Enner Valencia became a free agent this summer after completing three seasons at LigaMX side Tigres UANL, helping them to the 2017/18 Apertura title and the 2018/19 Clausura, as well as two ‘Champion of champions’ trophies. He moved there following mixed spells at both West Ham and Everton in the Premier League, after impressing in the 2014 World Cup for Ecuador.
The unorthodox striker come winger experienced a difficult Apertura and Clausura for Tigres last season, scoring only 1 goal in 18 starts. He is now 30 years old and past his peak but appears to have been given another lifeline in Europe by Turkish giants Fenerbahçe.
In this tactical analysis we will analyse how to get the best out of the Ecuadorian forward and assess whether or not he can still add value from an offensive point of view with analysis of his tactics.
Valencia is a very versatile forward and certainly cannot be labelled as a textbook ‘number 9’. As the heat map shows, under Ricardo Ferretti at Tigres he could often be found playing on the right side of a 4-2-3-1 or as a supporting striker in a 4-4-2. His lack of physical presence perhaps means managers have overlooked him as an out and out striker but his athleticism and ability on the ball means he can adopt wide positions, relying on his dribbling ability to progress the team up the pitch.
As the heat map also suggests, he has an influence inside the penalty area too and manages to get a lot of touches centrally despite starting from a wide position. To further demonstrate the versatility of his play, Valencia ranked in the top 15 for both crosses (2.6 per 90) and touches in the opposition penalty area (3.78 per 90). This highlights his involvement across multiple areas of the pitch, however during the 19/20 season he was certainly more effective in the build-up play as opposed to finishing chances himself. He ranked third amongst all forwards and wingers in the LigaMX for second assists (i.e. the pass before the assist) with 3 and recorded 3 assists, portraying his playmaking capabilities.
During the most part of the Clausura, Ferretti deployed Valencia alongside the prolific Frenchman André-Pierre Gignac and gave him the licence to pull into deep and wide positions. In this way, Valencia could occupy defenders, allowing more space for the more clinical French striker to finish chances in the box. This is where he has been most effective from a play-making perspective.
As can be seen in the image below, Valencia draws defenders by demanding the ball in wide areas and dribbling directly. He is able to create space for his strike partner as both the LB and LCB are forced to shift across. Gignac then arrives late in the box, exploiting the space left behind the LCB and buries Valencia’s accurate low cross.
In addition to creating opportunities from a wide area with the ball at his feet, Valencia is also intelligent without the ball and can often go unnoticed when drifting into the penalty area from a wide position. His high volume of touches in the opposition penalty area is a result of his ability to find space in tight areas. He needs to convert more of these touches into goal contributions but there is evidence that he can be dangerous.
As the above passage of play shows, the Ecuadorian is disciplined enough to hold his width whilst his team are in possession on the other flank.
Tigres lose possession but Valencia has the awareness to stay onside, whilst still maintaining his wide position on the blind side of the defender. This makes it very difficult to track his next movement and react to it.
When Tigres then turn the ball over again and counter-attack, Valencia cleverly bends his run, taking advantage of the full-back’s lack of vision and stationary position. The run is not seen, and he exploits the gap between full-back and centre-back in the centre of the penalty area to get on the end of the cross and finish the move.
Enner Valencia should have no problem re-adapting to Europe as this role suited him whilst playing in the Premier League for West Ham United too. He formed a successful partnership with Diafra Sakho, and the pair were very effective in a 4-4-2 formation for Sam Allardyce, contributing 14 goals and 5 assists between them in the 2014/15 season, with Valencia’s selfless play allowing Sakho to have the fair share (10).
Out of possession
Another strength of Valencia’s is his work rate when his team are out of possession. His nimble frame allows him to cover ground quickly, which makes him effective in pressing and recovering the ball high up the pitch. He ranked in the top 20 for recoveries in the final third in Liga MX last season, averaging 1.36 per 90. What’s more impressive is that often, these recoveries led to shots afterwards, demonstrating his value added to his team when out of possession. The majority of the recoveries as seen in the graphic below are on the right side of the pitch as this is where Valencia was predominantly utilised during his final season at Tigres. However, as seen by both formations above, he is also very comfortable operating on the left side of the pitch.
