Since making it clear that they mean business this summer by quickly securing the signings of Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, Chelsea have continued to be linked with a variety of names of players from across Europe, however, one man whose future at Stamford Bridge hasn’t been given much hope by the rumour mill this summer is a midfielder who Chelsea have already got on their books, 25-year-old Tiémoué Bakayoko, who spent the 2019/20 campaign on loan at AS Monaco.
While Bakayoko’s Chelsea future doesn’t appear to be particularly promising at present, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he hasn’t still been demonstrating many of the traits that may have stood out to the Blues when they originally brought him to Stamford Bridge and Bakayoko has played a significant role for a Monaco side who have been in a period of transition throughout his loan spell.
In this tactical analysis piece, we will examine Bakayoko’s role within Monaco’s tactics. This scout report will identify the key areas of Bakayoko’s game that stood out for both positive and negative reasons during the 2019/20 season and we will attempt to showcase the qualities that he could bring to his team, whoever that may be, next season.
Ball Carrying ability
To kick off this analysis on Bakayoko, we are going to look at an area of his game that may be the midfielder’s biggest strength – his ball-carrying ability.
Throughout the 2019/20 season, Monaco lined up in a variety of different shapes and they entered into a particularly experimental period following the sacking of Leonardo Jardim and the arrival of Robert Moreno after the winter break. However, regardless of which shape they lined up in, Bakayoko generally operated on either the left or right side of central midfield.
Monaco displayed a great deal of tactical flexibility last season and at times, out of possession, they would press higher up the pitch, while other times, they would operate in a move reserved, deep block. We will discuss the 25-year-old’s role out of possession later on in this tactical analysis piece, however, in-possession, Bakayoko’s role tended to be more consistent, regardless of shape or opponent.
Regardless of whether he was operating in a two-man midfield, a three-man midfield, or even a narrow four-man midfield diamond, the Monaco loanee would generally try to pick up the ball while moving out from the centre of the pitch towards the wide area and receive possession in this channel that we can see him moving into here which is an area in between the centre circle and the wing.
Bakayoko’s role in-possession was an important one for Monaco last season as he was pivotal in linking the defensive third of the pitch to the offensive third of the pitch in possession. Two traits, in particular – his intelligent movement and his impressive technical dribbling quality, allowed him to operate effectively in this role. In addition to that, Monaco’s coaching staff successfully implemented tactical ideas that Bakayoko and his teammates could utilise to manipulate the opposition’s defensive shape so that they could allow Bakayoko to move into the positions like the one we can see him drifting into in the image above.
Here, Monaco’s right-back is in possession of the ball, while their right-winger drops deep, offering the defender a short passing option. As he does that, the opposition’s left-back advances his position, sticking tight to the winger, and this creates space, circled above, for Bakayoko to target with his outward diagonal run from the centre.
When receiving the ball in these situations, Bakayoko can be difficult to dispossess without fouling as his close control and agility are more than good enough to effectively advance the ball up the pitch from these positions, while he is also strong enough to hold off opposition defenders if they attempt to outmuscle him.
On this particular occasion, the 25-year-old is fouled as he receives possession, winning his side a free-kick. Bakayoko was fouled an average of 2.61 times per game in Ligue 1 last season, which is almost a quarter of the 11.22 fouls that Les Monégasques suffered per top-flight game during the 2019/20 campaign. He exhibited plenty of intelligence and awareness of the opposition’s positioning and movement to consistently draw fouls out of opposition players from these types of situations.
When Monaco had possession, Bakayoko usually operated between the centre of the pitch and just outside of the opposition penalty area. The 25-year-old didn’t often enter the penalty box, averaging just 1.23 touches per game in the opposition box for a Monaco side who took an average of 19.02 touches in the box per 90 – the second-highest of any side in Ligue 1 behind only PSG.
His role was to collect the ball from the defence, shuttle it upfield, and then play it on to one of his side’s more advanced playmakers who would take control from there and he performed this role, which highlighted some of his best qualities in possession, effectively last season.
