soccer

Players to Watch in the Round of 16 – Raphaël Guerreiro

With a very mature sense for defense and a keen eye for the goal, Raphaël Guerreiro completes a highly compact Borussia Dortmund squad, which in the 2018 Champions League Group Stage have surprised and excited with an emulation of the 2012-2013 successful Dortmund line-up.

Although he has been playing for the German giants since 2016, Guerreiro has just started to showcase a catalogue of skills that have patched up the defensive line and tallied up goals not only domestically, but also in Europe. From the Round of 16 draw, we learned that Tottenham will be Dortmund’s obstacle for the quarterfinals stage, making it not only an interesting pair of matches to watch, but also a great way for young talents like Raphaël Guerreiro to be under the pressure of a highly competitive bout.

The 24-year-old Portuguese national came to prominence during the 2016 UEFA Euro in France, when he was nominated for the Young Player of the Tournament award after Portugal were crowned European champions. Borussia Dortmund showed no hesitation to snatch the young talent from Lorient, where he took the left-back position, strictly concentrating on defensive line.

Guerreiro during the 2016 Euro Final against France

During the 2018 World Cup, he was picked up by Fernando Santos to represent Portugal in Russia, and having shown promise at Dortmund, the 24-year-old’s name didn’t fail to be mentioned. However, his injuries held him from making an impact, being remembered only for the fact that he played for a national team whose language he couldn’t speak (Guerreiro is French-born and raised, but Portuguese from his father’s side).

In the 2018-2019 Champions League season, Guerreiro has taken a more advanced position at Dortmund, fact which allowed him to score four times in six matches. With his pace and technical fluency, he is able to not only defend and disrupt any opposing attacks, but also exhibit confidence in placing the opponent’s defense in a tough situation by cutting towards the center and taking goal-scoring shots.

As is often fashionable for Dortmund and German teams in general, every player in the team serves a single purpose, with the collective mechanism delivering the productive end effort. In this role-playing scheme, Guerreiro seems to fit well as his versatility has allowed him to keep either a left-back position, or start from the left wing to assist forwards like Marco Reus, or the newly brought-in — Paco Alcácer.

Guerreiro taking his second strike that was converted into a goal against A. Madrid during the CL group stage

Guerreiro’s two goals against Monaco in the Champions League Group Stage do speak for his consistency, but the goals against Atlético Madrid on MD 3 truly showcase his knack for goal-scoring positioning. As each line of attack progresses its movement towards the opponent’s goal, Guerreiro knows when to leave the left wing and place himself either where his teammates need him to be, or where he can take advantage of opposing mistakes.

Often, his goals were scored from close range — his readiness coming from within the penalty area. With the reaction time of a striker, he could become dangerous even in cases when his services could be utilized as that of a forward rather than coming from the left wing. 

While his rap sheet comes with many aspects of praise, he does have setbacks that could use improvement in the long run. A standout example has to be his shooting, which shows promise, but needs calibrating for him to be able to add that aspect of the game to his arsenal. The fact could make him a dangerous asset for his team in the Round of 16, when mistakes of selfishness can very well cost the game.

After Monday’s draw, Dortmund is looking at Tottenham as their opponent. Since Guerreiro has consistently moved up the field lately, Mauricio Pochettino will have to rely on Belgian Toby Alderweireld to stop the young Portuguese’s advances. Alderweireld has proven to be a highly attentive defender, with skill that has Manchester United knocking on Tottenham’s door for his services. Since Guerreiro is a player that prefers shots from within the penalty box, he would best be utilized as a left midfielder than a winger. In the end, it will be up to Lucien Favre what to do with the Portuguese.

Guerreiro defending against Son Heung-min during the 2017 group stage

This isn’t the first time that Guerreiro and Dortmund face Tottenham. In the 2017 group stage, they faced a much better prepared Tottenham side, which in the end was able to bump them down to the Europa League. Guerreiro held a much defensive position then, not being able to contain Son Heung-min’s efforts in both group games. The latter was able to score in both games, proving then for Guerreiro to have more to learn about his game.

This time around, Guerreiro has the higher ground on a personal level, since he has found a more comfortable position playing further up the field. Of course, some alleviation of pressure has to be taken into account, given the difference in the quality of both teams. 

In the Round of 16, although the matchup against a struggling team like Tottenham makes Dortmund look like a sure winner, Guerreiro and co. will still have to put up their best efforts to make sure a qualifying result is obtained. After all, the English squad, led by Harry Kane, have proven to have luck on their side, making any scenario possible. 

Cover photo: images.performgroup.com
Euro 2016 photo: sport360.com
A. Madrid goal photo: ecestaticos.com

2017 group stage photo: zimbio.com

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