Forget Pogba – analyzing Yves Bissouma, Brighton’s powerhouse wanted by Real Madrid and Man United
When they signed Yves Bissouma from Lille in 2018 for more than £15 million, Brighton expected to land a future star. His first two seasons at the club were very inconsistent and saw him come in and out of the team and failing to settle himself as the player Brighton expected him to be.
But this season, Bissouma has stepped up to the challenge and he has started all the games he has been available for. His performances have been excellent and he’s been linked with some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid, Man United, Liverpool or Arsenal among others.
With Real Madrid looking to find a long term replacement to their midfield trio of Modric, Kroos and Casemiro, Paul Pogba has been one of their targets in the last few seasons. Manchester United are also looking for someone who can replace the Frenchman when he leaves. In this tactical analysis, we will analyze how Bissouma plays and what he could bring to the teams following him.
Bissouma is a very physical central midfielder who can adapt to very different tactics and roles. He stands at 182 cm / 6’11’’ and can easily win duels against every kind of rival, proven by his 60.19% winning rate in defensive duels. At Brighton, Bissouma plays as a right or left central midfielder in the 3-4-3 formation favoured by Graham Potter. With his pace and strength, Bissouma provides good cover for the defensive line covering a lot of ground and forcing play down the flanks.
On the ball, Bissouma has the conditions to be a dominant midfielder. His technique is more than solid and he can use his physicality to break lines and protect the ball. His passing range is also very good, putting the exact weight in most of his passes and hitting good long balls too. He’s not a big goal threat but he does have a good strike in him and likes to try his luck from distance (1.05 shots per 90, more than 65.3% of the Premier League central midfielders).
However, he has some weaknesses when it comes to his reading of the game and positioning. In defence, Bissouma is often caught ball-watching and can miss some runs in behind, leaving players unmarked. He also tends to go for the ball all the time and leave holes in the defensive structure. He’s also over aggressive in some plays and commits too many fouls with 1.8 per 90.
In attack, he suffers from similar problems, often choosing bad positions or body shapes to receive the ball and taking too many touches instead of moving the ball quickly. He’s easily forced to play the ball backwards and also get involved in too many offensive duels as a result of not passing the ball quickly enough (8.03 offensive duels per 90, top 20% among central midfielders in the EPL).
Attacking phase: does he exploit his technical ability to the fullest?
In Brighton’s buildup, Bissouma takes turns with the other central midfielder to come deep and build from the back but prefers others to be the protagonists in the playmaking. He attempts just 44.2 passes per 90, which is less than the majority of EPL central midfielders. Bissouma’s main strength on the ball is his ability to break lines with his runs. He’s a very strong runner, very good in transitions and carrying the ball forward. His 1.28 progressive runs per 90 put him in the top 38.5% of the EPL central midfielders and are one of his team’s weapons when facing a high press.
Bissouma’s runs are not only useful to progress and establish Brighton in the opposition half. He has the intelligence to attract several rivals when carrying the ball and making the pass to an unmarked teammate at the exact moment, generating spaces for his teammates and creating numerical advantages.
In the picture below we see an example of this kind of runs. Bissouma takes the ball and rushes forward between four rivals. Once he attracts the four of them, he plays a nice pass to the player on the left-wing, who then has space and time to attack and advance.
Bissouma’s technique is very good. He handles the ball well in tight spaces and uses his body well to protect the ball and avoid pressure. He puts the correct weight to his passes and has a great passing range. Even in difficult situations, Bissouma uses different surfaces of his right foot to pass the ball and also hit good passes on the volley. Once his team beats the first pressing line and find him, Bissouma can quickly set up a counterattack or create chances with his long passes. He attempts 3.57 long passes per 90 with an accuracy of 60%, both figures in the top 50% of the EPL central midfielders.
When it comes to his playmaking skills, Bissouma operates much more comfortable when facing the goal. In that situation, he can move the ball from side to side using his good passing range and also has the option to attempt progressive runs when there are more spaces in front of him. He puts the right weight to his passes and can change the play quickly with good long passes too.
