2018 World Cup Trends, June 14–18: England’s Set-Pieces, French Ennui, and So Much More

The World Cup is here, and with that comes those glorious couple of weeks to kick off the tournament where each matchday consists of three to four group stage matches. We’ve already had the defending champs lose their first match, the implementation of VAR, Russia putting up five in the tournament opener, a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, and other delectable goodness from the first five days. Despite only having an average of 2.29 goals per match so far, the 2018 iteration hasn’t been uneventful in the least, so let’s dive into some of what’s already gone on in Russia.

England’s Corner Kick Routines

England were very good for large parts of the first half against Tunisia and on the whole deserved their 2-1 victory. What was interesting to see in particular was just how much mileage they were getting off of their set piece routines. Over 72% of their 18 shots came from dead ball situations. With the lack of time available for international sides to create the level of sophistication from open play that we see during the domestic football season, one of the best ways to get ahead of the game in international football is dedicating time to developing set piece routines. It seemed clear that Gareth Southgate went over specific corner kick movements which paid huge dividends.

Tunisia started with something resembling a zonal marking approach to defend England’s corners, which left England with a four against three opportunity at the top of the 18 yard area. As soon as the corner is delivered, three of the England players, Harry Kane, John Stones, and Jordan Henderson, would sprint in different directions and attract one of the three Tunisia players defending that space. That would leave one of the England players with enough room to rise up and create a headed chance, which was how they engineered their first goal.

 

 

Tunisia changed things up in the second half, matching England’s four up top with four of their own. While this did lead to less wide open headed attempts, you still saw the likes of Deli Alli and Harry McGuire muscle their way and create a few half-chances. England’s second goal was also from a corner kick routine. and was quite a nice counter to Tunisia man marking the top of the penalty box. Kane was able to peel off his marker and find himself wide open in the six yard area, prime real estate for a high quality chance if someone could win the first header, which McGuire did.

 

 

If England proved anything in their victory over Tunisia, dedicating real time towards set pieces works.

Goncalo Guedes Role as Second Striker

In Portugal’s final tune up match vs Algeria, Goncalo Guedes played as a second striker, a departure from the inverted winger role he was used in at Valencia. It worked to great effect, so much so that his two goals and general ability to create chaos with his speed were enough for him to supplant Andre Silva for the starting spot alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.

Guedes didn’t achieve those same heights against Spain, which is understandable on some level. Going from Algeria to Spain is like going from Glass Joe to Mike Tyson in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. He was used as an outlet for counter attacks as Spain weren’t able to counter-press nearly as aggressive as they’ve been renowned for after losing possession. In one sense, Guedes did his job successfully, with his first touch and subsequent assist for Ronaldo’s second goal being the highlight of his 80 minutes of action. But, he was largely uninspiring on the whole and you couldn’t help but wonder what might’ve been for Portugal had he not had the yips during some of Portugal’s promising fast breaks.

 

Defensively, it was clear that Guedes was following Ronaldo in Portugal’s 4–4–2 medium block, allowing Sergio Busquets and the Spanish CBs to create 3v2s during buildup play, instead just trying to deny passes into the central areas. This worked fine until Spain shifted into their left sided focus attack which bypassed the central areas and targeted the left half-space in Portugal’s own third, to near devastating effects. It’ll be interesting to see if Guedes gets another shot at playing that central position or will Fernando Santos instead turn to Andre Silva.

France’s Attacking Struggles

Didier Deschamps hasn’t been immune to criticism with his role as manager of the French national team, especially with the talent boom that’s gone on within French football over the past World Cup cycle. His job is to get the most out of what might be the most talented squad at the World Cup. He has the football equivalent of a Ferrari and has the responsibility of not screwing it up. Meek performances like ones against Australia won’t quiet down the masses who are convinced that Deschamps isn’t good enough to lead France to glory.

France were largely fine for the first 20 minutes or so, highlighted by the half chance from Kylian Mbappe less than two minutes in. Mbappe functioned as the central attacker of the three up front and was finding openings in Australia’s back-line to run into, just without that home-run pass from one of his teammates to really create those top level chances. The main tactical feature of France during buildup is that whenever they play Mbappe along with Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann, they’re pretty close together and the fullbacks are pushed higher up to provide width while also at times function as an outlet for switches of play.

 

 

As the first half wore on, things got worse. France became extremely static during possession. There were less and less dynamic runs being made from the likes of Paul Pogba and Corentin Tolisso. Fullback Benjamin Pavard was being used as an outlet to switch up play but he wasn’t interested in trying to take on his individual marker in 1v1s and just recycled possession. France were just slow, compounded by the fact that they weren’t even all that interested in trying to create transition opportunities or even applying loads of pressure on Australia’s backline when they were circulating the ball during buildup play.

The second half wasn’t anymore inspiring, with only moments of individual brilliance from Pogba and a shaky penalty call given by VAR saving France from dropping points against Australia. It’s concerning that France picked what was about as close to a maximum fun lineup as possible, and their overall performance was the furthest thing from fun. If not for Germany, this would’ve been the most disappointing performance from a big nation so far.

Mexico’s Blistering Counter Attacks

You’ll be hard pressed this entire tournament to find a better display of counter attacking football than what Mexico did to Germany, including the splendid goal by burgeoning star Hirving Lozano. Some of this was undoubtedly helped by the fact that Germany played a double pivot of Ton Kroos and Sami Khedira: midfielders that for all their gifts on the ball aren’t exactly blessed with the mobility needed to cover ground defensively.

Germany faced similar problems to Spain, but on a grander scale. Because of the lack of mobility in their midfield along with Khedira’s penchant for migrating forward even when deployed as a #6, it left giant acres of space for Mexico to run into. Joshua Kimmich was bombing up and down the pitch, but that left the entirety of his side unoccupied for Lozano to gather the ball or even just run unopposed, and Kimmich is not fast enough to catch someone like Lozano when spotting him 10 to 15 yards. Combine all of that with a lack of aggression in winning the ball back in higher areas and Mexico having a number of players who are good and fast on the ball, and you get a match that descends into chaos. There were at least 5 instances in the first half alone where Mexico offered the promise of creating a high quality shot during fast break scenarios.

Lozano was a key figure during these counter attacks, with his starting position usually around the left-half space at the beginning of these sequences, which helped a lot when he was on the ball and facing an unsettled Germany defense. One of his best features during his season at PSV was how much fear he inflicted on opponents with his combination of speed and awareness on how to time his runs off the ball. He would look at the opposing fullback, see when he’s on his blindside and time his run to get in goal for a shooting opportunity, which he did against Germany on multiple occasions.

