Alou Kuol: The ‘very explosive’ Stuttgart-bound aerial assassin who idolises Lewandowski – scout report
Scoring seven goals in 893 minutes, Central Coast Mariners centre-forward Alou Kuol has the third-best goals per 90 ratio (0.71) of any A-League player for the 2020/21 campaign. His clinical nature in front of goal caught Stuttgart sporting director Sven Mislintat’s eye and now, the 177cm (5’10”), 72kg (159lbs) 19-year-old is moving to the Bundesliga on a free transfer this summer. Die Roten’s renowned talent spotter, who’s previously held major scouting positions at Borussia Dortmund and EPL giants Arsenal, revealed that the Australian attacker “impressed [Stuttgart] with his personality and ambition”.
Kuol, whose family fled a war-torn Sudan when he was just three years old, is confident and ambitious both on and off the pitch, earlier this year explaining that he disagreed with ex-coaches uncertainty over his talents in the past before backing himself by leaving home to join Central Coast Mariners in pursuit of his dream to become a professional footballer and “repay” his parents for the sacrifices that they made for him. The teenager also revealed that he aims to “assert [himself] in the Bundesliga” when he joins Pellegrino Matarazzo’s side for the 2021/22 campaign, and he aspires “to be like [Robert] Lewandowski”.
It’s clear how Mislintat was drawn to Kuol’s personality and ambition, as well as his impressive performances in front of goal for Central Coast Mariners this season. In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, we’re going to take a more in-depth look at Kuol’s overall game. This scout report will provide analysis of some of the key strengths and weaknesses that the 19-year-old attacker possesses based on his performances for Central Coast Mariners this season and ahead of his arrival at Mercedes-Benz Arena. We’ll highlight what role, in terms of a team’s tactics, may suit the striker best, as well as some areas of improvement in the youngster’s game that Matarazzo and his coaching staff must work on in order for Kuol to fulfil the potential that Mislintat evidently believes he has.
As with any striker, shooting is an important part of Kuol’s game. This season, Kuol has been clinical with his chances, as is clear from his impressive goals per 90 ratio and the fact that his seven goals have come from 4.17 xG, indicating that he’s scored more than expected based on the quality of chances he’s had.
Kuol is not afraid to shoot whenever the opportunity presents itself. He’s taken 2.92 shots per 90 this term – the 11th-most shots per 90 any A-League player has taken this season. Additionally, only one Central Coast Mariners player has taken more shots per 90 than Kuol this season.
His high shot frequency is a result of a few combined factors. Firstly, Kuol is a striker with a lot of confidence and just like he backed himself to leave home and make it with Central Coast Mariners a few years ago, he backs himself to score when the opportunity arises.
Kuol isn’t a ‘selfish’ player. If he’s in possession in the box, but not in a great shooting position while a teammate who he could assist is clearly occupying a better shooting position, he’s shown that he will try to assist that teammate rather than go alone. However, if there isn’t a blatantly obvious passing option, then Kuol is always prepared to have a go by himself, even if he’s not in a completely optimal shooting position, as was the case here in figure 1.
The striker carried the ball into this position from just outside the box while being shepherded away from goal by an opposition defender. The optimal shooting position here is more central, or at least running inwards from outside, not running outwards from inside as Kuol is. However, there’s no obvious pass for the 19-year-old here, when taking into account the direction he’s moving at pace, and instead of opting to hold onto the ball and work it into a better shooting position, he decides to shoot from here, targeting the near-post, which pays off as he actually manages to score from this tight angle, blasting the ball past the goalkeeper at his near post.
His confidence allowed him to take the shot on despite being in a less-than-ideal position, while his shot power helped the ball to travel at great speed, giving the ‘keeper little chance at the near-post provided that the shot was on target.
Even with confidence and great shot power, there’s a good chance that a shot from a tight angle like this – perhaps, even, especially at such high power – will miss the target. However, simply put, Kuol is very good at hitting the target. Despite taking so many shots per 90, Kuol has a shot accuracy rate of 58.62%. That’s much better than his team’s average of 40.3% and the A-League average of 36.1%.
Kuol’s accuracy is another reason why he’s got such a high shot frequency. It’s easier for him to be confident in his ability when he’s reliably hitting the target, while the fact that he’s so reliable at hitting the target, even when shooting with power like in figure 1, means that his team tries to use this quality he brings to the table more, and as a result, focuses on trying to set up shooting opportunities for him, specifically, leading to his shot frequency increasing.