In general, his passing is very accurate and safe (88.13% passing accuracy, top 19.9% among EPL central midfielders) but he doesn’t really have the vision or quality to break lines with progressive passes (just 5.48 progressive passes per 90, which is less than 56.8% of the central midfielders in the EPL) and isn’t the best option to take the ball to the final third. His forward pass ratio is in the bottom 25% of the players in his same position in the EPL and we’ll explain the reasons behind this figure later in this scout report.
Bissouma isn’t someone who will usually assist or score but he does have a great strike in him and likes to try his luck from distance from time to time. He has scored some very good goals in his career from long shots both in open play and set pieces and if used in a more attacking role he would surely add even more goals to his game.
Bissouma’s problems come when he needs to turn and play quickly. When pressed, he usually protects the ball well until he finds a safe passing option, but isn’t good enough at turning and progressing when receiving with his back to the goal. Sometimes he takes too many touches because he looks to run forward instead of playing quick passes and doesn’t scan the pitch enough to know what to do before receiving the ball.
This lack of awareness and the tendency to take too many touches leads Bissouma to be involved in too many offensive duels and attempting lots of dribbles (8.03 offensive duels and 3.57 dribbles per 90, top 20% and 14.5% among central midfielders in the EPL respectively). Getting involved in too many offensive duels isn’t necessarily a good thing in a central midfielder as it means he gives time to the opponents to press him and doesn’t pass the ball quickly enough to avoid pressure. His success rate in offensive duels and dribbles is above average, adding too many lost balls he could avoid.
Bissouma doesn’t have the ideal body shape when receiving the ball neither, so he’s often forced to pass the ball backwards or get involved in a duel. This turns Bissouma into a potential pressing target when receiving the ball from the centre-backs and is one of the reasons why other teammates tend to take the main role in the buildup, leaving him to take advantage of his running capacity in different situations.
In the example below, we see an example of what we’ve mentioned before. Bissouma receives the ball from the left wing-back and instead of turning and passing it quickly to the available options, he rakes a lot of touches and drives the ball horizontally. He’s pressed by a Liverpool player and he protects the ball well but risks losing it in a dangerous situation. He ends up passing the ball back to the right centre-back, something he could have done much earlier. Notice he does have passing options (marked in yellow) but fails to spot them and is forced back by Liverpool’s press.
Bissouma also tends to get too close to the ball when a teammate has it and doesn’t get in the positions he should to help his team progress. When he approaches his teammates, he makes it easier for the rivals to press Brighton as he doesn’t provide a progressive passing lane. He should work on his patience to wait behind the pressing line and open passing lanes by being in good positions to turn and progress. He could also improve his scanning and awareness, which is another of the reasons why he struggles under pressure ant takes too many touches when receiving with his back to the goal.
Below we can see Brighton’s left centre-back trying to build from the back. Bissouma, instead of waiting behind the pressing line and creating a passing lane, gets very close to him and doesn’t provide any solutions. He also attracts two Liverpool players and forces his teammate to play a long ball. Even if Bissouma had received the ball, the movement would have been a bad one as he would be heavily pressed and without options to progress.
Again below, we can see another bad decision from Bissouma. This time, the right centre-back has the ball and Bissouma is well-positioned behind the pressing line. But he’s not patient enough and leaves that position to get closer to the ball. With this movement, the progressive passing lane disappears and Brighton can’t find any options to build from the back.
In this section of the scour report, we have seen that Bissouma has all the natural conditions to be an excellent midfielder in the attacking phase. He has the physicality to threaten in quick transitions and the passing technique and range to find teammates in good positions. But he struggles when receiving with his back to the goal and needs too many touches to turn because of his lack of awareness. He’s reaching his peak years and needs to improve these aspects but his natural conditions are tempting for anyone and with some work he can become a top player in his position.