If Mexico had any shot of finishing first in the group, they had to get something against Germany, and more likely beat them. They smartly pushed all their chips in with an athletic starting XI that tore Germany to bits by applying pressure on the Germans from their own half and immediately getting men forward for the first 45 or so minutes. Though that did slow down as the match progressed, it was still good enough for a massive victory that completely changed the complexion of Group F.

Bordeaux and the Chase for the Champions League

2017-18 in Ligue 1 was never going to be about a title race in France, because that was sewn up the minute PSG bought Neymar from Barcelona (and just to rub it in, they got maybe the best prospect in world football as well). Rather, where the intrigue in Ligue 1 came from was the cluster of six or so teams below PSG fighting for two Champions League spots. At least for this writer, there was a genuine curiosity about how the standings would shake out in positions 2 to 7 considering the massive changes that had gone on. After seven games where are we? Monaco have been fine despite selling the majority of their title winning squad, Lyon have produced attacking numbers that are quite middling compared to the talent at their disposal, while Marcelo Bielsa and Lille are Ligue 1’s travelling circus act.

Bordeaux were one of the teams that were mentioned in that block of six, an intriguing side that could have a high ceiling because of the attacking talent gathered over the past few windows. They are led by a respectable manager in Jocelyn Gourvennec, and on a mandate of sustainability by buying unheralded talents either inside the league or elsewhere. It’s allowed them to get a player like Nicolas De Preville, one of Ligue 1’s most underrated attackers over the past 3-4 years. Younousse Sankhare is a talented midfielder who can press individuals with his athleticism while providing off ball runs in the final third. Alexandre Mendy came in the summer for under €1M despite putting up relatively monster xG numbers at Guingamp (albeit nearly 50% of those minutes came as a substitute). This has been a carefully built squad on a tighter budget than others in Ligue 1.

It should be emphasized just how deep this team is in attack for a club that’s not having to play European football. Malcom and Kamano are givens in the 4-3-3 setup, but they have a rotating cast of characters that they could play in between them at striker with De Preville and Mendy. That’s not to mention Gaetan Laborde who was solid last year, and Jonatan Cafu who has been frisky in the limited minutes he’s played this year. That very well might be six competent to great players to work with over a full season.

The results so far have been largely impressive. Only PSG has a better total shot and expected goal ratio in the league, and there’s nothing exceedingly alarming with the performances put in. Sure, over the long term they’re probably not going to convert goals to shots on target at just over 37%. At the very least however, they have decent enough shot location to go along with healthy shot volume in a league that isn’t exactly renown for teams shooting over 14 times a match. There are worse foundations to have in attack than what Bordeaux have done so far this year.

While perhaps simplistic, one could say that the basis of Bordeaux’s attack is based on transition football. It’s a bit weird considering that this wouldn’t be considered a counter pressing team that uses pressure to create high quality chances the other way, and they don’t give you the feeling that they’re playing fast football, but it does seem like they’re able to capitalize on individual mistakes.

 

Bordeaux make this work by always having people commit on the counter, having as many or even more players going forward than the opposition have defending. This is where things like pushing Jeremy Toulalan into a CB position works great, because now you can have more mobile players who can catch up in the play along with the front three. It also takes advantage of Toulalan’s passing sometimes being an outlet to get the pace quickened.

One thing I’m still wondering with Bordeaux is what is their best lineup within their 4-3-3 setup. On the one hand, De Preville is the best talent that they could put in striker considering his ability to both create for others and himself during his time at Reims and Lille. A slight worry is that considering how much he loves having the ball on his feet, and the same could be said for Malcom and Kamano, it could lead to possessions where it just ends up with them taking really bad shots with little movement to work with. I think having Mendy in there makes for a better fit because then you have a playmaker, an inside shooting forward, and a poacher (to go along with Mendy’s ability to hold off the ball and let teammates come to the ball). There’s a higher ceiling with De Preville in the lineup, but there’s a higher floor with Mendy. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes because Mendy has been a killer super sub so far.

A problem that could be made with how Bordeaux set up defensively is while they do have the ability to press in certain situations from a medium block, they are still quite susceptible to passes that break their defensive structure. Considering how much they rely on Sankhare to hurry opponents and get play going the other way, sometimes the opposition will drag him out and find openings in the midfield to pass into space and create semi dangerous opportunities.

Now the good news is that despite those concerns, there’s maybe only three teams in Ligue 1 who can really punish Bordeaux for these problems. And considering the issues Lyon have had so far in attack, it very well might be that only Monaco and PSG could punish a defensive system like the one Bordeaux have implemented. And in the context of merely just trying to finish in the top 3, that might well be good enough. So far this season, the results have been resolute. Only PSG, Montpellier, and Caen concede fewer shots per game and Bordeaux rank in the top three in quality of chances conceded. While the flaws of the system are evident, it might not mean much by season’s end.

We highlighted Francois Kamano as a player to watch coming into this season, someone who in a broad sense had a fine season last year. He shot a lot, and produced enough to make the math work in his favor. What I also found interesting about Kamano’s game last year was he created high quality chances on average compared to the overall low amount of overall chances he put up. It was a poor man’s version of what Ousmane Dembele did last year, and they both share a similar trait in which passing models don’t exactly portray them in the greatest light because of their penchant for gambling on passes.

The real curiosity with Kamano was with better attacking talent to play with, would he be able to trade maybe 0.5-1 bad shots a game for something better, because while he’s shown he is able to create premium chances for others, better shot selection from him could enable him to take the next step as a player. Good news: he’s taking around 1 less shot per 90 minutes. Bad news: that hasn’t exactly made his shot selection appreciably better.

Now I get it, he’s 21 and there’s time for him to figure this out. And it’s still early in the season, but we’re looking at just over 5000 minutes of game time in his Ligue 1 career and the evidence is showing that on average, the shots he takes are speculative at best. If this aspect of his game doesn’t improve, it could very well be that we’re already seeing the best of Francois Kamano as a player, and that would be a shame.

And then there’s Malcom, who’s arguably the crown jewel on this Bordeaux side. The yin to Kamano’s yang, he’s much more of a creator for others while probably having more functional athleticism than his teammate. He can shift and juke to beat defenders, use his acceleration when needing to get on the end of passes. Whereas Kamano is of the “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality, it’s almost frightening how much Malcom will try and create dangerous opportunities with his dribbling and passing. So far though, the results have been splendid as he’s been able to make something out of nothing with some of his solo runs:

Now you don’t need me to tell you about the problems that come with analyzing seven games without a considerable grain of salt, but it has to be said that so far into the season, Malcom has performed like one of the better creative wide men in Europe. If there ever was a “Leap in Progress” alarm, it would be ringing loud right now with what the kid is doing:

 

Again, it’s a small number of games and this could very well be just a nice run of form and not truly representative of his true talent level as a player. But even if he’s somewhere between this current form and what he did previously, we’re still talking about a very talented creative winger who is still be three or so years away from hitting his prime. It could very well be that even a lesser version of Malcom would be good enough to help Bordeaux to make a genuine run at the top three.

