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Anthony Rouault: The next big centre-back to come out of France?

France has no shortage of extraordinary talents. Whether it’s Kylian Mbappé at Paris Saint-Germain, Eduardo Camavinga at Real Madrid or even someone well established like N’Golo Kante at Chelsea, French stars and stars in making are dominating the scene. One such player is Toulouse’s Anthony Rouault.

The 20-year-old defender is yet to fully get attention from the public but his rise deserves to be documented nonetheless. While there aren’t necessarily juicy rumours already circulating about the player, it does feel like his breakthrough might be just around the corner.

So in this tactical analysis, we’ll give you a full scout report on Rouault to see how he functions within Toulouse’s tactics and whether he could be among the next French future stars.

Player overview

We’ll start the analysis with some basic information about the player. Anthony Rouault is a 20-year-old right-footed centre-back, currently plying his trade at Toulouse. He’s decently well-built, standing at 186 cm (6’1’’) and weighing 77 kg. Most often, we can find him playing his preferred right centre-back position, offering his team a nice blend of technique and physicality, both in the attacking and the defensive phase. While he mostly plays in a centre-back duo, he’s also capable of playing in a back three.

Our next graph will give us a statistical overview of his abilities and it’s there we begin to see the young defender’s diverse player profile.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Rouault is a very good defender, registering above-average numbers in both ground and aerial defensive duels won, emerging victorious from them fairly consistently. But there is more to his defending than the stats may suggest, as we’ll see later on in this tactical analysis. Rouault is great at reading the play and predicting the opposition’s moves — so much so, that his interceptions are rarely down to physical attributes but rather a result of his exceptional awareness and constant scanning.

He is a player who’s not afraid to attempt sliding tackles and uses his frame well to both protect the ball and impede the attacker’s progression. When on the ball, Rouault is technically sound, albeit still very one-footed. But even when using his weak foot, the French talent knows his basics and can execute simple link-ups and retain the ball quite well. There are still some flaws in his in-possession phase as we’ll discuss later on but overall, the 20-year-old is a good progressive option and even a deadly long-ball passer from the deep.

But now, let’s dissect some of his main attributes in the next sections of this scout report.

Defending, awareness & physical attributes

Defending is such a tricky aspect to fully analyse. The data we have available, while ever-improving,  is still deceptively shallow and the eye test can be quite challenging as well. But, aspects like 1v1 defending, awareness and physical attributes are all key elements when analysing defenders. And Rouault, despite being only 20 years of age, already has the makings of a great one.

He’s a good tackler of the ball, using his frame well and timing the attempts correctly. But even more importantly, Rouault is always aware of his surroundings and positions himself appropriately to give himself the best possible chance to beat the attacker. This is a direct result of both scanning properly and knowing the basics. Let’s explore a couple of examples that will make this a lot clearer.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Here, against SC Bastia, Rouault sees the opposition breaking and immediately identifies the danger-man he needs to cover. Firstly, he slides forward to gain the inside track of the attacker, closing the distance between himself and the ball. Notice how he glances over his shoulder so he’s aware of how the opposition player is moving and can act accordingly. This is what essentially impressed me the most.

That’s a 20-year-old defender understanding and executing the basics extremely well while doing the advanced aspects like scanning and predicting the opposition’s next move on a very high level. Next, we see him follow up on the move, use his pace to keep up with the attacker and thanks to his new positioning, he’s able to intercept the pass with a great sliding tackle.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Just this single sequence is already telling us quite a lot about his defensive skill set, showing awareness, mastery of the basics, pace, bravery, movement and intelligence. But even more importantly, this isn’t an isolated case either. I’ve found him doing these things quite regularly and it naturally leads to a high success rate whenever he engages in duels.

This is ultimately what his interceptions boil down to — awareness, not physical attributes. Yes, he’s fast and strong, which helps when he has to outmuscle an opponent. But reading the game well means he gives himself more time to operate, which is most evident in interceptions. The following sequence will offer us a very good example of this.

We find Rouault tracking back to defend an opposition transition but he’s not charging back into his box blindly. Instead, you can see him scanning his surroundings once again.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

That way, he instantly recognises where the threat could be coming from and can once more predict the opposition play. Rouault knows a cut-back pass is coming from the right and even before the ball leaves the attacker’s foot, he’s already preparing himself to lunge into an interception.

Eventually, he does exactly that and the counter-attack is stopped successfully. Once again, a single sequence can be used to describe several key aspects of a good defender’s game — awareness, physical attributes, predicting the opposition’s play and alertness. All of that becomes even more impressive considering we’re talking about a fairly young player too.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

But physical attributes are almost as important as the technical and intellectual for defenders. When it comes down to it, they will often have to engage in direct duels with the attackers and often, their physique will have a say in whether they win that duel or not. Athletic predisposition and physical attributes, however, are more important in some leagues than others but generally, it’s always a plus to be well-built, which Rouault is.

However, he is also capable of using his frame well. Some players, even though they may be of smaller stature, can still use their bodies effectively to gain an advantage. Rouault is quite big, standing at 186 cm, so this is somewhat easier for him. But I’ve noticed he does very well in that regard, using his frame to impede progress and gain an advantage over the opposition.

