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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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: Ryan Fraser and Improving Arsenal

While many like to look at Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas or Nasri as some of Arsenal’s sales that have left a whole in the squad, Santi Cazorla is a hole they seemingly cannot replace. The Spaniard had one of the best debut seasons in the past decade, reaching double figures for both goals and assists. As Arsenal added expensive signings like Ozil, Sanchez and Xhaka, Cazorla remained to be their most important player. After the Arsenal medical staff failing to foresee the long term ankle injury (an injury that was noticed but not resolved until it was fatal), it left Cazorla in a terrible position, as well as Arsenal. While a midfield of Coquelin and Cazorla isn’t perfect, they balanced out each other and allowed them both to play to their strengths. Cazorla helped take pressure away from Ozil in the creativity department. In the 2015/16 season, Ozil was the best creator in Europe, making 4.2 key passes per game. The German was the only player who created more chances than Cazorla’s 2.5 key passes per game. It made Arsenal less predictable, ensuring that there was always one technically superb player on the pitch to assist the forwards. Cazorla was also influencial in transition, completing 2.5 dribbles per game. The Spaniard was arguably their best player during Wenger’s final years in charge.

So what does Cazorla have to do with a Scotsman who was sent out on loan to Ispwich while Arsenal were challenging for a title? Well with Arsenal in desperate need for creativity, thanks to Ozil seemingly falling out with Emery, it seems the Gunners will turn to Bournemouth winger Ryan Fraser as the saviour. He could help give Arsenal extra creativity from the wide areas, so let’s find out if he is the man to help Arsenal challenge for top four.

Since breaking into Bournemouth’s first team back in the 2013/14 season, Fraser has found it difficult to find a place in the starting XI. While he did start 23 games in his first season in the Premier League, he was in a very poor Bournemouth side. However thanks to Eddie Howe building a much better attack, it gave all of his forwards a spark, and Fraser was by far the one who benefitted the most from the change. While Wilson finally seemed to be scoring the amount of goals we’ve all been waiting for him to reach, Fraser turned into one of the best creators in the league. The former Aberdeen winger formed a deadly partnership with Wilson, with the pair nearly breaking Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton’s record for most goal combinations between two players with 12. It highlights where Fraser strength has been in the final third. He is one of the best players in the league for making that final pass. It’s where he has become so vital for Bournemouth. His eye for an assist has turned him into the most important player for the Cherries. Fraser is the player the rest of the team look for. He is technically gifted and his passing is spectacular. his 2.4 key passes per game rank 4th in the league, with the likes of Maddison and Hazard ahead of him. His crossing is also an area to be admired. The Scottsman completes 2 crosses a game, the 2nd highest in the league. He is his side’s chief playmaker, and seems to embrace the responsibility entrusted in him by his manager.

So is there anything wrong with Fraser? There is actually a few things to note, starting with his dribbling. He isn’t exactly a good dribbler.  Fraser is completing less than a dribble a game. While Bournemouth rank 14th for dribbles per game, it’s an area of concern. The reason why Cazorla was spoken about so highly is because he is still a player they need to replace. His combination of high chance creation and expert transitional play made him an almost perfect Wenger player. If Fraser will be able to replicate Cazorla’s creativity, there is still a hole to be filled. This isn’t to complete diminish Fraser’s strengths. In fact, his lack of dribbling does highlight one of his better qualities. His ability to get into positions where he is able to cross for his team is what has made him such a threat for Bournemouth. He doesn’t have to dribble because there is no one to beat. It’s a concern for if he signs for Arsenal because it’s hard to know if he would be able to adapt in a way to suit what Emery might want. Arsenal have let Walcott, Sanchez, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlein go and haven’t replaced them in what they added to the team, being the ability to beat players an add that element of unpredictability, something Fraser might not be able to add.

I like Fraser a lot, and would suit a side like Southampton, one which is starved of creativity, but are full of players who are excellent dribblers. These are more of the players that Arsenal should be looking for. Players who amase high dribble numbers. While players like Januzaj, Thuram or Sarr might not offer the same amount of assists as Fraser, they will make Arsenal a much better side.

