Carlos Soler has become a household name in Spain. Emerging as a Spanish wonderkid in La Liga. Soler has massively developed and has established himself as the main player in coach Marcelino’s side. The Copa del Rey trophy with Valencia, and the Under 21-European Championship glory with Spain marked his great leap in career development. However, Marcelino has recently left the club after a big dispute with the club owner Peter Lim – the former was quickly replaced by Albert Celades. Meanwhile, Soler has not yet returned from his ankle injury last August.
How can he come back and fit into the new coach’s system? In this scout report, we will use tactical analysis to demonstrate Soler’s key attributes, and why he should become a key man in Celades’s XI.
Valencia is Soler’s hometown. In 2005, he joined Valencia CF’s youth academy. After rising through the ranks, impressing everyone, he finally made his first-team debut on December 10th, 2016.
In 2019, after winning the Copa del Rey with Valencia, Soler claimed the gold medal with Spain at the Under 21-European Championship.
Style of play
Soler is very quick and direct. He likes to roam around the midfield to receive the ball. He is skillful and strong enough to hold the ball well and can drive towards the heart of the opponents’ defence to disrupt their system and create chances for his teammates. His pace and vision make him unpredictable for the opposition and a valuable asset in offensive transitions – a crucial phase in Valencia’s counter-attacking style. He also has the awareness to dictate the tempo of his team’s attack.
Soler’s heatmap of last season showed that he primarily played on the right side of the field. Valencia’s wingers almost never switch flanks, but they often move into the half-space (and even the centre at times) in both defensive and offensive phases.
Carlos Soler’s role in Celades’ system
It’s unsure how Soler will perform in Celades’ system, as the Spaniard did not feature in any match under the new coach due to injury. He is mainly expected to be a right-winger in Valencia’s midfield four.
In the last three matches, Valencia played in an asymmetrical 4-4-2 set-up, with a true winger at left midfield, (one of Denis Cheryshev, Goncalo Guedes and Kang-in Lee), Dani Parejo and Geoffrey Kondogbia as the double pivots and Francis Coquelin at right midfield. In attack, the left-winger will join the forwards, while Coquelin will form a midfield three with Parejo and Kondogbia, thus creating a 4-3-3.
It’s hard to conclude this system’s effectiveness as of now, but if Celades insists on utilising it when Soler returns, the talented youngster will be wasted on the bench. This season, Valencia has not been effective defensively as in previous years – this may prompt Celades to use a conservative midfield more often.
Passing and positioning
To have an idea of how Soler will play in the new system, we can take clues from Celades’ first match in charge against Barcelona – the only match in which they used two wingers in the midfield four. In attack, the wingers positioned themselves in the middle, between the lines and tried to create penetrative passing lanes for the deep players. In these positions, they can easily link-up with the forwards and feed their runs in behind the defence.
In the below example, Valencia’s wingers positioned smartly so that the pivot could make a line-breaking pass to either of them. They stayed close to each other and the forwards, so the four can easily combine with each other. The full-backs here stayed high and wide, and the wingers could also link-up with them to create danger.
Movements between the front four were very unpredictable for the opposition. At times, the forwards could drop deep to receive the ball, while the wingers stayed just a little higher and occupied the defenders, thus opening gaps in behind to exploit. Here, Rodrigo tried to drop deep to facilitate a pass between the lines, while the wingers occupied the defenders. Especially, right-winger Ferran Torres here attracted Lenglet forward, and Gameiro immediately ran from the wing into space the Barcelona centre-back left behind. Rodrigo assisted Gameiro for the goal.
Soler is tailor-made for these tactics, as he has smart positioning, good dribbling and an ability to combine in tight space.
The below is an illustration of his smart positioning. He tried to position himself between the lines and open up a central passing option for the defender. The pass to him would take out the opposition’s midfield, and he could then quickly drive forward and find his teammates.
Soler can also drop deep to help progress the ball, utilising his positioning and ability to link-up with teammates. His dropping movements can create a numerical advantage in the middle, thus possibly attract the opponent’s left-back high upfield – this will disrupt the opponent’s defence and open multiple gaps for him and his teammates to run into.
In the image below, Soler dropped very deep to open a passing lane for the full-back. Real Madrid’s left-back didn’t want to allow the skillful winger time and space on the ball, thus tried to close him down. Rodrigo immediately ran into space behind Marcelo, dragging Sergio Ramos with him. After a quick combination with Rodrigo, Soler could get past Marcelo and drive into the big gap in the middle.
Gameiro instantly made a run into the space Ramos left behind, dragging Varane with him. Soler found Gameiro while continuing his run to exploit the space Varane left behind. In brief, some smart runs and quick combinations from Valencia attackers disrupted Madrid’s defence.
Soler is more than capable of making progressive passes. Last season, he attempted 5.47 passes to final third/90 mins, with a 73.4% accuracy, and 3.33 passes to box, with a 52.1% accuracy.
His passing became even more lethal with his movements into the half-space, which would leave the wing open for the right-back’s runs, especially overlapping ones. Here, Soler’s dribble attracted an opposition defender. Valencia’s right-back rushed into space the Real Sociedad player left behind, and Soler found him with a through ball. A clear goal-scoring opportunity was created for Valencia.
