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Analysis: Game-changing Gelson Martins underlines his quality in Leeds friendly

While Gelson Martins has largely been a peripheral figure for Philippe Clement’s AS Monaco this season, it was extremely positive seeing him put his best forward in his team’s smashing 4-2 friendly win vs. Leeds United.

Granted a rare start, it was impressive how he stood up and grasped his opportunity with both hands. Having only made seven appearances all up in Monaco’s competitive fixtures totalling 204 minutes this term, the heavy competition for places, in combination with Clement favouring other options, has meant things haven’t gone as he envisaged yet, especially after he enjoyed such an accomplished 2021/2022 crusade.

Deployed in his preferred right wing station against Leeds, he was a constant thorn in the side of Jesse Marsh’s men, with his multidimensional movement particularly impressive.

Giving his team a persistent source of offensive menace, the former Sporting CP and Atletico Madrid flyer’s variations were integral towards his success. Such a massive threat with his calculated runs in behind, these ensured colleagues had a viable outlet whenever on the ball while stretching the opposition backline horizontally and vertically. 

Timing, angling and directing his bursts shrewdly to target gaps within and down the sides of Leeds’ backline depending if the ball was on the near or far side, they found him a nuisance to combat throughout his time afield. While he was dangerous when holding the width and jetting down the channels, there’s no doubting he was at his most damaging when getting into central areas to attack gaps between markers and when exploiting the blindside of his man.

Nifty blindside run as his marker gets drawn to the ball
Brilliant run in behind to exploit the space

Indeed, the fact both his goal and his assist came about following exceptional blindside runs when Monaco initially built down the left served as a testament to the above. As seen in the graphics below, it’s clear to see how pivotal his smartly timed runs were towards his goal involvements.

Wicked blindside run and finish for his goal
Superbly angled run the catalyst for him assisting Embolo’s second goal

Astutely waiting for his moment to pounce, his depth movements certainly added another dimension to Monaco’s attacking game, which also led to him occupying some quality areas inside the box.

It was also notable how he picked his spots when to edge infield and drop deep with his back to goal to not only get free between the lines, but also to get close to Breel Embolo to combine and form numerical and positional superiorities in midfield.

Smartly finding space between the lines

Doing a good job of linking play, manipulating the Whites’ rearguard, manufacturing space for teammates and placing doubt in the minds of opponents, this element of his game regularly bore fruit. Another key aspect of this was that his indents generated room wide for Ruben Aguilar to overlap and support attacks.

Such a handful with the ball at his feet, this accompanied the aforementioned superbly, for his driving, unpredictable dribbles saw him make plenty of headway. Fast, slick with his first touch and ball control and relishing 1v1s, Martins excelled at outfoxing foes, drawing markers and gaining separation so he could execute his actions coherently.

Hard to read for adversaries due to his distinctive style and the speed in which he changes pace and direction and performs his nifty feints and shimmies, it was a joy to watch his dynamic carries. In addition, his strength, balance and ability to withstand pressure and ride challenges were key strings to his bow.

The man with a keen eye for a pass also impacted proceedings with some incisive through balls in behind, crisp switches of play and measured crosses. Quick to spot runners and duly oblige them, teammates often benefited from his quality service.

Wonderful though ball in behind
Measured through ball

To shine the spotlight on his goal and assist, and the technical execution of these two actions was nothing short of exceptional, as both were first time efforts, which he made look extremely easy despite them being far from it.

By the numbers, his one goal, one assist, 15 accurate passes at 83%, six dribbles, three accurate passes into the area and two touches inside the box punctuated his positive body of work.

Martins’ Heat Map vs. Leeds

After such an enterprising night at the office, it’ll be interesting to see if the fresh, fully fit and firing Martins, who didn’t go to the World Cup, will be utilised more often in the all-important second half of the campaign.

Only time will tell if he is, but either way, having someone with his experience, capacity to change a game in an instant with a moment of magic and all-round quality coming off the bench or starting matches is a major asset for Clement. 

However things pan out for him, Martins nonetheless deserves credit for doing everything in his power to impress his coach vs. this talented Leeds team, in his quest to play a bigger role in 2023.