PLAYER ANALYSIS: David Brooks and How Young Players Should Develop

When a young player reaches a certain age and is yet to establish themselves in the first team, a loan move away is usually the best move. It allows them to be given a higher of getting game time, while also learning from others players and coaches. What’s become more popular in recent years in big clubs buying these young players, in a hope to secure a potential talent for a low price. Jadon Sancho is the most recent example of this, with Michael Keane and Serge Gnabry also fitting into this category. The only thing a young player should worry about about is playing football, and if another club promises that, they can never be blamed for saying yes. One element of this that is overlooked is what coach they will be playing under. Players want to develop the strengths of their game under coaches will know how to do that. It’s reminiscent of Roger Schmidt’s Bayer Leverkusen side from 2016. While they were defensively suspect to say the least, but he did allow players like Bellarabi and Julien Brandt to flourish and put out some of their best outputs in their career. Players need to make a choice that will improve them on the long term, and David Brooks’s choice to join Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth is at the centre of this.

To say that I’m not Eddie Howe’s biggest fan is a slight understatement. He isn’t a bad coach in the slightest, but when I see many fans and pundits link him to Arsenal or Tottenham, I have to ask what they’re seeing. After a strong start which saw them sit sixth by November, they did what they usually do and drop off, now sitting in 14th. They are a defensive mess, with Howe’s side conceding the 17th most goals in the division, with only the teams sitting in the relegation area conceding more. It’s a record that has unfortunately continued from last season, where they conceded 61 goals. It’s simply not good enough for a manager who many think is ready for a step up. I do have some sympathy this season however, with the Cherries suffering injuries to key players. Callum Wilson, Lewis Cook, Diego Rico and Simon Francis have missed parts of the season due to injuries. Howe has a defensive, excluding Nathan Ake, needs upgrading if they wish to compete in the top half of the table.

I have criticised Howe heavily here, but by far his biggest strength has a coach is how he forms his attacks. The way he has gotten the best out of his attackers a feet to be proud of. Josh King, Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser have performed this well in their careers, and have blossomed in Eddie Howe’s counter attacking system, which has seem them score more goals from counter attacks than any other side in the league with 9. No one would have predicted both Fraser and Wilson equalling a Premier League record for goals contributions between two players, with 12. While they have been fantastic, not many would have the thought the answer to bringing the best out of the trio was to add a 20 year old Welshman from Sheffield United, right?

Enter David Brooks, one of the most exciting young players in the league. There is an element of bias here. As a Welshman myself, the thought of seeing a genuine talent come through is just too exciting. Bournemouth paid a very reasonable £11m for the wide player. On the surface, it’s crazy how Brooks has had this impact in his first season in the Premier League. In his last season at Sheffield United, he did make 30 appearances, but only 9 were starts. Brooks has now started 29 games for the Cherries, and has been the attacking signing they needed so badly. Fraser is great at making that final pass, Wilson is their best finisher, and King’s strength and dribbling make him great at driving those counter attacks. Brooks fits right in these three. During their strong start to the season, only Josh King was attempting more pressures than Brooks. However what is most exciting about the Welshman is his offensive involvement. Brooks’s role in Howe’s side is seemingly to help overload areas of the pitch, and use his impressive intelligence to find space and help move the ball to the likes of Fraser and Wilson. Out of the 4 attackers, Brooks’s xGChain is the highest with 0.66 (a metric that shows players’s involvement in goals that lead to goals or assists). He is the one that keeps the provides the more decisive players, and seems to flourish in that role. His number aren’t exactly stand out, with Brooks taking 1.4 shots, making 1 key pass and completing 0.8 dribbles per game. Brooks is one of those specific players where stats cannot measure a player’s effectiveness. It’s similar to how Jesse Lingard and Gini Wijnaldum’s success for their side cannot be measured by numbers, but their sides are certainly better when they are in the XI. It’s no coincidence that Bournemouth’s attack has arguably had its biggest success since Brooks has arrived. He has been the final jigsaw piece they needed, and has a bright future ahead of him