Ibrahim Sangaré at Toulouse 2019/20 – scout report
Sitting 20th in the table with just 13 points out of 20 games, having scored the least number of goals (22), and conceded the greatest number of goals (58), it is a no-brainer that Toulouse was the worst team in Ligue 1 during the 2019/20 season. Three different head coaches had managed the team during the course of the previous season which indicates the poor state of things at the club.
Amidst all this, one silver lining for the team had been Ibrahim Sangaré, the 22-year old Ivory Coast international, who has been developing his craft at the club for four years now. During his first full season with the team in the 2017/18 season, the then 21-year old was a key element in his side’s tactics that had saved Toulouse from getting relegated.
In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we will do an analysis of Sangaré’s qualities that will show why he was not only the best player for Toulouse, but he was also one of the best players in Ligue 1 last season.
Player Profile and Role in Toulouse team
With three different managers over the course of the season, it was only natural for Toulouse to have played with several different formations. But majorly, they had used 4-1-4-1, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and 4-4-2 systems. Being primarily a defensive midfielder, Sangaré was evenly deployed either as a lone number six in 4-1-4-1/ 4-3-3 systems or alongside another midfielder in 4-2-3-1/ 4-4-2 formations.
Sangaré is not a box-to-box midfielder. Rather, the Ivorian is a defensive midfielder, who tends to drop deep to either stay close to or fall in the defensive line during the defensive phases of his team. This is evident from the heatmap shown above which indicates that the youngster’s greater influence in his half compared to the opponent half. The following figure shows an instance where Sangaré dropped into the last line during an attack from Amiens, which gave his team the numerical superiority inside the box.
Being a defensive midfielder, spacial awareness is one of Sangaré’s strengths. The Ivorian’s ability to identify gaps in his defense allows him to make intelligent defensive movements to cover those gaps to prevent them to be exploited by the opposition attackers. As shown in the following figure, Bafodé Diakité, Toulouse’s left-center back, stepped out of his position to press the opposition man with the ball. It consequently created a pocket of space between Toulouse’s right center-back and the left-back which an opposition forward quickly looked to exploit. However, Sangaré was able to recognize the play early and the Ivorian was quick to cover the space by moving into the gap.
The following figure shows another illustration, where the Toulouse right-back (Kelvin Amian Adou) had stepped out to press the left-winger of Brest, leaving a big space behind him in the wide channel. Not only that but in the process, the Toulouse center-backs were also isolated two versus two against the Brest forwards. Once again, Sangaré’s spacial awareness prompted him to make a movement towards the vacant right-back position to close the gap and gain numerical superiority at the back for his team.
The kind of off the ball movements are shown above is one of the reasons why the Ivorian covers a significant amount of grass laterally on the field, which is also evident from the heatmap shown earlier in the section.
Sangaré has, over time, developed the role of a deep-lying playmaker which allows him to influence the attacking play from the deeper areas. He is excellent on the ball and is a pivotal element in vertically progressing the team by making progressive passes at will.
During the buildup, the 22-year old constantly looks to drop into the spaces between the opposition’s first and second lines of pressure. Once again, the Ivorian’s spacial awareness permits him to find spaces between the lines such that it gives him enough time and space to maneuver the ball forward. As soon as he receives the possession, he immediately likes to take the game to the opposition by looking to play the ball into the forward areas. Sangaré also has impressive agility and first-touch that give him an edge during the times when progressing the ball becomes slightly complex. One such instance is shown in the following figure.
As you can see in the figure, Sangaré receives a pass between the opposition’s forward and midfield lines while facing his own goal. In this case, the speed of the pass was on a high side. With the two Amiens strikers so close to the Ivorian, a slightest of the first-touch errors could have resulted in a possession loss in a dangerous area. While the youngster was able to kill the ball with his imposing first-touch, his slick agility allowed him to quickly turn and evade the pressure to make a progressive pass that broke the opposition midfield line.
Sangaré makes 8.93 progressive passes per 90 minutes, which is the second-best figure amongst all the midfielders under the age of 23 in Ligue 1 last season. If we cap that off with the accuracy of 81.74%, these are very impressive figures for a number six player which only indicates his attacking mentality.
