Why Lorient’s free Adil Aouchiche transfer can be one of Ligue 1’s best deals of 2022/23 – scout report
Paris Saint-Germain academy product Adil Aouchiche (181cm/5’11”, 69kg/152lbs), had been linked with the likes of Arsenal and Juventus two years ago when he ultimately ended up joining French giants Saint-Étienne on leaving Paris after just turning 18 years old. He hasn’t enjoyed the smoothest start to life in senior football, suffering relegation from France’s top flight last term.
However, while ASSE are set to toil away in the second tier this season, Aouchiche will continue to ply his trade in Ligue 1, as he joined Lorient towards the end of the recent summer transfer window.
Despite being part of a relegated team last season, Aouchiche for no transfer fee has the potential to be one of the deals of the summer from Ligue 1 and we hope to show why that might be the case in our latest tactical analysis and scout report which looks at three key strengths within Aouchiche’s game, provides analysis of the role he played in his previous side’s tactics and looks forward to how he may fit into Régis Le Bris’ Lorient project, with Les Merlus enjoying a very positive start to the 2022/23 campaign.
Without further ado, we’ll kick off this tactical analysis piece with a little bit of data analysis. The purpose of this is to provide some information on the right-footed winger/attacking midfielder’s playing style, as well as clearly point out some areas in which the player excels in the data relative to others in his position from Europe’s top five leagues and some areas in which he evidently doesn’t stand out.
Again, as previously stated, we like to use this as a tool to indicate player style more than player quality but it can tell us at least a little bit about both to some extent in a very digestible way.
To explain some of the metrics from figure 1 very briefly, ‘Possession involvement’ is a combination of passes per 90 and passes received per 90, which we’ve combined to try and get a measure of how involved, overall, the player is in his team’s possession phases in relation to other players in the data set labelled in figure 1.
‘Positive passing’ is a combination of forward passes per 90, progressive passes (A forward pass that attempts to advance a team significantly closer to the opponent’s goal) per 90 and passes to the final third per 90. These were combined as a means of looking into how aggressive/forward-thinking the player is with the ball in relation to his peers, particularly designed to highlight his participation in the ball progression phase of play.
‘Penetrative passing’, meanwhile, is a combination of through passes per 90, passes to the penalty area per 90 and smart passes per 90, designed to look at the player’s defensive line-breaking nature, particularly with a view to looking at the player’s effectiveness in chance creation.
‘Creative passing’, then, is a combination of xA per 90, shot assists per 90 and key passes per 90. This one is designed to show how effective the player is at directly creating goalscoring opportunities for his teammates.
Aouchiche has played a variety of roles and positions in his young career but we identify him as a winger/attacking midfielder, so these are the players we’ve compared him with for the sake of this data analysis.
From figure 1, we see that Aouchiche stands out positively in some key defensive metrics, crossing, possession involvement, positive passing and long passing. This doesn’t come as a surprise at all from being familiar with his game, as these are all clearly identifiable strengths within the player’s game — an observation with which the data correlates.
For a winger/attacking midfielder, Aouchiche ranks highly in possession involvement and positive passing — a couple of indicators that the player tends to drop into deeper areas of the pitch quite often, as his heatmap from figure 2 would also suggest.
Indeed, it’s common to see Aouchiche drop alongside his team’s deep-lying midfielder(s) from a more advanced position in the ball progression phase to offer his teammates in deeper areas another option. He loves putting his long passing to use when he gets on the ball in deeper areas, hence why his long passing ranks so highly. Additionally, the quality of his long passing is generally impressive.
On the flip side, Aouchiche ranks extremely low for deep completions, touches in the box, xG and quite low for penetrative passing too. He’s not been as heavily involved in the chance creation phase as perhaps you might expect, while he’s maybe more involved in progression than you might expect. Aouchiche likes to operate in deeper areas and influence the game more in the earlier stages of possession than the later stages.
As figure 2 indicates, Aouchiche typically lines up on the left side of the pitch but is no stranger to the right-wing either. He’s right-footed but quite comfortable using his left foot too which is at a decent level with some room for improvement both in terms of comfort with using it and quality with it.
