Leeds United are looking to add to their squad in the key areas rather than go crazy and sign a large amount of first team players like we saw Aston Villa do last season Fulham the season before. The arrival of Robin Koch from Freiburg will fill the gap left by Ben White who after a brilliant season, is looking likely to stay at Brighton with a move to Leeds out of the question. The cult hero, Gaetano Berardi unfortunately picked up a long term injury and will be out of action for nine months, however, the club have said they will look after him despite his contract running out. This leaves Leeds United short of senior centre back options and it looks like Bielsa has come around to the idea of signing another player in that position.
According to the reliable Fabrizio Romano, Leeds are said to be very interested in Dinamo Zagreb Croatian centre back Josko Gvardiol. The 18 year old, who has just recently broken into their first team is very highly rated and is a product of the famous Dinamo Zagreb Academy, which has produced the likes of Luca Modric, Mateo Kovačić and Dejan Lovren. With little first team experience and at such a young age, the rumoured price tag of around 18 million seems like a lot of money, so is he worth it?
Josko Gvardiol is still very inexperienced and has only played 896 minutes so the sample size is relatively low, which is worth taking into consideration when looking at his stats. This being said, his stats do give you a good indication of the sort of player he is. He made 6.83 defensive duels per 90, winning more than half of them at a 69.12% success rate, pretty impressive for a young centre back. Aerial duels are however less impressive, making 3.01 per 90 at a poor success rate of just 40%. In terms of reading the game, he did average 9.78 PAdj interceptions per 90 and made 0.99 PAdj sliding tackles, showing his understanding is very good for his age.
In possession he has showed that he is a modern day centre back, making a very high 70.51 passes per 90 with a pass accuracy of 93.16%. A lot of these passes were lateral but he is making 25.71 of those passes forward with a good pass accuracy of 85%. He is also very comfortable on the ball and bringing it out via dribbles, averaging 0.9 dribbles per 90, which for a centre back is high. A lot of these stats you’d expect to come down slightly with more game time and bigger sample size as a result, particularly his passes per game and his pass accuracy.
In all but one of his 11 league games last season he played as a centre back, normally on the left given that he is left footed but he did play one game on the right. Due to him having a decent turn of pace, he also played one game as a left back. This being said however, his position going forward will no doubt be as a centre back. His heat map supports this, he is very active on the left near the half way line but also has some activity in the opposition’s half.
The Eye Test
The first thing that stood out to me was how calm and composed Josko Gvardiol is both in and out of possession. He shows a real maturity in his game despite being so inexperienced, something not common for a player that is only 18 years of age. He is a very proactive defender who is aggressive when trying to win the ball back, something he manages to do more often than not. His defensive decision making is also very good as the passage of play below shows. He recognises that there is an opposition runner that is being played onside by his teammates so tracks the run as well as the player on the ball. He delays long enough, narrows the passing angle down and intercepts the ball.
Being aware of the threat around him and dealing with passes into the danger areas is a vital attribute for any centre back to have and normally something that comes over time. However, Josko already has the “danger” radar as the example below shows. The cross is played into the box and he manages to intercept it before it gets to the opposition striker. Although the player is marked by one of his team mates, if he were to gain possession, there would have been a chance to lay the ball off to a teammate at the edge of the box.
In modern day football, defenders now need to be able to not only defend but also to be involved in the build up phase. Being comfortable in possession and being able to find team mates with passes is vital. As his stats suggested, Josko is a very capable passer of the ball and likes to punch passes through the oppositions lines. Although he is left footed, he is very good with his right foot. The pass below shows that, he has possession of the ball and fires an accurate pass through the oppositions midfield to find a team mate. His understanding to play the ball with his right instead of his favoured left foot is impressive. Moving the ball onto his left would have shifted the angle and therefore made the pass more difficult to make.
Not only can he progress the ball forward via passes, he is also showing signs of being a good ball carrier. He likes to dribble past players that press him which disrupts the oppositions shape as someone has to step out of position to close him down. If he is tracked by the player that presses him, his combination of strength and getting his body in-between the ball and man allows him to win fouls, as the example below shows. He’s in possession of the ball and could have made a simple pass to his teammate and dropped back to create a passing option. He chose to dribble past the on coming attacker and carry the ball into the final third where he is fouled by the player he dribbled past.
Josko Gvardiol is showing a lot of signs of promise as a calm but aggressive defender. He is very comfortable in possession, aware of the dangers around him and likes to play forward as much as he can without being too risky. Given that he has only played 11 games, he needs to continue to do this consistently and also to improve on some of his areas that he doesn’t excel in quite as much, which brings me on nicely to his area for improvement.
Areas For Improvement
Straight away what stood out to me from the stats and then again from the games that I watched was his ability in the air. Despite being 6ft 2, he really struggles with dealing with balls in the air. I think this is partially down to him not timing his jumps nor his body positioning. In the example below, the goalkeeper takes his goal kick and Josko has plenty of time to see the ball coming. He also has a good amount of space to get a run up and really attack the ball but despite this he loses the battle. The player that won the battle jumps from a standing position and still wins the ball.
When the ball is in or just outside of the box, he can be hesitant and not decisive enough. He plays very safe in the box, which can be good sometimes as he’s less likely to give penalties away but also means that he allows the opposition chance to shoot or play a pass. The passage of play below is a good example of this. There are a good number around the man in possession and he’s just outside the box but instead of applying pressure, Josko steps off him and allows him to put a dangerous ball into the box.
Given that he is more decisive further up the pitch and that he is 6ft 2, I expect that with more game time and more experience, he can work to improve these areas. He then has to continue to improve the areas that he’s already showing promise in and apply them to a more intense, pressured league.
Leeds United would be getting a very promising young defender who is being tracked by a lot of the top clubs around Europe. The reported price seems very high for a 18 year old who has only played 11 senior games of football but Leeds would be paying for potential and Josko Gvardiol’s potential certainly seems high. With Cooper and Koch likely to be the first choices, being able to come in and learn from them and Bielsa could be positive for both the player and for Leeds. I for one am very excited if this deal happens after initially being slightly concerned by the high price tag.
Written by Thomas Wilson.
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