Last season, Gian-Luca Waldschmidt broke onto the scene with nine goals and one assist in Bundesliga. This was followed by an outstanding 2019 UEFA European Under-21 Championship with seven goals scored in five games. Despite his performances, Freiburg only finished 13th last season. A rather disappointing season.
However, things have changed this campaign. With nine games left in the league before the COVID-19 outbreak started, Freiburg already equalled their point tally from last season. And Waldschmidt, Freiburg’s second-best goalscorer this term, has played a big part in it.
Despite an injury who kept him away from the pitch for 11 games, the 23-year-old has still been able to show why clubs such as Chelsea are interested in him.
Waldschmidt is 23 years old. This is his second season at Freiburg. This season, he has played 915 minutes in Bundesliga due to an injury. Nevertheless, he still has scored one goal every 173 minutes. He has 4.43 expected goal contributions this season, which equals to 0.43 expected goal contributions per 90 minutes.
It is a very good return for a player in a mid-table side. Indeed, despite three of his five goals coming from a penalty, the German forward is contributing to 15% of his team’s league goals.
But what stands out isn’t his goalscoring ability. This is his versatility. Waldschmidt isn’t different from all the forwards Germany has seen over the years. Kevin Volland, Thomas Müller from Bayern Munich, or Kai Havertz. All of them can play everywhere across the front three and Waldschmidt is built in the same mould.
As seen above, the he moves everywhere across the front three. He is being allocated to quite a few different areas and has different roles. He has predominantly played as a centre-forward this season but he has also played 30% of his game time as a second striker.
This adds to his usefulness for Freiburg. Indeed, having versatile players in a team with less depth can cover for injuries or provide a different gameplan to help being less predictable.
His false 9 role
Despite drawing attention with his goalscoring prowess last summer, Waldschmidt only has scored two goals from open play in the league this season. Although he plays as a centre-forward, the German striker isn’t necessarily a goalscorer. This is explained by his style of play. Indeed, the 23 years old likes to drop deep to receive the ball. When a player drops deep, he often draws players out. As a result, it creates space for his teammates to run into.
This is why a false nine, Waldschmidt’s main role at Freiburg, has to possess attributes such as good passing ability or close control and turn if he wants to be effective. Firstly, we will talk about his close control. If you want to find your teammates into space, you have to receive and be able to keep the ball close to your feet. With this first touch, you also need the right timing to reach your teammate. And the German forward has very good close control.
However, despite having a good passing rate of 79.44%, he struggles to reach his teammates when they run into space. Both pictures below are a great encapsulation of this.
The German forward drops deep to receive the ball and turns on the left to find his full-back. Unfortunately, he doesn’t weight his pass well enough and doesn’t reach his target.
But Waldschmidt also likes to drop in midfield to help his team’s ball progression.
He drops deep and has multiple solutions. He can turn and create a triangle on the left side. He also has a triangle a bit deeper with one of his teammates free in the middle. Both situations can help his team’s ball progression.
He decided to turn to face the goal and pass it to one of his teammates. This is highlighted below. Then, he is able to receive it back and drive into free space. This is how you help your teammates progressing the ball. Nonetheless, you can see that he is the furthest Freiburg player forward. This is a bad thing as you would want a runner in behind on the other side. This is where playing in a better system with better players can help.
Finally, another part of his game who helps him and his team is his spatial awareness. He is aware of where his teammates are on the pitch but also where his opponents are. It helps him taking the best decision within a very short time. Below, the ball is coming from the right. Most forwards will take a touch to control it then try to dribble past their opponent. They will attract their opponent closer to them and will eventually lose it.
Waldschmidt decided to do things differently. Indeed, he used his body to wait for the ball to be on his left foot. Then, he followed this with a little touch on his left to dribble past the Borussia Dortmund defender to take the shot. He scored.
The German forward doesn’t score a lot from open play but he is able to contribute for his team in many different ways. That is why he can be useful. He provides Something different.
Not the complete package yet
We already established that Waldschmidt doesn’t score a lot of goals because of his false nine positioning on the pitch. But he also needs to make more runs in behind his opponent’s defensive line. It will help his team to have more space in the middle of the pitch by stretching their lines. It will buy them time to take the ball and make things happen further forward. That is why the 23 years old should try to make more than his 1.04 progressive runs per 90 minutes.
Furthermore, he knows how to make these progressive runs in the right timing. This is shown below. The German sees space in between Borussia Dortmund centre-backs and decides to make a run in behind. He is able to receive the ball in the box and take a shot. Unfortunately, he didn’t score.
But another reason as to why Waldschmidt isn’t scoring enough goals is because he isn’t clinical inside the penalty area. Since he is at Freiburg, Waldschmidt has scored 14 goals. Among these 14 goals, only three of them are coming from inside the penalty area. This is three goals in 30 shots and his goal conversion rate is only 10%. He must have to improve this side of his game, especially when we see how efficient he is outside the penalty area. It means he knows how to strike the ball but doesn’t know how to find the right angles. We can see it in the picture below. His conversion rate from outside the penalty area is 21.9%.
Finally, the German forward isn’t necessarily the best in aerial duels. Indeed, he is in the last third of Bundesliga center-forwards in terms of aerial duels success rate with 25.81%. Due to this, his team can’t really use him as a target man. Furthermore, Freiburg are using long balls a lot with 28 long balls per game. Therefore, Waldschmidt’s aerial deficiencies hold his team back on the offensive side as they Don’t have another passing option to progress the ball through long passes.
Waldschmidt is playing in a side who doesn’t necessarily press the opponent. They are the third-worst side in terms of pressing intensity with 11.98 PPDA (Passes allowed Per Defensive Actions).
They still try to press their opponent’s centre-back when they are in the build-up but once they are deeper, Freiburg control their opponent and don’t allow passes in the middle, therefore, being exposed. Their centre-forward, Waldschmidt has a major role. He is the one leading the defensive work of his side by being in the first line.
As shown below, Dortmund try to build from the back with their centre-backs and their goalkeeper. The German forward comes from the left and his body orientations are great. He orientates the goalkeeper on the outside and presses very high. The goalkeeper had to quickly find one of his teammates and lost the ball.
When Freiburg defend deeper, he is tasked to close the middle. On the picture below, he presses Mats Hummels, Dortmund centre-back. Hummels had to find a passing option in wide areas and will eventually miss his target. This will be a throw-in for Freiburg. Job done for Waldschmidt.
The 23 years old has to prevent the ball from coming deeper in Freiburg’s half. Sometimes, he only controls his opponent’s centre-backs but he also has to press them when he feels it is required. It’s about timing.
Although he has 4.04 successful defensive duels per 90 minutes, a very good amount for a striker in a team who sits deep, Waldschmidt is far away from his teammate, Nils Petersen. Indeed, Petersen has close to six successful defensive duels per 90 minutes. This is something the 23 years old has to improve on.
In this analysis, we have seen that Gian-Luca Waldschmidt has clearly demonstrated his upsides and a move to a bigger side will help him showcase his attributes. However, if he comes to the Premier League in a club like Chelsea, he wouldn’t be able to warrant a starting spot. He isn’t ready yet. He would still be able to provide something different off the bench thanks to his rare profile and versatility.