While Bakayoko’s dribbling quality and intelligent movement helped him to connect Monaco’s defence to the attack, the Frenchman didn’t often play the final ball for his side, hence why he made just two Ligue 1 assists last season.
Bakayoko’s role wasn’t one which resulted in assist stats skyrocketing, however, he did still play an important role in the centre of the park for Ligue 1’s second-highest scoring team last season and for any midfield player, passing is an essential quality.
At times last season, Bakayoko sometimes found himself in this position during the build-up. As Monaco’s full-back darted forward, this opened up space in the typical ‘full-back position’ for the wide central midfielder to drift into and find space.
On other occasions, as we discussed previously, Bakayoko would just drift into the channel between the centre of the pitch and the wing and receive possession there. However, regardless of where he received the ball, the 25-year-old’s goal would usually be to get into a position to play a through ball to the final third from the channel between the centre of the park and the wing.
On this occasion, after receiving possession from the centre-back, Bakayoko carried the ball up the pitch in a fairly straight line.
As this next image shows us, he was able to do this as the opposition defence dropped off and this allowed him to advance into this position just in front of the centre circle where he could deliver a through ball to the overlapping full-back who we can see bending his run around the opposition full-back as he waits for the midfielder to release the ball and play him in behind.
When not carrying the ball further up the pitch, utilising his dribbling to get into a position where he can play a short pass to a more positionally advanced teammate, this is the kind of position that Bakayoko enjoyed operating in.
Bakayoko’s long-passing ability was not an incredibly significant part of his game during the 2019/20 term, having played just 2.27 long passes per game for a Monaco side who played an average of 37.06 long passes per Ligue 1 fixture last season. However, he was effective at advancing possession into the final third and while he usually did this via dribbling and subsequent short passes, he was capable of switching things up and playing defence-splitting through balls from this kind of position on occasion, which allowed him to exhibit an impressive element of his passing game.
Last season, Bakayoko was statistically less involved in many defensive areas than he had been in either the 2017/18 campaign with Chelsea or the 2018/19 campaign with AC Milan.
The 25-year-old engaged in slightly fewer defensive duels, aerial duels and loose ball duels last season in Ligue 1 than he did in either the 2017/18 Premier League campaign or the 2018/19 Serie A campaign. However, Bakayoko did make a slightly higher percentage of his recoveries in the opposition’s half of the pitch last season than he made in either of the previous two league seasons.
This indicates the 25-year-old’s capability of defending in an aggressive style when required during the 2019/20 campaign and the image above provides us with an example of Bakayoko challenging for the ball high up the pitch last season.
In this image, the PSG midfielder was lining up a long-ball, however, Bakayoko quickly sprung into action, leaving his deeper midfield position to press the PSG man and leaving his feet to attempt a sliding tackle.
As play moves on, we can see that this challenge was a successful one and Bakayoko managed to win the ball back in the opposition’s half, setting his side off on a dangerous counter-attack.
This short passage of play shows us how Bakayoko displayed his ability to defend aggressively last season. The midfielder’s sense of timing with regard to his tackles, as well as his pace and aggression came in useful in these types of situations, helping his Monaco side to press aggressively when required and creating a danger for the opposition when attempting to play out from deep.
Interceptions and aerial ability
Bakayoko made an average of 3.74 interceptions per game last season in Ligue 1 which is fewer than he made in either the 2017/18 Premier League season or the 2018/19 Serie A season. However, the midfielder still displayed an impressive ability to read the game and make interceptions for Les Monégasques.
In deeper areas of the pitch, particularly when operating as a part of his team’s deep block, Bakayoko’s positioning, ability to react quickly, and his impressive reading of the game all combined to help him to intercept the ball in vital areas of the pitch, sometimes being the man to prevent the opposition from playing defence-splitting balls into dangerous areas.
