We don’t know yet how much Mario Gaspar will play in the derbi with Valencia this week. Honestly, I don’t expect him to start. That said, his return to fitness is yet another boon for the yellow submarine, as we just aren’t the same team attacking without him. For me, our best football has been played this season when Gerard was starting on the right flank dropping inside so that Mario could take a long run at the opponent’s 18 yard box. Juan Foyth has improved as a right back in recent weeks, but he’s never been dynamic going forward in the slightest. Hopefully getting Mario back will help set things right. Here’s Mario’s assist against Alaves this season (video should start at 0:18 and the pass is shortly thereafter), I cannot remember a single time this season where I saw Foyth make this run.
For the entire season, we average 1.38 xG per 90. When Mario starts, we average 1.52 xG per 90. This is despite the fact that on that list of matches for his starts we include our early matches against Barcelona and Atletico where the team only managed 0.5 xG combined. When Mario is out there, it makes our attacks down the right flank much more threatening.
Just eyeballing it, without running the numbers in close detail, the offensive drop-off between Mario and Ruben Pena is appears to be real but slight. I don’t think that would surprise anyone too badly. The drop-off between Mario and Foyth at right back? That’s a lot more noticeable. I had my share of optimism about Foyth early in the term, but he just hasn’t particularly impressed me at any position this season.
The big question here is, of course, how long will it take Mario to find form? His last appearance was just before Christmas last year, and while he is a very experienced player it will certainly take him a match or two to get into the swing of things. Fortunately, we have a relatively soft schedule over the next few weeks, it should be the perfect time for him to get comfortable again. As long as no new injuries crop up (and Paco’s muscle issue is short term) it can be said that we find ourselves much better situated in terms of our squad than we were even two weeks ago.