In a similar manner to Nice last season, teams like Bordeaux need things to go their way if they’re to make a run at the top three in Ligue 1. The difference of budget compared to the likes of Lyon, Monaco and Marseille will always make it tough. In Nice’s case, it was a combination of breakout performances from the likes of Alassane Plea and Jean Micheal Seri and benefiting from the skills of Lucien Favre. With Bordeaux, it might need to be that Malcom in his second full season in France turns into a top 5-10 attacker in the league and incremental growth from players like Kamano and Mendy help bridge the gap for this season. Seven games in doesn’t make a season, and Bordeaux’s numbers will take a hit once they play the likes of PSG and Monaco. Even their first seven games could be nitpicked if needed; while holding Lyon to 8 shots and coming back from 3-1 was impressive, it was done while up a man for the majority of the match. And they were largely unimpressive against Lille when they were once again up a man. I’m also a bit skeptical of whether the front three can click long term, for all that they are talented. Even so, they potentially have six capable attackers, a mobile midfield that can assist in the transition football that they work best in, and a manager who smartly turned a static 4-4-2 setup last year into something greater.

Seven games in and so far so good. It might just end with Bordeaux’s first trip back to the Champions League since 2010.

2017-18 Ligue 1 Season Preview

It’s kind of odd to write a season preview where PSG aren’t the defending champions. A lot of things had to fall in place for this to happen, mainly a certain Principality side scoring at a rate that we’ve almost never seen in the near decade’s worth of Opta data accumulated, but here we are, with Monaco having finally ended the stranglehold that PSG had for the past few seasons. They’ve fittingly spent the summer getting English teams to spend exorbitant amounts of money on their players, while the Kylian Mbappe saga rolls into August.

This season has the makings of something very interesting, in a somewhat similar way to how Premier League was looking like going into last season. While I don’t think there’s going to be a title race happening in France (unless Monaco have found the secret sauce to replicate their conversion rate, the likelihood of that being the case is zero), the other two Champions League spots could feature as much as five teams fighting for it. The five teams in question are:

  • Nice
  • Monaco
  • Lyon
  • Marseille
  • Bordeaux

I can’t remember the last time Ligue 1 had potentially six teams (PSG, obviously) go into a season where the idea of making the Champions League was at the very least not preposterous. Monaco and Lyon are probably in the boat where making the Champions League is their target, and anything else is disappointing. Marseille are itching to get themselves back into the top three for the first time since 2012-13, and have spent decent amounts of money in the process (who they’ve spent it on is a whole other story). Nice and Bordeaux would like to make the top 3, but getting into the Europa League wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world either.

So this is going to be your Ligue 1 Season Preview fix for the upcoming 2017-18 season; where the five teams mentioned above get dissected along with three players to watch for during the season, and an overall wrap up on what could be an exciting season in Ligue 1.

5 into 2 won’t go:

Monaco

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Monaco spent their summer selling their players for a shit ton of cash. Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Bernardo Silva left for ridiculous sums, and there’s still a chance of Kylian Mbappe leaving for a world record fee over the next few weeks. What Monaco have done is straight out of the Football Manager playbook: overachieve during the season and let the bids pile on for players on the squad.

Perhaps the greatest compliment that could be had for Monaco is that despite the departures, there’s still a lot of talent here, including Boschilla who produced great in the limited number of minutes he had in the league last year for all that it is fair to wonder how he’ll do after coming back from an ACL injury. Allan Saint-Maxamin could be good, and the fact he wasn’t utterly rudderless at Bastia is a good sign (he is the poster boy for fine tuning shot locations among wide forwards). Thomas Lemar is still there, and he could improve with more responsibilities too. Youri Tielemans is the perfect kind of player for Monaco to buy and potentially sell off for 3x the price. If Mbappe stays, Monaco should still finish no worse than 3rd. Things get considerably more dicey if he does leave during the window.

Nice

It’s our old friend Lucien Favre, who once again told expected goal models to go kick rocks as he led Nice to a surprising 3rd place finish last season. They were aesthetically pleasing and featured one of Ligue 1’s best strikers (when healthy) in Alassane Plea, a surprisingly frisky Mario Balotelli, one of the better creative midfielders in Jean Micheal Seri, exciting fullbacks and more. And it wouldn’t be a Favre led club if they didn’t massively overachieve relative to what models projected them based on xG or even basic shot metrics.

There’s still some things to like about Nice going into this season: Seri is at the peak of his powers as a midfielder and despite massive amount of rumors, he’s still at the club. Plea is also embarking on his prime years, though after a second major knee injury, it’s fair to wonder how bad his knees are and whether he could crack 2000+ minutes in a season again. Wylian Cyprien is a big time talent, though he also has major questions since he’s returning from a torn ACL. Nice won’t have Ricardo Pereira, as he’s back at Porto after a widely successful two-year loan spell in France. Dalbert could also be gone if the rumors of Inter sniffing him out turn out to be true. Not having one of the best fullback combos is a big blow for the club.

Going into last season, I thought that Nice would struggle quite heavily and finish in mid-table. While I don’t think that’ll happen this time if Seri stays, I would still be shocked if they finish in the top 3 for a second straight season. But hey, Favre’s consistently told shot metrics to piss off in the past, so I could be wrong again.

Lyon:

Alexandre Lacazette is finally gone after summers of rumors, they sold one of the great young midfielders in Europe to Bayern in Corentin Tolisso, and veterans like Mathieu Valbuena and Maxime Gonalons are gone too. In their place are several high upside bets like Bertrand Traore, Mariano Diaz and Ferland Mendy, to go along with some players who are much closer.

Lyon are starting in a worse off position than at the same time last year, but they still have Memphis Depay and Nabil Fekir who are two of the best attackers in Ligue 1. If one of Traore or Diaz hit, you got yourself a very dynamic attack that could hold its own with anyone outside PSG. I’m not a big fan of their manager Bruno Genesio, but there’s still enough parts remaining to be cautiously optimistic.

Marseille:

If gambling is your thing, you’ve probably noticed that Marseille in some places have the third best odds to make the top 3 in France. Name cache + new owners + money spent in the summer + top 5 finish last year; those variables in some form explain the odds trickling out in the way that they have.

