The previous update left off with Amiens SC in 1st place in Ligue 2 with a 6-point lead over 2nd placed FC Metz. Despite this good form, I dived into the stats and picked out opportunities where the team needs to improve further. Of course, any changes can have a knock-on effect elsewhere. I’ll hopefully guide you through my thoughts on how I shape the future of the team.
In this article I’ll cover:
- Deep lying concerns
- A replacement in the shadows?
- ‘Keeping leaders around
- A focus on the future
- November and December
- Team leaders
Firstly, I wanted to outline two issues I have which can be solved in a number of ways:
DEEP LYING CONCERNS
The main cause for concern was the team’s poor tackling, trending at more than 6% below the league average. The main culprit for this was found to be the Deep Lying Midfielder, Jeremy Gelin. As the last line of defence before the actual defence, I need someone who’ll win more than 50% of tackles. Upon further investigation, I found he was also underperforming in a number of other key areas. Usually, in this situation, you’d turn to the understudy. However, Mathis Lachuer was proving to be even worse at tackling. This is probably due to his lack of strength and aggression. Whilst it doesn’t provide an instant solution, I’m going to have him mentored by our Ball Winning Midfielder, Mamadou Fofana, who is much more physical and is having a decent season. Hopefully, his aggression and bravery can rub off on Lachuer. As neither Gelin nor Lachuer are ideal options I initially made the decision to move our Shadow Striker, Iron Gomis, back into his natural position in defensive midfield. But is this really the right decision?
A REPLACEMENT IN THE SHADOWS?
In a similar vein to the “deep-lying concerns”, the knock-on effect of Gomis can easily be dealt with in a “win now” fix by moving Gael Kakuta to the Shadow Striker role. However, he’s 31 now and his physical attributes have just started to decline. Plus, he’s been doing well out on the right wing, with 6 goals and 2 assists in 12 appearances. I don’t believe I have anyone waiting in the wings (pardon the pun) who can have that kind of impact from there.
As mentioned earlier, both of these issues can be in different ways: 3 ways to be exact.
1 – The short-term method: AKA Win now
The simple move here would be to move Gomis back from SS to DLP. After Gelin’s poor performances (stats-wise) it would undoubtedly make the midfield area stronger. Moving Kakuta from the ring wing slot to Shadow Striker would also strengthen the attack as it’s Kakuta’s more natural position.
However, As we’re currently unbeaten and clear at the top of the division, is the win-now approach too short-sighted?
2 – The long-term method: AKA planning for the future
As Gomis could be leaving at the end of the season (or sooner) and Kakuta is on the wrong side of 30, would I be better off using the strong league position to my advantage? Although Lachuer is doing badly when it comes to his defensive stats, should I give him the rest of the season as the starter and see if his attributes and stats can develop enough to make him an option for next season (hopefully in Ligue 1?)
And likewise, at the Shadow Striker position, should I give on-loan Chibozo the rest of the season? Angel Chibozo is on loan from Juventus and my coaching staff think he could turn into a decent Ligue 1 player. Luckily, his contract with the Italian giants expires at the end of this season so I might be able to pick him up for free. Whilst he’s only been a bench option so far, he’s winning an impressive 41% of his pressure attempts and has the team’s highest Non-penalty xG per game.
3 – Look at the transfer market.
I’ve had a number of free agents on trial over the last few weeks and two of them could step in on relatively low wages and do a good job. Firstly, I have Mateus Bueno who’s spent the last two seasons with Gil Vicente in Portugal. He’d certainly be an upgrade over Lachuer and he’s also physical enough to play in the Ball Winning Midfielder role if needed.
Secondly is Brahima Ouattara. Formally of OGC Nice and Lausanne, you can see from the comparison that he’s the better option of the two 19-year-olds:
Ouattara would cost nothing and would cost less than £1k per week in wages.
‘KEEPING LEADERS AROUND
The final area of immediate concern is the goalkeeper situation. Long-term ‘keeper, club captain and fan favourite Regis Gurtner are on an expiring contract. Whilst the 35-year-old has allowed a couple of sloppy goals, he’s generally performing well. With such little veteran leadership elsewhere I’m reluctant to let him go. I’ll only extend his contract, however, if he agrees to take a pay cut. Like Kakuta, his physical attributes are declining, but I’m willing to keep him around and see how he performs next season, hopefully in Ligue 1. He deserves it, right?
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Despite being at the start of November, there are only four games left before the transfer window opens.
