PLAYER ANALYSIS: Konrad Laimer and Midfielders in Pressing Systems

A lot of the talk surrounding RB Leipzig has mostly been around the tactics of Julian Nagelsmann, the goals of Timo Werner and the talent in their defence; primarily Nordi Mukiele and Dayot Upamecano. But the player that has gone under the radar, while also showing the most prominent signs of improvement is Austrian midfielder Konrad Laimer.

Before properly watching Leipzig this season, the impression Laimer left was of a player liked by his managers for his intensity and versatility but didn’t have the same high ceiling as his teammates. Rangnick was especially a huge fan of Laimer. The former RB Salzburg midfielder played every minute in the Europa League group stages in 18/19, while also playing around 1800 minutes in the league, a massive spike from the 1300 minutes he played in 17/18.

The main area in which Laimer has stood out from day one in Germany has always been defensive actions. In the league, Laimer was winning 2.18 tackles per 90 last season, only placing him behind the captain and well-known tough tackler, Diego Demme. However, the real takeaway from this is where he was attempting these tackles. Laimer was attempting 0.91 tackles in the opposition third, far and away the most in the Leipzig squad (if you’re curious, Tyler Adams was second with 0.50). I presumed, before looking at his numbers this season, that he was attempting so many tackles in the final third because he was playing as a makeshift right-back. However, this isn’t the case. This season, Laimer has played entirely as a defensive midfielder but has still managed to attempt the same high amount of tackles as under Rangnick. Laimer is attempting 0.79 tackles in the opposition third, the most for any regular in the squad.

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Captain Diego Demme’s sale in January only went to further prove the importance Nagelsmann had placed upon Laimer as his primary defensive midfielder. RB Leipzig usually switches between alternative versions of 4-4-2 or 3-4-3, and Laimer is generally placed alongside a more attack-minded midfielder in Marcel Sabitzer or Emile Forsberg. I do think the pair do deserve credit for being able to adapt to a less attacking role and into a more supportive one, but it does further show just how good Laimer has been for Nagelsmann. Leipzig is fundamentally a pressing team, meaning during opposition build-up play. They will usually attempt to win the ball through pushing their attackers far up the pitch and cutting their opponent’s passing lanes; winning the ball back with a well-timed interception. Laimer is usually left on his own in the middle of the park, with Sabitzer regularly doing the more ball-dominant work. Yet, it makes Laimer’s role in the team that more vital. Laimer’s role in this team is to get the ball back as quick as possible, and play the football to the attackers; usually through vertical passes. It makes Laimer sound like your typical, old-school ball winner, but he is a lot more than that.

Firstly, having a job like this in such a press-heavy team is one a majority of midfielders in Europe would struggle with. You have to possess high energy levels to cover a lot of ground; as well as having the intelligence to position yourself in the right place. The amount of work Laimer does is actually incredible. He attempts a ridiculous 37 pressures per 90 (Important context; 22 is an impressive amount of pressures, so anything higher is worth heaps of praise). Laimer, as expected, is right at the top of the squad for tackles and interceptions, with the 22-year-old completing 4.2 tackles and interceptions per 90 for his side.

Talking about Laimer purely from a defensive point of view does to him a level of a disservice. I doubt Laimer would even be a regular in the team if he wasn’t at least adequate on the ball. Earlier, I did make Laimer’s role on the ball sound rather simplistic, but he can do a lot more than merely playing the ball long to the attackers. Laimer doesn’t look threatened when opponents attempt to dispossess him. Laimer is in the top twenty in the league for passes made while under pressure. One thing Laimer consistently does is make darting runs into the opposition third. It’s a very effective method to cause havoc since it’s unlikely your opponent is picking up the single defensive midfielder. Laimer is a very capable dribbler and takes advantage of the overloads he creates. This is perfectly showcased during RB Leipzig’s 1-0 win over Tottenham, where Laimer managed to win his side the decisive penalty through receiving the ball in Tottenham’s box.

