Geoffrey Kondogbia Makes Positive First Impression at Valencia

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The phrase ‘from the sublime to the ridiculous’ seems to have been invented for people like Geoffrey Kondogbia. He’s the type of player who will be making perfectly timed sliding tackles and completing roulette turns one minute before producing something like his bizarre pre-season own goal against Chelsea. That involved a 40-yard back-pass that looped over his own goalkeeper and into the back of the net, and in some ways, that moment sort of summarised his time at Inter.

Initially brought in for a staggering fee of E40 million, Kondogbia seemed like he was poised for excellence in Serie A. He played with the kind of all-action style that observers tend to enjoy, and despite being tall and a little bit raw, his tough tackling, sharp passing and slick dribbling gave him the aura of an immense up-and-coming box-to-box midfielder.

He never quite turned that promise into production, though, and after Inter acquired the likes of Borja Valero and Matias Vecino to operate in the middle of the park, Kondogbia seemed to see himself slipping down the pecking order. Add in existing talent such as Joao Mario, Roberto Gagliardini and Marcelo Brozovic, and Kondogbia failed to see a way forward in Milan.

That led to him failing to turn up to a pre-season training session, at which point Inter boss Luciano Spalletti became enraged. “Surprised or bitter about Kondogbia? He had this idea to change [teams], it came out of the blue and I tried to convince him [to stay], but someone else probably made him certain promises,” he told reporters.“Still, [what was said] has to be shared, they have to let us know too. We didn’t pay two lire for him.”

Despite Spalletti going onto describe the gangly midfielder as both “important and strong,” Kondogbia’s desire to leave was soon fulfilled. He left for Valencia in a loan deal that also includes an option to buy. This move allowed him to join former Inter teammate Jeison Murillo at the Spanish club, and while that will certainly assist him in settling in, his debut was certainly a case of being thrown in the deep-end.

Kondogbia talked about the areas in which he thought he had improved upon joining Valencia, mentioning things like tactical acuity, maturity and experience, but when it comes to making your competitive debut against Real Madrid, it’s tough to feel totally prepared. So when Kondogbia’s first pass for the match trickled out of bounds without even looking like finding a teammate, it loomed as a difficult evening for him.

Soon after, Kondogbia was involved in the lead-up to Real Madrid’s opener. He stretched out to control a pass from Rodrigo, and although it wasn’t his fault that the ball had too much speed on it for him to reach it, the fact that he was in the thick of it felt somewhat inevitable. He then tried to intervene once Marco Asensio took possession, but unable to do so and not helped out by his defence, Kondogbia could only watch as the attacking midfielder picked out the bottom corner of the net, from the edge of the area, to give Real Madrid the lead.

At that point, Kondogbia looked like continuing where he left off at Inter. Things weren’t exactly going to plan, but then, as if reinvigorated by Valencia going 1-0 down, he lifted dramatically. The meaty challenges started to fly in, and the strength over the ball, the neat dribbles and the crossfield passes soon followed. All of these things helped Valencia, and with Kondogbia playing alongside more of a ball-playing midfielder in Dani Parejo, the combination started to shine.

Parejo offered the intelligence and the incredibly creative passing while Kondogbia offered a mix of defensive brawn and all-action attack. On the defensive end, the former Monaco man patrolled the central midfield zone with plenty of purpose, ending the game with three tackles, an interception and five clearances. What stands out about his work in this part of the pitch is how much ground he can cover, something which is obviously brought about by his 188cm, long-limbed frame. Kondogbia simply eats up the turf and, when he gets alongside an opponent in possession, he has no hesitation in either sliding in or manoeuvring his body in such a way that he can nip in to regather the ball.

He can be a little rash in this quest to defend effectively, and against Real Madrid, he was very lucky to avoid a booking for a late tackle on Toni Kroos, but his tenacity in Valencia’s midfield meshes well with Parejo’s more cultured style of play. Add in his height, which makes him a threat on both attacking and defensive set-pieces, and he adds the kind of size and muscle that the Bats need through the heart of midfield.

In attack, too, Kondogbia produced the goods. He used a combination of his sharp dribbling and physicality to shrug off the attentions of the opposition regularly, and when it came to passing, he generally played simple, short passes. This allowed him to generate an impressive 89.6% completion rate against Madrid, and though that certainly helped Valencia, his biggest contribution in possession related more to his crossfield passing.

Kondogbia showed a clear desire to spray the ball out to the flanks, and given that Valencia has a strong tradition when it comes to producing strong players in these positions, that wasn’t overly surprising. Kondogbia looked to hit left-back Toni Lato and right-back Martin Montoya with a great degree of frequency, and on the odd occasion when he could quickly switch to wingers Jose Gaya, on the left, and Carlos Soler, on the right, he would do that too. This was when Kondogbia was at his most forward-thinking in relation to his distribution, and with Valencia trailing 1-0, this kind of play soon enabled them to equalise.

The move started with Kondogbia battling to retain possession in the centre of the park, but after weaving around one marker and then using his strength and size to fend off Toni Kroos, he assessed his options. Gaya quickly appeared on the left, wide open and hugging the touchline, so Kondogbia fizzed a powerful pass into his path. Gaya then cut infield before sliding a ball in behind for Lato, and the youngster followed up with a high-precision piece of crossing. Soler latched onto it, tucking it home in the process, and at that point Valencia were back in the game.

Kondogbia then added a goal of his own after half-time, this time arriving on the edge of the area to punch the ball into the bottom corner, and the moment again illustrated exactly what the Frenchman can do when he’s at his peak. He can defend and he can attack, he can dribble and he can tackle and he can combine size with solid passing. This means there’s a lot to like about his skill-set, and this is what attracted Valencia to him. Of course, he’s probably still going to provide the odd moment of madness, and he can look a little clumsy at times, but the rangy attacker adds a lovely level of balance to the Valencia line-up.

He has recently reaffirmed his desire to assist the club in this new challenge, and he’s even gone so far as to say that, if he plays well, he would love his new team to activate the buyout clause in his loan contract. That, of course, is still some way off yet, especially given his inconsistency at Inter, but the talent is clearly there. Now 24-years-old, Kondogbia has the chance to assert himself in one of Europe’s premier leagues, and after a strong start to life in Spain, he’ll be hoping to offer plenty of the sublime and not so much of the ridiculous throughout the rest of the La Liga season.