Division 1 Feminine 2019/20: Using data to find Ada Hegerberg’s replacement – data analysis
Olympique Lyon Feminin are currently in a predicament regarding their forward line. Star striker Ada Hegerberg has been ruled for the rest of the season with an ACL injury and that will certainly see Lyon alter their tactics to replace her. The French club are embroiled in the closest title race in recent years. The team has been extremely dominant and their performances have been down to a mixture of clinical finishing and exquisite midfield play. With half of the season and UEFA Champions League knockout matches to come, Jean-Luc Vasseur has a decision to make on who replaces the talismanic forward. At first glance the squad does not possess a like for like replacement; however, there are in-house options that he could use to compensate for the qualities the Norwegian centre-forward brings to the table. For this analysis, we will examine players from the Lyon squad to assess who can replace the prolific striker.
This data analysis will look to explore the different player options at Vasseur’s disposal and how these players can fit into Lyon’s style of play. To understand how these players can adapt to Lyon’s system, it’s important to first understand Hegerberg’s style of play within it.
Olympique Lyon & Ada Hegerberg
Hegerberg can be classified as a complete forward. This type of number nine can score goals, create space, assist in the build-up, and is proficient at holding up the ball. The Norwegian striker is proficient at almost every part of her game. From aerial duels to driving runs, Hegerberg is able to score all types of goals. The player is essentially a focal point between the midfield and the forward line, giving her team a point of attack.
Not only is she a clinical finisher, but is equally proficient in the build-up. Hegerberg is extremely important to Lyon’s build-up play because she allows the two wingers to drift inside. Le Sommer, Nikita Parris, and Amel Majri all look to rotate between staying out wide and moving into central areas. Le Sommer tends to drift in more while Majri prefers to stay on the outside. Nikita Parris will choose based on the situation at hand. What is common is that Hegerberg’s movement between the lines is critical to the way Lyon play football.
Last season Reynold Pedros utilised a 4-2-3-1, using it 41% of the time, with his successor following the same system and using it a colossal 71%. Much like the previous season, Lyon have tended to play in pockets of space near the opposition penalty area. They use Saki Kumagai and Amandine Henry to control possession and play passes into the forward line whilst protecting the back four. Once received by one of the attacking players, they look to play quick, interchangeable passes between each other to draw players in and create space in behind the defensive line for an overlapping player. Usually, we’ll see Hegerberg combine with Dzsenifer Marozsán or Le Sommer and a third attacking player to create an overload in the wide channels. This makes how Lyon play in the final third extremely important and replacing Hegerberg becomes something more than finding a reliable goalscorer.
If the intricate play around the box doesn’t work out, Hegerberg is excellent at getting on the end of crosses from the two full-backs. Alex Greenwood, Majri, and Lucy Bronze are all excellent crossers and giving Hegerberg service she needs to score if passes into the box fail.
Hegerberg’s statistics have always been impressive and this season hasn’t been any different. The prolific striker has averaged 1.3 goals per 90, 4.03 dribbles per 90, 5.51 shots per 90 (60% on target), 23.11 duels per 90, and 3.55 recoveries per 90. Putting up numbers remotely close to Hegerberg’s is tough and her replacement will need to output and show proficiency in their overall play.
So, knowing this information, Lyon’s replacement striker needs to have good ball-playing skills, competent link-up play and be a clinical finisher in the box. The supporting cast behind the forward is not short of quality, making service into the striker less of an issue. There are two obvious candidates at Vasseur’s disposal that I feel can fill the void.
Initial data comparison
It makes sense to look at the data and statistics and how the three compare. The purpose of this data analysis is to provide a holistic perspective of their profiles and see if the numbers give us a better understanding of who could replace the Norwegian.
These comparisons comprise data from the current season. The first set of metrics I’ve used is the average number of shots taken versus average expected goals (xG). What is interesting to notice is the different profiles of the players. Hegerberg is a complete forward who as any striker would look to take as many shots as possible. Parris and Le Sommer, however, are wide players who both have slightly different tendencies. One prefers to act as a second striker while the other drifts in and out of her position alternating between the role of a winger and inside-forward. We’ll elaborate on their individual profiles later in the analysis. All three players average three or more shots per 90. Hegerberg averages 5.5 shots per 90, Parris 4.4 shots per 90 and Le Sommer 3.0 shots per 90. This tells us that they are getting into goal scoring positions and are dominating matches this season.
Now taking a closer look at their average xG, it’s easy to see that Hegerberg has the highest average. This is obvious because she plays as the central striker but it’s worth noting that Hegerberg is the only player to have converted and shots on goal and xG into a substantial amount of goals. Both Parris and Le Sommer have lacked that cutting edge in comparison and serves as an indicator of just how good Hegerberg is.
As I’ve mentioned throughout this analysis, Hegerberg likes to link-up play and create passing moves between her wingers and attacking midfielders to create space and goal-scoring opportunities. As a result, it’s important for us to analyse the data to see if the statistics support Le Sommer and Parris. The first metric we should look at is the number of received passes per 90. Le Sommer dominates in this regard with 30 whereas Parris (19) and Hegerberg (18.2) receive considerably less. This is a clear indication of her involvement in the final third.
