27-year-old Gerard Moreno has hardly got the attention he deserves. Despite being involved in nine goals for Villarreal in La Liga this season, fans haven’t paid too much attention to the way the Catalonian has started his campaign.
Moreno was directly involved in nine goals till the end of last season- a tally that he has already achieved this season. Seven of them have been goals and two have been assists.
The way he is playing suggests that he could easily go past his highest-scoring tally of a season. Moreno scored 16 goals for Espanyol in the 2017-18 campaign, assisting once. With 28 games yet to be played, that seems like a real possibility this season.
Since joining Villarreal in the summer of 2018, Moreno has been key for the Yellow Submarines. His goals helped them survive relegation by just seven points last season. In the Europa League, Moreno was important in taking the club to the quarter-final of the competition, scoring four times.
He predominantly played up front in either a 4-3-3 shape or with Karl Toko Ekambi in a 4-4-2 shape. The club often played a 3-5-2 shape, but that also saw Moreno and Ekambi pair up as the two strikers.
This season, Moreno has also played on the right flank in a 4-2-3-1 shape. When either Carlos Bacca or Ekambi play up front, Moreno adds pace and directness on the right. His ability to take on defences has been key for Javier Calleja’s men.
Moreno is more than just a goalscorer. He is a near-complete forward player who can do just about everything. Playing up front or as the left striker in a two-striker formation helps him at that. The fact that he has the pace to run in-behind constantly is his most important skill.
While Santi Cazorla has probably been El Submarí Groguet’s most important player, Moreno adds goals. The former Arsenal man has played 3 key passes per game for Villarreal, but Moreno is close second at 2.4.
Moreno has been the club’s fourth-best dribbles this season at 1.5, behind Cazorla, Ekambi and Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa. The former Espanyol man has also won the fourth-most aerial duels per game- a clear sign of his completeness as a forward player.
His involvement in goals and their creation stands at 0.24. That isn’t a great number but Moreno doesn’t pass the ball too often, playing an average of only 28.4 passes per game. Playing up front on the right can lead to him being a lone man in that position. But when on the ball, he makes a difference more often than not.
He cuts inside regularly and picks up central areas, even though he can be mostly seen on the right flank. He doesn’t scare away from roaming in the left-central quadrant of the pitch.
His heatmap in Villarreal’s recent 4-1 win over Alaves shows that. The former Catalonia international scored once and assisted once, while Ekambi grabbed a brace. Moreno played only 21 accurate passes, but three of them were key-passes. He also completed all three of his attempted dribbles.
This shows that the Spaniard is a player with high-productivity, even though he seems to get involved less on paper. He achieves high numbers even though he doesn’t try much- a rare ability in that Villarreal side.
This season will only increase the attention he gets. As much as he deserves it, he needs an environment like the one at El Madrigal – he needs freedom and the license to move about freely in the final third. Otherwise, his abilities will be restricted.
Attention from clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid could well come soon. But he should need assurances of freedom – something he would not get at the Nou Camp due to the number of superstar players in the team. But he could be a good signing for Real, considering how Karim Benzema’s movement allows wide players to run in-behind directly.
As things stand, Moreno still has a lot to prove. But he seems on his way to scoring 15-20 goals this season.