2021 League Games: 10 appearances, 1 start, 100 minutes played
What went right in 2021:
Despite Gedion Zelalem’s limited appearances for New York City FC, you could see glimpses of the player once compared to Cesc Fabregas—and who was going to be the next big thing at Arsenal. Zelalem’s first appearance last season was in the 3-1 loss to Nashville SC on September 3, but he slowly added playing time and racked up a total pass accuracy of 89%.
At his best, Zelalem plays a progressive, attractive game focused on moving the ball up the pitch. He seeks to break through the midfield and create attacking opportunities. While this provided the buildup for a potential goal and a few shots, it emphasizes the directness that Zelalem possesses.
What to improve in 2022:
Zelalem has been hampered by injuries his entire career. Zelalem signed with NYCFC in 2020, then spent most of the year sidelined with hamstring issues. While he's unlikely to become a regular starter in 2022, he can play an important role if he stays healthy.
Increased minutes will help him improve his defensive game: Zelalem needs to improve both his tackling and interceptions in 2022, and to focus on winning the ball off his opponents. On the last day of the 2021 season, Zelalem earned a straight red card for a studs-up tackle in the 21st minute of his only start of the year. NYCFC salvaged a 1-1 draw at home against Philadelphia Union thanks to a Golden Boot-winning goal from Taty Castellanos, but the sloppy tackle put the club at risk of finishing sixth in the table—and opening the playoffs in Philadelphia against a fully fit Union. Zelalem will need to prove to manager Ronny Deila that he can be trusted.
What to expect in 2022:
If he stays healthy, Zelalem could move from a peripheral player to one who is featured regularly. With the departure of James Sands to Scottish heavyweight Rangers FC, the 25-year-old Zelalem has an opportunity to log minutes as a box-to-box or defensive midfielder and compete for minutes with the 31-year-old Alfredo Morales. After some appearances as a substitute at the beginning of the season, Zelalem could be handed extended appearances as a substitute, or even the occasional nod as a starter.
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