The argument in favor for Marseille doing well this season goes as follow:

  • Dimitri Payet will be there for a full season, and the Veledrome was where he arguably had his best season in 2014-15
  • Florian Thauvin had his best season as a pro last season, and unlike Hatem Ben Arfa in 2015-16, he’s only 24 so he has a better chance of replicating that form once again
  • Rudi Garcia will also be there for the start of the season, and the upgrade to him from Franck Passi is real.

Even with all those things taken into consideration, I’m very skeptical of what the club looks like. Dimitri Payet is 30 years old and there’s a good chance Marseille already had his best year as a player in 2014-15. Valere Germain is a nice enough forward although he’s turning 28. Luis Gustavo is 30, Adil Rami is turning 32 in December, Patrice Evra is 36. Marseille have created a squad where they are relying on a lot of old players doing the job for them, with youngsters like Morgan Sanson and Maxime Lopez giving them the young dynamism as a supplement. It’s not the greatest way of spending resources.

Bordeaux

I’m not saying that this will definitely be the case, but there’s a chance that Alexandre Mendy becomes one of the best value plays of the summer window across Europe. One thing to monitor with Mendy is that 47% of his minutes last season came as a sub which puts his monster shot and xG numbers into some question. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Michy Batshuayi’s first year at Marseille when he was second in command behind Andre Pierre Gignac. But even if (and probably when) his numbers take a hit, 700K for potentially a solid striker at age 23 is marvelous stuff.

I quite like this team. I liked them last year to possibly finish in the top 4, and their second half run that was influenced by changes in the makeup of their squad showed the potential that they had. Assuming reasonable health, they have the fire power to contend with players like Mendy, Francois Kamano, Diego Rolan, Gaetan Laborde. Recent history in Ligue 1 suggests that a team like Bordeaux will have it hard to finish in the top 3 unless something goes right for them (overperformance, one of their young players make the leap), but Nice did it last season and of all the teams to make a shock top 3 finish, Bordeaux probably have the squad best equipped to do so.

Bonus: Lille

I wouldn’t be doing my job here if I didn’t mention Lille, who are embarking on one of the great projects in European football. They’re bankrolled by new owner Gerard Lopez (who nearly became Marseille’s owner) who has lots of money and owns a Formula 1 team. They brought over Luis Campos, who’s the new sporting director and helped get talents like Bernardo Silva and Tiemoué Bakayoko to Monaco, and the club have spent the summer spending ~£30M on Brazilian talent. Perhaps the real story though is them hiring Marcelo Bielsa as their manager. Bielsa’s record is well known; a genius who makes teams considerably better initially, but burns bridges and leaves his clubs in a blaze of glory. Considering how much input he’s having here, this might be the one place where he doesn’t set the place on fire by year two.

It’s such a weird squad that they have currently but one that has potential to do something of note. No European football is a bonus, and Marseille in 2014-15 nearly made the top 3 that year because of that advantage. There is attacking talent there with the likes of Nicolas Pepe, Anwar El Ghazi, Nicolas De Preville. If the Brazilian contingent of Thiago Maia, Thiago Mendes and Luiz Araujo work out in some form, you’ve got the makings of something really cool happening. All things being equal, this team need a bunch of things to go their way for them to finish in the top 3 this year, and the club themselves have targeted 2018-19 as the season to finish in the CL. But exciting times are happening there, and you should make out some time in your schedule for potential Bielsa madness (both good and bad).

Three Players to Watch: Yann Karamoh:

You don’t find a lot of 18-year-old players who finish in the top 25 in a good league when it comes to xG contribution, especially when said player is reportedly available to be had at ~€10M. Karamoh wasn’t Mbappe or Ousmane Dembele; the type of supernova talent that made big clubs take notice with their wallets, but he produced decently enough on a below average side at Caen.

His contract runs out next year and there’s almost zero chance Caen don’t cash in on a transfer fee for him in some shape or form, whether it be now or having him sign a deal with an agreement for him to leave at a future transfer window. Regardless, the kid’s promising and it would be interesting if he did move up the division to a team like Monaco, who do have a track record of playing young players recently. He could be the next one in a long line of exciting French talents

Allan Saint-Maxamin:

I have a working theory with attacking players who play for Bastia: If you can at least not be awful, you’re probably going to grade out as a decent Ligue 1 player, and perhaps even better than that. Over the past few years, the list has been growing:

  • Florian Thauvin
  • Ryad Boudebouz
  • Anthony Modeste
  • Francois Kamano
  • Wahbi Khazri
  • Giovanni Sio
  • Claudio Beauvue

On raw ability alone, Saint-Maxamin oozes potential. He’s got speed to burn, can dribble past anyone, and has great hair. His numbers weren’t great last year, in fact they were quite grizzly. But Bastia were terrible last year and have been bad for a while, so he could easily have just been in a bad situation for himself. Plus, at least for now he looks to be sticking with Monaco for the season and with some of the departures, he stands to get some minutes. With talented teammates and a good manager, perhaps he might create more of these opportunities on a regular basis.

 

 

Francois Kamano:

Perhaps the most intriguing of the three mentioned. Kamano took a lot of shots last season, especially from open play. In fact, the only wide players per 90 minutes to take more shots than him who played at least 900 minutes were Memphis Depay and Angel Di Maria. Unlike Memphis, whose overall statistical profile ranks him among the elite attackers in Europe, Kamano isn’t close to that. It’s not to say that he’s bad per se. His overall shot contribution (shots + key passes) rank him in the top 20 in France. Expected Goals + Assists rank him decently enough in the top 25-30 as well. He’s a fine winger who’s still young at 21 years old and probably is about two or so years from his peak.

Very much like Adam Ounas, who caught the eye well enough to land a transfer to Napoli, shot locations are what’s keeping him from getting to that next level. Simply put, Kamano takes a lot of bad shots, which hinders his overall impact as a player.

 

In some ways, it’s a bit reminiscent of Memphis Depay before his half season resurgence with Lyon, albeit Kamano is not nearly as all encompassing a force as Depay was at PSV. As it turned out, playing with a lot of talented attacking players was the best thing to happen for Depay, and since Bordeaux have some nice pieces in their squad, maybe Kamano could cut out some of these low-quality shots from his repertoire.

 

There’s potentially a very nice player here; not necessarily a world-beater, but one that could attract a serious offer from a bigger club in a future transfer window.