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Defensive midfielders for top clubs are rare, especially those in the mould of Laimer. Tottenham and Manchester United are two clubs who look desperate for a real defensive midfielder. Tottenham may have Ndombele and Lo Celso, two genuinely elite midfield talents, but both would rather be doing the more glamorous midfield work. Manchester United are in the same boat. McTominay and Fred might be able to a bit of defensive work, but their best qualities are in the final third, whether it’s passing or making darting runs into the opposition box. If one of these clubs could sign Laimer, they could close that gap to the top a lot faster.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Ibrahim Sangare and The Best of Ligue 1 #2

After discussing Kenny Lala and his importance to Strasbourg, let’s look at Toulouse midfielder Ibrahim Sangaré. A player I’ve already discussed on more than one occasion, let’s look at why I rate him so highly among the young midfielders across Europe.

Toulouse have been a side surviving relegation by the skin of their teeth. In the last 5 seasons, they have finished no higher than 13th. It’s crazy to see a side which has produced some exciting talents in the last few years, with the likes of Ben Yedder, Issa Diop, Serge Aurier and Alban Lafont all developing for the southern French side. They always seem to trust their younger players with a high amount of responsibility, in a circumstance where clubs wouldn’t usually do so. While the signing of Max Gradel has given them that spark in the final third, it has been the breakout season of his compatriot that has been the most notable.

Calling last season Sangaré breakout season is incorrect to an extent. He did start 18 games in 17/18 and put in some very good numbers, but he took it to another level. While his tackle numbers have remained the same, it’s his ability on the ball that has seemingly been improving. His passes completed have gone from 40.4 to 54.1 per game. His shots, dribbles and long balls per game have all slightly increased and show a player who is developing. The Ivorian has played every game he can possibly play and has become an invaluable player to the team and it can be highlighted by how Toulouse played without him. During the 9 games Sangare missed, Toulouse only managed a single win and failing to earn victories over 2 relegated sides, drawing with Dijon and losing to Caen. Toulouse played 10 different formations last season, and he found a place in all of them. Whether playing as a single defensive midfielder or with a partner, he has shined wherever he has played.

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While looking at his insane defensive numbers show a player similar to a Ndidi or Kante, a player who specialises in breaking up play by tackling, Sangaré is more than that. He does put in an impressive 3.6 tackles per game, the most for his side, but he is great at reading the game as well. He will always look to position himself in front of the defence, to stop those dangerous passes to the strikers. However, it doesn’t change the fact that his tackling is by far his best attribute. Sangaré recovers the ball with ease when faces in one on one situations, never giving his opponent space to run beyond him. He rarely goes to ground and tries to stay on his feet, using his physicality as an advantage over smaller players. The Ivorian completes 75% of his attempted tackles, showing how he effectively recovers the ball for his side. One area that is rather disappointing would be his aerial duels. He wins 1.4 aerial duels per game but it could be down to long balls rarely landing in his direction.

Sangaré’s passing is another area which needs improvement. His pass accuracy has increased from 74% to 79% but it needs to be higher. The reason for his pass accuracy seemingly being low is his attempted long passes. He’s attempting 7.9 long balls per game, completing less than half of them. He constantly looks to quickly switch play and while he does fail a majority of the time, his ambition is notable.

He’s defensively solid, but his dribbling takes his skill set to another level. Sangaré’s completing over 70% of his dribbles. His strength and height give him a boost in this aspect, making it difficult for opposition players to dispossess him, with the Ivorian only losing the ball 1.2 times per game. For a player attempting so many, it’s impressive how little he is dispossessed. What makes his dribbling so impressive is his speed. Sangaré isn’t very quick, yet is beating players with ease. It shows how he doesn’t rely on pace to beat players and uses his ability on the ball instead.

