When Suat Serdar arrived at Schalke in July 2018, he came as a replacement for Leon Goretzka, who recently joined Bayern Munich. However, Serdar never really settled at the club in his first season. There were glimpses of his quality but there were also doubts if the 22-year-old had what it takes to make it at Schalke. Nonetheless, as we all know, things can change very quickly in football. Since David Wagner took over, Serdar’s production has increased with almost every single aspect of his game. This contribution has not been lost on Germany coach Joachim Löw as well, who nominated him for the first time in October 2019.
Serdar has fitted in perfectly into Wagner’s new pressing-intense system. His priority both with and without the ball is forward penetration. The German Turk is predominantly an advanced central midfielder. He plays as a free-roaming 8 and operates on the left of a midfield diamond. Within Schalke’s system, Serdar is encouraged to join in with the attack where possible and arrive in the box. Since Serdar is right-footed, he likes to dribble inside when receiving the ball in the left half-space.
Serdar describes himself as a box to box midfielder. A box to box midfielder also has to manage his defensive duties, which is exactly what Serdar does. Due to his superb work ethic, he covers plenty of ground over 90 minutes and is very effective during defensive transitions.
Progressing the ball
At a young age, Serdar already is one of the better midfielders in the Bundesliga at progressing play in a positive manner through his dribbling. His athleticism where he combines both the initial burst and speed, allows him to gain ground moving vertically. Apparently, Wagner has also encouraged him to dribble more frequently and the numbers suggest he was right to do so. Serdar completes 2.7 dribbles per 90 while attempting 4.16 (64.9%).
The example below illustrates these abilities. Receiving the ball in the left half-space, Serdar always seeks options to progress the ball forward, either with a dribble or a pass. Here, he is able to evade from his defender and make a run towards the penalty area.
Even with three defenders, Leverkusen are not able to stop him from playing a through pass to Benito Raman.
Among the things that Serdar is great at within open play is also his ability to operate in tight areas. With small, disguised feints, he is capable of dribbling his way out of pressure. That’s particularly impressive within the final third of the pitch. Below we can see an instance of him retaining possession against several defenders and eventually slipping the ball back to Amine Harit.
Serdar possesses a lot of the tools you want from a modern-day zone mover combining athleticism with a fluidity to manoeuvre within tight spaces. That being said, he also benefits from the tactical dynamic of a team that sees a lot of space in midfield. This comes due to their transition-heavy attack, in which Serdar is not expected to monopolize possession. Notwithstanding his abilities in tight areas, the 22-year-old flourishes most when given the freedom to carry the ball to create attacking situations.
Turning defence into offence
As already indicated, Schalke’s biggest strength this season are their dangerous counter-attacks, in which Serdar plays a key role. The German Turk combines aggressiveness and dynamism, which makes him the perfect embodiment of Wagner’s style. Serdar is a type of midfielder who can turn a defensive action into potential transition opportunities. This comes as no surprise considering his ability to cover ground with the ball and evade defenders.
The example below is a typical pattern of Schalke’s counter-attacks and could be seen several times this season. After winning the ball in their own half, Serdar is the one, who progresses the ball forward, freeing himself from his opponent. Meanwhile, Benito Raman makes a progressive run and opens a passing lane.
Criticism of Serdar in his first year often referred to the point that he doesn’t finish off his actions. This time, as the sequence continues, it’s different. Serdar doesn’t stop but makes a run into the box and eventually gives his team the lead through an easy tap in.
Schalke’s best goalscorer
Serdar isn’t a prolific chance creator, only averaging 0.06 xA per 90. Nonetheless, that’s not necessarily a problem when performing other duties to a high level, as Serdar does this year. Seven goals make him Schalke’s best goal scorer.
While there are some speculative attempts on his shot map, there’s also a good amount of efforts within the box. However, when looking at his xG and his shot locations, we can see, that Serdar is not getting into as many dangerous situations as his seven goals might suggest. He is currently overperforming his Expected Goals by a significant margin of 4.12 Goals. 25/29 shots have had an xG-value of 0.1 or lower. These are all indicators suggesting he won’t keep up his scoring streak in the long term.
Knowing he only scored one away goal, I was still surprised though about the huge discrepancy between his xG-values at home and away. Away from home, Serdar only amasses 0.26 xG over six games. That’s only 9% of his total xG (2.88) this season. An analysis of the reasons for this difference might go beyond this article. Apparently, Schalke rank 6thin the away table, so a general weakness of the “Königsblauen” away from home can be ruled out.
One aspect of his game that might keep potential for improvement and increase his goalscoring are aerial duels. Judging by his size of 1.84 m and 68.4% of aerial duels he wins every game, he could become more dangerous in the penalty area with his head. He undoubtedly possesses skills to be a target man for crosses from the flanks.
While most people talk about his offensive output this season, his defensive contribution is often underestimated though. Nevertheless, this is a key part of his game as well. He has an impressive work rate and is very aggressive against the ball. In this instance, Gladbach quickly switch sides, leaving Stefan Lainer with much space on the right. As the left advanced midfielder of the diamond, Serdar makes up some ground to keep up with his opponent.
He also shines when pressing and winning the ball higher up the pitch, this time in a more central role.
His defensive contribution is further underlined by his stats. 2.7 tackles per 90 rank him among the highest central midfielders in the Bundesliga. In addition, he averages 1.17 interceptions. These are considerably high numbers for a player, who is often reduced to his offensive qualities.
Where to improve
Despite all the praise, there are many areas of the 22-year-old’s game where he can improve. While we already noticed some weaknesses in the course of this analysis, it may be worth digging a bit deeper into his passing and his decision-making.
Serdar is still susceptible to holding on the ball for too long and thus, missing the right time for the pass. Let’s look at another situation from the match against SC Freiburg to explain that. Serdar has received the ball in front of his own penalty area. He now has basically two passing options. In addition, he could also cross ways with the opponent’s attacker to switch to the right side or draw a foul.
However, the 22-year-old decides to choose neither of the above options. Instead, he takes on the first attacker who made a run towards him. While he can still retain possession, he struggles to evade from his opponents and thus attracts even more players from Freiburg to join the press. Eventually, Serdar is surrounded by three opponents and is lucky to get a foul.
The example above is a good indicator of his tendency to put himself under pressure for no reason. Similar things can be seen higher up the pitch.
Another thing that has to be mentioned is his passing. Surely, one of the most important (probably the most important) for a midfielder, right? The point about Serdar is not so much his pass completion percentage of 78.2% but his lack of concentration from time to time. In the first halves against Leverkusen and Bremen for example, his passing hovered only slightly above the 50% mark. Considering his young age, that’s not a big thing, but something where he needs to become more constant.
As this scout report has shown, Suat Serdar is a player, who has all the tools to mature into a great player. He’s already a decent prospect at this stage in his development. This is also due to Wagner who found a way how to utilize the 22-year-old best. His midfield diamond covers for Serdar and allows him to join the attack when possible, so Serdar’s strength can flourish.
However, we also pointed out some of his weaknesses, which actually make him an even more exciting player considering how good he already is. Sooner or later, he might join the list of Schalke’s sales to the best clubs in Europe.