When you first see him play, playing an astonishingly accurate cross and without the name on his shirt, you can easily think that it’s a throwback to Joaquín from his days at Valencia. Well, Carlos Soler is quite similar to his older Spanish compatriot. He is a Spanish midfielder born on January 2nd 1997, raised in Valencia since his early years. He has played only for his hometown team since the age of seven. The 22-year-old who plays as a right and central midfielder for the Bats has gained growing interest from top European clubs since last summer. He is well-known for his technical abilities; I will try to figure out, using statistics and tactical analysis, his role and his impact on Valencia F.C.
General tendencies on the pitch
No doubt, Soler is a technically gifted player. He has the classic profile of a Spanish central/attacking midfielder. He likes to pass, keep the ball under pressure and likes to dribble in order to break opponents’ defensive line. Though, alongside these general qualities, he has some differences. Soler started his career as a striker, and even if he doesn’t score a lot of goals, some of his moves and decisions remind us of those of a striker or a winger. Often, he gets the ball on one side and starts a solo and then sends the ball to the box. He attempted on average 1.59 progressive runs/game and 3.3 dribbles/game this season with a success ratio of 65%. This is quite high knowing that the world’s best-dribblers have 70% of their dribbles successful (assuming that Lionel Messi is not part of this world as he has over 80% of success ratio).
In terms of his passing direction, the young Spanish midfielder always looks to send it forward. This season he attempted more than 11 forward passes per game. His Russian team-mate, Denis Cherychev who occupies Valencia’s left side only attempts eight forward passes per game. He had also a lower success rate (75% for the first, 64.8% for the second). The general remark is that when Soler is facing the opponent’s goal he looks generally to go forward. He likes to attack and threaten the opponent rather than giving the ball backwards.
When it comes to goalscoring, I have to say that the statistics are quite disappointing. Soler scores less than what he is expected to do. At least this is what the xG metric says. The Spanish midfielder does score once in every ten matches, this is the worst average of all Valencia’s attacking midfielders.
However, the lack of goals for the midfielder cannot be considered a huge weakness. We will talk later about his most important weaknesses.
For example, Andrés Iniesta is one of the best midfielders in the current era and during one of his best seasons ever 2011-2012 he found the net twice in La Liga that year. However, Soler has a very powerful and accurate right foot which makes it a real loss for his team if he does not profit off this tool.
Soler’s tactical flexibility
As said previously, Soler does have some excellent crossing abilities and is capable of making runs and eliminating his direct opponents. Despite being only 22 years old, the youngster possesses excellent tactical awareness. I will try to show some of the most recurrent situations which he usually analyses well and profits from his positioning and the space around him. When Valencia faces a team who places their midfield line at over 35 meters from their own net, Soler tries to alternate between two roles. He sometimes dribbles up to the line to attract the full-back in order to open space in behind him.
Other times, he tries to offer forward pass solutions for his team-mates. He positions himself at the centre lane between two of the opponent’s midfielders. He also tries to be a presence in behind in order to get enough space to control the ball and attack the byline.
Last but not least, most of the dangerous situations created by Soler often began when he was occupying what I call zone 15 of the pitch.
From that position, Soler scored against Manchester United in a Champions League win at Mestalla. It’s from there he creates many of his assists for Valencia and Spain u21s. Here is his overall heatmap that shows that most of his activity remains very close to this zone.
He often takes advantage of the fact that this zone remains uncovered when the opposing teams get backward. In fact, central defenders and midfielders occupy the centre lane to close the path to their keeper when the ball is in the centre. This opens up the zone 15 for Soler. The opponent’s wide midfielders/wingers try to block the right flank when Valencia’s full-back has the ball there. The rest of the team stays in the penalty box to intercept the cross. These movements do open space in the zone mentioned above.
Weaknesses and areas of improvement
Although being a real talent and getting a continuous progression since his first season at the team, there is still a need for progress for Carlos Soler. One reoccurring error is his poor decision making in leading counter attacks from the right side. The sequence below and the poor decision that Soler makes is not an uncommon one. While holding the ball on the right side of the pitch in a counter-attack, the Valencian talent often misjudges the right moment to send it over the left side. He often continues to progress with the ball at his feet at a medium speed so that the defenders get time to recognise a potential through pass and can act to cut it.
This can be seen as a hesitation problem in such situations, which is quite surprising. These are often considered as the easiest ones for attacking players where there is space and fewer opponents defending. Actually, Soler must be patient in these situations as he does in narrow spaces with less space for him to work around. He needs to find his way according to the ball’s position, his team-mates position, and the opponent’s positions before getting the ball and know exactly what to do when he receives it.
Soler can also progress in terms of defensive contribution. The Spanish midfielder has won only 17% of his defensive duels and less than 1 out of 5 sliding tackles successful. In this area, he still performs better than Cheryshev, but worse than Parejo.
To resume and conclude what has been said, Carlos Soler is a gifted midfielder with some excellent running and crossing skills. He is clever and can accomplish multiple attacking tasks. However, I think this season was not the breakthrough one. He did not get out of the role of the talented youngster to be one of the team’s most decisive players. To do so, the Valencian needs to improve his direct impact on the team’s performance. You are an attacking midfielder and you want to move to Manchester United, PSG or Barcelona? Well, opening spaces for team-mates and having a good positional sense is essential. But you need to show that you can decide a game by yourself. You have to be a little bit more selfish and make things as you want them to be. You need simply more goals and assists on your statistics sheet to grow as a player.