Bye-bye Benoit Badiashile: Finding a left centre-back for Monaco – data analysis
Last week, it was confirmed that one of Ligue 1’s best centre-backs for the past few years, Monaco’s 21-year-old youth academy product Benoît Badiashile (194cm/6’4”, 75kg/165lbs), would be departing Ligue 1 for London-based EPL giants Chelsea.
Total Football Analysis published an analysis piece back in October 2021 looking at Badiashile’s strengths and weaknesses, titled: ‘Why Benoit Badiashile excites Europe’s elite and how he must evolve to validate Monaco’s valuation’. Evidently, Chelsea and high-profile owner Todd Boehly felt the centre-back was well worth his club’s valuation, as they jumped at the chance to get this deal done early in the January transfer window, giving Monaco plenty of time to consider potential replacement options.
We’re going to throw our hand at providing some potential options for Monaco to consider to fill their Badiashile-shaped hole at left centre-back. It’s worth noting that we aren’t suggesting any of these players are like-for-like replacements nor are we suggesting they’re just as good as Badiashile. However, they are good left centre-backs, albeit of varying styles, who could be worth consideration by Les Monégasques for a place in their squad, with Philippe Clement perhaps in need of an extra left-sided centre-back in the squad.
Similarly, not all of the players we discuss in this may be available for transfer this month, but still may be worth Monaco keeping an eye on, or other clubs in need of a good ball-playing left centre-back, for that matter.
Firstly, we compared Ligue 1 and, specifically, Monaco with other top leagues in Europe, South America, North America and Asia to pinpoint stylistically comparable leagues that would provide markets worth researching for this article.
Then, we drew up a list of left centre-backs from these leagues, filtered by age, market value (per Transfermarkt) and minutes played in the last calendar year, before comparing the final list of players in some key areas relating to what Monaco may look for in a new left centre-back and the type of player Badiashile is.
Without further ado, let’s get into our list of players that we feel Monaco (and other teams of similar stature, for that matter) must keep an eye on.
Armando Obispo, 23 years old, 185cm/6’1”, 79kg/174lbs, PSV Eindhoven
Armando Obispo is enjoying a breakout season in Eredivisie under Ruud van Nistelrooy at PSV Eindhoven. The 23-year-old left centre-back has played the vast majority of his team’s minutes this season and shone as a progressive ball-playing fixture of the team’s backline.
Badiashile typically has a high success rate in aerial duels and a high completion rate of progressive passes, while his defensive duel success rate hasn’t always been much to write home about, though he’s improved in that regard and will likely continue to do so as he continues progressing towards the peak of his powers.
Obispo’s percentile ranks above, compared with others in his position in the Eredivisie, highlight his relative quality on the ball, as well as reliability in the air and defensive duel success rate.
Obispo is composed and brave on the ball, well capable of breaking lines with his passing and often depended upon to play his team out of pressure. The Dutchman is a very reliable asset for his side in that regard.
It’s common to see Obispo launching pinpoint long balls from the back over the top for attackers to chase down in behind the opposition’s backline. Plenty of his progressive passes from left centre-back are played diagonally, as figure 2 shows, targeting space across the field behind the opposition’s defence.
The 23-year-old has occasional lapses in his decision-making; he may be found playing the ball to a teammate under too much pressure, resulting in an easy turnover.
All in all, Obispo is definitely a risk-taker on the ball, but his impressive 76.02% progressive pass success rate from 11.66 progressive passes this term indicates how his risk-taking nature generally pays off.
Obispo is a decent defender, as his 70.97% defensive duel success rate would indicate, though he has engaged in a fairly low number of defensive duels this term — just 4.23 per 90.
Obispo is a decent reader of the game who’s capable of positioning himself well in different areas of the pitch to perform interceptions and kill opposition attacks before they get too dangerous.
At the same time, it’s common to see the PSV man jump too early from the backline and get caught out. Obispo can be hasty in committing to challenges — he’s prone to a slide tackle that can leave his team vulnerable if unsuccessful, and the timing of his tackles is often below par.
Additionally, the centre-back presents a slender enough figure and there’s certainly some room for physical development.
With that said, we certainly think Obispo’s development this season has been excellent to watch, deserves recognition and perhaps should be attracting attention from viable suitors, as Monaco could be.
Maxim Dekker, 18 years old, 190cm/6’3”, 80kg/176lbs, AZ Alkmaar
Staying in the Netherlands and the Eredivisie, Maxim Dekker is perhaps a bit more of a wildcard pick, given that the AZ Alkmaar academy product is just 18 years old and only made his Eredivisie debut for Kaaskoppen this season. Of course, the Netherlands U19 international is not a ready-made replacement for Badiashile at this stage, but he does represent a very promising potential future star.
We’ve seen limited game time from the 18-year-old Dutchman thus far but from what we have seen, it’s safe to say Dekker has given a very good account of himself at senior level.
Defensively, Dekker is far more physical than Obispo, as his imposing size listed above would suggest. This striking physical stature at such a young age is something the 18-year-old shares with departing Monaco star Badiashile.
Dekker likes to be the man to provide cover behind the other defenders and is generally quite passive with his defensive approach. Equally, he’s quite composed in high-pressure 1v1 situations. The young centre-back has engaged in a low 3.95 defensive duels per 90 and 2.93 aerial duels per 90 this term, but his respective success rates of 85.71% and 65.38% demonstrate great reliability in duels.
On the ball, Dekker has played just 5.98 progressive passes per 90 this term, which is relatively low, but he’s managed to retain an impressive 79.25% progressive pass accuracy.
The teenager is great at feeding the ball into midfield, while he’s also capable of drilling it further, helping his team to progress all the way into the final third at times. Dekker isn’t typically as composed as Obispo on the ball; still, he has decent ball-playing ability. He’s very good at disguising passes into midfield via his body positioning.
Rasmus Nicolaisen, 25 years old, 191cm/6’3”, 81kg/178lbs, Toulouse
We’re departing the Netherlands for France next, as we move on to Rasmus Nicolaisen of Monaco’s Ligue 1 rivals Toulouse for our next pick. Denmark’s Nicolaisen has the distinct honour of being our only fellow Ligue 1 option from this recruitment analysis.
There’s good and bad to Nicolaisen as an option here. He’s a very, very different defender to Badiashile, for starters. While Badiashile thrives when defending in transition, the opposite is true for Nicolaisen. And while Badiashile commonly steps out from the backline to engage attackers higher up the pitch, Nicolaisen is, again, more of a cover man. Figure 7 above shows Nicolaisen’s defensive territory map from 2022/23 — note his low average defensive line.
Still, Nicolaisen has engaged in 5.58 defensive duels per 90 this term, winning 68.04% of those duels — both of which are decent figures. All the while, he’s been playing for a Toulouse side with a PPDA of 9.01 — the fifth-lowest in Ligue 1 and well lower than Monaco’s 12.08 PPDA which is well up from their 9.84 PPDA last season. Badiashile performed slightly better, overall, last season for Monaco when they defended higher and more aggressively. But this season’s more passive system may be a better fit than last season’s would have been for Nicolaisen.
As a result, even though he and Badiashile clearly defend very differently, I’d be comfortable enough with him moving into that environment as a defender.
Nicolaisen is versatile and comfortable playing as either a left centre-back or a central centre-back in a back-three system. He’s quite happy to get physical and use his large frame against attackers. He’s got decent timing of his tackles, and he’s good at managing space and distance from the attacker while engaging. However, he’s not very quick or agile at all and if he’s beaten in a 1v1, there’s often little chance of recovery.
On the ball, Nicolaisen’s passes tend to cover a lot of ground, as figure 8 displays. The centre-back loves floating long balls over the top for attackers to chase down. The Dane is another who’s good at disguising line-breaking passes into midfield with his body shape, as well as opening angles with his body positioning to help drive his team forward.
Baptiste Roux, 23 years old, 190cm/6’3”, 79kg/174lbs, EA Guingamp
We’ll stay in France for our next pick, but not Ligue 1. This time, we’re off to Ligue 2 as we examine EA Guingamp’s 23-year-old left centre-back, Baptiste Roux. The percentile ranks above look very promising here, though, of course, it’s worth remembering that Roux is playing at a notably lower level than the others discussed in this data analysis.
Still, the 23-year-old Frenchman is a highly valuable ball progressor for his team, and he plays this role very effectively for Guingamp. Roux’s played a highly impressive 10.37 progressive passes per 90 this season, with 75.86% of those passes ending up successful. So, not only is he a high-volume progressive passer, but he’s able to retain a very good success rate with that high volume.
Roux has played some truly exquisite progressive passes from that deep left-sided centre-back role. He’s great at fizzing the ball along just above the surface over a lengthy distance, at pace into an attacking teammate’s feet. The Guingamp man is really good at covering large distances with pinpoint progressive passes and this combination of passing distance and accuracy can make him a very valuable commodity.
Defensively, Roux is more than happy to step out, close attackers down and use his body and strength to unbalance an attacker and regain possession. Indeed, the Guingamp centre-back is a very physical player who’s quite aggressive with his defensive approach. Roux is prepared to commit a foul and take a player down if he doesn’t get the ball, as the relatively high number of red dots in figure 11 exhibits.
The Ligue 2 ace has decent-not-amazing recovery pace in his locker to boot. Roux is good at using his body to shield and protect the ball, as well as dispossess the opponent.
Again, like Dekker, this is a bit of a wildcard pick, but it’s one for a team like Monaco to consider. Roux is the kind of player they likely want in their squad and he’s demonstrating a high level at Ligue 2, which is undoubtedly a far lower level of competition than Ligue 1 but, at the same time, an extremely stylistically similar league that has often seen players thrive after making the jump up.
Marco Friedl, 24 years old, 187cm/6’2”, 82kg/180lbs, Werder Bremen
Our last journey of this recruitment analysis takes us to Germany’s Bundesliga to discuss Werder Bremen’s left centre-back and captain, Marco Friedl. The 24-year-old has primarily played as a left-back throughout his career but he’s mainly played as a wide left centre-back in a three-at-the-back system this season and last.
As a wide left centre-back, it’s common to see Friedl driving quite far forward with the ball. He often occupies more advanced positions than he’d likely be required to occupy at Monaco unless they developed a similar system to Werder Bremen. While they’ve occasionally used three centre-backs at times this season, Monaco usually line up with two centre-backs.
Still, we had to include Friedl on this list because of the value he could represent as a ball-progressing left-sided centre-back. In Germany’s top flight this season, the Werder Bremen captain has played a very high 9.82 progressive passes per 90, while retaining a very high 83.82% success rate. His progressive passing frequency and success rate are highly impressive, especially together.
Figure 13 shows Friedl’s progressive passes from 2022/23 and here, we can see how he tends to switch the play from left centre-back to the right wing, often linking up with his team’s right wing-back via long crossfield balls. The player’s long passing, in this manner, is a major tool for Werder Bremen.
Defensively, Friedl obtains a good ability to read the game and quite good decision-making in general. As a wide centre-back, he’s comfortable defending in wide areas and operating further away from traditional centre-back positions, if required.
The Austrian is quite agile, with decent recovery pace. He’s comfortable getting physical with attackers but strikes a good balance between physicality and not going over the top.
To conclude this tactical analysis, we feel these are five players who have to be on Monaco’s radar in their search for left centre-back reinforcements. We feel all players would stand a chance of fitting in well stylistically with Monaco, but all pose a very real risk as well; they’re all far from safe bets. If we were to go all in on one of these players, Nicolaisen may be the safest option, closely followed by Obispo.