Sell Sancho: The Stuttgart sensation that means Dortmund should cash in
Jadon Sancho to Manchester United was quite possibly the biggest transfer saga of the summer transfer window. It looked inevitable at one stage that the English star was set to join Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, with reports emerging that United had agreed personal terms with Sancho, but in the end, the deal fell apart because the two clubs failed to agree on a fee.
However, the 20-year-old has not had a great season in terms of individual performances by his standards and so one might expect the forward to be moved on in the summer for less money, with Manchester United still interested, whilst Chelsea and Liverpool also circle like vultures, according to reliable sources.
With Sancho likely to leave in the coming months, Dortmund know that a replacement is imminent, and as per reports this week, their preferred signing would be Stuttgart’s Tanguy Coulibaly. Coulibaly is a 19-year-old Frenchman – formerly of Paris Saint-Germain – who is capable of playing a variety of positions and could be an excellent signing for any top European club, not just Borussia Dortmund.
This article will be a tactical analysis of the young winger in the form of a scout report. It will be an analysis of Coulibaly’s strengths and weaknesses as well as how he fits into the tactics of Stuttgart manager Pellegrino Matarazzo’s system.
Coulibaly has played 16 games as of writing this season in all competitions for Stuttgart and is one of the youngest players in the Bundesliga. He plays consistently for the historic German club whether it be from starting or coming off the bench.
At first glance, without observing the Frenchman from a statistical or tactical point of view, he plays a lot like Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Adama Traore. The two are very similar in terms of height with Coulibaly measuring 175cm or 5’9” but their physicality and close-quarter dribbling really match the pair, as well as the fact that the Stuttgart winger is left-footed.
Coulibaly is a fine dribbler and can play in any position in the wide areas, however, he can also operate as a centre-forward, attacking the depth of the pitch, which he has done on numerous occasions for his club.
Quite possibly the most noticeable aspect of the visual representation above, showing Coulibaly’s preferred positions, is the fact that he also plays as a wingback. Matarazzo mainly utilises both the 3-4-2-1 and 3-5-2 tactical systems, and the 19-year-old has been deployed as a wingback in these formations on both sides of the pitch depending on the opposition.
The youngster has an excellent work-rate and is well-equipped to sprint up and down the flanks to attack the wide areas as well as track back to stop his opposing number.
Although, as we can see from the Frenchman’s heatmap, he plays quite high up the pitch as he is naturally an attacking player, and mainly plays on the left side. During his time at Stuttgart – since joining back in July 2019 – Coulibaly has been used on the left flank 30% of the time, the right flank 28%, as well as 26% at centre-forward.
For a team like Borussia Dortmund who are very fluid in terms of formation and personnel choices, Coulibaly’s versatility would certainly be a box ticked off for them.
Dribbling into space
As we touched on in the previous section, Coulibaly is rapid off the mark with or without the ball at his feet, and his pace is one of his best natural characteristics. The winger uses this pace efficiently by holding the width for his side when they have possession of the ball and attacking the space in behind the opponent’s defensive line constantly by taking on defenders.
In terms of progressive runs per 90, Coulibaly ranks eighth in the Bundesliga for this metric, with 3.27. Putting this into perspective, he is currently outperforming players such as Kingsley Coman from Bayern Munich and Leon Bailey of Bayer Leverkusen with regards to progressive runs per 90 and has the highest average number for players under the age of 20.
Even by looking at the table above, Leroy Sane, and Jadon Sancho himself are not outperforming him by much. Perhaps at a better club, surrounded by a higher quality of players, Coulibaly may be able to top this table should Sancho leave for pastures new.
When in tight situations, the youngster portrays full confidence in his own ability to take players on in 1v1 situations, sometimes even in 2v1 situations. Coulibaly currently averages 8.25 1v1 dribbles per 90, which is the third-highest in the entire Bundesliga, behind Bailey and Coman, an exemplary showing from the Stuttgart winger.
In this situation, Coulibaly showed his risk-taking style of play. Instead of playing the simple pass to the player who overlapped him on the right flank, the Frenchman opted to run directly at the Borussia Dortmund backline, finding himself between three different players all swarming him to win the ball back.
He managed to dribble his way out of this with some tight control and exceptionally quick feet to fire home a strike on the goalkeeper.
Another example of his excellent 1v1 dribbling is his outstanding strike against Dortmund in this very same match.
He dribbled directly towards Mats Hummels in the Dortmund backline, bearing down on the World Cup-winner. With some quick feet and a drop of the shoulder, he was able to create enough space for himself to get a shot away, which he placed beautifully in the far-left corner.
Attacking the depth
Off the ball though, Coulibaly likes to keep the width in the wide areas by staying very tight to the touchline looking to receive the ball. If he receives the ball, he will either take on the opposition’s fullback/wingback, or else he will make runs in behind the opposing backline.
Despite being adept at receiving the ball, turning, and then taking on the nearest defender, he prefers the ball to be played into the space beyond the backline as his pace means he can outrun any defender on foot should the ball be played in behind.
A perfect example of Coulibaly choosing to run into the space behind the opposition’s fullback can be seen above.
Here, the 19-year-old could easily drop short to receive the ball before perhaps turning to take his man on or else linking up with his teammates by playing a one-two, however, he instead makes a dart in behind the defender, hoping that his teammate on the ball would be able to thread the ball through to him.