Here are a couple of examples I liked best, both of which describe similar situations on the pitch. In the first one, we see Rouault tracking the opposition’s sequence of passes and staying tight to his marker.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

But notice how he uses his hands to prevent the attacker from bursting past him, stalling his movement just long enough so that he can get to the ball first. He’s also matching the attacker for pace, albeit possibly only due to the other player’s impeded speed. But that’s the whole point of using your body to gain an advantage. By putting himself between the attacker and the ball, he protects it well and can then regain possession for his team.

Shortly following that successful duel, Rouault controls the ball nicely and Toulouse can continue with their attack. Had he not used his arms to slow down the other player’s progress, the opposition would’ve had a better chance of breaking into a dangerous sequence. Next, we’ll see our defender in a very similar scenario, only this time much deeper on the pitch and in a more under-pressure situation.

Here, Rouault is charging into a duel to intercept a pass that could potentially leave Toulouse exposed.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Notice how he immediately puts his body in front of the attacker, creating distance between him and the ball. Then, using his big frame, he ensures the opposition player cannot overtake him, essentially protecting the regained possession. But this sequence is also showing us how Rouault then plays the ball out of pressure.

Of course, we cannot see that from the image but as soon as he regains possession, the 20-year-old repositions slightly to get a better angle and then deploys a short pass to his teammate who’s dropping to offer additional support. Unfortunately, however, Toulouse still lose the ball in that sequence but Rouault did well in the initial action and the following attempt to play out of pressure.

And this, too, is a good segue into the next section of our analysis: focusing on the passing element of Rouault’s player profile.

Passing & technical quality

Modern defenders need to be quite proficient in possession and centre-backs are often the foundation on which elite teams form their build-up play. At Toulouse, Rouault sees a lot of the ball and is the player who has the quality to both recycle and create when needed. His passing range is really good. In fact, among the centre-backs in the league, he tops the charts when it comes to goal involvement and dangerous passing.

Note, however, that this isn’t necessarily line-breaking passing that progresses play and finds priority targets between the lines. Rather, Rouault is very good at deploying pinpoint long balls into the space behind the opposition’s defensive line and finding dropping targets to advance play. Before we delve deeper into it, let’s explore some of his most recent pass maps, which will tell us more about his on-the-ball tendencies.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Just seeing a busy pass map is a positive thing for a defender who may have big aspirations because it means he’s used to seeing a lot of the ball. Elite teams are generally the more dominant ones and while domination comes in many shapes and forms, dominating possession is often a part of it. As alluded to earlier, in those scenarios the centre-backs gain prominent roles too.

Rouault is comfortable being in possession a lot and can be used to retain it at a fairly high level as well. This is also where awareness and scanning come into play as both help him remain one step ahead of the opposition. Still, I would say that Rouault heavily favours his dominant right foot but can use the left for control and to play simple link-ups with nearby teammates. His first touch is clean with both feet and he’s using the backfoot efficiently with both as well.

This is quite important as it can drastically increase one’s speed of ball circulation, which, I feel, is still one of Rouault’s flaws in possession. The backfoot and clean control give him more time to work with but he still lingers on the ball and mostly takes too many touches to speed up the tempo when needed.  We see a lot of horizontal passes on the map too, which tells us about his conservative nature on the ball.

However, we also see long passes and diagonal switches of play, which are Rouault’s bread and butter when it comes to passing. I’ve already mentioned in this scout report that he’s very involved in creating from the back and this usually comes as a direct result of one of his pinpoint long passes.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

In the latest example, we see Rouault in a lot of space as he prepares to deploy a lofted ball over the opposition’s entire defensive block. The pass is well-weighed and has the appropriate amount of backspin, making it easier to control. We can conclude that the technique is good; he plays the ball across his body, doesn’t follow up too much and is planting the support foot at an appropriate distance as well. All of that allows for precision and clean execution, which is exactly what we see in the example.

Rouault also has a preference for long lofted passes, which generally have longer travel time and achieve more height than driven passes, which are faster and more direct. This isn’t inherently a flaw in his repertoire but it does make it easier for the opposition to reposition if necessary. However, it adds more precision to his attempts.

The next example can show us more.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Again, the technique in the execution is excellent – appropriate backspin, well weighed and the body orientation is good. The added bonus is that Rouault had to beat the opposition’s immediate pressure before deploying the pass, which is a key element of a top centre-back. This ball, however, also had a long travel time, which isn’t ideal for every scenario.

Of course, it has its benefits as Rouault mostly finds his targets with great precision but it does leave some room for opposition interceptions. Speaking of pass weight, generally, the Frenchman doesn’t struggle with it too much, especially with short and long-distance passes. However, mid-range attempts can be slightly mishit, often being more difficult to control for the player receiving it. Given that he’s not a first-touch player most of the time, this is something I’d like to see him improve sooner rather than later. If you’re taking your time on the ball, the pass needs to be worth the wait.