In the image above, we can see an example of Monaco being set up in a deep defensive block versus a Nice side that tend to play lots of short passes and build-up patiently. Here, we can see Nice’s midfielder in possession of the ball turning his head and beginning to turn his body as he has spotted an open teammate out on the right-wing, who is just out of shot here.
Monaco’s defensive shape is very narrow here. Furthermore, the narrow shape has collectively shifted over to their right, which has allowed Nice plenty of space to exploit on the opposite wing, which their midfielder in possession here is in the process of attempting to achieve via a quick switch of play.
However, we can also see Bakayoko, playing as Monaco’s left central midfielder here, spotting the danger and beginning to position himself accordingly.
As play moves on, we can see just how much space this Nice man out on the right-wing would have enjoyed had he received possession here, however, Bakayoko manages to read this pass and he darts out from the centre of the pitch, managing to get himself between the long-ball and the intended recipient. He successfully intercepts this pass and begins a dangerous Monaco counter-attack in the process.
This shows us an example of the effectiveness of Bakayoko’s mental strengths in the defensive phase of the game. At times like this, when Monaco were defending deep, their defensive tactics required plenty of patience and discipline from their players but Monaco’s men also needed to be alert, both of the opposition player on the ball, as well as the opposition players off the ball.
Bakayoko demonstrated that he had the ability to work effectively within this style of defensive tactics and this passage of play provides us with just one example of how the Frenchman’s reading of the game helped him to perform effectively in these types of situations during the 2019/20 campaign.
At 189cm (6’2”) tall, it may be fair to say that Bakayoko is a good height for a central midfielder and he often enjoys a physical advantage over his opponents in that regard. This can be useful for Monaco when contesting aerial duels and Bakayoko demonstrated an ability to intercept aerial balls with the aid of his height on a variety of occasions last season.
This element of Bakayoko’s game was particularly useful for Monaco when contesting opposition goal-kicks or when playing against teams who liked to play the ball long from the back. We can see an example of the latter in the image above, where a deep opposition centre-back is attempting to bypass Monaco’s mid-block and advance play into the final third via this attempted long-ball.
The trajectory of this pass is going to beat Bakayoko, however, the Monaco midfielder is quick to react to the situation and demonstrates his speed and ability to read the game by quickly retreating deeper into his own half to prepare to meet this long-ball.
Bakayoko sprints back into this deeper area of the pitch that we can see him occupying in the image above. In addition to standing at 189cm tall, Bakayoko can also give himself an increased height advantage thanks to his impressive jumping ability, as we see here. The 25-year-old Monaco man leaps into the air and meets this attempted long-ball with a header, subsequently sending the ball back towards the opposition half where his teammates can contest for it.
As we see through this passage of play, Bakayoko’s interceptions can come from the air, as well as the ground, thanks to his broad skill set and this makes him an asset for his side in that regard as this quality can be useful in both the transition to defence and the transition to attack.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece in the form of a scout report, Bakayoko demonstrated impressive box-to-box ability last season. His dribbling and shuttling ability was arguably the highlight of his game in-possession and he performed the role of a midfielder who can connect the defensive third to the offensive third effectively last season.
Out of possession, Bakayoko displayed a great deal of versatility last season. He showed that he can defend high up the pitch and force the ball away from the opposition via tackles while he also showed that he can defend patiently and use his mental attributes effectively off the ball.
In relation to his parent club, Mateo Kovačić may be the most appropriate comparison for Bakayoko, as both players excel in terms of ball-progression. While not exactly a perfect and direct comparison, Bakayoko’s 3.84 successful dribbles, 7.59 defensive duels, and 3.74 interceptions per 90 in Ligue 1 may stack up well against Kovačić’s 3.77 successful dribbles, 6.75 defensive duels, and 2.83 interceptions per 90 during the 2019/20 Premier League campaign and this might show that his skill set may be one that could yet fit the profile of a Blues midfielder.