Following on from that, Kuol provides his team with a significant aerial threat. This is another major skill he offers and as with his shot accuracy, one that Central Coast Mariners have been keen to make the most of and exploit. We’ll take a more in-depth look at Kuol’s aerial ability later in this tactical analysis, but to summarise what impact he has made via his aerial ability in terms of his shooting, four of Kuol’s seven league goals this term have been headers. Only one A-League player has scored more headed goals than the Central Coast Mariners teenager, and he’s taken 14 headed shots, which is the sixth-most in the league despite playing just 893 minutes, highlighting how his team has tried to exploit this skill.
Confidence, shot accuracy, shot power and aerial ability are all major positives to Kuol’s game in front of goal that Stuttgart should look to make use of when the teenager joins the Bundesliga outfit.
Describing his game earlier this year, Kuol said: “I’m very explosive, very aggressive – I also like to play very physically”. Based on our analysis of his game, we feel that this is an accurate description.
As mentioned in the previous section, Kuol provides his side with a significant aerial threat. This is despite him standing at 177cm tall, which isn’t short by any means but isn’t far off the average height for an Australian man (179.2cm). What gives him an edge in the air, however, is his powerful legs that allow him to jump very high, which we see an example of in figure 2.
Here, Central Coast Mariners sent a long ball upfield from deep aiming for Kuol. It’s common to see Mariners try and use Kuol’s aerial ability like this, as well as inside the box, hence why he’s engaged in 10.28 aerial duels per 90 this term – the third-most aerial duels of any A-League player and more than any other Mariners player.
It’s also common to see Kuol sprint into aerial duels before launching himself into the air off two feet with significant power and explosiveness, which was also the case here. This helps him to reach a very impressive height with his jump and make it a much more formidable task for the opposition to contest the aerial duel with him. This is why he’s so dangerous, aerially, inside the penalty area, and why his side likes to use him as a target man for long balls from deep to start a direct attack on goal.
Kuol has won 50% of his aerial duels this season. At times he can overshoot or mistime his jump, ultimately leading to him missing the ball or losing the aerial duel but if he works on this, then thanks to his impressive leg strength and powerful jumping, there’s no reason why he won’t be winning the majority of his aerial duels, potentially being even more useful for his side as a target man in direct attacks and an even more threatening aerial presence in the box.
Kuol also uses his upper body strength very well, and as we see in figure 3, this helps him with his hold-up play. Similarly to his legs, Kuol has got a lot of power in his upper body. He’s fully aware of this and uses that power to hold off opposition defenders when playing with his back to goal, giving his teammates time to advance and support him.
Here in figure 3, Kuol uses his mobile hips and upper body strength to get in between the ball and the opposition defender while legally shouldering that player away and holding the ball up before laying it off to a deeper teammate who has found some space while Kuol was holding up play. This is another example of how Kuol can operate very effectively as a target man thanks to his strength and willingness to play with a lot of physicality.
Kuol’s physicality is evidently a major part of his game and there are many positives to it which Central Coast Mariners have exploited to great effect this term and Stuttgart will surely look to exploit upon the attacker’s arrival in Germany, however, Kuol’s physical game causes problems for him and his team at times, notably in terms of his susceptibility to giving away fouls. We see an example of one such occasion where Kuol went over the top with his physicality and unnecessarily gave a foul away in figure 4.
Just prior to this image, Kuol made his run into this left-sided channel between the centre-backs, while Mariners’ left-winger spotted his run and tried to pick him out with a through ball. However, the Australian forward had to compete with the opposition’s right centre-back for the ball. This opposition player was quick off the mark, while Kuol took some time to pick up pace. The defender managed to get himself between Kuol and the ball, controlled the situation, and with Kuol chasing after the ball with pace and power, the centre-back drew a foul out of the Mariners attacker, with Kuol getting drawn into shouldering the defender in the back.
In figure 5, we see another example of Kuol unnecessarily giving a foul away as a result of arriving late. Here, the opposition were building out from the back, while Kuol was leading his side’s press. This centre-back just received a backwards pass and Kuol jumped at the opportunity to close him down and try to nip the ball back in what would be a very dangerous position.
