Mohamed-Ali Cho scout report: The next teenage star to emerge from Ligue 1?
Mohamed-Ali Cho is a 17-year-old attacker currently playing for Angers. He made his debut last August, at the age of 16, getting 14 minutes at right-wing in the 2-0 loss to Bordeaux. The ex-Everton and Paris Saint-Germain youth academy prospect was consistently in the Angers first-team squad through much of last season, although rarely played significant minutes. He was often reduced to getting minutes wherever he could, managing 506 minutes of football over 22 appearances in all competitions. This season he has already surpassed his total of minutes from the last campaign, with him currently sitting on 699 minutes at the time of writing. Cho’s emergence as an exciting talent has been the icing on the cake for what has been a surprisingly excellent start to the season for Angers, who currently sit in fourth place in the table.
Hold up play and positioning
Cho stands at 1.82m in height and has a strong frame for a player of his age. He is clearly still developing and may well even grow in height still, but will undoubtedly bulk up in years to come. However, already Cho possesses impressive strength and holds up play effectively. If receiving the ball to feet, Cho can play off of one or two touches where possible, but equally, he can back into defenders and delay possession, allowing his teammates to push forward to support him. Aerially he is less impressive though. So far this season Cho has averaged 2.96 aerial duels per 90 and has won just 17.4% of these.
Cho will work across the width of the pitch, tending to predominantly work in either half-space, but can pick up possession in a central area too, as the heat map below testifies.
Cho can start centrally, and has the physicality and energy to play by himself as a lone forward and still fully occupy two centre-backs. He can work between the two and will vary his movement between dropping deep and running in behind, which will be shown in more detail in a later section of this analysis. His constant variance of his movement means he can make a change of direction from a position like the one shown in the image below, and quickly dart towards the ball to receive in the half-space. From this position, he may look to immediately play in behind to a forward runner, but he has a cool head on his shoulders, and won’t force a pass if it isn’t on. Cho will happily hold play up in this position and look to move the ball to a safer option.
Cho uses his frame well when marked tightly and consistently keeps the ball at a distance from the defender. As mentioned already, when facing away from goal and with a defender on his back, Cho will back into the defender and keep the ball as far away from them as possible. He can simply hold play up and wait for support from his teammates, but defenders have to be careful for Cho has the agility, acceleration and ball control to quickly shift the ball to one side and roll the defender if they are too eager to win the ball.
When dribbling forward, Cho keeps the ball on whichever foot is furthest from the defender but also looks to dribble with the outside of his boot, firmly keeping as much of his body as possible between the ball and the defender. We can see him doing so in the next image.
Cho will look to time his runs to receive possession as late as possible, darting into areas to receive possession rather than moving early and waiting. Whilst he can hold play up, Cho likes to play quickly, and clearly enjoys moving in and out of spaces after, and combining with teammates off of few touches. His teammates know to expect him to move from a central position into the half-spaces to receive, and will look to hit line-breaking passes into his feet, whilst central-midfielders and wingers will position themselves where Cho can find them off of his first touch..
But again, that same them of varying his approach shows itself even as Cho makes a run to receive possession like in the previous image. Cho will know if the defender suspects he has a particular pattern or penchant for playing in a certain way and where possible he will change this approach to his advantage. For example, against Rennes earlier this season, Cho made a similar run to the one in the last image, moving from a central position into the half-space to receive a straight, forward pass, albeit from a shorter distance. This passage of play is shown in the following image. Instead of receiving a playing to a teammate, Cho sensed there was enough weight on the pass, and that his marker was anticipating him receiving the ball to feet. As a result, Cho dummied and allowed the ball to move past him and his marker, before rolling the defender and attacking the highlighted space in behind. He was then able to drive towards goal and finish, putting the game out of Rennes’ reach.
Movement and creativity
As the last example suggests, Cho isn’t merely a player with strength and good ball control. He has exceptional movement and the acceleration and top speed to make him a bonafide threat if there is space to attack behind the opposition defence.
Cho will watch for any defenders stepping forward without the rest of the backline replicating this movement, and will then look to time his runs and hit the space vacated by this defender. Once again his teammates know to look for this, and even if he moves from a central position to a wider one, like in the image below, taking himself away from goal, he has the pace and dribbling ability to not only get to the ball first but then quickly direct himself back to goal.
Cho doesn’t often play on the shoulder of the last man though, and he doesn’t need to. Firstly, he likes to have the option to receive in a deeper area, as already shown in this analysis, and combine with teammates around him. However, he also knows there is no need for him to potentially stray into an offside position. Few defenders have the speed to catch him in a foot race, and his timing is so good that he likes to start his runs slightly early, where he is then already at his top speed as he moves in line with the last defender, but at this point, the ball is already in motion. It is a tactic we see Erling Haaland use to devastating effect to ensure he is difficult to catch if a ball is played behind a high-line defence.