But there are more things I’d like to see more of when it comes to his on-the-ball profile. For example, Rouault isn’t much of a progressive runner in possession. This in itself isn’t a big problem because his passing is still good but it becomes limiting because he seems to be afforded quite a bit of space and time to exit the backline. Generally, as you can see from the following example, I’ve seen him step out and attempt to link up with one of the dropping teammates.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

He won’t always break the lines but is comfortable enough on the ball to do so if necessary. I think doing this more consistently would go a long way in improving his overall profile because at the moment, especially under pressure, Rouault will play it safe and find the shortest, often horizontal or backwards, target to pass to or just clear it blindly. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that as playing it safe is still better than recklessly losing possession. However, he needs to be far more decisive and brave on the ball.

The above example is a good representation of what he can bring to the table but more often than not, we’ll see him send a short or mid-range diagonal to either his full-back or directly to the winger. But progressive runs are a very effective tool to destabilise defensive blocks and he needs to start utilising it much more because of the space he is so often afforded.

Progressive running and progressive passing are both great tools to advance play but the former forces the players in the defensive block to step out and abandon their set structure. As soon as the pieces start moving, space will also inevitably appear. That’s the importance of progressive runs and it goes deeper than just moving the ball in a vertical line from point A to point B.

Take the following image as an example.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Once more, we find Rouault in acres of space but he’s very hesitant to try a more courageous attempt. There are options for him to take that will advance play and there is also the possibility to run into space and force the opposition to step out of their deep block. Naturally, that won’t always be the best option but the youngster goes for the safe pass to his right instead, not exactly aiding the attack in any sense.

Centre-backs aren’t always expected to be this proactive but the ones at the highest level tend to be. Rouault has the potential to get there but these are just some of the things I feel he needs to add to his arsenal to rise to the occasion.

Aerial & attacking ability

The final element I want to discuss in regards to Rouault’s profile is the aerial ability. Not all defenders are great both in the air and on the ground but the 20-year-old is solid across the board. His physique helps a lot, for sure, but there’s more to it than just the power he exerts in such challenges. The Frenchman times his jumps well, judging the flight of the ball, and can also protect himself by using his frame to his advantage.

The combination of intelligence and broad power makes him a very deadly asset to have in attack, especially during set-pieces, and a very reliable piece in defence. Let’s explore some examples next. In the first one, I just want to stress the power of the jump.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Notice how the defender outjumps the attacker and manages to head the ball away over the opposition player with ease. The timing here is as important as the pure strength to launch himself in the air. Given his height (186 cm), it is somewhat easier to gain enough reach in the air but winning aerial duels is a lot more about timing and judgement than it is about physical power.

The following example is similar, only this time we see the use of hands to shield himself from the attacker. It’s important to use your hands against the leaning forward’s back because that way he leans into your arm, and not your whole body, giving you the ability to push him away, create separation and grant you more mobility.

Interestingly, in this example, Rouault takes a step backwards, which is another very clever technique to surprise the attacking player. Notice how he leans backwards, only to find the defender isn’t immediately behind him, which makes him fall back awkwardly instead of jumping upward.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Rouault still uses a lot of jumping power to get above his rival but these little details are what ultimately give him the edge and win him the duel. Still, as I’ve mentioned, physical power can play a part, even if it’s not the most important piece of the equation. In situations when he has to outmuscle the opponent or simply hold his ground and not get pushed off, Rouault can do so.

Our next example shows him pushing onward with his whole body instead of using the little trick with his hands we saw him use earlier. Even when put to a purely physical test, he emerges victorious.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

The final thing I want to touch upon is Rouault’s offensive contribution through his aerial prowess. Of course, being a defender, aerial duels are primarily seen as a defensive tool but having such good technique and physical attributes to boast, it stands to reason both can be utilised offensively as well.

Among the league’s defenders, he is one of those with the highest goal contributions and partly that’s due to the long passing we’ve already discussed in this analysis but also partly due to his excellent set-piece threat. Let’s look at a couple of examples that will tell us more.

The main takeaway from both sequences is that Rouault moves intelligently and times his jumps extremely well, combining power and technique for the finish.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

In this example, he curves his run to gain the inside track on the defender, which is something great strikers do to optimise their goal-scoring chances, and then times the jump perfectly, finishing with power. This is an excellent blend of physical attributes and game knowledge so it doesn’t surprise the 20-year-old is a regular set-piece threat for Toulouse.

The next sequence is eerily similar as it follows almost the same blueprint. We find the French outfit during a corner kick and once more, Rouault curves the run to escape his marker in the crowd, times the jump brilliantly and then finishes with power again. The shot cannot be reached by the goalkeeper so Toulouse capitalise on their centre-back’s lethality in the air.

Anthony Rouault 2021/22 - scout report tactical analysis tactics

Both examples, however, show us a mixture of all key elements which, when combined, make for a player extremely proficient in the air, be that a forward or, in our case, a defender.

Final remarks

Anthony Rouault is an incredible talent still waiting to be fully discovered by the general public. In the sea of immense French high-potential youngsters, it is easy to miss one but the Toulouse defender has what it takes to make it at the top level.

Of course, being only 20 years of age, he is far from complete and there are aspects of his profile that still need to be ironed out. However, that is to be expected at this stage of his career. If he continues improving at this rate, a big move abroad wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.