Moving on, we’ll now take a look at one of the most important areas in Aouchiche’s game, his passing. As previously mentioned, it’s common to see Aouchiche operating in deeper areas than you might expect given our description of the player as a winger/attacking midfielder. He likes to drop relatively deep to get involved in earlier phases of possession and put his long-passing game to the test.
As a result of this, it’s also common to see Aouchiche receiving the ball from either the centre-backs, full-backs or the deepest midfielder, with the latter being the case in the first two quartiles (top-half) of figure 3.
Note how the Frenchman intelligently scans after the ball leaves his teammate’s foot in the top-left quartile, using the period of time when the ball is in motion to take his eye off the action rather than doing so when the ball is in his teammate’s feet and open to more significant changes of direction/pace.
He opens his body to the opposition’s half of the pitch while receiving the ball on his back foot in the top-right quartile. Before this image, the player had dropped deep to find space alongside the holding midfielder, facilitating this pass in the first place. He uses that space well by receiving the ball as he turns and sets himself up to progress upfield.
The midfielder spots a run from the centre-forward and tries to pick him out with a chipped ball over the top for the player to run onto. The pass is very well-weighted and well-timed. Of course, this isn’t always the case for Aouchiche and his long passing, on many occasions, such is the risk of long passing and hence why despite having a great long pass accuracy, his actual long pass success percentage sits at 69.57% — showing the delicate nature of playing it long.
On this occasion, the ball does meet its target, with the centre-forward opting to take a touch backwards to control the ball and wait for reinforcements rather than try to progress into the box themselves as they came under some pressure. However, this highlights Aouchiche creating a great opportunity for his team via the long ball and at the very least progressing his side into a more dangerous position than they were in previously through this long ball.
In this example, Aouchiche demonstrated intelligence in his movement and decision-making as well as great technical quality to set up and pull off the pass as he did. We see all of this on display again in figure 4.
Here, the player dropped deep again. This time, he intelligently shifted out away from the centre of the pitch to create an area for himself to receive the ball out wide away from pressure as we see in the top-left quartile. Aouchiche is great at recognising and using his movement to create opportunities to put some space between himself and the nearest opposition defenders before receiving the ball, as we see here.
As he receives, he takes the ball on the half-turn and sets himself to play upfield once again. This is a good skill in the player’s game. He’s agile and spatially aware enough to make this happen safely and securely as we see in the top-right quartile.
Then, Aouchiche sends a long ball over the top for a forward moving in behind from in-to-out to chase down. Unfortunately for ASSE, the excellent pass is just about cut out by an opposition defender who was forced to track back and make the interception but after this, they are forced to protect the ball by the sideline by Saint-Étienne players who take the opportunity to gain some territory and put the opposition in a sensitive position via their pressing.
Again, it’s clear how Aouchiche’s intelligent and technically-proficient play led to creating this progress for the team and a good attacking opportunity.
One last example of the player’s intelligence and technical proficiency in the area of passing is visible in figure 5. Here, he manages to create space between himself and the nearest defender with a brilliant little move at the beginning of this attack. Firstly, he receives the ball out wide on the right and plays it inside to a supporting midfielder before making a jolt forward as if he were offering the one-two option on the wing.
However, the player quickly pulled back to his starting position after the opposition defender began tracking his run, demonstrating great intelligence to manipulate the opposition’s movement and good agility again to quickly and fluidly change direction with his movement.
After pulling back to his starting position, he receives the ball again from the nearest midfielder but with a little more time and space now than he had enjoyed before. In the bottom-left quartile, we see how the player used that time and space to get his head up and scan for passing options while he got the ball out of his feet and set up for a long pass.
Then, in the bottom-right quartile, we see that the 20-year-old ended up performing a big switch of play across the field to find a teammate in even more space with a chance to play forward and break into the opposition’s half.
It’s common to see Aouchiche pull off big switches of play like this both from deeper positions and from advanced positions. Again, long passing always comes with a risk and perhaps at times he is a little bit too keen to play balls like this despite the danger associated with it, which can lead to trouble for his side. However, in general, this player is a safe and capable long passer with great mental and technical capabilities to pull off long balls, which is a key part of his game, in particular.
