Born in Catalonia, Gerard Moreno’s youth career was irregular yet orthodox. The Catalan began his youth development in 2000 at 8 years old for regional youth side CF Damm. Damm would later aid in the development of players such as Keita Balde and Aleix Vidal, so it was a good foundation for the young Spaniard. After a year at Damm, little Moreno was spotted by scouts for larger regional club, RCD Espanyol. Whilst difficult to convince his parents at first, they eventually approved the move. Moreno’s parents would not regret it as Gerard won the youth league, Catalan championship and international tournaments with the Espanyol youth team.

At 15, Moreno would move on to third-tier side, CF Badalona. Badalona, also a regional side in Catalonia, provided more opportunities for game time in their youth setup than Espanyol offered Gerard. After 3 years of development, Gerard evolved into a goal-scoring machine with 41 goals in 34 games in the 2009/10 National Youth League. His form attracted the interest of Spain’s bigger sides, and he signed for Villarreal at 18 years old. It took a few years for the striker to acclimatize to men’s football, playing for various levels of El Submarino Amarillo’s reserve teams until 2012. In this period, he scored 45 goals for Villarreal’s B and C teams.

This prompted a promotion to the first team in 2012/13, with Villarreal then in the Segunda division. Gerard grasped his opportunity and impressed, with five goal involvements in 629 minutes of football, starting eight games. The Spaniard’s career development was hitherto steady, but maybe too slow to be noticed by Spain national youth team coaches. He was never called up at all youth levels. Moreno’s impressive step up to the first team meant he wanted more game time, and this led to a loan to Mallorca in the Segunda in 2013/14. On the Spanish island, Gerard impressed with 16 goal involvements in over 2,000 minutes of football. His performances on loan cemented his spot in the first team upon returning to Villarreal. 

Gerard Moreno’s first season in LaLiga was in 2014/15. After 19 starts and 1,615 minutes in LaLiga, he contributed 10 goal involvements that season. After the yellow submarine finished 6th , they subsequently strengthened in attack with the arrivals of Roberto Soldado and Cedric Bakumbu. This meant Moreno had to leave for more first-team minutes. He returned to Espanyol in August 2015, with La Bamnidazoles acquiring 50% of his player rights for €1.5m. The Catalan shone in his native region, with 36 goals across three LaLiga seasons. Playing as either a sole No 9, in a two-man strike force or on the right-hand side, Moreno was often the danger man.

Villarreal eventually returned for Gerard in June 2018, paying Espanyol €20m for the 50% the Catalan club owned. He has scored 36 goals in two and a half years years at Estadio de la Cerámica, finishing as the highest-scoring Spaniard in 2019/20 with 18 league goals. His first Spain cap came in 2019 at 27 years old, he now has four goals in nine games for La Roja.

STYLE OF PLAY

Moreno is a technical and physically competent striker, who can act as a target man for long balls but is more likely to be found on the shoulder of either centre-back. He is clever in his movement, often staying in the channels between centre-back and full back or between centre-backs. While in these channels, he gains separation from the defender by either blind-side runs into open space or delaying his run to exploit the space in front of the defence. His tendency to stay in the half space between defenders and ability to create separation are illustrated best in his goal against Huesca in 2018/19 below.

Another example of the Spaniard’s clever movement is in his goal below for Espanyol vs Las Palmas in 2016/17; delaying his run into the box, Gerard then feints a far post run before using the space vacated by the deceived Las Palmas midfielder to score from just inside the box.

The Spaniard is a multifaceted finisher, with a wide range of methods to convert his chances. He’s capable with either foot; his head; from set-pieces etc. Volleys aren’t a problem, whilst neither are curled finesse shots, power shots or chipped shots. At 5ft 11, Moreno also has the frame and strength in which he can shield the ball from opposition players. He can act as an avenue for hold-up play and link play with his aerial presence, close control and aforementioned frame. However, this doesn’t affect his ability to accelerate into space beyond the defenders when through balls are played in behind for him. 

Below in 2018/19 vs Rayo Vallecano, Moreno showed good pace and acceleration to attack the space left by the Rayo right-back for a through ball, in the channel between centre-back and full-back. The Spaniard then flaunted his good first touch to keep the ball going forward in his stride before finishing with his side-foot into the right corner with his left foot.

Moreno’s wide array of finishing brings about a composure in the Spanish striker when chances fall to him. It isn’t about if he will score, but rather in what way. His composure is evident in his multiple goals against higher-quality opposition such as Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Sevilla. An accomplished dribbler, the Catalan is able to shift the ball out of his feet quickly when necessary to make an inch for shots. His quick feet also facilitate escaping tight spaces or multiple defenders. While not the tallest striker, Moreno has good height to his leap and uses intelligent timing to win headers in the opposition box. This makes him especially dangerous from set-pieces and crosses into the box. 

In his goal vs Malaga in 2016/17 below, he signals to the set-piece taker where he wants the balls delivered before his well-timed leap leads to perfect contact to guide the cross to goal.

He will often hang off the shoulder of the smallest defender in the defensive line to take advantage of the height disparity.

An alert player, Gerard can often be seen winning the ball back high up the pitch due to intelligent pressuring of the ball as well as good anticipation from opposition mistakes. These qualities were evident as far back as 2014/15, with his goal for Villarreal below against Málaga illustrating his ability to read the play, adjust his body shape and intercept before showing composure to chip the ‘keeper.

Moreno is a classic No 9 in his movement with above-average technical ability and good physical attributes. He can also play on the right side of the attack.

ROLE FOR VILLARREAL IN 2020/21

El Submarino Amarillo are ranked 5th for possession in LaLiga with 55.9% in 2020/21, yet rank 11th for PPDA in La Liga with 10.13 PPDA. Gerard is in a team proficient at keeping the ball, with a decent but not suffocating press. The time Villarreal get on the ball is effective though, with the side ranking 6th for progressive passes per 90 with 35.1. The yellow submarine have usually played with either a 4-3-3, 4-1-4-1 or variations of the 4-4-2. Moreno has been tasked to play on the right-side of the attack by Unai Emery almost as often as he has led the line for Villarreal. He has 12 goals in 17 LaLiga starts.

As a striker for the side, he plays as stated above in his style of play. As a right-sided attacker, Moreno often drifts into the channel between full-back and centre-back, looking to get on to through balls into the half-spaces from midfielders like Dani Parejo. Emery also gives the Catalan attacker license to roam across the front line looking for space in the defensive line to exploit with his runs. Moreno has been effective on the right side too, with seven goal involvements this season from that side of the field. He is the primary penalty taker for the side and has scored four from four attempts, illustrating the trust the team and manager have in him. Moreno has over 20% of Villareal’s shots and shots on target in LaLiga this season, with 35% of his open play shots resulting in goals. His npxG/90 of 0.36 is the highest in the Villarreal squad for any player with over 1,000 minutes in LaLiga.

FUTURE PROSPECTS

With over 70 goals in LaLiga and nine caps for the Spanish national team in the last three years; Gerard Moreno has become a household name in Spain and prolific goalscorer in the top division. Currently 28 years old and at the peak of his powers, there is an opportunity for Moreno to potentially play a huge part in the Euros this summer for La Roja. Having starred for midtable Espanyol and Europa League perennials Villarreal, the Catalan attacker could step up even further if a bigger team took interest in the crafty forward. Moreno has experience being overlooked in the past though. However, like in his youth career, he will just get his head down and hone his craft until the opportunity has to come his way.

Aanu Omorodion