It has been a long road back for Gonçalo Guedes, but the Valencia CF winger is blossoming into the consistently decisive player he promised to become since arriving in Spain in 2017.
The Portuguese forward has hit a personal record of 10 goals in LaLiga this season and his resurgence has helped Valencia pick themselves up after a chastening run of seven winless games in the top flight. Guedes’s strike against Athletic Club last week propelled his team into the Copa del Rey final and he broke the deadlock against Granada CF with a powerful header this Saturday to lift Valencia into ninth place.
While earning European football next season via league classification looks tough – Valencia are eight points behind sixth-place Real Sociedad – they can still win the Copa del Rey to qualify for the Europa League. Coach Jose Bordalas will be determined to chase down Athletic Club and Villarreal CF ahead of them in the table and secure their highest finish since Marcelino was in charge.
When Guedes first landed on loan from Paris Saint-Germain, then-Valencia coach Marcelino quickly harnessed his talent to help inspire the Che to fourth-place in LaLiga. The young forward racked up 11 assists and scored five goals, thrilling with his direct and explosive dribbling, and Valencia paid € 40 million to keep him. However, his second season was disrupted by an ankle injury, although he did manage to add another five goals and featured in the 2019 Copa del Rey final win over FC Barcelona.
The subsequent two campaigns were frustrating for Guedes and Valencia, with coaches Albert Celades and Javi Gracia unable to coax the best out of their undoubtedly talented but inconsistent asset. The team struggled, finishing ninth and 13th, ultimately leading to Bordalas’s appointment in May 2021.
The story started to change for Guedes shortly before then, with his stunning stoppage-time winner against Villarreal in March last season setting him on his current path. Guedes netted from distance against Real Betis, grabbed a brace against SD Eibar and set up four goals, having only scored and assisted once each in the six months prior.
This run of form encouraged Bordalas to keep Guedes, with Valencia rejecting offers during the summer, and it proved a wise decision. The coach restored his confidence and gave him a freer role as a secondary striker, while encouraging him to work hard out of possession. Parallels can be drawn with Yannick Carrasco’s improvement at Atlético de Madrid, with the Belgian a similarly exciting player, helped to improve and become more consistent by Diego Simeone.
Guedes looks focused and committed, helping to lead the press high up the pitch and track back when required. After that, all that’s left is for Guedes to enjoy himself on the pitch, and for Valencia to enjoy his quality.
The Portuguese can shoot viciously from distance, something Athletic Club suffered in the Copa del Rey semi-final. Guedes’s quickly-taken cannonball strike left goalkeeper Julen Agirrezabala with no chance. Even during Valencia’s run of seven winless games in LaLiga, Guedes contributed goals against Real Madrid, Sevilla FC and Deportivo Alavés.
The roots of Valencia’s rally can be traced back to their 4-1 defeat to Barcelona at Mestalla. The scoreline was harsh on Bordalas’s side, who put on an intense display which was only stifled when Pedri’s long-range rocket clipped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and flew into the net, shutting the door on a potential comeback.
With the team still believing, bolstered by winter arrivals of Bryan Gil and Ilaix Moriba, and Guedes reaching his best form, finally the results they craved came. Valencia beat RCD Mallorca 1-0 at Son Moix, with Guedes kept in cotton wool for the Athletic clash.
His strike settled that, then he opened the scoring against Granada for his 10th league goal, doubling his second-best tallies of five in the 20-21, 18-19 and 17-18 campaigns.
“I want to get to 10 goals, but it’s not easy,” Guedes said in December, and he has hit his target already, with Che fans wondering how much further he and Valencia can go.
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