Soler is known for his dribbling ability, which can be a useful tool to carry the ball forward. Last season, he registered 1.46 successful dribbles per 90 (51.5% rate), and an impressive 1.37 progressive runs per 90. These runs, combined with his ability to spot teammates’ runs (1.23 key passes per 90 in La Liga last season) make him a valuable asset in Valencia’s quick counters. We saw an example of his progressive runs in the one above against Real Madrid. Let’s take a look at another:
Here, Valencia just recovered the ball, and Levante players were trying to close down Soler to prevent a quick counter. However, he combined one-two with Daniel Wass to escape the press.
Now having more time on the ball, he raced into the middle of the pitch, taking out the opponent’s second line of pressing in the process. He sent the ball into the path of Cheryshev, who was also rushing forward. He then continued his run along the centre, thus can connect well with the players on the left.
Sprinting and crossing
Valencia’s traditional wingers (eg. Cheryshev, Torres) are expected to send crosses into the box. Soler excels in this regard, with 2.52 crosses per 90 last season, at a high accuracy rate of 31.3%. He often creates time and space to cross on his own by beating his man with explosive acceleration.
In the following example, Fabian Ruiz’s movement attracted the opponent’s defender. Soler recognised this and rushed into the space behind the defender. He received Fabian’s lay-off and sprinted past all the white shirts, and then assisted his teammate with a low cross.
In the following example, Valencia was trying to hit Barcelona on the break. The ball was being sent into space behind Jordi Alba. This basically became a race between Soler and Alba. Alba’s pace and defensive awareness is well documented.
However, Soler got to the ball first! And even with the ball on his feet, Soler was still too quick for Alba! He then crossed the ball into Rodrigo’s head, who scored easily.
In order to see how Soler can contribute defensively to Celades’ system, we first need to know how the former Real Madrid assistant coach sets up his side. Similar to Marcelino, he uses a compact 4-4-2. The players mostly defend zonally, stay narrow to protect the centre and force the ball to the flanks. When this happens, they will immediately overload the ball-side to suffocate the opponent and force turnovers. The wingers will stay quite central and close to the pivots, while the full-backs will be wider to protect wing progression. The wingers also need to be aware of the situations and create a 2vs1 out wide when needed.
We can see one such example below. Valencia’s right-back was closing down the Barcelona winger, while the right-winger was providing cover to prevent the winger from cutting inside. The aim here is to force the winger to pass back, which is the least promising option for him. There are many similar examples of these overloads in Valencia’s match against Barcelona. They even used heavy man-marking in these wide areas.
In Valencia’s matches against Barcelona and Chelsea, we saw a similar pattern: they didn’t press high up the pitch, but rather prevented passes to the opponent’s central midfielders. To counter Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1, Valencia’s two forwards will cut the passing lanes to the double pivot.
Compared to Chelsea’s formation, Barcelona’s 4-3-3 gives them more passing options during the first phase of the build-up. Valencia then tried to take Barcelona’s midfield three out of the game with their use of cover shadows and zonal marking. They want to force the opponent wide and then stop them with ball-side overloads, as discussed above.
In the example below, Barcelona’s three midfielders tried to stay close to each other to connect better. Valencia basically created a cage around them. This cage was made up of the two forwards, the wingers who stayed extremely compact here, and the double pivots who provided cover.
We will now to prove that Soler is up to the task when it comes to defending.
Positioning and awareness
Despite mainly appreciated for his offensive qualities, Soler is more than capable of defending. He also works hard defensively, making 1.3 successful tackles per 90 in La Liga last season. Per 90 minutes, he won 3.78 defensive duels (52.2% won), 3.48 interceptions and 5.35 recoveries with 48.7% in the opposition half.
As a right-winger, Soler needs to stay narrow and use his cover shadow to block central passing lanes. When the opponent plays the ball out to the wing, the Valencia full-back will automatically move out of his position to close down the opponent’s wide man. Soler needs to run back instantly to provide cover. He fulfilled his duty here.
As mentioned above, Valencia mostly tries to force the opponent to the wings, then instantly creates overloads to win the ball back. Therefore, pressing coordination there is important for the team. The wingers need to be effective in these pressing situations, and Soler surely is.
We will now see a few examples:
Here, Celta Vigo was trying to start a counter-attack. Soler instantly chased down the opponent from behind, preventing him from turning inside. The ball-carrier could choose to pass the ball back, but then Soler could quickly close down the receiver to stop the counter. Therefore, the Celta player tried to continue his run, but Diakhaby attacked him from one side while Soler ran along his other side and successfully win the ball back.
In the following example, Soler was looking to close down the Sevilla player while using his cover shadow to prevent him from passing towards the centre. The opponent passed the ball down the flank.
When the opponent’s winger received the ball, Soler made a slightly curved run to prevent him from passing back. He then ran towards that player and successfully tackle him. The Sevilla man was pressed from both sides and couldn’t do anything.
In the following example, Coutinho was trying to beat Wass in a 1v1. Knowing Coutinho would cut inside to shoot, Soler ran towards the position which Coutinho was expected to dribble towards. Coutinho couldn’t take his shot and was quickly dispossessed by Soler’s teammate.
This analysis displayed Soler’s qualities, both in attack and defence. Coach Celades will definitely keep an eye on him and find the best way to integrate him into his tactics. This young talent has so much potential, and if developed properly, he will play a key role in Valencia’s success in the years to come.
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