Defensive role: preventing transitions and leading Brighton’s press
Bissouma’s defensive duties start when his team is attacking in the final third. The central midfielder sits as the deepest midfielder but tries to be as close as possible to the play to recover the ball quickly when Brighton press high and recycle possession. He reads very well what’s in front of him and is very quick and intelligent to prevent counterattacks and to get any loose balls or clearances to restart his team’s attacks. He uses these physical and tactical abilities to hold Brighton and allows them to press high and maintain themselves in the opposition half. These traits would be very interesting for dominant and high-pressing teams.
In the picture below we see Bissouma’s usual position when Brighton attack. He’s the deepest midfielder but still close to the rivals so he can quickly press and cut short any counterattacks. He’s also close to the box so can be a threat from distance if the ball falls into his feet. Other central midfielders often are in deeper positions and take a more conservative approach but with Brighton playing with three centre-backs, Bissouma is allowed to push forward and keep the high press.
Coming into the actual defensive phase, Bissouma stands out as an excellent tackler. He uses his long legs and agility to slide into tackles, choosing good angles and getting the ball back easily. He’s also very strong in physical duels, plays on the front foot and is not afraid to tackle hard when needed. This tackling ability and strength in duels combined with his pace make him a very good defender both when pressing high as can take the rivals off guard and recover the ball high up the pitch and also when covering the wings in his own half, making late runs when the full-back is out of position and recovering the ball with last-minute tackles.
Let’s see some examples of his tackling abilities. First below, Bissouma follows the rival winger after he dribbles past a Brighton defender and makes a last-minute tackle to block the cross and get the ball back. In this action, he shows his acceleration and his agility to make the tackle at the exact moment and from the correct angle.
In the next one, we see a different way Bissouma uses to recover the ball. When he sees the pass to the Liverpool player, he rushes forward and presses him quickly, catching his rival off-guard. He also comes from the exact angle to use his long legs as a hook and take the ball back. This is something he usually does when he’s pressing high and a rival receives facing his own goal, getting there before he can turn and recovering the ball.
Playing in front of a back-three, Bissouma can leave his position, press high and go for the ball at all time knowing he’ll be cover. Brighton know how effective he is in defensive duels (60.19% winning rate – top 29.9% among EPL central midfielders) and decide to unleash him when pressing, so he gets involved in lots of duels too with 8.11 defensive duels per 90 (top 21.2%). He would excel alongside a more positional midfielder too if that partner was in charge of playing from the back and staying deep and he could run around the pitch to exploit his pace, tackling ability and running capacity.
On the negative side and similarly to what happened in the attacking phase, Bissouma is easily attracted by the ball and can forget to mark his man or fail to track a run in behind. He tends to be caught ball-watching and is much better reading what’s in front of him than what’s happening behind his back. This is another powerful argument in favour of playing him alongside a more tactical player who can unleash his other abilities.
In the picture below, Bissouma is watching the ball and doesn’t see the run in behind by Doucouré, who goes behind his back unmarked, receives the pass and assists James. Bissouma should have marked Doucouré because the rest of the players were well-marked by his teammates, but he failed to spot the run happening behind his back.
Like we said before in this analysis regarding the attacking phase, Bissouma also has all the natural conditions to be an excellent defensive midfielder. He’s great at reading what’s happening in front of him and can single-handedly disrupt counterattacks and maintain his team’s high press. His physicality is very difficult to overcome in defensive duels and he’s also good in the air. However, he fails to read what’s happening behind him and is dragged out of position too easily. He also commits too many fouls and would ideally need someone watching his back.
Bissouma is a very attractive player and someone who stands out very quickly when you watch him play. He has an excellent blend of physicality and technical elegance and is capable both of creating and destroying. But once we dive deeper into his game, there are some flaws he needs to work on. He’s not reliable to keep his position and would ideally need someone balancing his positioning mistakes.
He’s still quite young but not a kid anymore. Big clubs will be tempted by his obvious natural characteristics and he’s also a player everyone likes to watch. If given time and with the proper coaching, Bissouma could become a dominant player in a big club and be a long term and cheaper alternative to Paul Pogba for Real Madrid and Manchester United, while also being someone capable of adding something different to Arsenal and Liverpool’s midfield.