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A player that has rightly been lavished with praise recently is none other than Morgan Gibbs-White. The Wolves Academy graduate put in a sublime performance against Chelsea which got a few people in the media purring about him. In some instances, he was mentioned in the same breath as Jadon Sancho. Is it probably a bit too soon for that? 100%. Will he reach that level eventually? It’d take a brave man to bet against it.
Gibbs-White, who is only 18, thrived in a more advanced position against Chelsea after having brief cameos in a deeper role, essentially in the midfield two protecting the defence. For a while, it had been mooted that Morgan Gibbs-White wasn’t being utilised properly by Nuno, but the problem was that Wolves don’t play a system which particularly suits Gibbs-White. Well, that was until Wolves faced Chelsea at Molineux a week ago today.
Gibbs-White played centrally between the midfield two and attacking two, effectively the number ten role, if you would. Now, what we are going to do today is look at his performance against Chelsea in a little more detail, but before that, we are going to look at how Gibbs-White fared for England U17 in the successful World Cup campaign and then compare the two. Sound fair enough? Smashing.
Regardless of whether or not Gibbs-White starts or comes off the bench, one trait Gibbs-White has never been lacking is confidence. His ability to pick out a pass is there for all to see, however, to have the belief to try some of the passes he plays is a credit in itself. Of course, we’ve got some examples to look at. Before we get stuck into Gibbs-White’s range of passing, let’s view his heat map from the U17 World Cup.
There are not many blades of grass that Gibbs-White hasn’t touched. When you consider that he was playing as an attacking midfielder in the two games he started as well, the heat map is all the more extraordinary. He only started the last three games at the World Cup and he scored in two of those. Rather than looking at his goals straight away, let’s enjoy a couple of his passes from the group stage.
Pass & Move
As is illustrated above Gibbs-White has found a pocket of space as Foden plays the ball backwards. We’ve seen this in the Premier League this year when Gibbs-White has come on to play in front of the back four. Naturally, he’s better playing further forward, although you can see his quality here. After he picks the ball up and passes, he’s on the search once again.
After playing the ball to George McEachran, Gibbs-White doesn’t immediately drop deep to show as an option. If he was to do this, Chile’s #20 would be more inclined to pick him up. Intelligence beyond his years. He’s watching where the ball is, knowing that his next move is coming any minute now. It doesn’t take long for the ball to arrive back at the Wolves’ player and it’s then that he produces a defence-splitting pass.
Despite having a Chilean player in his ‘personal space’, Gibbs-White remains as cool as a cucumber before delicately playing Rhian Brewster in with a delightfully-weighted pass. If you recall, it’s not too different to the ball that Gibbs-White played to Jimenez for the equaliser against Chelsea. As the story goes, the Wolves number 17 has a habit of making those sort of passes. We only need to fast forward to the game vs Iraq, which was six days later, to see another example.
Split the pack
It’s not overly apparent what position Gibbs-White is operating here, yes he seems to be part of a midfield three, but it could easily be a diamond. Never mind, the shape of the England side isn’t important, it’s just Gibbs-White’s position that we need to take note of. What this shows is that if necessary, Nuno could perhaps revert to a 4-3-3 and Gibbs- White could do more than a decent job there.
One of the recurring features of the youngster’s game, as well as his passing, is his knack of driving forward with the ball at his feet. Here, he collects the ball before bursting into the area in front of him. Once more, he plays a tantalising through ball.
Realistically speaking, Gibbs-White has three possible options. Truth be told, if he was to go for either of the red arrows, the Iraqis would have a fighting chance. Gibbs-White goes for the white option, splits the Iraq defence and yet again, England are through on goal after a wonderful pass from the Wolves man.
Rewarded for his efforts
After the odd 20 minutes here and there, Gibbs-White was given a starting berth in the final against Spain. With the score 2-1 in Spain’s favour, England needed someone to step up. Someone to stand up and be counted. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Playing in a more advanced position, Gibbs-White was basically a centre-forward once England went behind and he showed the composure of a seasoned veteran to draw England level.
Steven Sessegnon plays the ball into Phil Foden before motoring down the right-hand side. Foden’s pinpoint pass finds the Fulham man and Gibbs-White is the only one who seemingly reacts to the quick interchange between Foden and Sessegnon.
