At the beginning of the 2019/20 season, you would not have called Robin Gosens one of the best attacking wing-backs in the world. For the past two seasons at Atalanta, Gosens has been seen as a serviceable wing-back who Gian Piero Gasperini is bringing the best out of. He has never been the weak link, but he’s never been a standout player either.
However, this season Gosens has exceeded his pre-season expectations and then some, especially in regards to his attacking output. In his third year at La Dea, the wing-back has contributed heavily to one of the best offensive sides in Europe. After showing he had the potential to fulfil the role of a winger during his spells at Heracles and FC Dordrecht, essentially, this is what he has done to a great degree this term in Atalanta. With new tactics and additions to the squad, Gasperini has managed to create a team who play exciting and unstoppable football.
Style of play
The German is a physically adept wing-back/wide midfielder who tends to link up with his teammates well, often performing one-twos with his forward teammates and finding himself in space to take shots of high quality. His aerial ability and defensive contribution are impressive, especially considering that many in the media (rightly so) focus on his attacking contributions, despite his ability to do both.
Gosens is a player who takes shots at a higher volume than a typical full-back/wing-back (think Marcos Alonso at Chelsea in the 2016/17 season), which is a surprise weapon Atalanta can take advantage of. He is always looking to get forward, either by the overlap or underlap, causing problems for the opposition defence. When it comes to Atalanta’s style of play, he seems to fit well. A high amount of Atalanta’s best attacks come down the wings and often down the left-wing particularly as he is trusted more by his teammates than the opposite wing-back, either Hans Hateboer or Timothy Castagne.
Atalanta tends to keep possession for the majority of the match and focus on overloading the final third. This is difficult for most teams in the league to handle. They create a lot of chances and play the game at their own steady pace. Gasperini’s preferred formations are 3-4-1-2 and 3-4-2-1 which fits Gosens strengths exquisitely. They play with width and use the wings to attack, using him as a key player to progress the ball forward.
Passing and build-up
Atalanta plays a possession-based style of football. Akin to Manchester City, whenever they are in possession, they like to slow the tempo and look for openings to play the ball forward. Opposed to playing an aggressive style of football and pressing the opposition to oblivion, often not an option for most teams due to fitness. Through this, they manage an 83% pass completion, a very respectable figure considering the high volume of through balls they attempt.
Gosens darts up and down the left flank and tries to create more passing options with his movement. The German helps during the build-up and is always looking for a player to combine with to get past the opposition’s pressing. His passing activity is concentrated down the wide channels in the spaces where the opposition have not anticipated. Atalanta is capable of attacking down the middle through Alejandro Gómez, but they more frequently find themselves utilising the clever runs of their wing-backs, primarily Gosens.
In the picture above, Gosens makes a measured run into the final third, with the opposition defenders unaware of his presence.
Evident in the picture above, it turned out to be a successful run, as he picks up the ball and swiftly sends a cross into the box for Josip Iličić to finish off.
Gosens is an extremely important asset in Atalanta’s build-up phase of play. His most common positioning is around the half-way line, in a wide left position. Out there, he can push forward with his team, or he is also in the position to track back and help the defence.
Impact on their attacking approach and defensive contribution
As mentioned previously, the team’s 3-4-1-2 formation fits Gosens’ skillset seamlessly. He is remarkably versatile in his final third contribution.
He could be used as an additional force up front due to his clever runs and off-the-ball movement. He frequently uses his pace to outrun his opponents and sneak beyond their defensive line, which often leads to a chance for him to shoot. As stated previously he takes a high proportion of shots, which has resulted in an xG per 90 of 0.36, which is a brilliant figure for a wing-back.
When Iličić approaches the 18-yard-box, Gosens notices that the defender’s attention is placed solely upon Iličić. He uses this to his advantage by approaching the box and getting into space for a cross (see above).
As pictured above, Gosens manages to take a touch and then a shot before a defender can come close enough to block a devastating finish into the top right-hand corner.
He also has a great impact as a playmaker behind the forward line, though. His teamwork and awareness mean he can exploit the spaces created by the attacking unit and compliment his teammates’ movement as a result. His crossing and composure under pressure are very important, especially when breaking down a rigid defence. Atalanta attack down the wings frequently, so it is important to have a good line of support down both flanks.
Gosens’ awareness during the attack pictured above was vital for Atalanta to progress up the field. He sees the pressure his teammate was under and made the run into space to receive the ball.
Gosens makes a driving run towards the box and ends up in a position where he can make a cross (see above). He does, and it finds Castagne, who somehow does not score.
Upon analysis, it is clear actions like these are not his main asset within Gasperini’s system though. Gosens takes more shots than he makes key passes, which is not common for a wing-back, highlighting his unique role at Atalanta. Despite this, Gosens is an important player when it comes to chance creation because of his prolificacy at it. He has an xA per 90 of 0.12 which can largely be seen as an average figure for a full-back, however, his actual assists per 90 of 0.25 is a great figure for a player in his position. Although, this could be a worry for Gosens in the long-term as his xA per 90 is not brilliant, not even above average, and this could just be a lucky season in terms of chance creation and his teammates finishing off his deliveries.
When it comes to traditional defensive actions, Gosens is no slouch, particularly in the UEFA Champions League. In the league, Gosens is not asked to put in a defensive shift all too often, as Atalanta tend to dominate the ball, and the majority of the defensive work is done by Atalanta’s centre-backs in their system. However, when he is asked to focus on his defensive responsibilities, he rarely makes mistakes.
In the scenario above, Gosens comes in-field, as he notices an opportunity to catch the opposition off-guard and steal the ball.
Gosens wins back possession and swiftly transitions defence into attack, by making a surging run through the middle of the park (see above). He then proceeds to off lay the ball towards Iličić to finish off a smooth move.
His 2.7 tackles and interceptions combined in Serie A can be seen as a decent figure for a side who dominate the ball and considering that he spends a lot of time in the opposition’s half. Although, in the UEFA Champions League, where they are less dominant, he has 4.6 tackles and interceptions combined, which reflects well upon his adaptability, further increasing his market value.
Gosens has evolved into a very capable wing-back for Atalanta, as they continuously improve under Gasperini. He is the team’s best wing-back, and he is substantially better than any of his wide counterparts in almost every aspect. With a player like him, Atalanta has a consistent performer at a decent age (25 years old), who they can decide to keep and use in a push for top four, or decide to sell as his market value is high, and reinvest in a youth prospect. For Gosens, he is constantly improving and should consider his options of potentially moving to a ‘bigger’ club.