In signing Leon Goretzka, Bayern managed to lure one of the biggest German talents to Munich. Just before his transfer to Schalke, Bayern’s interest in Goretzka was reported. Herrmann Gerland, who still has good connections at Bochum, Goretzka’s team at the time, spoke in favour of signing the starlet. Five years later, Goreztka, now 23, will indeed move to Munich. What makes him special? Why was he so sought-after in Europe?
Leon Goretzka’s playing style
Leon Goretzka combines a variety of qualities. In principle he feels more comfortable higher up the pitch. His vertical thrusts and dribbles can in that respect be counted among his greatest strengths. His passing game, too, is at a very high level. He’s able to play the final pass in the attacking third. Yet short passes in build-up play are also something Goretzka does well, and so he can occupy the number six position in defensive midfield without any problems. Out of possession the German international benefits in particular from his physical abilities. I will return to his strengths in detail later in the course of the article.
His multi-faceted attributes profile allow a coach to put Leon Goretzka in several positions. With Bayern’s current competition situation in midfield that’s a particular advantage in gaining regular playing time. His ex-coach Domenico Tedesco mostly set his team up in a 3-4-3 in the previous season. Goretzka mostly played alongside Max Meyer in the central midfield pivot. Here, however, he had the more offensive role and as such was better able to utilise his strengths in the attacking third. Max Meyer mostly took care of the build-up play.
Niko Kovac could also go for a back-three at Bayern, as he already did so in Frankfurt. Here Goretzka could play as a central midfielder alongside a more technically-gifted player like Sebastian Rudy or Thiago. This would see him occupy the more offensive role, as at Schalke. As well as the deep-lying role, Goretzka has also been used in one of the number ten positions in Tedesco’s 3-4-2-1/3-4-3. His ability to play line-breaking passes would be even better utilised as a number ten. Beyond that, Joachim Löw used him with the national team on the right-hand side. Goretzka offers the athletic and technical abilities to potentially occupy one of the wing-back positions under Niko Kovac. However, with Joshua Kimmich for example there will be other candidates there.
Comparing Leon Goretzka with one of Bayern’s current players is somewhat harder. Corentin Tolisso is perhaps the closest to Goretzka. Tolisso also operates in a somewhat more attacking role and can create danger with his dribbles. However, Goretzka’s passing abilities can be rated higher than those of the Frenchman. Rumours that Goretzka could replace Sebastian Rudy should not be taken too seriously. Both players are different at a basic level in their playing style and role in a team. Arturo Vidal on the other hand, could face problems. Leon Goretzka possesses similar qualities to the Chilean, but in addition is stronger in his passing, decision making, and when under pressure. It’s not unlikely that Arturo Vidal leaves the club in the summer.
The man for the final Pass
Let’s assume, though, that he will play as a deep-lying midfielder or as an advanced central midfielder. He offers all the assets for central midfield in particular. Goretzka has good vision and clean technique. From the central areas he was constantly able to find Schalke’s attackers with good vertical passes. Otherwise he offers himself well too and is able to keep the ball circulating.
However, in this area he cannot be compared with players like Thiago and James. Goretzka feels more comfortable higher up the pitch. There he can keep possession, including under pressure, and quickly play the ball into more advanced areas. In the second half of the season he gave a strong performance against Bayern, for example, and managed to play the pass between the lines in exactly the right moment after a turnover.
His passes into the final third particularly exemplify a good understanding of the game and a feeling for the dynamic of a match. He plays these through-balls very often in the right moment, with the right pace, and as such was able to help give Schalke’s weakening attack some extra quality. Goretzka was able to play simple lay-offs with his first touch to play in Schalke’s strikers, mostly Guido Burgstaller. Alongside his good vision and technique, his movement without the ball is also very intelligent. He recognises spaces in the opposing defence in advance and in that is very hard to defend.
The singularity of Leon Goretzka
If you think about the strengths of midfielders, you’d first think about passing, tackling or positioning. Yet dribbling also plays an important role for midfielders – just think of Andres Iniesta. Thiago also shows over and over that dribbling can help to break opponents’ lines.
Leon Goretzka is a good dribbler too. In comparison with Iniesta, his dribbles are designed to cover a lot of ground in quick time. In counter situations, when he gets a bit more room, that stands him in particularly good stead. But it was also possible to see at Schalke often that Goretzka was able to cause problems for the opponents with fast vertical thrusts down the wings or in the half-spaces with the ball at his feet.
Here he manages to combine elegant, tight ball-control with his physical advantages. His size and relative robustness help him to shield the ball skilfully.
Without the ball, too, Leon Goretzka moves very intelligently. His vertical thrusts from deep are very effective and difficult to defend. Mostly he arrives late from deep and lurks on the edge of the box in wait of pull-backs. In doing so he takes advantage of the fact that many teams focus too heavily on the players in the box when a cross comes in, meaning marking isn’t ideal. With Bayern’s bias towards crossing in particular, Goretzka will constantly find himself in good finishing positions.
His goal against Mexico at the 2017 Confederations Cup is a great example here of his qualities. After a turnover he leads the counter with a through-ball from Henrichs. While sprinting he recognises that a team-mate on the left side is unmarked.
As a result, Mexico’s central player moves towards the left. When Henrichs cuts the ball back, he has to stop, while Goretzka wasn’t running at full pelt. Now, though, he has the advantage that due to his speed he gets to the ball ahead of the Mexican and can finish with his first touch.
His defensive qualities
Goretzka’s physical attributes stand him in good stead in defence. His lanky stature allows him to get his body more easily between the ball and the opponent. His long legs also allow him to win the ball a lot in tackles that other players might not win. Beyond that, he strikes a good balance between aggressive pressuring and cautious positioning.
His positioning, too, is at an especially high level – it’s not for nothing that Schalke 04 just posted one of the best defensive records in the league last season. Goretzka is particularly good at winning the ball back in counter-pressing situations and shows his qualities in how he adjusts his position as well.
Leon Goretzka possesses a variety of qualities that are already at a high level. In Munich he will want to make the next step in his development. Players like Joshua Kimmich or Niklas Süle can be examples for him here. Which position he eventually occupies will of course depend on Niko Kovac’s preferences. Similar to Joshua Kimmich, the 23-year-old has the advantage that he can play in many positions.
In the first season we can assume that Goretzka won’t yet be a key player. He’ll probably compete with Tolisso for his minutes. The ideal position for him would be as a deep-lying midfielder alongside a player who structures the build-up play. Thiago would be the ideal candidate for that. A midfield consisting of Goretzka and Tolisso/Vidal wouldn’t offer enough technical solutions in the build-up. Of course, Goretzka could also play as an attacking midfielder with James, but that depends on Niko Kovac’s concrete ideas.
In the long-term, though, I think Goretzka has it in him to make himself a key player and, like Joshua Kimmich, have a big influence on FC Bayern’s game. To make the jump to absolute world class, he has to get a bit better in all areas of his game and develop more consistency in his performance. A coach who integrates his qualities suitably into the system, in particular his dribbling and forward thrusts, is essential.