The next section of our analysis looks in detail at Aouchiche’s crossing game. The player typically occupies wide areas — this is generally true for when he plays in deeper areas and when he plays in more advanced areas of the pitch. As such, crossing is an important part of the playmaker’s game when looking to create chances.
Figure 6 shows Aouchiche’s ‘penetrating carries’ for ASSE last season. This image highlights carries across the pitch and actions around the penalty area. We can see from the image that Aouchiche generally starts his carries and actions from wide or at least the half-spaces — never really the middle of the pitch.
This is typical of the player’s game. At times, yes, he likes to occupy the half-space but that’s pretty much as central as it tends to get. Perhaps with a change of role that could change too but we feel this is indicative of the player’s preferences as much as it’s indicative of his previous role at Les Verts, as Aouchiche performed this role comfortably.
In figure 7, we see Aouchiche’s ‘winger actions’ from last season. The dots represent dribbles (green successful, red unsuccessful) and the arrows represent crosses (blue successful, red unsuccessful and green meaning an assist).
Again, we see the player’s preference for wider areas of the pitch, while we also see that more of the right-footed playmaker’s crosses from the right ended up being successful relative to his crosses from the left. This probably isn’t indicative of much given the high propensity for variance in crossing outcomes, especially over just one season, but it is perhaps a noteworthy observation — nothing to read too much into but perhaps something to monitor.
Very few of his actions occur centrally but his crossing does vary significantly, with some crosses coming from very wide and some coming from more central positions, some coming from high up the pitch and some coming from deeper areas. Indeed, it’s common to see Aouchiche vary his crossing significantly.
Figure 8 shows an example of the 20-year-old lining up a cross after receiving the ball out wide, right on the sideline. His teammate next to him creates extra space for the crosser via his run which drags the nearest defender away from Aouchiche, creating some more room for the player to get the ball out of his feet and sent into the box.
We see another example of the 20-year-old crossing after receiving in a wide position in figure 9. Just before this image, after pulling away from the full-back out to the wing to create more space between himself and the defender, Aouchiche received the ball wide again — this time, on the left sideline.
He then carried the ball inside, taking on the full-back. As the full-back approached, Aouchiche cut inside onto his stronger right foot, got his head up to scan his options and sent an inswinging cross into the box. The cross fails to meet the target on this occasion but the movement involved in setting up the opportunity was exquisite and represents something very promising — Aouchiche’s ability to find space in the final third.
Lastly, figure 10 shows Aouchiche receiving more centrally, this time, in the right half-space. The player advances into this position unmarked, giving his more central teammate an option and ultimately ends up receiving the ball here with space ahead of him to drive into.
As he drives forward into the right half-space, he gets his head up and scans for the options in front of him. The playmaker sets up a good crossing opportunity for himself which we can see that he takes in the bottom-left quartile — this time crossing earlier and from a more central position than in previous examples, with his position here being a typical position to see a ‘free 8’ like Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City crossing from rather than a typical winger position like we saw in figure 8 or an inverted winger position as we saw in figure 9.
His cross met his teammate’s head inside the box and although this didn’t result in a goal, it again shows the effective combination of intelligent movement, vision and technical quality which Aouchiche possesses. So, Lorient could expect more crossing in their team’s game as Aouchiche starts to make his way into their team, with this being a common way he likes to create chances for his teammates and Aouchiche is likely to demand plenty of the ball at Stade du Moustoir.
Defensive work rate and quality
Lastly, for this tactical analysis and scout report, we aim to shine a light on a final overall strength in Aouchiche’s game — his defensive ability/work rate. As figure 1 indicates, Aouchiche ranks highly for defensive duels, defensive duel success and interceptions when compared with other wingers/attacking midfielders from Europe’s top-five leagues. He’s an active defender amongst this group.
Not only that, but Aouchiche is also a technically good defender amongst this group. We love watching him enter tackles and close players down because of the technical proficiency that he shows. We believe that defensive quality is more important than ever for players that occupy advanced areas of the pitch like Aouchiche and for this analyst especially, it’s a major plus for a player like Aouchiche to have this in their game.