This is an example of diligent pressing and Kuol’s strong defensive work-rate, however, the opposition defender played his pass back to the goalkeeper before Kuol arrived and, again, a foul was drawn out of the attacker as he arrived late with pace and power, catching the opposition defender after he’d played the ball backwards and giving the opposition an opportunity to play out with less chaos, through a free-kick.
Kuol has given away 2.31 fouls per 90 this season, which is more than any other Mariners player, highlighting that he does get overzealous with his pressing and attempts to use his pace and power to help his team at times, ultimately to his team’s detriment.
The Mariners attacker isn’t a malicious player but he is very powerful and tends to play with a lot of aggression while running at pace. Additionally, when he hits top speed, it can be difficult for him to stop or change direction, so the opposition can target his aggressiveness, especially when he’s moving at pace, quite easily and draw fouls from him, so this is an area for him to work on.
Kuol’s aggression and physicality are big positives to his game and this is by no means saying that he needs to cut it out, but it would help him if he had more control over his aggression, even when moving at pace, and had enough awareness to not allow the opposition to draw silly fouls out of him easily, as this can lead to him being targeted, as we’ve seen.
In terms of his speed, both on and off the ball, Kuol tends to need a few strides before accelerating to top speed. Once he hits top speed, he can be very difficult to stop. If dribbling through on goal at top speed, the opposition could just bounce off him if they try to take him off course, he is a powerful player. However, it does often take him longer than would be ideal to hit that top speed, so when he sets off on a dribble from a standing position, the opposition often have plenty of time to close the distance to him and successfully tackle him before he gets to that difficult-to-stop top speed. It would help Kuol to have him dribble from a standing position less, and instead find him with through balls that he can run onto in behind the opposition’s defensive line more, in situations where he can pick up speed before getting on the ball.
Central Coast Mariners aren’t a team of dribblers. In fact, they have taken on the fewest dribbles per 90 (19.92) of any A-League team this season. Meanwhile, Kuol has taken 1.81 dribbles per 90 this term, which places him quite low amongst Mariners players for dribbles. So, it’s clear that he doesn’t dribble a lot and this is likely by design.
As mentioned previously, Mariners have done a great job at exploiting some of Kuol’s biggest strengths, but they’ve also been good at hiding his weaknesses. Kuol isn’t a player who you want picking up the ball in the half-space, out wide, or far from goal before being tasked with beating multiple opposition players on his own and/or carrying the ball into a good shooting position the majority of the time. He’s more of a player who you want to contribute less on the ball in progression and chance creation, allowing him to use his off-the-ball movement to drift around in central positions close to goal, finding space from where he could get a shot off.
This is because he’s not very agile, especially when moving at pace. He’s found it difficult, at times, to change direction when moving at pace, while he can also be thrown off balance by opposition defenders much easier when trying to turn while running than when he’s running straight forward, where he doesn’t need to worry about turning and can just pick up his pace and use his power and strength to bounce opposition defenders off him.
Mariners and Kuol have successfully avoided putting him in situations where he’s unlikely to thrive a lot this season, but that’s not to say he’s never dribbling the ball – he is, at times, but primarily in situations like the one we see in figure 6, where he doesn’t need to weave in and out and can use his pace and power, rather than his agility, to beat players and forge a better shooting opportunity.
Just before this image, Kuol picked up the ball slightly further from goal. He’s got plenty of space ahead of him to run into and potentially create a better shooting opportunity without having to turn, so that’s what he does. He doesn’t need to do anything too fancy to beat the opposition here thanks to his pace and power. After carrying the ball into this central position, while moving at pace, he cocks his leg back quickly and briefly to pull off a fake shot before knocking the ball ahead of him once more. This fake shot was all it took to throw the nearest defender to him off balance, as he braced himself to block Kuol’s effort. As the 19-year-old continued carrying the ball into a better shooting position, while moving in a fairly straight line and continuing to build pace, he managed to create more distance between himself and that defender, ultimately getting past him and taking a shot from just outside the box, with a clear line of sight to goal.
As is typical of Kuol, he managed to hit the target with a powerful, low and driven shot here despite shooting from a less-than-ideal angle, and though he didn’t score, it’s a good example of a situation where he can use one of his strengths – power and pace while dribbling to create a situation where he can use another of his strengths – impressive technical shot accuracy.
As we’ve mentioned, Kuol is good at using his power and upper body strength to keep opposition players away from the ball while he’s in possession. We see an example of a situation where an opposition midfielder attempted to challenge Kuol mid-dribble and was met with the 19-year-old’s powerful upper body strength which he used to bounce the defender off of him in figure 7.