Final Thoughts:

2017-18 has the promise of being a fun season in Ligue 1. There’s not going to be a title race, especially if the rumors of Neymar going to PSG become finalized. However, everything below could be lots of fun: Bielsa’s back, we get a full year of Memphis + Fekir, the retirement home at Marseille trying to buck father time, the kids at Monaco that still remain.

Ligue 1 has become an attractive league over the past few years because of the volume of exciting young talents that are present and getting significant minutes, and this season doesn’t seem to be any different. Players like Houssem Aouar at Lyon, Martin Terrier at Lille, and Marcus Thuram at Guingamp could all shine and become bonafide prospects. And then there’s talents like Maxime Lopez at Marseille, who’s only 19 years old but already looks like a genuine talent and could become a dynamite creative midfielder in the not too distant future. The faith in youngster’s to make mistakes and grow from them is perhaps the greatest calling card that the league has. Find time in your schedule. Big talents of the future reside within and even if you just want to watch world stars doing their thing PSG have you covered there. It’s should be a good one.

Top 6 Prediction

  1. PSG
  2. Monaco
  3. Lyon
  4. Bordeaux
  5. Marseille
  6. Lille

Who Is Alexandre Lacazette And Should Arsenal Spend £40m On Him?

Since his 27 goal explosion in 2014-15, Alexandre Lacazette has been linked with numerous big clubs over a move from Olympique Lyonnais, with the latest being Arsenal. Similar to Thierry Henry insofar as he started as a winger and later transitioned into a striker role, with the alleged dearth of top class strikers seemingly available he’s been on the high on the list for big name clubs who need goal scoring reinforcements.  Only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored more goals over the past three seasons in Ligue 1 than Lacazette, and he’s been one of the starring members of Lyon’s rise back to being a force in French football. It’s been a quick ascension for the Lyon man and before Lacazette and Ibrahimovic, the last player to score 27 or more goals in a Ligue 1 season was Jean-Pierre Papin in 1991-92.

Scoring Data

Of course what will stand out with Lacazette’s resume over the past three seasons was 2014-15. The general football media tends to judge strikers on their goal output and a 0.9 goals per 90 minutes rate is a fantastic return in a top 5 league, especially playing on a team that isn’t full of star players. The problem though with judging strikers on goals even when standardized to a per 90 rate, is that penalties can inflate the total and Lacazette in 14-15 was a prime example. 27 goals look super impressive, but 8 of them were penalties which carry a near 80% conversion rate. Focusing only on his non penalty goals and his goal scoring rate drops to 0.6, which is still good and Ted Knutson a couple of years ago made a scale on where strikers were bracketed in terms of their NPG rate during the season. It’s still a nice little reminder to this day when looking at a striker’s production:

A fairly simple guideline for non-penalty scoring rates as a Forward is as follows:
.40 to .49 non-penalty goals per 90: Good.
.50 to .59 non-penalty goals per 90: Very good.
.60 to .79 non-penalty goals per 90: Probable Top 20 in Europe
.80 or above non-penalty goals per 90: Probable Top 5 in Europe

By that simple criteria, Lacazette’s goal scoring season was top 20 caliber.  Another thing to monitor is the quality of chances they’re generating, which is why expected goals has had so much fanfare. Of course it isn’t perfect as no single metric is, but by far it’s the best way currently to examine shot quality on both a player and team level. Here are Lacazette’s xG numbers along with his shot plot for all non penalty shots. (credit goes to @SteMc74 for the data and shot charts)

Laca 4

credit goes to @SteMc74 for the data and shot charts

Laca 2 A

Laca 3

You can see a clear change from where he was in 2014 to where he is now, a change that ties in nicely with how Arsenal play football. The volume of long range shots that carry low goal probabilities have been replaced with poacher like opportunities instead. It’s also important to note that since becoming a central player he has over performed xG numbers every single season and has posted a non penalty conversion rate between 18-22%. The degree to which he beat them the first two seasons were never going to be replicated but there is enough evidence to present an argument that Lacazette is an above average finisher. In fairness he also has played in Ligue 1 which isn’t renown for sturdy goalkeeping so perhaps that helps a bit too. Regardless, his finishing ability might bypass some concerns about his shot volume not being quite up to a stellar level.

13-14

This was Lacazette’s first season playing mainly as a central player, often playing as a second striker of sorts next to Bafetimbi Gomis. Watching Lacazette at this time and you can see both the initial promise of what he would eventually become and the struggles of honing down a new position. There were games during the season where Lacazette played as an inside winger on either side of the flank, particularly when Lyon switched into a 4-3-3 shape whenever Jimmy Briand was on the pitch, but these instances were rather infrequent. Lyon even experimented with a 4-2-3-1 formation without Gomis versus Nice in the beginning games of the season where Lacazette a lot of times did play as the lone forward despite being listed as a RW.

Lyon weren’t a particularly good offensive team in 2013-14. They only scored 56 goals on the season which while ranking 4th in Ligue 1 is still a pedestrian output. Despite taking the 5th most shots in the league, their xG numbers were pretty poor too at only 1.09 per game. Watching Lyon’s buildup play and you can see why that’s the case, especially when it came to Lacazette trying to navigate playing with a more traditional striker. There would be numerous times where Lacazette would call for the ball to be played to his feet so he could run at defenders with speed, only for that pass to not be selected and instead shifted out to the fullbacks.

The end result a lot of times would be a cross intended for someone like Gomis to get on the end of it,  a low percentage chance at best. Whenever Lacazette did get the ball, the quick hitting 1-2 combinations rarely materialized, often it’d just be a pass back to someone like Clement Grenier and the tempo would stall. It can be argued that the side was more tailored towards Gomis and Grenier while Lacazette was just there as a secondary figure. Lacazette had a tendency whenever Gomis was occupying the middle to shift out to a wide position and just stand there with little movement. On occasion Lacazette would gather the ball from the left wing on a fast moving attack and his first extinct would be to find Gomis with a cutback pass.

Having said all that, there were moments where you could see the type of close control and body shifting that would make him the key figure at Lyon in future years. The ability to shift and juke opponents in tight areas whether it be 45 yards from goal or just outside the penalty area were exquisite. Also for a guy who’s listed at around 5’9, his lower body strength already was quite impressive as he could hold off defenders when receiving a ground pass with his back to goal.

Overall, given the circumstances both on the field and Lyon’s financial difficulties in general, turning Lacazette into a striker was a victory for Lyon which would pay big dividends going forward.

14-15

The season that made Lacazette a household name featured a different cast of characters from the previous season. With Remi Garde departed, Hubert Fournier took over and Nabil Fekir and Clinton N’Jie became important members of the squad. Christophe Jallet was the everyday RB while Grenier and Gueida Fofana were injured for the majority of the season. Yoann Gourcuff was still there but in typical Gourcuff fashion, he played less than 1000 league minutes due to an assortment of injuries.