While Sangaré helped his side during the buildup, he never stepped away from contributing during the attacking third. In Toulouse’s final attacking phase, the Ivorian pushed forward towards the edge of the attacking third and adjusted his position laterally to provide another body as a passing option for his attacking teammates. While his major role in such situations was to ensure proper ball distribution higher up the field and provide killer balls in the box whenever required, his positioning also helped him in counter-pressing the opposition if Toulouse lost the ball in the attacking third. Consequently, Sangaré made 6.64 counter-pressing recoveries in Ligue 1 last season, only behind five other midfielders.
The figure above shows an instance of his positioning in the half-space during the attacking phase of Toulouse. In this instance, he is seen making a key pass inside the 18-yard box. Sangaré attempted 10.87 final third passes per 90 minutes, which was not only one of the best figures in Ligue 1, but also a very high figure amongst all the midfielders in the big five European leagues. It is an imposing figure for a player who plays so deep.
Standing at 1.9 m and 77 kg, the first thing that anyone can notice about the Ivorian is his physicality. Sangaré is a physically strong player who utilizes his physical attributes to not only recover the ball but also to out-muscle an opponent to carry the ball forward. Besides, his physicality helps him to retain ball possession by holding off an opponent as well.
Apart from his core muscular strength, Sangaré also possesses long legs which assists him to get in between the opposition and the ball well to make key interceptions and ball recoveries. The following figure shows an instance where the 22-year old was able to use his long legs to prevent a potential possession loss in a dangerous area.
As you can see, the Brest attacker was relatively closer to the ball and the favorite to get the possession before Sangaré stretched his long legs to cover a significant amount of distance and win the ball possession for his team.
The following example from a game against Monaco illustrates another instance of his physicality that helped him win a duel against two opposition players.
Seconds before the image was captured, Sangaré had dispossessed the Monaco player behind him (yellow circle) by using his strength to shrug off the player. Another Monaco player (near the ball), who got the touch of the loose ball, attempted a pass to his teammate. However, Sangaré immediately stretched his long legs to reach across the opponent to force the man in possession of a bad touch which resulted in a possession turnover for Toulouse.
Having said that, Sangaré has a calm and composed demeanor that prevents himself from lunging into a tackle or an interception too early. He stays on the ground and waits for the opponent’s action until the last moment. This quality of his, along with his sheer size and length, makes him strong in challenges and extremely difficult for the opponent to beat in a one versus one duel. Therefore, Sangaré was dribbled past only 1.82 times per 90 minutes during the last season, according to FbRef.
Overall, Sangaré’s physicality makes him a strong defensive midfielder. According to Wyscout, the Ivorian made 11.06 recoveries per 90 minutes last season, only behind five players among all the midfielders in Ligue 1. Moreover, he made 6.6 PAdj interceptions in Ligue 1 last season, which is the sixth-best figure amongst all the midfielders. The 22-year old also won 63.39% of defensive duels which is a decent figure.
To be a top-quality midfielder, the quality of passing is pivotal. Albeit physicality has a significant influence over Sangaré’s game, his greatest strength lies in his passing technique and precise delivery that allows him to dictate the tempo from the middle third and hurt oppositions in the final third. The following figure exemplifies his passing quality.
As shown in the figure, Sangaré was attempting a pass into the right wide channel for Toulouse’s right-back who was pushing high into the final third. It was always going to be a difficult pass due to the compact nature of Reims’ shape. However, in this case, Sangaré’s pass broke the midfield as well the defensive lines of Reims, which is a testament to the Ivorian’s ground passing abilities.
Having said that, Sangaré’s range of passing is not limited to short or medium lengths. The Ivorian, in fact, has a high propensity to make long balls, especially into the final third. According to Wyscout, the 22-year old attempted 6.13 long passes per 90 minutes during the 19/20 season. Time and again, Sangaré was seen to deliver a long ball behind the defensive line into the final third. Although he can make a vertical pass, he looks for a diagonal ball into the wide channels more often than not. His long passing ability also allows him to switch the play effectively when required. Moreover, the Ivorian is also extremely good at delivering passes from tight areas.