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There are a lot of clubs that should be keeping tabs on Sangaré, with Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham already showing interest in the 21-year-old. While those are all destination in which he will start regularly, they are not the club I think he should join. If Atletico Madrid do end up selling Thomas Partey this summer, Sangaré would be the sensible replacement. Both players are strong physically, while the pair excel in recovering the ball and using their dribbling to help move the ball into the final third. While Partey has been a reliable player for Simeone, Sangaré would be an upgrade. He is 4 years younger, much taller, a better dribbler and does more defensive work. Partey is a better passer, his shot locations are awful. Sangaré also takes a majority of his shots from outside of the box, but it isn’t as bad as Partey, who out of his 1.1 shots per game, he is taking just 0.2 from inside the box. While the Ghanian has scored some beautiful goals this season from outside the box, a majority of them are wasting possession for his side.

Sangaré is a player who deserves to be playing at a better, and will hopefully be another Toulouse player to succeed in Europe, alongside the likes of Ben Yedder and Lafont, instead of ending up like Braithwaite or Gradel.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Kenny Lala and The Best of Ligue 1 #1

As I have reiterated, Ligue 1 sides contain some talents that big clubs should be keeping an eye on. With Marcus Thuram already covered, we’ll move on to another player who has had a standout season, that being Kenny Lala. Strasbourg have been one of many historical clubs to suffer in the 21st century. A club that saw success in the sixties, beating Nantes to win the Coupe de la Ligue in 1966. After years of unremarkable league finishes, relegation and financial trouble, it left the club facing liquidation in 2011. They were eventually reinstated into the 5th tier of French football.

Their rise back to the top has been nothing short of astounding. They returned to Ligue 1 in 2017, where they have remained ever since. After their debut season which saw them survive by the smallest of margins, it was last season which saw them take a step into the right direction. They finished in 11th, fixing their defensive issues while also adding more goals in attack. While xG claims they overachieved in attack, they still deserved to stay up. Their mid-table finish in the league looked even better after their victory over Guingamp in the Coupe de la France, their 4th victory in the competition. A great season for a club who have fought so hard over the years to get to such a point.

Lala was instrumental in this success. The 27-year-old is by no means a prospect and has been playing for different sides in Ligue 2, including Paris FC, Valenciennes and Lens. Strasbourg picked him up after his contract expired with Lens, signing him on a 2-year deal. He has been superb for the side. After his debut season for the Blues, which saw him contribute to 7 goals from right back, showing himself to be a good dribbler and solid defensively, he truly stepped up his game last season.

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Strasbourg have been lining up with a variety of formation, with the consistent theme being a back three being deployed in a majority of the systems used. Lala has been playing as the right wingback. He has been their primary source of creativity and is by far his best quality as a player. The Frenchman is averaging 1.8 key passes per game, the most in the side. He will always look to receive the ball as wide as possible. It shows during Strasbourg’s buildup. Lala will usually wait on the halfway line, to give his team an option when attacking. He is the heartbeat of this side. No other player averages more crosses and key passes than Lala. It’s where he excels. He has a fantastic range of passing, enabling him to quickly switch the ball when under pressure. The reliance placed on him can be shown when looking at how his numbers have changed from his debut season. His dribbling has dropped from 2 to 1.1 dribbles per game and defensive work has plummeted from 4.2 to 3.1 tackles and interceptions per game. It shows how his role has changed last season, moving from a regular full back you’d see in the modern game, to the creative hub we see today. He tops the side for assists with 9 and while xG shows how he has massively overachieved in this area, he has assisted some goals that should usually be saved (the opening goal in their 2-1 win over Monaco is a perfect example). It shouldn’t diminish his achievements, however, since he has still been a great creator for his side. His crosses are pinpoint and consistently finds his teammates in the box.

Lala is a player who possesses one enormous strength but features some shortcomings. The first is how he fairs defensively. While he can perform well in a back four, it would lead to losing that creativity he offers from the wide areas. His 3.1 tackles and interceptions aren’t low, but it’s when viewing him you can see how often he can be exposed. Wingers have loved to target his side. He can be easy to dispossess, which will lead to the right side exposed. He isn’t as pacey as Kyle Walker or Roussillon, meaning he can’t make those recovery runs other players can easily make. He is also not great in the air. He only wins 44% of his aerial duels, and considering he only attempts 1.8 per game, it isn’t a good sign to see a player struggle in the little number of duels he attempts. While he helps his team a lot in the final third, Lala can leave Strasbourg vulnerable defensively.

