance Soler provides, but, for a club conceding an average of 1.69 xG, a truly dismal number, one has to question the effectiveness of said “balance”. Given the chemistry that Guedes and Rodrigo have shown, Celades will be hard-pressed to get the best out of either player if one or the other is not involved.
One note with the radars below is that the data set is taken directly from La Liga’s forwards and wide midfielders. The top of the radar indicates the top statistics in the league with the central portion of the radar indicating the lowest statistical output. In some instances, there were clear outliers that didn’t give a proper representation of the category, so the top and bottoms were set to indicate the best performer in the top cluster.
We’ll start with Ferran Torres, the young Spaniard who has lit up the league with incredible displays of individual ability. Rumours have him leaving Valencia in the near future for a European elite, such is the talent he possesses.
Looking at his radar, while he’s incredibly talented, Torres rates average to above average in each category. His best scored come in the percentile categories (marked –Perc), indicating that even if he’s experiencing low usage in a specific category, he’s at least among the better statistical players in terms of his successful actions. While the radar is not one of elite status, it’s an indicator that the player is highly effective across the board and a sure starter in this side.
With Guedes out injured, Carlos Soler has received the bulk of the starts on the left-wing. He offers a bit more defensive coverage than Torres, but it’s clear he lags behind his countryman in every significant attacking category for wide midfielders. The one ability that stands out is his crossing percentage, but, given his low crossing output per 90, he’s either not getting into crossing positions often enough or, when he does cross, the opportunity has a relatively high chance of success. Otherwise, there’s very little attacking contribution to speak of.
Now, looking at Guedes’ radar, his stats in the percentile categories are top tier in La Liga. In terms of Offensive duels won, he actually is the outlier, winning 53.77% of his encounters. The only other player in the league with a success rate higher than 50% is Sevilla’s Nolito.
The radar gives a nice outlook of Guedes’ playing style. He’s not a high usage crosser, rating average for the league. However, when he does send them, you can just about flip a coin to determine if he’ll connect.
He’s most likely to use the dribble to cut inside and create a shooting opportunity for himself or a teammate. Even despite the general knowledge of his dribbling ability and usage, he’s still highly successful, rating among the best in the league. Going back to the dribbles per 90 vs success rate chart, he’s clearly among the elites in La Liga.
The areas where he could be more effective are progressive runs and touches in the box. Those two categories help us see why he’s struggled with the final product this season. For one, he’s simply not getting into high-quality shooting positions often enough. However, placing this information is within the context of Valencia’s tactics, the numbers aren’t bad.
With the side targeting Guedes most frequently as they enter the final third, defences are sliding to his slide to contain his dribbling ability. As the defence moves to counter this threat, other openings emerge on the right-hand side, meaning the players on that portion of the pitch should reasonably have more space and better numeric conditions to get to goal. So, while his xG and xA numbers per 90 are relatively low, 0.12 and 0.07 respectively, he’s bearing the bulk of the side’s weight as it initiates the move towards goal. On a per 90 basis Torres contributes 0.17 xG and 0.2 xA, whereas Soler offers 0.08 xG and 0.07 xA.
In the grand scheme of things, Torres has shown the greatest contribution of the three in and near the box, whereas Guedes is the main target as the side initiates the move on goal. His ability to beat defenders with the dribble or quick combinations forces opponents to overload towards his side. His success in unbalancing opponents is then utilised by teammates centrally and on the far weak side.
Ultimately, Guedes’ role in progressing play into the attacking third and unbalancing opponents is the spark Valencia needs. While the side will still have central defensive issues, particularly in stopping an opponent’s counterattack, the attacking prowess of Guedes will help this side in their attempt to out-gun the opposition.
If Valencia want to secure continental play, inserting Guedes in the starting lineup seems like a must. He and Rodrigo Moreno play off of each other really well, so having the two players, in addition to Gómez and Torres, gives the starting XI an incredible attacking presence. In fact, the inclusion of both Guedes and Rodrigo could help the Spaniard finally breakout during this disappointing campaign.
This tactical analysis finds that Guedes is a top attacking winger in La Liga, both with the technical talent and intelligent decision making to improve this side in a meaningful way. His attacking contribution is far superior to Soler’s. As Guedes recovers his form from a long injury layoff, this Valencia side is one to watch as they reignite the return run to European play.