Not only that but Le Sommer edges out her two teammates in the other two passing metrics of passes into the box and final third. Her 4.2 passes into the box are higher than Parris’ 2 and Hegerberg’s 3. Based on a combination of her preference to sit in a narrower position starting in a wide position coming in, Le Sommer’s involvement in the build-up becomes more prevalent. Now that the data has been analysed, it becomes important that we see how the results apply to Le Sommer’s and Parris’ style of play in comparison to Hegerberg.
Eugenie Le Sommer
Le Sommer is a wide attacking forward that can play as both a winger and striker. Usually stationed on the left-hand side of the front three, she prefers to drift into central areas and take on the spaces between the opposition full-back and centre-back. Le Sommer is a naturally gifted dribbler that has the ability to beat defenders in 1v1 situations and interchange play with other attacking teammates. Her link-up play with the left-back has been impressive, especially when playing for France. The inside forward is extremely prolific having scored five goals in 10 Division 1 matches, and a further four in three Champions League matches. The creative forward is very much an attacking threat for Lyon and seems to be a favourable replacement to Hegerberg on face value.
The modern wide attackers are often players who prefer cutting inside and create an overload in the penalty area. Teams are using inside-forwards on both flanks, which gives their strikers extra support. They usually possess impressive dribbling abilities and open up space for players to move around them. Le Sommer’s two best traits include her ability to attack space and create shooting opportunities. This is typified by her touches in the box at 7.66 per 90 and 4.13 shots per 90. Even against 28 goal striker Marie-Antoinette Katoto, her statistics in this regard are higher. The Paris Saint-Germain striker averages 6.22 touches in the box per 90 and 3.54 shots per 90. Le Sommer is Lyon’s biggest threat from the wide areas and keeps the team ticking over. Last season she was the third-highest goal scorer in the league with 17 goals and had the joint second-highest assist tally with 10 tied with teammate Majri who were both beaten by Camille Abily (also of Lyon).
Le Sommer’s movement is smart and adept at fashioning shooting chances through interchanging play and skill with the ball at her feet. She likes to linger in the half-spaces in the final third between the centre-back and full-back receiving possession from midfield either playing the overlapping full-back or interchanging with the central striker. In doing so, she is able to find pockets of space in the penalty area to get into better goal scoring positions. She will burst past the defensive line if they are static due to the focus on the wide player or put herself in a position to isolate the defender creating a 1v1 position.
We can gather her average positioning and movement from the pass map. Le Sommer prefers to patrol the left-sided half-space and this is echoed in the areas shes received passes. This map above signifies her preference to receive passes in the left halfspace and attack the penalty area. The French winger received 12 passes in that part of the pitch.. She does her best work in this area and is able to find those pockets of space and allow the full-back to overlap.
Notice Le Sommer’s starting position and where she receives possession. Hegerberg picks up possession and attracts three defenders, giving Le Sommer a chance in a 1v1 position. Le Sommer’s run puts her in a great position to fashion a shooting chance by turning her marker. What makes Le Sommer dangerous is her capability to move in both directions. Whether she cuts inside to shoot or run down the outside to get into a crossing position.
Le Sommer is equally adept at playing on the shoulder of defences running in behind the defensive to exploit teams that play a high line. While Lyon are a possession dominant team, there are moments where they are given chances to counter-attack and having someone with Le Sommer’s pace can be an extremely useful asset. Her running in behind combined with her dribbling ability helps to open up defences and put her into a good crossing position or chance to run through on goal.
Games against Paris Saint-Germain are arguably the toughest matches of the season for Lyon domestically. Both teams are evenly matched and is one of the few games who Lyon can’t completely dominate. Here we can see PSG holding a slightly higher line with Le Sommer sitting on the edge. As soon as Kumagai receives possession she immediately tries to play Le Sommer in. This is where her smart movement and positioning comes into effect. The French forward has a headstart on her marker and timed her run to perfection, accelerating just in time to reach the ball and allow her teammates to get into position. As I mentioned earlier, Hegerberg’s movement on the ball is exquisite and is one of the main reasons for her getting into her numerous goal-scoring positions.
Le Sommer’s movement isn’t limited to her ability to attack the half-spaces on the ball but her link-up play and passing has been exceptional too. Le Sommer will target the oncoming player and look to find space in behind to play in a cross or fashion a goal-scoring chance. Le Sommer will need to play a bit more of a link player role due to the types of wingers Lyon have. If Le Sommer were to move into a central position, Delphine Cascarino or Majri would move in to take her position. Both wingers and Parris are excellent ballplayers in the final third and in small spaces making their link-up extremely important in the build-up.
This exemplifies how Le Sommer’s link-up play can create space and fashion a clear opportunity for one of her attacking teammates. Her starting position is once again between the centre-back and full-back but this time she looks to turn and drive horizontally, dragging multiple defenders towards her. Due to her exceptional dribbling ability, she can keep the ball at her feet with a lower chance of losing possession. Based on her style of play, it seems as though Le Sommer prefers to be on the ball looking to score than assist. She has an xG of 0.62 per 90 but averages 0.86 goals per 90. Clearly, she is scoring more than the chances being created and would be best utilised in this regard.
