World Cup Tactics: Gonçalo Guedes, Portugal and Valencia (Paris Saint-Germain)

Words By Alex Stewart Illustration by Philippe Fenner
June 11, 2018
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Valencia crossed the line in La Liga to secure the final Champions League qualification spot. Under manager Marcelino Garcia Toral, they impressed last season with their counter-attacking football and in spite of off-field upheaval and a consistent policy of selling their best players. Valencia have a justly deserved reputation for developing youngsters and David Silva, Isco, Jordi Alba, Paco Alcacer and current Los Che left-back Jose Gaya are all academy graduates playing at the highest level.

This reputation makes the club an attractive destination for young players seeking first team experience on loan, and this season Paris Saint-Germain’s Gonçalo Guedes, a right-footed left winger on loan at Valencia, shone in La Liga. Still only 21, Guedes registered nine assists as well as scoring four goals. He’s a promising talent who could make an impact for Portugal in the 2018 World Cup as well.

Valencia play a 4-4-2 under Marcelino. Guedes lines up usually on the left, though he has played occasionally on the right. Geoffrey Kondogbia, on loan from Inter Milan, and Dani Parejo form the usual central midfield axis, with Carlos Soler the first choice right midfielder. Two from Simone Zaza, Santi Mina, and top scorer Rodrigo Moreno play up front. This attacking unit has seen Valencia score more goals than any La Liga sides save Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Valencia tend to flex their middle vertically, so that the central midfielders drop closer to the centre backs to collect the ball, and the strikers in turn drop to close the gap, while the wide players shift upwards. The central players then move up again as Valencia progress their possession, so that the strikers are in position to receive crosses, and the midfield can support the attack or guard the central space if it breaks down.

This created space for the wide players as the opposition tended to adjust their defensive lines to mark centrally, and so Valencia’s wide players were between those lines. Guedes played mostly like an out-and-out winger, taking advantage of how his side create space to carry the ball forwards and look to cross, or to receive a moving ball in space and cross immediately.

Guedes worked well with left back Gaya, either taking direct passes down the wide space to run onto and cross, or cutting inside onto a more angled ball. While predominantly right footed, Guedes can cross fairly well with his left foot and generally does this first time when released into space. He delivers a better ball when he has time to cut inside, though, and sometimes Gaya or even Kondogbia can get ahead of Guedes and play a return pass to him, affording him time to look up and pick his pass.

Guedes does also make lateral runs across the box. Parejo is Valencia’s creative fulcrum, and play is often switched from one side to another through him. However, he’s also capable of looking up and spotting runs from out to in, and Guedes playing on the side that favours him cutting inside often makes these runs, especially as the forwards drop off towards Parejo. It’s another examples of how Valencia used horizontal movement to create space, and Guedes’ use of intelligent running to exploit this.

Guedes’ stats show a player with reasonable all round involvement – interestingly, his best creative output came in 140 minutes of action for PSG after his transfer from Benfica and before his loan season at Valencia. That implies a player with potential who transitioned this season into playing more and being less of a player who comes on when defences are tired and makes an impact, but also shows, because there’s not been a massive drop-off, that Guedes can sustain this improvement.

Guedes has also improved carrying the ball forwards. Valencia worked hard to create room for Guedes to run into, and that meant that his dribbling was less into congested areas and more towards pockets of space from which he can cross. His numbers showed a commensurate improvement.

Gonçalo Guedes has had a strong season at Valencia, operating with another young prospect on the left in Jose Gaya, and reinforcing his international claims. In a team that engineers width through clever movement, the young Portuguese player can thrive. Whether that will be the case next season when he returns to Paris Saint Germain remains to be seen, but a good World Cup, even from the bench, could see Guedes attracting some real interest.

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