Perhaps the biggest change rebuilding the attack having seen Gomis move to Swansea. It allowed for Lyon to start playing Fekir in his spot instead which combined with Jallet’s inclusion shifted the club to an even more ground based attack that incentivised cutbacks and discouraged long traditional crosses. This suited a striker like Lacazette and although the early results weren’t quite there yet for Lyon it looked better than it did for major parts of the previous season.

There were games where Lacazette was held in check, notably in their matches against Olympique Marseille. The unorthodox man-to-man oriented press employed by Marcelo Bielsa disrupted Lyon’s passing game, and thus made Lacazette more of a peripheral figure. While not employing the same pressing methods, similar results occurred versus PSG and Saint Etienne. The Marseille fixtures in particular were noteworthy because it forced Lyon to add a new wrinkle: to use fast moving counter attacks.

That new dedication to playing faster when the opportunities arose made Lacazette look like an irresistible force during numerous games. His hat-trick versus Lille, two goals against Caen and a host of other performances in the first half of the season profited from the added creativity around him paying huge dividends. This is the perfect illustration of how devastating Lyon were at time on the counter.

There were still lingering issues with Lacazette’s play even with the gaudy goal totals. He struggled against teams with a low block defense in the 2nd half of the season and he was certainly running hot as evidenced by vastly outpacing xG numbers to that degree. Still, Lyon emerged as surprising contenders for the Ligue 1 title alongside Marseille, taking PSG to the final weeks of the season while getting themselves back into the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2011-12. Alongside Nabil Fekir, they emerged as the best forward duo in France that season and the future seemed bright. European football was on the horizon and a new stadium was to open in January 2016. Lyon could hope to rebuild back to their previous heights.

15-16

French football can take credit for the fact that they develop prospects relatively well. As a result their national team is stocked with future young talents for perhaps the next 10-12 years. One thing it isn’t good with domestically is that as a result of finances, Ligue 1 clubs (bar PSG) have a pretty hard time keeping squads together for multiple seasons. One only has to look at what’s happened to Marseille or Monaco over the past couple of summers and to see an illustration of that.

So it was a really big deal that Lyon kept the majority of their squad ahead of 2015-16. After the seasons they had, it would’ve been very easy for them to sell super high on Fekir and/ or Lacazette like they did with Clinton N’Jie. However Lyon inked numerous players to contract extensions, kept hold of the striker duo, and with their newfound finances they even added to the squad. Lyon bought Mathieu Valbuena, Sergi Darder, Claudio Beauvue in addition to other signings in an effort to have greater squad depth for juggling Ligue 1 and European Football. There were even hopes that Lyon could replicate their 2014-15 form and put another scare into PSG’s domestic dominance.

However there were issues with that recruitment. Valbuena had been a good Ligue 1 player during his time at Marseille, but his fit at Lyon was at best questionable. His best gifts as a playmaker involved set piece deliveries and crosses from the halfspace towards a taller target, which didn’t fit Lyon since Lacazette’s transition to becoming the only traditional striker. In many ways he would have been a better fit on the Lyon sides of 2-3 years ago. Beauvue also had his issues trying to be the striking partner in the 4-4-2 diamond and settled so badly, he eventually ended up departing to Celta Vigo in January. You add those things together alongside the devastating knee injury to Fekir in early September, and you have a recipe for disaster which befell Lyon during the first half of the season. Lacazette suffered during this period too, most notably with back issues, and scored only 6 goals prior to the winter break including a hat-trick versus Saint Etienne.

Lyon made several changes during the winter break: they fired Fournier and hired Bruno Genesio as manager, switched to a 4-3-3 formation which allowed Rachid Ghezzal and Maxwel Cornet to emerge thus easing Valbuena off of the starting XI, and subsequently took off again: suring the second half of the season they were behind only PSG with the second most points and goal differential in Ligue 1. Fitness and form regained, it’s here where we see the current and desirable version of Lacazette as a player:

  • Version 1.0: A young second striker learning the ropes with clear talents but settling for impatient shots
  • Version 2.0: A counter attacking machine with more nuance to his game but struggles still against certain defenses.
  • Version 3.0: A goal poacher with improved link up play + movements, less reliance on counter attacks to generate quality chances but still really good at it, and a much better sense of when and where to shoot.

Of his 21 Ligue 1 goals in 2015-16, none of them came from outside the box and many of them came from making straightforward runs or even snatching up rebounds. The art of the striker: being at the right place at the right time. Lacazette came full circle as a player with his hat-trick versus Monaco in week 37. Billed as the game to decide which club qualifies straight into the Champions League group stage, his three goals capped Lyon’s 6-1 thrashing and were brutally efficient, a contrast to previous hat-tricks where the aesthetics were considerably higher.

It wasn’t quite the season he imagined, and despite his goal scoring streak in the 2nd half it wasn’t enough for him to make it to the Euro 16 France roster, but Lacazette’s stock has still never been higher, and nor has his price tag, now thought to be in the £40M range.

Conclusion

Alexandre Lacazette has become a very good goal scoring striker who year after year has improved in noticeable ways, whether it be his general link up play or his ability to shoot from better areas. It’s also helped that this rise has coincided with Lyon’s improvement as a club offensively over the same duration span and a growing diversity in their attack. As the team has got better around him, it’s helped spur his evolution as a striker from a inefficient shot taker to a ruthless finisher. There are some questions surrounding the quality of fit that he’d be to Arsenal, given obvious differences in style to Olivier Giroud or similar types, but it also should be said that Lyon have evolved in a way that somewhat resembles what Arsenal, which can be seen both visually and the in the growing centrality of their shot selection in the 18 yard box.

If we highlight concerns with Lacazette, his shot numbers over the past two seasons have plateaued around 3 shots per 90 minutes, which is fine but a way off the rates of the truly elite strikers in Europe, though maybe that can be partly explained by Ligue 1’s slower pace as a league. Size could be a bit of an issue if he does go to the Premier League next season, though judging by the success of very recent Ligue 1 imports to England maybe that’s really nothing to worry about. The Premier League hosts perhaps the best stable of goalkeepers in the world and it’ll be a better barometer as to how good of a finisher Lacazette truly is. If his finishing skill is genuinely in a higher echelon, then the shot generation concerns will subdue.