However, the gap before the first two and final two games is FIVE weeks. Although this is a pain, it does give me a chance to give players like Chibozo and Lachuer some extended game time to prove themselves. Adding in some friendlies against good teams also lets me add some trialists into the first-team lineup and see what impact they can have. With friendlies scheduled against Brentford, PSG-2 and FC Nantes I effectively have seven games to form opinions on the future of the team. In the back of my mind, I had one of the board’s objectives: developing players from the club’s youth system. This is an area I’ve previously fallen down on in previous saves and I’ve often purchased players who’ve blocked the pathway for the youngsters coming through. Therefore, I wanted to take a look at what players could be ready to take a step up to the first-team squad. This will not only give them valuable experience and open them up to mentoring (where available) but also give me the option of loaning out some older players who are in desperate need of first-team football.
I’ve mentioned Ikelikhena before. At just 16 he’s a fantastic prospect. He’s scored 14 goals in 10 games for the U19s already. Bakayoko is another who I think is ready to move up to train with the first team and get some minutes off the bench where possible. His defensive qualities are really good and once he’s managed to add some bulk to his 6’2” frame and work on his technical abilities he’ll be a very good player.
Tutuana is a promising right fullback who still needs to work on his quickness but already has good crossing and tackling abilities. Parsy-Lucas is a talented passer and seems to already have a good understanding of his defensive duties. With some progress in his mental, he should develop into a good option.
Moving up into the B-Team, there are a few players who I’ll be able to send out on loan. I have a good left fullback in Kassoum Ouattara who desperately needs game time as I see him as the natural successor to Sebastian Ring. I’ve offered him to clubs to see what interest is out there. Also offered out on loan is speedy winger Charbel Gomez. I’ve been unable to find him any regular game time and he’s been suffering from niggling injuries. A good spell of first-team games somewhere will be hugely beneficial as there’s definitely a good player in there.
I’ve added the rest to the development list to see what the new Director of Football, Jocelyn Blanchard, can do. I’ve not used this method before so it will be interesting to see if he sticks to my demands of having them only leave where regular first-team football is offered.
NOVEMBER AND DECEMBER 2023
The month of November opened with the bittersweet news that Iron Gomis had won the Ligue 2 player of the month award for October. His four goals and a 7.93 rating over the month are great, but as he’s still refusing to sign a new contract I’ll soon be forced to jettison him to train with the U19 squad (which is a viable and even encouraged option for those of us who occasionally like to call upon the dark arts).
The more positive news was that our defensive midfielder Owen Gene came 3rd in the Young Player of the Month.
Back to match action, Ikelikhena made a substitute appearance as we beat FC Pau 4-0. Up next was Quevilly Rouen who fell to a 5-1 defeat as Kakuta scored a hat trick and annoyingly Gomis notched up a hat trick of assists. After a much-rotated team beat Havre AC on penalties in the cup we embarked upon a five-week break. As a reward for all their hard work, I gave the players a week off, but then put them through a vicious week of boot camp upon their return.
Quite a lot happened in this fortnight.
Firstly, and much welcomed, was the news that our loanee Chibozo won the young player of the month for November. I’ve spoken to his agent and he’s interested in joining us permanently. Which is a nice option to have.
Lastly, I had a chat with Iron Gomis where he requested to be placed on the transfer list. Resigned to losing him any way I agreed and was surprised to see Nimes offer £375k. I accepted and the deal was made official shortly after. Annoyingly, he wants to leave us to join a team in 7th place, 21 points behind us. I’m looking forward to playing them again where the players will be instructed to tackle him VERY hard.
The three friendlies offered good outings for some of the trialists as well as younger players. However, none of the free agents performed any better than the players we currently have so none will be made permanent for the time being.
In the final two games before the January transfer window opens we gained two easy victories, beating 5th-placed Valenciennes 3-1 and 13th-place Stade Lavallois 4-1.
During these last four league games I was able to give some playing time to Chibozo at SS and Lachuer as DLP. Chibizo scored 2 goals, with a 7.4% average rating, whilst averaging 1.6 key passes and an impressive 91% pass completion ratio per game.
Unfortunately, Lachuer didn’t appear to do quite as well. With a 6.8 average rating, he completed 81% of his passes and provided 1.3 key passes per game. He’s still struggling with the physical side of the game, but he did manage to win an improved 55% of tackles.
WHAT DOES GOOD LOOK LIKE?
I wanted the opportunity to see how my players rate against the “What does good look like” metrics put together by FM Stag.