After shuffling across the 18-yard box, Le Sommer finds a teammate in space in the wide area and plays a penetrative pass through. Notice the empty space in behind for Cascarino to exploit and run into. From here she can choose to cross the ball for Hegerberg or take on the shot.
The French forward’s ability to link-up play and score goals is a huge asset and one that can go a long way in replicating the Norwegian superstar. Playing quick interchangeable passes is one skill but holding up play to allow support to arrive is another and one that is important in the centre-forward position at Lyon.
Parris is a natural right-winger who possesses incredible speed, guile, and creativity in possession. She has been a consistent goal scorer for both her former employers Manchester City and new club Lyon becoming a growing attacking influence. The statistics from her last season saw her rack up 1,600 minutes across 19 appearances with a goal return of 19. A goal a game for a winger is most impressive. How does the rest of her statistics look?
Parris is a skilful winger and one that is capable of producing moments of magic. She is equally adept at creating goals as well as scoring them. With 6.19 dribbles per 90, 6.39 touches in the box per 90, and 3.27 shots per 90 this season, Parris has shown her attacking prowess in a team that dominates possession. Her quick movements and link-up play in the wide areas is a particular strength and highlight of her game. With lightning-quick and nimble feet, Parris is a menace in the box and causes all sorts of problems in 1v1 situations.
Her movement and positioning to get into the box is borne from her intelligence on the pitch. Parris is a smart footballer and one that knows where she is on the pitch in relation to her teammates. She has shown a willingness to track back when required and rush back into the box when the team are attacking. Her work rate is possibly her best trait that makes her a strong favourite of any coach. This will be an important trait if she is to play a central striking role.
Starting from a deeper position, Parris starts off her run just behind her marker. One point to notice is her central starting position with right-back – Lucy Bronze – marauding down the flank towards the penalty area. Parris sees the space in behind the full-back who is vacating the space to try and stop Bronze from advancing. This results in Parris being able to lose her marker and get into a crossing position for Hegerberg and Jessica Silva. The focus shifts away from the unmarked Silva and keeps play on the right-hand side affording the Portuguese forward time and space.
While Parris’ on the ball technique is exquisite, it is her intelligent decision making that makes her stand out. Every move she makes is with reason and while she seems to only possess nimble footwork, the former Manchester City Women winger is an excellent thinker. She isn’t afraid of taking up deeper and more central positions even when deployed as a wide attacker. This is to find space and allow her time to find attacking teammates and get into better crossing or scoring positions.
The pass map against Ryazan (L) in the Champions League shows her average position in that game. Parris (#17) is seen in a more central position next to Hegerberg creating an almost two-man strikeforce. With an xG of 0.51 per 90, Parris is a dangerous threat going forward. This season she has scored eight goals in 17 matches. Not quite the prolific return of previous seasons but that tally is expected to rise if she plays as her xG suggests. The pass map on the right is against Reims and shows her playing as the centre-forward. The most prevalent takeaway is the number of players around who she can interchange and play in behind.
Getting into goal scoring positions is crucial and playing in a wide position allows her to make late runs into the box when possession is on the opposite side. In this example, you can see Parris hovering in a central area in the penalty area as the ball is played out towards the left. As soon as she sees the Lyon winger in space and able to cross, Parris makes a darting run in behind the centre-back and meets the cross. This sort of killer instinct will be critical if she is deployed centrally. Knowing when and where to find space in the penalty area is a skill that Hegerberg excels and will need to be replicated by Parris.
Parris can not only shield the ball well when receiving possession in midfield but can quickly turn and drive forward on her own pulling defenders towards her. As the image above shows, Parris picks up possession in midfield with space for her to turn, drive forward and find a penetrative passing option. With Hegerberg’s excellent movement, she is the obvious target.
However, she uses the decoy run by Hegerberg to play a fizzing cross-field pass into the path of Silva on the opposite flank. The Portuguese forward collects possession with aces of space and no immediate pressure on her. Parris’ quick and intelligent thinking created an attacking opportunity for Lyon.
Parris’ skills seem to be more suited to a winger than striker but there her style of play is reminiscent to Roberto Firmino where she is able to use short, quick movements to create space both on and off the ball. Finding space and allowing Le Sommer and Cascarino to utilise the space created in the box by moving defenders out of position would be her greatest asset.
Having analysed the two players against Hegerberg and Lyon’s style of play, it is easy to see why the French champions have one of the best squads in women’s football. Their attacking options are littered with talent and deploying either striker brings its own benefits to the team. Vasseur could alter his tactics when playing either winger in a centre-forward position. I believe that Le Sommer would be the obvious choice from a goal-scoring perspective as she most resembles a striker in her playstyle, however, Parris’ movement and ability to play in players is incredible and effective. They could alternate against different opposition but Vasseur will likely turn to the French forward as his number one. Lyon are in safe hands but will hope Hegerberg makes a swift return because the skillset she brings to the team is far beyond any one player brings to the side.