But will he move? It’s entirely possible that he’ll spend another season at Lyon, their financial crisis is a thing of the past and while no one would confuse them for PSG, they can go back to the smart player trading that made them 7 time league champions during the 2000’s and a perennial Champions League knockout stage participant. Whatever the future holds, and whichever team ends up with Alexandre Lacazette, they are looking at a 25 year old striker landing in his peak who has shown a consistently high goal output over three years. Arsenal missed out on Jamie Vardy, but can they afford to ignore their pressing need for striking reinforcements? Reports today suggest Lacazette is keen to leave and he could well be the answer for Arsenal.

Someone tell Arsene.

2015-16 Olympique Lyon Season Review

The common joke about Ligue 1 is that instead of asking “who will win the title”, it’s more so “how many points will PSG win the league by”. As it turns out, PSG can win the league by a crap ton. But if you rewind it back to late July, there were the faint whispers that Lyon could be the team that pushed PSG for the majority of the season, kind of in a similar way to what Napoli did for Juventus. I was a bit skeptical of that happening seeing as quite a few things had to break in Lyon’s favor last season for Ligue 1 to be as competitive as it was, and they benefitted from conversion luck especially in the 2nd half of the season.

But even then, I wasn’t expecting Lyon to capitulate in the first 19 games to the same degree that they did. They were quite frankly… average. They were 9th in the league table with a goal difference of 0, 25 points behind PSG. The same Lyon team that were tipped to at least give PSG a bit of a fight domestically were behind such big clubs like Lorient, Caen, and newly promoted Angers. They were terrible in the Champions League despite making a big fuss about how getting back into the competition allowed them to spend more than they had in numerous years.

 

Lyon Net
Data Courtesy of Transfermarkt

 

Their spending as well came into question. Mathieu Valbuena’s fit was always awkward from the start, a set piece specialist who relied on crosses to create his high volume of chances was always going to have problems fitting in with a team that doesn’t rely on crosses. Claudio Beauvue never really fitted in well when they played him alongside Alexandre Lacazette in a front 2 and his conversion rate dropping by over 12% from 20.5% last season to 7.8% also didn’t help things. Sergi Darder was still getting used to Lyon while it seemed like Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was committing an error at center back every other week.

It also didn’t help that they were stricken by injury to their prized striker duo. Nabil Fekir tearing his ACL at the time he did (after scoring an audacious hat trick against Caen and looking like an elite young talent) put even more pressure on Lacazette to deliver and considering that Lacazette was dealing with back issues over the first couple of months, it was a recipe for disaster. It panned out that way: shorn of elite talent, Lyon played meekly in the beginning of the season.

And then boom, 5 months later and all those problems kind of just went away. Lyon have been a dominant team ever since the winter break. Their goal difference at +24 is the 2nd highest in Ligue 1, 14 more than the third highest in Lille. Their first 19 games this season have barely resembled the last 19:

 

olympique-lyon-2015-16-season (2)

 

Remember when Lyon were challenging for the title last year and they were a couple of points behind Marseille after 19 games last season? Well this stretch of games has arguably been even more dominant than that one.

Lyon Comp

 

What’s triggered the explosion for Lyon in the second half has been the return of form for Alexandre Lacazette. I mentioned him earlier this season and the issues surrounding his outlier performance last season, but it can be argued that Lacazette has now had his best ever season and he went on a torrid hot streak. The same can be said for both him and the likes of Rachid Ghezzal and Maxwell Cornet. Lyon ditched the 4-4-2 diamond formation that brought them all their success last season and eventually ended up with those three as their forwards in a permanent 4-3-3.

Ghezzal Cornet Lacazette Running

So this season has been… I’m not sure if success is the right word to use considering that they’re a billion points behind PSG, but getting back to the CL group stages once again will mean that it hasn’t been a failure. Their second half form in particular has been so dominant that it’s almost wiped the foul stench of the first 19 games. The type of performances in particular at home were exhilarating. They were the first team to ruin PSG’s bid for an undefeated season, they walked over Guingamp 5-1, they beat Monaco 6-1 to clinch an automatic birth in the CL group stages. Some of the best football in France this season have occurred in Lyon’s new stadium, Parc Olympique Lyonnais.

Another good thing for Lyon going forward is that domestic competition from teams around their level might be on the decline as well. Monaco have had a disappointing season; last summer’s approach of just buying a bunch of youngsters and hoping for the best hasn’t produced the greatest of results so far. They do have a bigger budget than Lyon but still have more holes to fill. Nice and Rennes have had solid seasons but Hatem Ben Arfa is leaving on a free at season’s end while Rennes are selling their prized young talent Ousmane Dembele to Dortmund. Saint Etienne over the past few years have never proved that they’ve had enough talent to be a serious enough Champions League hopeful while Marseille are in for a long rebuild unless things drastically change. Sure PSG are still there and with all their money they’ll always have a big cushion over everyone else, but even they might be staring at some retooling with Zlatan leaving this summer.

This isn’t to say that it’s all rosy for Lyon. There have been numerous rumors about Lacazette’s interest in coming to England and even though Lyon will be in the CL next season, those rumors won’t stop during the summer. Nabil Fekir is still working his way back to his peak form and the faint scent of rumors for their prized centre back, Samuel Umtiti persist. It’s also not a good look when they spent as much as they did for Valbuena and their best stretch has involved him being nowhere near the starting lineup. Despite how good they’ve been this season, this is a rather small squad and it showed early on when they had to juggle both European and domestic football.

For all that, Ligue 1 desperately needs another decent team in Europe very soon and Lyon is France’s best chance at it. They have the stadium to bring in the revenue they’ve desired for since the project began nearly a decade ago, this will be their second straight season with Champions League football to entice players to come over and they have a great academy that in particular has been able to produce attacking talent. From the likes of Karim Benzema, Anthony Martial, Alassane Plea and now recently with Fekir and Aldo Kalulu. Again, look at everyone else in comparison and Lyon by far are in a more steady place. It’s a far cry from the dark days of 2012-14 when the club had to sell players and solely rely on their academy just to keep itself functional.

Lyon have a lot to look forward to in the near future. Admittedly some of this will depend on whether they can keep Lacazette going forward and if not, what will their contingency plan be. The likes of Cornet, Fekir and Kalulu mean that Lyon at least have the basis for a decent attack if they sell Lacazette and just stick in house. Nobody knows if Bruno Genesio is truly Lyon’s manager of the future, I mean hell at this time last season it looked like Lyon had their manager in Hubert Fournier and that bubble burst by December. But at the very least he’s overseen Lyon’s dominant 2nd half of the season and appears to have pointed them in the right direction.

Four months ago if you asked whether Lyon had a shot of just being in the Champions League next season, the majority of people would’ve been hugely skeptical. Now, Ligue 1 has a potential for a 2nd above average continental team in Lyon. If this version can remain in place for next season, then both Ligue 1 and Lyon will be in a much better place going forward.