From the way I’ve described his strengths and weaknesses, he is very reminiscent of Kieran Trippier. Both are gifted passers but struggle defensively when under pressure. The difference between the two is that Lala is being played to his strengths, and is relied on heavily by his teammates. Trippier, on the other hand, has struggled this season, partly due to the injuries and lack of midfielders available for Tottenham. Lala has been allowed to excel and while he has his weaknesses, he has been vital in the steps forward that Strasbourg have taken this season.

 

 

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Marcus Thuram and Safe Risks for Big Clubs

One matter regarding the big clubs in Europe that can be frustrating is the lack of risks some of them rarely ever take. When there are so many young talents performing well and available for a cut-price, they are rarely ever taken by the bigger clubs. It’s why the rumours of United chasing Daniel James and Tottenham looking at Jack Clarke were so interesting. These are players available for less than £20 million, with little risk, yet are never signed. If they work out, you have at least a squad player, with potential to grow and if it fails, they can be sold without drastic loss. Juventus are a club who have understood the benefits of doing this. Players in the mould of Zaza, Stuararo and Caldara. Domestic talents they can sign and profit from. It’s one factor to how the club has consistently been able to afford some of the top talents in Europe. It was one of my many criticisms of PSG after their humiliating defeat to Manchester United. While Ligue 1 constantly earns critique for its lack of talent compared to the other top five leagues, I will still stand by the statement that there is an interesting talent in every team in the league. To prove this point, let’s look at a player who plays for the worst team in Ligue 1, yet is still attracting interest from across Europe.

Guingamp, like many sides at the bottom of the table, were the furthest from inspiring. They only managed to score 28 goals and conceded 68, the worst in the league in both departments. It makes the idea of any player standing out quite difficult to believe, but Marcus Thuram has done that. Famously the son of World Cup winning defender Lillian Thuram, Marcus ended the season with 9 goals and an assist, meaning he contributed to more than a third of Guingamp’s goals.

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The young Frenchman, like his father, is a real physical presence. He matches centre backs, like Jan Vertonghen and Harry Maguire in strength and it works well alongside his pace. Many full-backs have struggled to deal with Thuram this season. He is hard to dispossess because players cannot simply push him off the ball. He is given an advantage over many other wingers. His size has given him the edge in the air. The winger has been winning 3.5 aerial duels per game, the third-highest in the squad. He has been a focal point for Guingamp in attack. The goalkeeper Caillard (or Johnsson) will constantly use Thuram to quickly transition the ball from defence to attack. Since he is matched up against full backs, it makes it easier for him to win the ball. Against Lyon and Marseille, he was using this aerial dominance to cause their right backs trouble throughout the game. In their 4-0 defeat to Marseille, he won a ridiculous 8 aerial duels, the most on the pitch.

In this same game, he also completed 9 dribbles. It’s surprising just how good he is at dribbling. It’s usually the smaller players who excel in this area, thanks to their low centre of gravity, but Thuram stands out. He’s good technically, can quickly evade pressure when opponent attempt to retrieve the ball and most importantly, his size and power make it so difficult for players to even get near him. Thuram usually likes to receive in the wide areas, drive with the ball and looking for space to shoot in the box. The Frenchman can have a serious case of tunnel vision. When receiving the ball, his first thought is always to go straight on the front foot (as cliche as it is) and try and help his team score.

One of the most encouraging signs of Thuram is his performances in the bigger games. Some of his best performances this season have come against the top sides in the league. While all of your displays should never be judged based on a small number of games, it’s promising for any top side who would consider signing him (we’ll get to that) to know he can play well against better opposition. He scored a brace against Lyon, put away the winning penalty against PSG in the Coupe de France and scored against 4th place St Etienne on the opening day of the season. While young, he has shown how he can perform on the big stages.

