Ten Intriguing Ligue 1 Attackers
Last season, I did a piece on 10 intriguing Ligue 1 players and looking back on it nearly a year later, it's kind of funny to see what's happened since. Origi has for the most part reaffirmed my opinions on his caliber as a player (scoring goals in the league cup doesn't count), Nabil Fekir and Jordan Amavi kept going and going and they both looked like legitimately great talents until they tore his acl's while Jordan Ayew and Florian Thauvin are floundering away in the abyss known as the relegation race in the Premier League.
I wanted to keep this tradition going so I brought it over to StatsBomb for this season but this time, we're only going to focus on attacking players. With the success that Ligue 1 players have garnered in the PL this season, it seems like a nice time to capitalize on that buzz by bringing to you some other players that have had interesting seasons so far. Some of these names you've heard about and know a bit, some you've heard their names only and probably a couple of them you've never heard of before. By the beginning of next season, don't be surprised if a few of these players have been siphoned by a PL or other a continental side.
This is probably the biggest name on the list, and his trajectory as a player has been fascinating. He's gone from a "decent wing prospect" to "converted striker" to "Next best French Striker" to where we are now, which is "who the hell knows". This dude scored 27 goals last season and visually, he looked every bit the part of the next great striker in European football.
However unravel the hoopla over his season and you notice some disturbing trends. For one, he converted on over 28% of his shots last year. That is a ridiculous conversion rate for anyone, even the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Eight of his goals were from penalties and his 19 non penalty goals far outpaced his expected goal output of 11.92. To illustrate this even further, here's a graph showing the running totals for goals and xG output for Lacazette from the beginning of 2013-14 (when he started playing as a striker on a full time basis) to currently.
Strip out 14-15 and his goal scoring record is actually much more closely aligned with his expected goal output. I'm willing to entertain the idea that Lacazette is good enough in his finishing that he'll have multiple years in his peak 24-30 years where he outpaces expected goals by 2-4 non penalty goals, but last year was a perfect example of so many volatile things working out. Alexandre Lacazette is a good striker who's very athletically gifted and will probably command ~£20M on his next transfer (although a great argument could be had that Lyon missed the boat in not selling Lacazette in the summer where they possibly could've gotten £5-10M more for him than they will in the summer). His xG per 90 has hovered around ~0.4 since converting into a striker, which is an above average mark. Last season massively overhyped his actual talents, but he's still a quality forward in the beginnings of his prime.
Pretty much everything I said about Michy from two months ago still stands. The guy has been dynamite this season and with the financial problems that Marseille have because of no Champions League football, there's almost no chance in hell he stays past this season. Hell, he might leave in January if the right offer comes along. Spurs have been the most keen on signing him and if they get him, they're getting potentially a top 10 striker in the world by the time he hits age 25. He is that good a prospect and if he ever learns to be a good playmaker, the world is his oyster.
In my season preview, I was really excited about Sofiane Boufal's potential season. He was a bottle of lightning last season when Lille bought him in the January window and he was basically the only reason why you should go watch a Lille match (they're not good). I even brought up the faint hopes that he could be the next Eden Hazard (the good Eden Hazard, not the imposter we've seen this season).
He's taken much more of a leading role offensively in terms of touches, which is understandable considering the exodus of players Lille had in the summer. He's been dispossessed much more this season compared to last season (4.2 vs. 2.7) and his added usage has been a microcosm into just how bad Lille are as a team. Boufal is actually producing better than he did last season, it's just that no one has been able to convert the chances he's created this season compared to last.
||Key Passes per 90
||Expected Assists p90
*Weighted Chance Creation plus is the soccer spinoff of weighted runs creation plus. It's a decent snapshot into a player's contribution to attack*
Boufal isn't perfect and he can be selfish with the ball, but that's probably attributed to trying to carry a quite frankly terrible supporting cast. He is a wonderful talent who's underlying production has been steady for a decent sample size and with better teammates, he could be a player who routinely puts up 80-85 chances created and 8-10 assists per season.
I've had a fascination with Martin Braithwaite because his conversion rates have been constantly low despite a pretty decent shot profile, especially in his last two seasons. He hasn't cracked a conversion rate higher than 11.3% and in some ways he's been the Anti Lacazette; a shot hungry forward who can't convert on better quality chances. Braithwaite's xG output of 11.2 this season actually outpaces Michy Batshuayi's number of 10.59 but he's only scored six goals. If we do the same running total like the one for Lacazette, you can see the inverse of finishing ability.