It’s common to see Kuol knock the ball fairly far ahead while dribbling before running onto it with his long strides and this happened here. As he was running onto this ball, however, an opposition midfielder tried to shoulder him off course. With Kuol picking up pace, however, he managed to hold off that opposition player without much difficulty, leaning into him with his upper body, shoving him off and continuing his dribble unchallenged.
Passing and ball control
Similarly to how he doesn’t dribble much, Kuol doesn’t play many passes. He’s played just 11.49 passes per 90 this term, which is the fewest of any Central Coast Mariners player. This is because, as mentioned in the previous section, this centre-forward doesn’t really thrive when contributing on the ball in progression and chance creation, and is better used in those phases of play to make runs, find space and get into good shooting positions.
That said, at times, Mariners have had to use Kuol in these phases and on some of those occasions, his on-the-ball deficiencies have been exposed. When the ball is played to Kuol’s feet accurately and gently, there generally won’t be a problem. He can control the ball and hold off opposition defenders to bring teammates into the game. However, one weakness to his game when playing with his back to goal is in his ball control when the ball is played into his feet at pace. We see the beginning of one passage of play where this weakness was evident in figure 8.
Here, the midfielder who passed to Kuol was under a lot of pressure before releasing the ball, and as a result, the ball was played to Kuol at pace. The striker didn’t control the pass great and, then under pressure, his choice of pass that followed was also not great. He opted to send the ball back to one of his side’s centre-backs, rather than the midfielder positioned closer to him, as a result of poor pass selection and his struggle to control the ball.
As play moves on into figure 9, we see that Kuol’s execution of this pass was also poor, highlighting why it was a poor choice of pass. He misdirected the ball back to the defender and ultimately played the opposition through on goal.
Figure 10 shows another example of Kuol’s passing not quite being up to scratch, however, on this occasion, his pass was the first touch. Here, he’s playing with his back to goal again and receiving a pass from the left. He uses his strength to hold off the opposition player behind him excellently – we know this is a strength of his. However, while he tried to pass back to the central midfielder behind him, he misdirects the ball and sends it to the opposition midfielder just to the right of the intended pass receiver, allowing the opposition to relieve this Mariners pressure and start a counterattack of their own.
Figure 11 shows another example of how Kuol’s ball control can hurt his team at times. Here, once again, as in the previous two passages of play, the ball was played into Kuol’s feet with his back to goal at some pace from a passer who was under pressure. Kuol receives the ball here, and we can see that one particularly promising passing option is open on his left shoulder.
However, Kuol failed to control the ball well enough to keep that passing option open. His first touch sends the ball backwards and the pass that followed sent the ball back to the centre-back. So, while Kuol helped his side to keep possession, he was unable to pull off a potentially creative pass and set his side back a few steps in the attack due to his ball control.
These three passages of play highlight how Kuol’s ball control and passing are weaknesses to his hold-up play and are something for Stuttgart to work on with the teenager. This is mainly a technical issue, however, and not a case of Kuol not knowing that better options are available, as he’s demonstrated great awareness of his surroundings and intelligent scanning throughout the 2020/21 campaign, which has helped him to contribute really effectively on the ball under the right circumstances.
In figure 12, we see the beginning of one passage of play which highlights how Kuol can help his side in chance creation and highlights his intelligent scanning, which helps him to improve his spatial awareness. Here, Mariners were in possession on the left wing, while Kuol was occupying a slightly deeper position than normal. We see the 19-year-old trying to make himself a passing option for his teammates on the left here while scanning to increase his knowledge of the space around him and the positioning of everyone else on the pitch.
As play moves on into figure 13, Kuol makes a quick and subtle movement to change the direction of his run from right to left. He drops back and opens up a passing lane between him and the teammate in possession on the wing. Additionally, we see him take the time to scan over his right shoulder again here for the same reasons as before.
Just before figure 14, the winger played a well-weighted and accurate pass into Kuol’s feet and we can see in this image that he controlled the ball without issue, turned, and as play moved on, he played an accurate and intelligent pass out to his teammate providing width on the right – stretching the opposition’s backline by doing so. This passage of play shows how Kuol’s diligent scanning helps him to take the ball on the half-turn and pick out good passing options at times, in the right circumstances.