When looking at per 90 stats it’s important to take things into consideration. Because we’re joint 3rd in the division with 56% possession per game, you’d expect the defensive players to have worse per 90 stats because we clearly do less defending. Red means the players score around the LOW stats, meaning they’re underperforming. Amber means they’re doing average and Green means they’re approaching elite levels.
As expected, the fullbacks are getting as many tackling opportunities due to us being quite a possession heavy. I’m disappointed with the pressure completed per-game numbers though. Despite us not defending as much as the average team, I’d want my players to be more aggressive when it comes to pressing.
Crossing stats aren’t great with no one hitting the average stats. Mendy completes 25% (15th in Ligue 2) of his crosses whilst Ring is down at just 14%. They both get the ball the same amount per game so that’s something I need to keep a close eye on. The progressive passing is very pleasing, showing the Positive mentality is working well and they’re pushing the ball forward when possible.
Again, it’s hard to judge the performance based on these per 90 stats. Looking deeper, however, I’m alarmed to see Opoku only wins 60% of tackles. I’m delighted that both Opoku and Barry are nearing elite level when it comes to intercepting the ball, a sign of both intelligent players and probably helped by our aggressive pressing further up-field causing inaccurate passes.
From previous analysis we knew that our midfield double pivot isn’t our strong point, so the above stats should come as no surprise. Whilst Gelin appears to shirk away from tackles he’s intelligent enough to give average interception stats. The main ball-winning midfielder, Fofana, isn’t impressive at all. He doesn’t appear to be winning the ball much and when he does have possession, he’s not doing all that much with it. The youngsters offer more promising news, however. Gene intercepts well and uses the ball well when he has it. With a little improvement to his passing, he could be a good threat.
Lachuer, for all his physical faults, does really well when on the ball. He’s above the elite level for progressive passes per 90 and expected assists per game. It’s really important I develop his physical skills to try to make him as well-rounded as possible. If I can get him to average on the defensive side, he’ll be a real asset.
Here’s where we move away from the red and start seeing some more green! Given his excellent season so far it’s no surprise to see Kakuta putting up some elite-level stats. On the opposite flank, Leautey is putting in a shift with over 11 sprints per game. Whilst his passing ratio isn’t great, he’s leading with the number of open-play key passes – although this is still below average based on FM Stag’s stats.
Bande is a jack of all trades and performs well across the metrics. Gomez is struggling and you can see why I’m keen to get him out on loan for some regular game time.
The main area the wide midfielders are struggling in is non-penalty xG. This could be for two reasons: firstly, they’re positioned in the midfield strata, not in the attacking midfield like most wingers in a 4-2-3-1, and secondly, we’ve not had great performances from the midfield creator(s).
With the departure of Gomis, who played most of the season so far in the Shadow Striker position, the gap has been filled (so far) by Chibozo. Meanwhile, Mamadou Fofana (the younger) has deputised here all season and I’ve tried to give him as many minutes as possible.
You’ll notice neither have played many minutes, and Chibozo has also spent time as a striker and on the wing. Fofana’s minutes have also come late in games when we’ve had a comfortable lead. As such it’s hard to judge either player, but as the season goes on we should have a better understanding of both.
With just two recognised strikers in the squad, and one who’s only just come back from injury, there haven’t been many options for rotations. Cisse has performed admirably for a man of 37, racking up 8 goals so far. As you’d expect, he doesn’t run much but his finishing instincts are tremendous.
Antiste is on loan and still finding fitness, putting up some disappointing performances when called upon. One option I’m looking at is the loan of Aliou Badji who’s with Ligue 2 rivals Bordeaux but hasn’t started a game this season. If I have the option to recall him when the transfer window opens I might get him back and give him a good run of games for the remainder of the season so I can see what kind of a player I have. He’s not as good on paper as Antiste, but is well-rounded and an aerial threat.
Whilst Antiste has performed poorly so far, he’s clearly getting into good positions judging by his Non-penalty xG of 0.46. Hopefully, his eye for goal will improve alongside his match fitness. Leautey and Kakuta are showing their worth on the flanks and are the creative force of the team.
Leautey is still leading the team with tackles per 90, showing his teammates how defending from the front should be done.
Lacheur is showing his attacking prowess with over 8 progressive passes per game from the Deep Lying Playmaker position which bodes well if his defensive qualities can improve over the rest of the season.
It seems the Mayan-esque offering of Iron Gomis, mentioned earlier, pleased the gods…. As here’s the youth intake: