Identifying Ligue 1’s Next Big Breakout Talents #3: Kylian Mbappe-Lottin
Truth be told, this project could be based solely on prospects from Monaco. Out of all clubs in France, Monaco are the one most stocked with high upside youngsters. We’ve gone in depth over Thomas Lemar, Bernardo Silva has been one of the most entertaining players in the league since arriving in 2014, Benjamin Mendy is an athletic and creative LB while their midfield has workhorses in Fabinho and Tiemoué Bakayoko who can also do accomplished things on the ball. The last couple of years have seen Monaco cultivate an immensely exciting batch of young players, with others that can barely sniff any game time.
It’s almost a rite of passage for young attackers in France to at one point in their development be compared to Thierry Henry. We’ve seen it with the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Anthony Martial when they broke into Ligue 1, and currently the next one in line is Kylian Mbappe-Lottin. The man has been scoring or assisting bucket loads of goals on a Monaco team that’s on pace for a remarkable 111 goals this season. It's unlikely they will keep up this pace til season’s end, but he’s been an exciting part of the preeminent Ligue 1 goal scoring machine.
One thing you notice with Mbappe-Lottin in the Monaco setup is frequently he doesn’t have to do much when it comes to taking on defenders and creating attacks for himself. A lot of that work is done by the likes of Lemar and Silva, so he’s not had to do much dribbling this season unless he has found himself with 10 yards of space. Consequently a lot of the things he does revolve around working off the blind spots of centre backs. He is usually stationed in the left half space when Monaco approach the final third because of how high up the fullbacks operate. When that doesn’t happen, he tends to move to the left wing and will hug the touchline and wait for a teammate to link with.
Something that could help Mbappe-Lottin down the line is that he doesn’t lack the confidence to take shots with his weaker left foot, and that two-footedness could allow him to have a fairly scarce advantage in terms of creating shots inside the area. This is more anecdotal than quantitative since 76% of his shots are coming from his right foot, but there’s immense value to having an attacking player who can’t be shaded a certain way by the opposition.
The one move he does have that reminds you of Henry is combining both his ability to find space in between the left back and left centre back--whether in build up play or in non-structure scenarios--and his raw pace.
It is not hard to understand why so many people are salivating at Mbappe-Lottin’s potential. Strikers at his age who have this kind of rough outline get hyped to the moon and when you add in that he is already showing good decision making plus some noted passing chops, we find very tantalizing prospect. It does help that he plays in such a fluid team that allow many passing options, particularly playing with Silva who can present himself as a crossing option despite his rather diminutive size. Previous iterations of Monaco were never this smooth offensively and I do wonder how Mbappe-Lottin would fit in on less fluid sides. Plus, this version of Monaco has speed and quickness to kill at so many positions where others didn’t.
As the most recent breakout star from Monaco, comparisons between Anthony Martial and Mbappe-Lottin have been made, both in an athletic physical sense and that their breakout seasons occurred at the age of 18-19. This is purely subjective but I still think Martial was a better prospect when he left Monaco in 2015 compared to Lottin now but when Martial left, he was about a year older than Mbappe-Lottin so it could very well be that I’ll be singing a different tune by next winter. For the most part Monaco have been protecting Mbappe-Lottin and matches he has heavily featured in have been ones against lower opposition. To date, these are the teams that he’s played at least 45 minutes against in Ligue 1 this season:
- Montpellier (x2)
- Saint Etienne
This is a smart play from Monaco. They’re allowing Radamel Falcao and Valere Germain to suck up the majority of minutes while still giving enough time for Mbappe-Lottin to potentially beat up on worse teams, which he’s done extraordinarily well. It’s the type of strategy that more teams should use with young talents but it does make me sound a small note of caution against his nonetheless impressive outputs. Maybe it’s just a negligible amount but it's hard to exactly quantify a prospect who has been sheltered to this degree. Caen, Metz, Lorient and Bastia are terrible, and both Montpellier and Saint Etienne grade out as mid-table sides both in their underlying performances and just the general amount of talent in their squad.
Also, Mbappe-Lottin is just overshooting all his metrics in general, which basically every attacking player on Monaco is doing this season. His NPG per 90 rate is around double his xG per 90 and though the shot quality has been very good considering both his age and his shot rate, it still can’t be denied that a portion of his output looks like it is being pushed by variance. We can also see that he is yet to get the really solid up close central chances that fuel top strikers' goal tallies. That he is working alongside Falcao this season could well be a huge benefit to his learning here.
Given all the information above, we can start to ask the following questions about Kylian Mbappe-Lottin:
- Is the kid a good prospect?
- Is the kid a knockout prospect?
The answer to the first question is obviously yes. His xG+A per 90 rates him with the best strikers in France this season and is among the highest in the 18-22 age group of Ligue 1 players over the past few years. He’s shooting a lot as well and physically looks like he’s holding up just fine. He’s much closer to Kelechi Iheanacho than he is Marcus Rashford on the spectrum of teenage goal scoring strikers. And he's just 18. That he is even on the pitch in a decent team at this age is a huge indicator in itself.
In terms of the second question, I’m not prepared to say yes quite yet. In my three years of extensively watching Ligue 1, I’ve seen three under-22 attacking players who I thought were absolute Grade A talents: Ousmane Dembele, Anthony Martial, and Nabil Fekir. I just think there’s enough questions with Mbappe-Lottin that he’s not quite at the same stratosphere as these three and between some team effects and mad variance on Monaco's attack, he's been ideally positioned to prosper. Compare this to Dembele who was just doing everything and anything for a mediocre Rennes side or even Martial on a Monaco team that wasn’t nearly as fluid in their attacking structure.
I know some of this article will come out as me being Buzz Killington about Mbappe-Lottin and I’m really trying not to sour on this kid’s potential but rather be cautiously optimistic. Whether you care for Ligue 1 or not, it’s still probably the 5th best league in the world and is having the most competitive season since 2014-15. If you can hold your own as an attacking player in a decent league at such a young age, you probably have a bright future and he’s doing that already. Mbappe-Lottin has been very productive this year in the minutes he’s played and if his underlying numbers are a genuine indicator of his true talent level, then the surreal hype around him could well be justified. There's a long way to go--and scoring on his first visit to England will do no damage to the hype around him--but he also has a lot in his favour, and could well still turn out to be Monaco’s finest forward prospect since Thierry Henry.
This is part three of a series on promising players in Ligue 1:
Part 1: Corentin Tolisso
Part 2: Thomas Lemar