Aouchiche is good at getting defensive basics right, like making his base wide and stable when shielding the ball from an opponent — he uses this idea a lot when protecting the ball before either setting off on a dribble or linking up with a teammate after holding up the play for them. Additionally, he’s good at entering tackles with a side-on stance while closing the opposition player down at pace.
While it sounds obvious for professional footballers, it isn’t uncommon to see defensive basics get forgotten about at the highest levels of the game so seeing that attention to detail and care in his work makes Aouchiche a standout from this perspective, as the data also shows.
Aouchiche has a great defensive work rate which is exhibited in figure 11. Here, he pressed to close a deep opposition player down in the top-left quartile but he failed to cut out their pass, allowing them to play past him and down the wing.
From there, the opposition looked to continue their attack by progressing from the wing to the centre but Aouchiche was still about and managed to get back between the players in time to cut out their pass and send the ball backwards.
This touch created a 50/50 battle between another Saint-Étienne player and an opposition player which, unfortunately for Aouchiche and his defensive effort, the opposition player won. However, now to be outdone, Aouchiche still didn’t give up and got back in time to stick a tackle in on this opposition player, successfully regaining the ball via a hard but legal challenge that also left the opposition player on the floor. This tackle returned the ball to his team.
So, from this example, we clearly see why we say that Aouchiche has a great attitude when it comes to defensive work. He’s active and proficient when pressing on the front foot or when tracking back, displaying a solid mentality to not give up on the recovery and keep pushing to win possession for his side.
Figures 12-14 will also showcase some of Aouchiche’s defensive qualities, this time looking at the player’s ability to press on the front foot and, in particular, at his intelligent defensive positioning while pressing.
Starting with figure 12, here we see Aouchiche pressing an opposition player in the ball progression phase while aiming to keep forward passing options blocked via his cover shadow — something that’s common in Aouchiche’s defensive game and is a testament to his spatial awareness and, again, defensive work rate and care.
In figure 13, we then see Aouchiche forced to change direction as the opposition player manages to pass the ball to a teammate to his right.
Aouchiche has great agility and balance, thus managed to change direction at the drop of a dime, quickly closing down the new ball carrier. As that player attempted a forward pass, the now-Lorient playmaker was there to block the pass and send it out of play, disrupting the opposition’s attack.
Again, this shows great defensive work rate and attitude from Aouchiche but this passage of play also demonstrates great positioning, spatial awareness, agility and balance — all of which are important defensive attributes, especially when pressing on the front foot.
Lorient can expect some added bite to their side’s defensive performance by adding Aouchiche to their squad. Indeed, Lorient are quite a defensively passive team relative to other Ligue 1 sides this season, as they have the lowest PPDA in the league at this stage of the campaign. That doesn’t mean Aouchiche won’t be required to do anything defensively though, it just means he’ll be required to defend differently from how he might be required to defend in a more aggressive, high-pressing system.
Aouchiche’s team was set up in a mid-block in both of the examples we’ve seen in this section of analysis and this is a common sight for Lorient at the moment, while they abandon the high-block for the most part bar some specific pressing triggers. So, Aouchiche may well be seen operating similarly to how we saw him operating in these examples for Les Merlus this term.
To conclude this tactical analysis, we’d expect to see Aouchiche add to Lorient’s game as a short passing option in the build-up and an option to help with ball progression directly — especially via his long passing which is a notable strength in his game. In terms of chance creation, we’d expect Aouchiche’s crossing and ability in wide areas, in general, to be exploited by Le Bris’ side. Additionally, Aouchiche will contribute plenty to his new team off the ball in defensive phases with plenty of defensive quality and work rate in his game.
Lorient have set up in either a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 or, primarily, a 4-3-3 this season. Aouchiche could occupy one of the wings in Lorient’s system, the ‘10’ position in the 4-2-3-1 or one of the two ‘8’ positions in the 4-3-3.
For us, an ‘8’ position in the 4-3-3 may suit him best based on the qualities we’ve discussed in this analysis and the requirements of that role in Lorient’s current system (which we analysed a little bit in our recent post-match analysis of Lens vs Lorient) and we’d love to see a midfield of Aouchiche and Enzo Le Fée in front of Laurent Abergel, but Aouchiche is versatile and presents plenty of options for Le Bris to consider.