This would be of particular interest to Fenerbahçe fans as this is an area where their team struggled last season. As can be seen in the graphic below, the Turkish side lacked aggression in the final third and ranked below the league average for successful recoveries in that area. Only 2.9% of their ball recoveries came in the left side of the attacking third, Valencia’s versatility to play anywhere across the front three could see him being deployed in this area in order to win possession back higher up the pitch. Teams who want to be challenging towards the top of their respective leagues should expect to rank above average in terms of ball recoveries high up the pitch, based on the natural dominance of their play.Here, we can see an example of Valencia pressing high up the pitch, anticipating a loose touch and successfully recovering the ball in the attacking third. This example shows the Ecuadorian covering the left flank, where Fenerbahçe were poor at winning back possession last season.
Valencia presses the defender
The athletic frontman certainly adds value to his teams when out of possession and Fenerbahçe could benefit from his versatility across the front line and determination to win the ball back high up the pitch. One thing he could improve on, is his decision making once he does successfully recover the ball back. He ranked poorly in terms of passing accuracy (75.86%) and progressive passes per 90 (1.45) over the course of last season. When compared to all of the wingers used by Fenerbahçe, youngster Ferdi Kadioglu (85%), Turkish winger Deniz Türüç (80%) and the more experienced Garry Rodrigues (82%), were better at maintaining possession.
This is partially down to his tendency to prefer to dribble (5.86 dribbles per 90 at a success rate of 45%) and which he does successfully, but he would need to improve this side of his game in order to break into the starting XI next season.
Fenerbahçe line up over the last 5 games of last season
The three mentioned wingers rotated between the starting positions on either flank of a 4-2-3-1 formation, most commonly used by manager and former player Erol Bulut. All wingers provided a decent goal return last season, with each scoring over 3, better than Valencia’s return of just the singular goal. The goal output and passing accuracy are two areas that Valencia will have to improve if he wants to cement his place in the team.
He is inconsistent in his goal output as he has managed double figures on two separate occasions, both in Liga MX for Pachuca at the start of his career (12 goals) and more recently in the title winning campaign of 2017/18 where he managed the same number. This is a result of his poor decision making in the final third and his rashness in front of goal. He has lacked the clinical finishing to become a consistent number 9 throughout his career and has therefore been forced to utilise his athleticism and dribbling ability in wider positions over the years. He appears to struggle when he has time to think about his next move and often plays better on instinct. He could just as easily hit a 30-yard screamer into the top corner as he could miss an open goal – he is that type of player.
Below, we are going to look at two examples where Valencia lacks composure in the final third in both his passing and finishing:
Valencia finds space well and is about to be played in by his teammate and has a clear route to goal
Valencia has the ball under control and a free shot on goal from the edge of the penalty area, there is an obvious gap to the left of the keeper to place the ball into the net
He is unable to calmly and clinically place the ball into the corner and instead lashes at it. The ball goes high and central, very comfortable for the keeper to save.
In this second example, we can analyse an instance where his lack of composure when making, what should have been, a relatively simple pass to create a goal:
Here Valencia receives the ball from a goalkeeping error and is clean through on goal with a player in support
Valencia could shoot here but the better option is to play a simple lay-off pass for the on-running strike partner to finish into an empty net
Valencia takes the right option by passing, but he overhits it and leaves his strike partner with an almost impossible angle to score. He has to stretch just to make contact with the ball highlighting the poor weight of the pass.
These two instances highlight perhaps the biggest weakness in Enner Valencia’s game: his lack of consistency in producing high quality actions. This is why he has never fully established himself as first-team regular in Europe’s top leagues. Missing simple chances and wasting great passing opportunities as in these examples occur too frequently within the forward player’s overall player and arguably take away from the excellent work-rate and chance creation that he offers from both central and wide positions.
At the age of 30, this will undoubtedly be Valencia’s final shot at success in Europe. This tactical analysis has shown that he certainly has the work-rate and athleticism to adapt to the physicality of the league, as he did before in England. However, in order to have a true offensive impact and cement himself as a starter, he will need to be more composed and clinical. One positive is of course his ability to recover possession high up the pitch, which is a weakness of Fenerbahçe’s. He also does possess the ability to produce moments of magic and can create and score chances from nothing at times, but ultimately he needs to be consistent in the basics such as finishing and passing in order to sustain strong performances.