Cho does an excellent job of combining both his ability to receive the ball as a target man and still offer an option for the pass behind. His energy and ability to do this makes him a perfect option as a lone forward. He can drop into a deeper area and lay the ball off, securing possession, and still turn quickly and time a run in behind, such is his acceleration and understanding of where his teammates will look to hit passes.
Cho will drift wide too, and if he has the option to drive at an opponent and either get a shot away himself or hit a cross, he will look to do this. He is a prolific dribbler, attempting 7.21 dribbles per 90 so far this season, and completing an impressive 48.2% of these. He likes to take players on where he space behind the defender to attack, and he will use his change of pace to great effect. When taking on a player out wide he will look to take the touch past the defender towards goal and subsequently get his body in front of the defender, again between them and the ball. Taking this position instantly holts the defender’s run or prompts them to make contact and give away a foul. Cho will seek to get the ball to the byline and pull the ball back, preferring to pass the ball into the area rather than hit a traditional cross.
He exhibits exceptional awareness of where his teammates are when driving into or near the box. It is often the case that Cho doesn’t look up as he dribbles and will play no-look passes having already seen his teammate making the run before making the dribble.
Cho has two goals to his name thus far this season, minimally underperforming against his xG of 2.94. He has some good traits in front of goal, but there are some things he can do to improve his scoring. Looking at his shot map, he is scoring only from a very close distance. Whilst it’s still a small sample size, he is hitting the target a great deal from shots inside the area but isn’t scoring many of these attempts. This suggests good general accuracy in terms of hitting the target, but perhaps he needs to work on finding the corners more than he currently is. As for the shots from outside the box, this shot map suggests this isn’t a quality of Cho’s and he should maybe look to pass in these instances going forward.
Cho does like to cut onto his favoured left foot if positioned on the right side of the pitch, and can’t resist taking a shot from longer distance. He actually strikes the ball with good power from this range, but this comes at the expense of his accuracy. These efforts can be wild and he would be better served looking for a one-two with an attacker in a central position, with him making a run in behind as he looks for the return pass from this position.
Cho gets into good positions but his decision-making can be found lacking. There is perhaps a lack of confidence in himself to deliver on the big stage given his age, but he can be wasteful. Below is an example of this, where against Rennes he had the chance to finish from close distance and would have been best served to strike the ball with power across goal. The goalkeeper had his front post well covered and a Rennes defender sat directly in front of Cho blocking the centre of the goal. Instead, Cho looked to place the ball with little power on his shot, and the Rennes defender made an easy block with his feet.
However, the most important thing is that Cho consistently gets himself into shooting positions, beating the defence with either his dribbling or his movement. His finishing quality isn’t there just yet, but he is still finding his feet. For his goal against Rennes, he initially missed the one-on-one with the keeper, firing directly at the goalkeeper instead of finding the far corner. Fortunately, he was able to put away the rebound as the ball bounced back to him following the keeper’s save.
He shows a high level of intelligence with his movement in the box though, and again shows shades of Haaland with this. Just like the Norwegian, Cho regularly looks to lead his defender in one direction in order to create space for himself in the opposite direction. This is most dangerous on quick breaks where the defender marking Cho has to run backwards at full speed, watch the ball-carrier, and watch Cho who is operating on his shoulder. In the image below, Cho initially darts his run inside, towards the ball, and his marker reciprocates by moving inside as well.
Cho then uses his acceleration to quickly burst away from his marker and sprint in the opposite direction towards the back post. As he does this, he is found with the pass across goal from his teammate, and he was able to tap home from close range.
It is still very early days for Cho, and far too early for us to truly gauge his ceiling. However, what we can already ascertain from his performances thus far is that he is a thoroughly well-rounded attacker, who is perhaps best suited as a lone centre-forward but could equally play in any position across a front three. He is left-footed but competent with his right and has strength and pace in abundance. There are areas to be developed for sure – his aerial performance is drastically sub-par, his finishing needs work, and it would be good to see him develop an eye for a through pass such is the frequency he receives possession in deeper positions and is able to turn and face the opposition goal. However, his positional awareness and awareness of where his teammates are at all times is exceptional, as his movement both in build-up play and in the final third. It will be well worth monitoring Cho’s development at Angers, where you would imagine he will continue to gradually grow into a first-team regular over the coming seasons. However, there has already been talk of the likes of Chelsea circling, looking for his signature. Either way, we will watch with great interest to see just how much this highly talented French youth international (already playing for France’s U21’s) can progress in the next few years.