We’ll give the defensive Spanish pairing of Hugo Guillamon and Victor Chust the benefit of the doubt here and put the goal down to Gibbs-White’s movement. As you can imagine, Gibbs-White is only too happy to oblige when the ball is played across to him and he draws England level. In case you’d forgotten, after Gibbs-White equalised, England went on to score another three as they won the final 5-2. There was a plan in place to look at his goal vs the USA as well, but seeing as the goal against Spain was in the final, we’ll revert back to his Wolves career thus far.
Nuno has kept him waiting
The final, against Spain, was at the end of October 2017. With Wolves on such a good run of form, Gibbs-White was kept waiting until 20 January until he got any game time. It wasn’t under the best circumstances, either. He was brought on at halftime against Nottingham Forest after two quick goals from the Reds before the interval put them in control. Nuno decided to put as many attacking players on the pitch as possible and hoped that Wolves would find a way back into the game. That didn’t happen as the scoreline ended the same as it was at the break, 2-0.
A shining light from a somewhat dismal day at Molineux was the introduction of Gibbs-White. In particular, his passing was almost flawless. 28 passes completed out of 29. Don’t believe me? Have a look at his pass map from that very game.
It proved to be a false dawn of sorts as Gibbs-White would have to wait until the final day of last season to get his first start. That resulted in a 3-0 defeat away at already relegated Sunderland, on a day when the majority of the Wolves team were already on the beach.
Patience is key
Gibbs-White has been around the first team squad more often than not this season which shows that he’s highly rated by the Wolves coaching staff. Recently, he was brought off the bench for Joao Moutinho when Wolves found themselves a goal down against Huddersfield. That followed a thunderous drive crashing off the underside of the crossbar at the Emirates and a decent cameo against Spurs, as well. Not a lot went right for Wolves against Huddersfield, but everything started to look up against Chelsea.
Technically speaking, the Chelsea game was Gibbs-White’s first league start under Nuno in a game that mattered as we can all agree that the Sunderland game was nothing more than a training exercise. Playing in front of Saiss and Moutinho, Gibbs-White role was to link up with the aforementioned Moroccan and Portuguese players and also bring Jimenez and Jota into the game. Considering it was the latter two who scored both goals, it’s safe to say that Gibbs-White did rather well.
Off he went
With the deadlock still intact at Molineux, Gibbs-White nearly created the opener with some, simply put, disgustingly good football.
Gibbs-White moves out wide to collect the ball off Doherty. Gibbs-White is the furthest player forward when he picks the ball. Did he hold the ball up and wait for others to join him? Absolutely not. His youthful fearlessness shone through as he sold Fabregas, a Premier League & World Cup winner, down the river.
Look at the insane amount of distance there is between Fabregas and Gibbs-White now. There’s a measly seven seconds difference in the two images, yet so much area. Willian is the next to try and dispossess the Wolves man, however, his effort is about as good as Fabregas’ as Gibbs-White cuts stylishly cuts inside before switching the play and bringing Vinagre into the game.
Just so it’s clear, this was at 0-0. Against Chelsea. On his first ever start in the Premier League. Cracking. Deservedly, Gibbs-White did get his assist in the second half and it was Fabregas, again, who struggled with the Wolves starlet.
Turn and run
Neglecting what he did in the first half, Chelsea still provided Gibbs-White with far too much to work with. He even toys with them ever so slightly as he goes towards the Chelsea defenders rather than away. It’s refreshing from a Wolves perspective to have a midfielder who is so comfortable on the ball. Yes, Neves and Moutinho are magnificent players, but their roles restrict them from doing what Gibbs-White does. It can have the following impact…
A trademark, defence-splitter and Jimenez hits the back of the net. Kante and Fabregas were left behind like a couple of chumps and that’s some achievement on its own. Perhaps all that would’ve crowned off Gibbs-White performance against Chelsea would have been a goal, nevertheless, the future is very, very bright for the young man from Stafford.
Undoubtedly, Gibbs-White is an amazing proposition for club and country. If he stays grounded, and he seems like he will, there is no reason why he can’t reach the very top of the beautiful game. His guile, energy and technique are just three attributes that will help him thrive and personally speaking, I’m very much looking forward to watching him grow over the next few years.
Out of darkness cometh Gibbs-White.
Until the next time.
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