Boubakary Soumare: The Lille lynchpin linked to Leicester City – scout report
With the end of club football season, it’s time for the most exciting part of the year for football fans – Transfer window. A lot of changes have been happening at various leagues across Europe but in the Premier League it has been surprisingly quiet for the moment. But teams like Leicester City have already started making noise with their imminent purchase of Boubakary Soumare from 2020-21 Ligue 1 champions Lille.
After missing out on a Champions League spot, for the second consecutive year, on the last day to end a mixed season that also saw them win a FA Cup, their first major trophy in 5 years, Brendan Rodgers is determined to add substantial squad depth to his side and lead them to their goal. He has identified the French U-21 midfielder as his prime target for the summer and the foxes are almost close to finalising the deal with few negotiations still left.
Under Chris Galtier, where Lille mostly played in their 4-4-2 system, Soumare was deployed as one of the central midfielders in the system and he would mostly start on the left side of the double pivot. We can see that in the image below which shows the regions where he has mostly received passes from his teammates. As we can see in the plot most of his locations are constrained to the left side horizontal and also vertically there isn’t much difference as they mostly come in the middle third.
At 188cm, he is tall and well built to sustain physical challenges and also apply pressure to the opponent. His ability to carry the ball at a raw pace and with very good acceleration is one of his strongest attributes about which we will be discussing in this article.
When we say “attacking abilities”, we roughly refer to his role for Lille when they possess the ball. Mostly Lille look to build out from the back against almost all the teams in the league. For this, they use their 2 centre-back to help them play out. But if the opposition decides to use 2 players to press the centre-back either high or in a mid-block, where they would essentially block passing lanes to the CMs, Lille would be struggling to progress. For this, they would often ask one of their CMs to drop to form a 3-1 shape and mostly it would be the other midfielder while Soumare would be sitting in front of them. We can see an example of that in the image below where they are in a similar setup.
Even if the pass from the CBs to him is not directly accessible, they can recycle the ball among themselves and that would eventually open a pass to him and he would be able to receive the ball.
His basics are extremely well refined for his age with great technique and understanding on what to do when he receives the ball. He often ensures to keep an open body shape when he receives the ball that generally helps players to get multiple forward passing options. We can see an example of that in the above image, where he receives the ball from his full-back with an open shape that helps him to easily do a combinational play with that full-back as he immediately returns a pass into space for him despite a Dutch player pressing him.
He also has a very good ability to feign his body shape and trick the players the wrong way to play a pass to his teammates. In the example above we can see that he moved slightly to his left and then suddenly changed his direction. Due to his initial movement, the Angers player had to adjust his positioning and with his sudden change, the Angers player wasn’t able to revert back immediately. This opened a passing lane for Soumare to his teammate who was dropping in between the lines.
He is also a very good carrier of the ball and like we mentioned before he uses his pace and good bursts of acceleration in a very effective way. In the example above we can see him carrying the ball in a counter-attack all the way from the deep and successfully evading pressure from two Dijon players and maintaining his balance. He then plays a pass to Jonathan David for a shot-assist. Not only that, he also has the ability to beat players in 1v1 situations and wrong-foot them. He also makes good use of his body strength here where he protects the ball from the opponent while dribbling. He averages 1.7 dribbles per game which is good for a deep CM.
Looking at his passing ability, on average he had attempted 66.2 passes per game last season with 89.9 % of them being accurate. Breaking them down further we see from that 66 passes, 21.3 of them were forward passes, around 14 of them were passes into the final third and 9.8 of them are progressive ones.
Comparing his passing ability and the type of passes he makes with other central midfielders across Europe’s top 5 leagues we can dissect his style of play. He seems to be averaging very few key passes or smart passes among the midfielders but seems to be doing extremely well when it comes to moving the ball into the final third or making progressive actions. This tells us he is not very involved in creating chances for his teams as key passes or smart passes mostly reflect on that. Whereas he is much more of a deep-lying playmaker who looks to conduct things from the deep and move the ball up the pitch for his teammates. And even when he is deeper he has been extremely progressive with the ball as he records 9.84 progressive passes per game and 1.44 progressive runs per game.
We then looked into his progressive passes and decided to group them into different clusters on the basis of their location and variety. We can see those in the image above. Most of them arrive from the middle third with very little involvement higher up the pitch. The variety is there to see as we can see switches to opposite flanks from the middle third (white and blue clusters). Then we can also find that he can switch even from the deeper positions to play long passes behind the defence (orange cluster). Then there are these passes that break lines and move the ball into the final third (pink, yellow and green clusters). The pink cluster especially has a lot of passes being played into the penalty box even from the deep regions. These are some of the passes that the likes that Davids and Ikone enjoyed and the likes of Vardy and Ihenacho would be looking forward to if he makes a move.
An example of that switch can be seen in the image above where he switches the ball to the winger in the flank. Given time and space on the ball, Soumare is capable of casually pinging such passes that are extremely valuable. An example of a pass in the pink cluster can be seen in the image below where he plays a defence-splitting pass to his teammate who is making a run behind the defence. We can also see how the PSG are attracted towards him and do not notice the other players, this gravity could be very useful in breaking low blocks.