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Playing for a poor side, especially a side who mostly play without the ball means as a forward you will be tracking back. Thuram does this constantly. He isn’t afraid to do the hard yards for his side. With the added benefit of having a player so physically gifted, it makes it a role he is ideal to play. The 21-year-old has been putting in 1.4 tackles per game, a high amount for a forward. It’s a promising sign for clubs to see. A lot of coaches want their players to defend in all areas and Thuram is comfortable doing this.

While I’ve complimented his physicality and his dribbling, it’s his shot locations that are most impressive. Thuram is taking 1.9 shots per game, with 1.6 coming into the penalty area. I’ve criticised plenty of players in the past for poor shot locations. Ziyech, Maddison and Milinkovic-Savic have all been frustrating for how often they’ll take shots from bad areas. Thuram isn’t as wasteful as his peers. It could be an effect of playing for a side who need to take their chances if they want any chance of survival, but he’s showing a lot of maturity at his age. Being such a good dribbler, it makes it easy for him to find space in the box to take those shots. The last trait a bigger club wants to see is a player give the ball away needlessly.

With taking all of his strengths to account, being his size, speed, dribbling, work rate and shot location, which side should sign him? The first club that comes to mind is Arsenal. The Gunners have a lack of pace and adequate dribblers in the wide areas, with Iwobi being the only natural winger I’d consider them to have. They are in desperate need of reinforcements in that area of the pitch. We’ve discussed Ryan Fraser in the past, and came to the conclusion he is not the player Arsenal should be looking at. Thuram definitely fits the type of player they’re looking for. Guingamp have stated they’re asking for roughly €20 million for their prospect. With Arsenal lacking funds, it could be one of their best options in the market for them. He improves that squad. While they’re questions on whether he would start, he is a great option to have in the team. He is a must signing for the red side of North London this summer.

 

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Yussuf Poulsen and The Joy of Partnerships

With football being an ever-evolving sport, there are trends that will come in and out of style. Whether it’s the back three, natural wingers or target men, new systems and ideas will introduce weaknesses used in the past. One element of football that hasn’t faded from obscurity yet is the two strikers. In a world full of 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3’s, it can be nice to see a side deploy a relatively old fashioned style of attacking. This isn’t as much of an anomaly as many like to perceive, myself included. There are still a host of sides that deploy two strikers with true success. Jardim’s Monaco broke PSG’s monopoly at the top of the table thanks to a combination of experience and raw, youthful power in Falcao and Mbappe. Atletico Madrid found a lot of success in using a 4-4-2, reaching 2 Champions League finals in 3 years. Leicester is by far the most famous example, playing a very old fashioned way of playing. Full backs not leaving the halfway line, midfielders entirely focused on winning the ball back, and huge centre backs who used their strength to dominate opposition forwards. There’s something nostalgic about seeing sides play like that.

One side that has become famous for playing two strikers would be RB Leipzig. The Redbull club has been a success story based on smart investment and an endless scouting network that has enabled them to find talent across the world. All of their clubs are run very well and do not make the same risky signings as you see the big clubs take. While they did finish 3rd, they were arguably the second best side in the Bundesliga. They had a solid defence, making the most tackles and only Bayern facing fewer shots. Add that with strikers who scored a combined 31 goals this season and you have a side that deserved a top 3 finish. While Timo Werner has been a massive success since joining Leipzig, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid both heavily interested in the German forward. However one of my more controversial opinions would be that Timo Werner does not work as a single striker. While he has been relatively good for Germany, he hasn’t been nearly as impressive as he has been at club level. Germany usually play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, leaving Werner quite isolated. He looked lost at the 2018 World Cup and was arguably one of their worst performers at the competition. I do think one of the reasons why Werner has been so good is because the player next to him has allowed him to be.

