Leon Goretzka

Player Analysis
Alex Fischer

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Alex Fischer

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When Goretzka came through the ranks at VfL Bochum, the biggest names from all around Germany, including the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Bayern München and obviously, his current club Schalke 04 were lining up to sign him. With his contract at Schalke running out at the end of the 2017/18, there is supposed interest from some of the better clubs in Europe like Juventus, Bayern München, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.

Back in 2012, when he just broke into the Bochum 2. Bundesliga First Team at the young age of just 17, comparisons were drawn between him and some of the best German Midfielders of recent history such as Michael Ballack or Sami Khedira and not only Schalke fans were surprised that he got called up for the German U21 instead of the First Team but his future very much lies with Joachim Löw’s “Die Mannschaft”.

He made the Schalke starting XI on 15 occasions in the 2013/14 season, his first year at the club. With Neustädter and Boateng being nailed down starters in the centre of midfield, the young German played a lot of his games in the three behind Huntelaar, mainly on the left and on the right highlighting one of his many strengths:  His versatility. Even at a young age, he was already a player who could play in several positions and who had a complete game. In the current 2016/17 season he has mainly played as one of the two Box-to-Box midfielders in a 3-1-4-2 and as an Attacking or  Central Midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 and apart from Sead Kolasinac  he has been the best player in a – domestically – disappointing Schalke side. According to whoscored,  the young German played 17 games as a Central Midfielder, 8 as an Attacking Midfielder and one as a Right and Defensive Midfielder each.

He did have some injury problems in 2014/15 and in 2015/16 that gave him the label of an injury prone player, but considering he has now played 82 Bundesliga games, 32 2. Bundesliga games and 20 games in Europa League and Champions League this isn’t very fair.

There are countless examples of games that show exactly why Goretzka is that complete midfielder that I was talking about but the best one is probably the game against Leverkusen in the first half of the 2016/17 season. Schalke Centre-Back Naldo got sent off for a professional foul just four minutes into the game meaning Johannes Geis had to drop back into the back three. This left Goretzka and Bentaleb with a lot of work to do in the midfield and it’s fair to say that Goretzka stepped up to the occasion.

The 22-year-old won the ball back on several occasions and he was the driving force in the direct Schalke game and contributing with 3 Key Passes and he was one of the key factors why Schalke managed to match up Leverkusen in terms of xG on that day, just losing to Kießling-Header in the dying embers of the game. However, the fact that he had no shots on this day also highlights one of his major weaknesses. Goretzka’s decision-making in the final third and his composure in front of goal are often not quite ideal and it is something he will have to work on if he wants to be on the level of the aforementioned Michael Ballack one day. His shooting technique however, is quite good for a Central Midfielder.

These two goals highlight that. The goal against Hertha was also one of the typical attacking moves of the Schalke side in the 3-5-2 (that Weinzierl decided to drop after realising that he a) doesn’t have the DM for that and b) with the injury of Naldo not the right Centre Backs for that). One of the two Box-to-Box players shifts towards the ball carrier and in this case Goretzka is in space to receive the ball. He isn’t quite as pacey as an Aubameyang but for someone who plays a position that probably values technique and strength over pace, he is quite quick and is a great player to have in an attacking transition.

Off the Ball qualities

When Oliver Burke joined RB Leipzig from Nottingham Forest, Leipzig manager Ralph Hasenhüttel said that his Off the Ball hard drive was almost completely empty. It is has received one or two updates by now but players who came through the ranks in Germany – like Goretzka – tend to be a lot more versed when it comes to working Off the Ball. When Schalke plays in the 4-2-3-1 with Goretzka as the AM it turns into a 4-4-2 out of possession with Goretzka and the striker leading the Press.  When he does that, he is very good at using the Cover Shadow to keep the opposition Defensive Midfielder out of play.

In this one Goretzka forces Javi Martinez into the turn backward in order to find passing options because he is under Pressure and the passing line to Xabi Alonso is cut off. In the end, the ball is just played sideways to Hummels. Most teams in the Bundesliga – Schalke including ( you can already see heavy man orientation in this picture) – play a heavily man oriented Pressing but Goretzka does possess the footballing intelligence to play any style of Pressing.

Winning the Ball

Goretzka might not look like the most physical person on Planet Earth his playing style is very much a physical one. With 2.5 tackles per 90 minutes, he is only second to Sead Kolasinac in the Schalke rankings (of players that played more than 900 minutes).

As these clips show he does have a slight tendency to dive into Tackles but his timing is usually good so he is not someone to collect a lot of Bookings. However, diving into a Tackle always adds a bit of randomness to the whole situation because you never know where the ball may bounce so you rather avoid that.

Defensive Recovery & Work Rate

Goretzka is a very versatile player but there is one thing that is always on his mind and it is contributing in defending phases and transitions. At both of his senior clubs he quickly got branded as a work horse and as a fighter. While these are obviously loose terms fans tend to use, they give you an idea .

Here he uses his acceleration to quickly shift over to the right side to create a 3v2 and break up the opposition attack and out of the three German U21-Players he is actually the one to win the ball back to then restart the attack. Thanks to his height of 1.89m (that is 6’2”) Goretzka is not only a threat in the air but he can also win Aerial Duels in the midfield. Something that could especially be important should he decide to leave Schalke and Germany for the Premier League.

Conclusion

When Schalke signed Goretzka in 2013 he was a very rough diamond. In the following 3.5 years, he has matured into the most important part of one of Germanys biggest teams and if it wasn’t for the high-quality Midfielders that Germany keeps producing the 22-year-old would probably have more than just two caps for Germany. He might get called up for the Confed-Cup but it is to assume that he gets tasked with captaining the German U21 to their first title since 2009.

There are a few things he has to work on: His final third decision making is not great and he has to improve his passing range and it remains to be seen how much he can contribute to a possession focused team. If he does that at Schalke or anywhere else is to be seen but if he decides to leave Schalke it is probably going to be this coming summer because his contract runs out in 2018 and Schalke don’t want to see another key player leave on a free transfer.

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