Caen You Believe It

It seems like ages ago, but at the midway point of last season, Caen were a team that looked under real threat of relegation. It wasn’t a huge surprise, as Caen have had a pretty volatile history in terms of being able to stay up in Ligue 1. In their last 15 completed seasons, they’ve only been in the top flight in France for six of them. After 19 games last season, Caen were dead last in Ligue 1 with only 15 points. The three teams that got relegated last season in Ligue 1 were at least four points ahead of Caen at that point, and they looked like a sunk cost.

From that point to now, they’ve accumulated 43 points through 25 games, a points per game pace of 1.72. Over a full uninterrupted season that would amount to around a 65-66 point side. That’s been good enough in two of the past six seasons to secure a Champions League spot. It’s quite remarkable just how successful Caen have been over the last 25 games. In ways it’s reminiscent of Leicester’s rise in the English Premier League, but for a longer span of time. During their extended surge they’ve beaten the likes of Saint Etienne and Marseille, the latter of which was one of the best games in European football last season. Their expected points total last season was 47.7, which suggests that their total output of 46 was more or less what they should’ve expected.

The way Caen set up tactically is pretty interesting and at times can lead towards insanity. In an age where the double pivot is the go-to formation, Caen don’t play with a two man holding midfield and instead play some form of 4-1-4-1 formation. It’s built on counter attacking at will and very quick transitions, creating structural chaos. In many ways their playing style is the equivalent of say Crystal Palace or even Hoffenheim during the past couple of seasons, just with considerably less talent.

Despite the 4-0 loss versus Lyon, they went toe-to-toe and were hard done by Nabil Fekir’s best impersonation of Lionel Messi. The degree to which how far back Caen sit back and try to make do with quick bursts is quite astounding. Caen through six games this season are last with 39.6% possession and have conceded the 2nd most final third passes in Ligue 1. Last season Caen ranked 2nd last in possession as well. In terms of pressing, Caen ranked in the bottom three in France last season and that hasn’t deviated much this season as well.

Perhaps the biggest worry for a club like Caen is that the degree to which they sit back and defend deep could eventually bite them in the butt. They truly only have one style of play and at some point teams in France will start to figure that out. The likes of PSG, Marseille and at times Lyon are the type of clubs that can pick apart a defense that deep. On a much much much larger scale, that’s sort of happened to Borussia Dortmund during the latter stages of the Jurgen Klopp era. Teams slowly started to figure out the flaws of incessant gengenpressing without a true Plan B and counteracted it (mind you they were also very unlucky in terms of both health and statistically but that’s already been discussed ).

For now though Caen won’t have to worry about how one dimensional they are because they’ve started to become better defensively. Caen last season were awful in that area, ranking in the bottom three in expected goals conceded at 51.5. This season, they rank 5th. Though they’ve given up the 2nd most final third passes, that hasn’t led to too much shots in dangerous areas. It has taken Caen opponents on average 35.7 final third passes to register a danger zone shot (shots coming from the central area), which ranks 4th in Ligue 1. PSG, Rennes and Angers are the three clubs ahead of them; teams that are very compact defensively.

Final

Even going forward, Caen have been better than they were last season. Their expected goals per game has gone from middle of the pack to the top 5-6, Caen rank 6th in both big chances created and danger zone shots created and this is being done despite a goals/shots on target conversion rate that is 13th in Ligue 1. Last season, Caen had the 4th highest conversion in Ligue 1.

Despite the clear progress that has come for Caen this season, according to the expected points tally I have for Ligue 1, Caen have overachieved by 4.12 points this season, the highest in Ligue 1. This could be due to the fact that Caen have a PDO of 93.4. I tried looking at different other regressions for Caen and they came out much more favorably for them, suggesting that their talent level so far is of a 9-10 point team. Mind you it’s still over-performing their current total of 12 points but not to such a high degree.

The good news for Caen this season is that they’ve cushioned the departures of N’golo Kante (Leicester), Thomas Lemar (Monaco) and Lenny Nangis (Lille) really well so far, probably better than expected. They also were the beneficiary of productive loan acquisitions in Emiliano Sala and Nicolas Benezet, and they’ve gone to Nantes and Guingamp respectively. For a club as small as Caen and without much in the way of money, being able to get by in house is key to survival.

It also helps that there’s some form of core to lean on. Julian Feret is still a very classy playmaker even if he’s on the wrong side of 30. Herve Bazile is an underrated winger who’s in his prime years and Damien da Silva is dependable to suck up close to 3000 minutes at CB. Caen did make one big signing this summer, and that was for Andy Delort from Wigan. Through six games this season, he’s been a perfect fit for them producing at a clip of 4.5 shots per 90, a non penalty goal rate of 0.33 with an expected goals output of 0.41 per 90. He’s quick and can run through the channels, which plays right into how Caen play with the quick hitting passing.

It also helps that he has a rocket of a right foot. It was his goal that stood as the game winner versus Marseille in their 1-0 season opening win. Delort’s goal scoring record outside his 2013/14 season with Tours in Ligue 2 has been uninspiring, but perhaps this is the club that extracts the best out of him in a Riyad Mahrez like fashion.

Caen are evolving from a fun novelty act into a more sustainable version of that, but without losing the charm that makes them a very entertaining team to watch for the neutrals. In many ways, they’re the antithesis of the ethos that some people think of when it comes to Ligue 1. They’re super quick on the counter and even with the progress defensively, they still give off the feel of a “bend but don’t break” defense which doesn’t exist too often in Ligue 1. There’s genuine talent at the club and who knows just how good Andy Delort could be this season. Of course there’s the dreaded small sample size alert hovering around success stories like Caen, and it’s totally fair. We’ve seen so many fairytale stories that have gone awry that it should be taken with some form of salt.

But it shouldn’t be out of the question that Caen could finish around 9th-11th this season. The field in Ligue 1 is pretty uninspiring once you get past the top 6-8 clubs. Montpellier look awful so far, Bastia are shooting fireballs out of their behinds (60% G/SoT rate!!!), Nantes can’t create offense to save their lives and two of the three promoted teams from last season look like a safe bet to return back to Ligue 2. Assuming Caen don’t get bit by injury luck, a mid table finish is possible if their underlying data continues to hover around a decent level.

One of the best stories going in France, Caen are a fun alternative to the likes of Nantes and Rennes who play slow, methodical football. Variety is the spice of life, and Caen have certainly added a few doses of that in Ligue 1.

Find me on Twitter: @MoeSquare