This brings us nicely onto Yussuf Poulsen. While I am not nearly as romantic with football as others are, there can be some stories that do bring out the softer side in me. Poulsen has been with Leipzig since the club was in the 3rd division. He has made the most appearances for the side and is their third top scorer. While he has never been hugely prolific in front of goal, he has stayed by the club and contributed important goals in their race to reach the top. Since RB Leipzig earned promotion to the top flight back in 2016, Poulsen hasn’t reached the same heights as his German teammate, scoring 5 in his first season and 4 in his second. His role in the side has always seemed to be to give a more direct option for his side and help create space for Werner, and he excels in that. In an interview earlier in the season, Werner said “It’s great for me with him up front. We complement each other really well. He likes going for aerial challenges, which I don’t. He’s got an amazing set of lungs.” It perfectly sums up their relationship as forwards. His numbers even show this. He attempts 9.5 aerial duels per game with a 48% success rate, a solid number for a striker. While shot numbers aren’t high, taking 2.1 a game, it’s because Werner takes a majority of the side’s shots. He also creates 1.1 chances a game, showing the strong relationship he has with the forwards. When you watch the Dane play, you certainly understand why Werner loves playing with him. Poulsen constantly drifts out wide, effectively adverting pressure from his teammates. He is a player who uses his physical gifts to his advantage. His size and strength to push defenders away. His height to win balls in the air for his side. His speed to race down the wing. It’s why Poulsen is so highly regarded by his teammates. He does a lot of work off the ball to allow them to flourish.

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One of my favourite parts of Poulsen’s game is his fouling. While a strange thing to love, it does continue to highlight just how good he is off the ball. One area of strikers that becoming to be noticed is how often they foul opposition players. It can show how good the player is when it comes to recovering the ball or pressing. Poulsen commits more fouls a game than any other Leipzig player with 1.8. It’s actually more fouls than Diego Costa was committing during his best season at Atletico (he was committing 1.5 per game in the 2013/14 season). Managers are beginning to want a lot more from their strikers other than goals. Poulsen does all the off the ball work required. Rangnick has gotten the best out of the forward and got him playing to his strengths, while also scoring goals.

Poulsen is that aggressive, strong, hardworking forward that other teams would dream of having. While his goals have always been a question mark clouding his reputation, he has enabled Werner to be one of the most wanted strikers around. With very few teams possessing a player like Poulsen, it has left Leipzig with a valuable player, not in price, but in importance.

The striking partnership, while being old fashioned, can be so effective when given the right players. Watching Werner and Poulsen play alongside each other is a joy. It’s reminiscent of watching Heskey and Owen, Cole and Yorke, Ronaldo and Rivaldo, Rooney and Tevez, Shearer and Sutton and Costa and Falcao. Players who worked so well together, creating some of football’s fondest memories. Let’s hope Werner does decide to stay and let us witness such a strong relationship, and keep the striking partnership as alive as ever.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: Tanguay Ndombele and the Mousa Dembele Effect

The evolution of the defensive midfielder is a fascinating one. From the physical destroyers in Keane and Gattuso to intelligent readers of the game in Alonso and Busquets. The next step in this evolution was Belgian midfielder Mousa Dembele. He arrived in the Premier League as an attacking midfielder for Fulham. After a relatively successful spell for the Cottages, he arrived in North London, signing for Tottenham. While he was good under AVB, it was the arrival of Mauricio Pochettino that transformed him. He decided to move Dembele deeper, using his superior dribbling to help transition the ball from defence. This truly changed what a defensive midfielder could do. Since his fantastic 2015/16 season, we’ve seen the emergence of players with a similar skillset to Dembele, with Kondogbia, Sangare, Kovacic and Allan. These players who combine elite dribbling with solid defensive output have made them a player in high demand. Clubs are ready to spend a lot of money on players with these skillsets.

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Dembele’s importance to that Tottenham side can be seen how much they’ve struggled in midfield this season. After Dembele’s defensive work slowing down each season, it was an area where they needed to strengthen in the summer. However, as it’s well documented, they didn’t sign any players. While Dembele has shown his age, no one expected such a huge drop-off. He looked a shadow of the player he once was, and his usefulness to Pochettino was dwindling. Some midfielders will reach this drop-off, especially those focused on their hard work, energy and defensive output. It left Tottenham in a real conundrum. They were lacking any midfielder who could effectively transition the ball from defence into attack. The solution they found just continues to highlight the genius of the Spurs manager, being able to get every last drop of quality out of both Winks and Sissoko, forming a midfield partnership that would solve the issue on the short term. It has given them a huge problem in attack, however. Without Dembele’s elite dribbling, it has forced Alli and Eriksen to come deeper to receive the ball, which has weakened their output and has put more pressure on them defensively. Pochettino has opted to place either Alli or Eriksen in central midfield, with his options that low. It has highlighted their midfield as the area that is in desperate need of improvement.