His low conversion rate is a symbol of Toulouse's problems, with the club scoring 21 goals versus their xG output of 29.1. With the Ben Yedder situation hanging over the club, it's very encouraging to see Braithwaite becoming a higher volume shooter while having a career high in shooting accuracy at 40.3% (not a great mark, but an improvement nonetheless). If Braithwaite could ever get to the point where he improves as a shooter and becomes a passable finisher, he could be a great "buy low" type of striker for a midrange club in other leagues because he's certainly athletic enough to hang in faster paced leagues.
A lot like Braithwaite, Khazri could be a very good value signing for a team needing a creative attacking player on the cheap. His xG+A per 90 mark this season is mirroring his G+A mark of 0.74, He's just approaching his prime years and his wCC+ of 128.2 last season is at the very least some form of proof that this season is no fluke. With Bordeaux floundering in lower mid table this season and Khazri producing at borderline elite levels, his transfer fee could be even more cheaper than once thought. Khazri could be a great replacement for Leicester if they sell Mahrez and it would continue their succession of buying good players from Ligue 1/2 that no one have ever heard of.
Your annual "striker whose goal scoring tally is being inflated by penalties " in Ligue 1 this season is Benjamin Moukandjo. His xG per 90 number of 0.297 is much closer to his NPG per 90 rate of 0.416 than his 0.653. Moukandjo has been decent this year and his goal scoring rate last year was okay as well but him being a top 3 goal scorers in France this season is way too flattering for the caliber of player he is.
Ryad Boudebouz/Casimir Ninga
It's sad to see just how much Montpellier have fallen from their 2011-12 title winning team and this incarnation until mid October looked like legitimate relegation candidates. They were slow, ponderous and didn't have any idea how to get past a set defense in the attacking third. The emergence of Boudebouz and Ninga has allowed Montpellier to be better equipped to create throughball opportunities and higher quality chances, highlighted by Montpellier scoring four goals on Lyon nearly a month ago.
Boudebouz's form has been ridiculous. Dimitri Payet created the most chances in Ligue 1 last year with 131 and Boudebouz is on pace to end up with 126. It's insane how much he's risen from last season. I thought he was a good pickup for Montpellier because he somehow had a 1.6 key pass per 90 rate on a god forsaken terrible team in Bastia, but I sure as hell didn't expect him to be challenging Payet's mark from last season. There've been only four instances in the Opta era where a Ligue 1 player has created at least 100 chances or more. They are:
- Nene in 2010-11 with 120
- Mathieu Valbuena in 11-12 with 105 and 12-13 with 119
- Dimitri Payet in 14-15 with 131
I'm skeptical he can keep this pace up, but if he does end up on that short list by seasons' end, it's going to be one of the sneaky great seasons Ligue 1 has ever seen from a player in the Opta era.
Ninga is the perfect striker for what Montpellier needed, which is a quick forward that will run behind the defense. Unlike Boudebouz who has a track record of being a decent creator, Ninga's sample size is pretty damn small, his 4.22 xG output is less than his 6 non penalty goals scored and he's currently got a 25% conversion so he could easily fall off. But even when he falls, just being an adequate striker would do Montpellier a world of good and help keep Boudebouz's numbers at the pace it's heading.
Abdel Barrada/Remy Cabella
Lets do a quick comparison between the two playmakers on Marseille.
||Key Pass per 90
||Assists per 90
So just by looking at the data between Barrada and Cabella, it looks like Barrada is a much bigger contributor to his teams' offense and has been the better player so far this season. Yet, if we look at the minutes distribution, it hasn't been reflected in that way.
Some of the minutes distribution has been because of injuries/deployment. Marseille have experimented with playing Barrada in a midfield three while deploying Cabella as a left winger but even then, Remy Cabella has played over 600 more minutes as a #10 over Abdel Barrada (886 vs 210) yet hasn't come close to playing good football in his favorite position. Remy Cabella is a bigger name than Barrada, and as recently as May 2014, Cabella was an above average player for Montpellier. But he was terrible at Newcastle (mostly because of Pardew) and he's been below average with Marseille. Him playing as much as he has is a detriment to Marseille and in some ways, it's very similar to Marcelo Bielsa's faith in Florian Thauvin last season before he eventually gave up on him.
I'm not totally certain what Barrada is as a player because he's only played ~1200 league minutes in Ligue 1 over his career and his only other history was putting up unspectacular numbers at Getafe. So far to his credit, he's been producing elite level playmaking numbers in his time with Marseille. Barrada isn't Payet and doesn't have his track record, but he's certainly done a passable impression of 2014-15 Payet in the playing time he's gotten and if Marseille have any dreams of finishing in a CL spot (they're six points back of third), they need to hitch their wagon to Barrada as their #10 and start reigning in Cabella's minutes.