One thing that he would not be offering or bringing onto the plate in terms of attacking ability is goal contributions. He never got into the box to take shots or create chances around the box for his teammates and didn’t manage a single goal last season. He was also assistless as his total contributions for the whole season was 0. This could also be because of his role at Lille where he was not used as a box-to-box player but rather in a position much deeper as a playmaker. It is very expected from midfielders these days to contribute in front of the goal and Soumare has not shown such signs. It remains to be seen whether he can transition himself into goal contributing midfielder, but that still looks to be a long process.
Galtier’s Lille weren’t a possession dominant side as they averaged 52.6% of possession which was just the 6th best in the entire division and below the likes of PSG, Monaco, Lyon, etc. We could certainly say that their defence was probably their main reason for their title success as they conceded just 23 goals in the league. The central midfielders and defensive capabilities in particular were extremely vital to the defensive setup that frustrated the opponents to larger extents. Galtier’s 4-4-2 system was pretty much zonal based and the central midfielders are required to be very disciplined and understanding with respect to their positioning.
Both Soumare and his partner were much focussed on protecting the space behind and they most certainly looked to ensure that they don’t look to expose their centre-backs. Soumare had contested just 5.14 defensive duels per game and 4.76 possession-adjusted interceptions, both of which are ranked less than 50th percentile for midfielders from top-5 leagues. The following pitch map shows the regions where he has performed his defensive actions. The orange rectangles show the frequent locations where he has performed the actions. The first cluster is at his box where most of the actions come during set-piece situations. The second is just at the tip of the middle third where most of his actions occur. We can also see that there are very few defensive actions higher up the pitch, owing to his positional discipline.
Even though he performs very less actions, he seems to be accurate and successful in those actions and wins most of them. His long legs and good physical strength helps him to dispossess opponents and win the ball for his team. In the example below, we can see his body positioning when performing a tackle. He faces sideways which ensures that even if he loses the duel he can quickly turn to ensure he can catch him back immediately.
Also to be noted here is that he will make such actions only when he knows that there is no opponent right behind him in space. In the example below, we can see he has stepped forward to engage in a duel with the opponent player. This comes after he is assured that the space he left is not occupied and even if it is, he ensures that his cover shadow is at the right place to block a pass into that space.
Particularly his cover shadow is very good and is something that is very well trained in him. This could come in handy especially when his team has to face counter-attacks and he has to block passing lanes to the forwards without having to step up which would be very fatal in a counter-attack when the opposition are looking for spaces to exploit. We can see that in the example below, where he has set up a good cover shadow for the ball-carrier by blocking the central passing lane to his teammate. That player then had to move into a wide position to make himself available for the ball which is much safer as wider regions are less valuable zones on the field.
Aerially, he is decent at winning challenges due to his strong presence and height. He records 2.1 aerial duels per game while winning almost 60.4 of them, which is a very good number. Overall, Soumare seems to be very good in the defensive area and seems to be having a very good understanding of the defensive side of the game.
How will he fit at Leicester City?
If there is one thing that is common between both Lille and Leicester City is their use of a two-men forward line. Brendan Rodgers has heavily relied on this usage after finding Ihenacho to be very crucial to his game plan and his partnership with Jamie Vardy. Though they have predominantly used 3-5-2 / 3-4-1-2, Rodgers has also tried the 4-4-2 this season. Leicester City certainly missed a quality squad depth last season that took an extreme toll on some of their players which saw them miss out on a top-4 position. If they do line up in a 4-4-2 system like in the image below, Ndidi would be dropping midfielder for the team while Soumare will be acting as the deep-lying playmaker. He could also be upgraded into a box-box role but it remains to be seen whether he can fulfil such a responsibility. His combinations with the full-back and winger would be something very useful for Leicester City.
Another thing that would be expected from Rodgers is a plan to integrate the likes of Tielemans and Soumare in the same setup. Both of them seem to be similar players with some glaring differences in few areas. We can see that in the chart below that they seem to be at a similar level when it comes to metrics like Successful defensive actions per game, Passes into the final third, progressive passes, Interceptions and Long passes. But the difference lies in their ability to win duels at a higher rate and progressive runs where Soumare edges out Tielemans while the latter has much higher goal contributions to the team and makes more smart passes (creative passes).
Though both lining up in the same setup would be unlikely given their similarities but a 3-5-2 with both of them as CM would be the best bet. The addition of Soumare gives Rodgers a unique dimension to his midfield and this addition would certainly be helpful if Leicester were to challenge for a trophy as well as secure a top-4 position.
The addition of Soumare to Leicester City would certainly make the foxes fans thrilled and they could potentially have one of the best and complete midfield departments in the leagues. With his arrival, Leicester could certainly go onto achieve their ambition of attaining the top-4 next season while also replicating the cup success that they had in 2021.