This is where Tanguay NDombele fits in. The Frenchman was one of the breakout stars of the 2017/18 season, establishing himself as one of the brightest midfield prospects in Europe. In a young and exciting Lyon side, Ndombele has been given the platform to flourish. His signing deserves a lot of credit from whoever handles Lyon’s transfers. In a summer which saw them lose both Tolisso and Lacazette for nearly a combined £90 million, it left a challenge for the club. They acted smartly in bringing in Mariano for less than £10 million, and NDombele on loan. It’s what makes NDombele’s arrival so strange. He arrived on loan and was signed for £7.2 million before the 2018/19 season, a true bargain in today’s market. Nothing was well known of him at the time and only made 3 starts for Amiens before leaving for Lyon. The club has been known for finding players in obscurity before. They’ve taken risks on older players like Marcelo and Jallet, while also ready give the younger players a chance. During the 2017/18 season, Genesio was starting Tousart, Aouar and NDombele in a midfield three. All were young and excelled in their bid to secure Champions League football. NDombele was the stand out of the trio. His maturity and strength showed him to be above his peers in terms of importance for the side. He was essential in giving the side defensive stability, while also using his incredible ball retention skills to help push Lyon further up the pitch. Lyon is a side full of great dribblers. Aouar, Fekir, Depay, Traore and Mendy are all excellent in moving the ball into the final third, but NDombele stands out. He’s been averaging over 70% success rate for dribbling, a high figure for a player who usually receives the ball in crowded areas. It’s actually one of his most impressive qualities. No matter how many players attempt to stay tight to him, he will always find a way to avert pressure. During their impressive 2-1 win over champions Paris Saint-Germain, NDombele had one of his best games. He would constantly find space to receive the ball and would drop deep to drag the opposing players in areas they did not want to go. He completed 3 dribbles, made 58 passes, the highest in the side, put in 3 tackles and completed 4 long balls. A well-rounded performance that helped show his best qualities. There is no player in Europe with such a similar skillset to Mousa Dembele. Good defensive numbers, a solid passer, a fantastic dribbler and a player who is press resistant make NDombele a player who is sought after.

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Can Tottenham sign the highly rated Frenchman? It is a possibility. If they are finally ready to spend money and show the rest of the league that they are ready to challenge both Tottenham and Liverpool, they have to. Ndombele was heavily linked to PSG, Barcelona and Manchester City for months. However, with Barcelona signing Frenkie De Jong, Manchester City looking at Rodri from Atletico Madrid and PSG focusing their attention on Allan, it has left Tottenham with a chance to sign him. It does beg the question of if they can afford him. He’s been rumoured to cost over £65 million. While that would be a fee that Tottenham could pay, the issue is there are other areas of that squad that need attention. If Trippier departs for Napoli, they will need another right back. If Alderweireld does decide to leave, as well as Eriksen, Rose, Lamela and Llorente, it leaves a lot of players that need replacing. While signing NDombele is possible, signing him while also needing to find replacements for all the players listed (as well as a goalkeeper with Lloris showing his age). When I spoke about the midfielders that Tottenham need to sign, I didn’t mention NDombele because I thought the idea of signing him was extremely unlikely. Spurs have a gift of having a manager who is able to get the best out of the talent at his disposal. The club might decide to look at players more in line of Billing, Grillitch, Anguissa and Lemina. Players who won’t cost an extraordinary amount while still improving the squad. If Tottenham do want to be taken seriously, it’s time to start buying the best players around, to show the ambition they claim to have.