So, it’s not that he should never contribute on the ball in possession, there are times and places where it is fine, however, he needs to work on his ball control on more difficult passes and passing under pressure. Until he improves in those areas, he will have glaring weaknesses in his hold-up play and ability to contribute which may make it impossible for him to contribute effectively in these phases of play.
While Kuol doesn’t contribute a lot on the ball in progression and chance creation, and we believe that a lot of the time this is for the best, he does make significant contributions in this phase of play via his off-the-ball movement. As mentioned previously, Kuol is often tasked more with finding space, making runs, and getting into shooting positions off the ball and he’s very good at doing this, which goes a long way to making up for his issues on the ball and plays a big part in why he’s scoring so many goals, as he finds himself in good positions a lot thanks to his off-the-ball movement.
In figure 15, Kuol is in the centre of the box being fairly closely marked by an opposition centre-back while his team is trying to forge a crossing opportunity on the right wing to make use of the 19-year-old’s dominant aerial ability. Should the cross make it into the box here, you could expect Kuol to run into the path of the ball and launch himself into the air as we’ve seen him do elsewhere in this scout report, and likely make his run in front of the nearest centre-back and behind the other centre-back just in front of him, as he often targets the space between these players with his runs. However, this cross is blocked and the ball ends up heading towards the byline, with Kuol’s teammate chasing it down.
In figure 16, we see how Kuol reacts to this situation – which is excellently – as he often does. He reacts via his movement. As the ball heads towards the byline, Kuol sees his teammate chasing it down, the opposition marker next to him pushing away from him and closer to his goal along with the other opposition defender just in front. He reacts by subtly shifting his weight from the left to the right and adjusting his movement to stop getting closer to goal and as a result, increase space between him and the opposition defenders.
This pays off, as play moves on, as the Mariners player who chased down this ball got to it before the opposition defender and the goalkeeper who rushed out. He managed to pull the ball back for Kuol who was wide open in the centre of the box, allowing the 19-year-old to take advantage of an extremely good goalscoring chance that his teammate created via his pace and on the ball quality, and Kuol created via his intelligent movement and reaction to the situation.
Kuol is extremely active off the ball. He’s great at spotting space in the opposition defence and exploiting it via quick, sometimes subtle, movements as we saw here. So, while it’s sometimes better that he doesn’t contribute on the ball in progression and chance creation, that’s not a big issue as his off-the-ball contribution can be worth a lot more.
As mentioned when analysing the previous passage of play, Kuol often likes to target the space between the opposition’s centre-backs when running onto the end of a cross. He’s done this both by peeling off the shoulder of the defender in front, and by bursting in front of the defender behind, at times this season. This movement, combined with his pace and power, helps him to lose his marker and connect with crosses, which was the case here in figure 17, where Kuol made this exact run between the opposition centre-backs and connected with the cross via a diving header from which he scored.
Kuol often plays as the right-sided centre-forward in Mariners’ 4-4-2 system. As a result, particularly in counterattacks, he ends up making runs into wide channels from the centre of the pitch at times, as we see in figure 18. This can leave him out wide, which isn’t where you want Kuol to be – you want him occupying central positions where he can use his strengths – power, shooting, heading – to the best of their ability, without having to do too much dribbling or passing or crossing.
As this passage of play in figure 18 moves on, Kuol ended up in a crossing position, and the resulting cross was inaccurate, leading to this Mariners attack breaking down. Crossing and dribbling are, perhaps, areas for Stuttgart to work on with Kuol, but at present his attributes are much more suited to being central, perhaps as a lone striker in a one-striker system, but at the very least, without having to make too many runs out wide, as this doesn’t accentuate his strengths as much as possible, he’s much better when operating centrally and not contributing much on the ball in progression and chance creation, using his movement to create good goalscoring opportunities where his accurate and powerful shooting or dominant heading ability can come into play.
To conclude our tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, on Kuol, it’s clear that the Stuttgart-bound 19-year-old isn’t the finished product. He’s still got plenty of areas of his game, particularly in terms of his technical ability, that can be refined and improved.
However, Kuol has a lot of exciting strengths to his game too, which Mariners have demonstrated how to use to get the best out of the striker this season. So, if he can make some improvements to the weaknesses in his game to at least make them less of a hindrance to his side when they are exploited, and he is used in tactical systems that allow his strengths to shine, then there’s plenty of cause to be excited about the Australian’s future.