Running in behind the opponent’s backline is where the Frenchman is at his best as his constant stretching of the defensive line is very useful for any manager as it helps create space between the lines for other attacking players to play in.
From the previous image, running in behind has dragged the fullback with him, meaning that there will be space available on the right flank for another player to occupy.
Another example of this can be seen here. Coulibaly has made a run in behind the Werder Bremen backline, which has forced two defenders to drop and track his run, meaning the centre-forward was able to move into the space left and receive the ball to feet.
These subtle movements can go unnoticed throughout a game of football and are perhaps few and far between, but Coulibaly is persistent with them as he has an unbelievable work-rate for such an inexperienced player.
Willingness to defend
A very underrated quality in a young player is their willingness to come back and defend. Coulibaly certainly ticks this box, hence why Matarazzo has opted to utilise him as a wingback multiple times this season.
However, it is not just a blinding inclination to get back and help his backline out when they are transitioning from defence to attack, he possesses a very good reading of the game from a tactical and positional perspective, knowing which spaces to cover, who to close down, being able to read the opponent’s next move, etc.
Here, Stuttgart were 1-0 up in the dying seconds but Leipzig had a dangerous counterattack. Coulibaly tracked back to cover the space of one of the centre-backs who were unable to get back in time and so was able to stop the ball being played in behind his backline by intercepting the pass.
In terms of interceptions, he currently averages 2.83 per 90 as of writing, the sixth-highest for any wide player in the Bundesliga under the age of 20. He even boasts better numbers than Jadon Sancho for interceptions per 90, with the Englishman averaging 2.15.
When his team are in the defensive phases of the game, he is a very active player and a player who is very useful when pressing the opposition in their build-up play or just in general. His pace allows him to get into the face when high pressing, forcing them into playing a rushed pass, or potentially even turning over possession.
Here, Stuttgart were sitting in a 3-5-2 mid-block. The opposition’s fullback has received the ball at the halfway line, which is a trigger for Coulibaly to push up as quickly as possible to close him down before he can fully open out his body, forcing him to play laterally as opposed to down the line into a more progressive area of the pitch.
The Frenchman’s pace means that he is able to cover vast amounts of ground as shown above, in a matter of seconds, which is particularly useful when pressing the opposition. He gets very tight when pressing and is not afraid to be aggressive in his defensive duels.
The winger averages 6.47 defensive duels per 90 in all competitions and has a success rate of 56.8 percent. He is ranked as the ninth-highest in terms of average defensive duels per 90 for players under the age of 20 in all positions, quite a respectable feat.
He is also more successful in his defensive duels percentage-wise than Jude Bellingham, who currently has a 55.17 percent success rate.
Often in a scout report, analysts will get so wound up in the quality aspects of the player being scouted that the weaknesses are forgotten about. However, it is important to analyse these weaknesses in order to see where the player can potentially improve.
As stressed continuously in this article, Coulibaly is an exceptional young talent, off the ball, as well as with the ball at his feet. However, his end product needs to be greatly improved if he is to fill the boots of Jadon Sancho at Dortmund.
So far in the 2020/21 campaign, the Frenchman has only managed to bag 2 goals in all competitions so far despite taking 2.43 shots per 90 with 55.3 percent hitting the target. He has also failed to register a single assist this season.
More worrying is the fact that he has never provided an assist in professional football for a winger. The main problem is his decision-making more than execution.
For instance, Coulibaly found himself in an excellent position outside the box on a counterattack. His two best options would be to either take on the nearest defender down the line and cross into the box as there are two Stuttgart players making headway into the penalty area.
As he is left-footed, it would be an ideal position to cross. Secondly, and the riskier but more rewarding option, the youngster could also have attempted a threaded through ball in behind the defenders to his teammate who was darting into the box.
Instead, he opts to float it into the box, in which his poorly executed ball was collected by the goalkeeper.
Similarly, to the previous scenario, in this one, Coulibaly once again has the ball in a decent attacking position. His best bet would be to take on the fullback down the line and whip a cross into the box as the centre-forward was not in a good enough position to latch on the end of an early ball.
Instead, he floated it in, which was easily collected once more by the goalkeeper as the centre-forward was nowhere near ready to challenge for an aerial ball.
His crossing statistics this season are worrying too. Coulibaly only completes 2.09 crosses per 90 in the Bundesliga this season, with a success rate of 21.7 percent, an average of 0.45 successful crosses per 90.
Coulibaly is very rough around the edges in terms of his overall play but having watched an insurmountable bulk of footage on the 19-year-old, the strengths – such as his ability in 1v1 duels, as well as his superb reading of the game for such a young player – certainly outweigh the weaknesses.
The winger is developing well at Stuttgart, particularly this season, seemingly improving with every passing game, so it will be very interesting to see just how much the Frenchman has developed his all-around come the end of the season, not forgetting that this is his first full season in professional football.
He is certainly a way off Sancho in terms of his statistics but with some top coaching at Dortmund, which has seen the likes of the Bellingham, Julian Brandt, Erling Haaland, and Sancho himself all step their game up to another level, Coulibaly may be able to flourish should he replace the ex-Manchester City winger in the summer.