Apart from his technique, the intelligence and quick thinking on the ball amplifies Sangaré’s passing quality. When the Ivorian is on the ball, he scans the field before attempting a pass. With his wide range of passing, he then executes the delivery to precision. The following figure shows an instance where Sangaré was able to make a line-breaking progressive pass to find a team-mate in the left half-space between the lines.
In contrast, consider the following figure, which is taken from the same match as above. This time, the Ivorian realized that the opposition was set up in a compact shape thus allowing only a minimal amount of space between the lines in the central areas. However, he quickly identifies the outer space on the left side and attempts a long ball into the wide channel. Even though the pass was not accurate, it signifies his range and ability to pass along with his intelligence.
To epitomize the passing ability of the Ivorian, have a look at the following figure. The right part of the image is a bullet graph that shows some of his passing stats, while the left portion is a radar graph that compares the same passing stats of Sangaré (blue box) with the average of all the midfielders (orange box) in the top five European leagues. The yellow box is completely inside the blue box which means that the youngster scores higher than average on all the considered metrics. The number of long passes, final third passes, and progressive passes that the Ivorian makes is significantly higher than the average which accurately highlights the passing tendencies of the Ivorian.
Apart from passing, Sangaré is a very good dribbler. He does not dribble with pace. Rather, the Ivorian relies on his ball-playing ability to get past an opponent. Even though he attempted merely 2.06 dribbles per 90 minutes, the success rate of 64.15% is impressive which speaks volumes about his dribbling quality.
Sangaré’s high quality of passing and dribbling makes him a very dynamic midfielder. It also makes him a dangerous opponent because as a player, if you engage in a press, he can dribble past with ease, and if you hold off the press, he can hurt with the final third delivery. The Ivorian can make a precise forward pass if the opposition is not compact. While if the opposition is compact, he can find a long ball towards the wide channel.
Areas of improvement
While Sangaré is overall an imposing defensive midfield player, he is not without frailties. One of the concerns with the Ivorian has been that time and again, he shows a lapse of concentration on the ball that results in a passing error consequently giving away lose possession to the opposition. For a defensive midfielder who generally operates in the deeper areas, this issue can hurt his team often. The following figure shows an example of this aspect.
As you can see, Sangaré was attempting a lateral pass to his team-mate in the center. In this case, he had a clear passing path without any pressure. However, the Ivorian ended up with a very slow pass that was intercepted by the opposition player who immediately started a counter-attack.
Sangaré had 82.83% passing accuracy which is not the best figure for a defensive midfield player. Although the passing accuracy may have dropped due to the high amount of long balls that the Ivorian puts in the attacking third, one of the reasons that contributed to the low figure was his passing errors.
Apart from passing accuracy, another area which the Ivory Coast international can perhaps improve upon is the aerial duels. With the kind of physical attributes that he has, he can be one of the strongest players in the air. However, by engaging in only 3.14 aerial duels per 90 minutes with less than impressive accuracy of 53.09%, it seems that he is not utilizing his physical prowess to its full potential.
Moreover, Sangaré, at times, appears to be lazy in retreating quickly from the attacking third during an opposition counter-attack after the possession turnover. While he is generally not the fastest player on the field, the Ivorian does tend to cover the ground quickly due to his long strides. Despite that, he doesn’t seem to immediately push back during the opposition’s offensive transition several times, which raises questions on his work rate.
In conclusion, Sangaré is too good a player for Toulouse. The weak attacking quality of Toulouse does not compliment his quality on the ball. This is evident from the fact that the Ivorian beats every other team-mate of his in many of the attacking metrics. If he gets a chance to play around better players and if he can iron out his areas of concern, Sangaré can potentially become one of the best defensive midfielders in the world.
With Toulouse playing Ligue 2 this season, it is unlikely that the Ivorian will stay at his current club post the current transfer window as there is a little doubt that there will be many European clubs who would be eyeing a move for the Ivorian, especially for under €10 m, which looks like a bargain fee. As per the recent reports, Tottenham is interested in signing the Ivorian, before which he was also linked with other Premier League sides like Everton and Arsenal.