How Monaco’s ‘nuisance’ Breel Embolo is ensuring ‘a big season awaits’ in 2022/23 – scout report
When Breel Embolo (187cm/6’1”, 88kg/194lbs) joined Monaco this past summer for €12.5m, the 25-year-old right-footed centre-forward declared that he’s “at the right age to fully develop” at Stade Louis II.
Fast forward almost three months from then, and we can safely say that the Swiss forward who’d formerly been playing in Germany’s Bundesliga with Borussia Mönchengladbach has got off to a positive start in Ligue 1, with three goals and two assists under his belt from nine league appearances, along with one goal scored in three UEFA Europa League games thus far.
The Swiss international appears inspired ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup, where he intends to start alongside the likes of Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka and Manchester City centre-back Manuel Akanji, having also grabbed two goals in the most recent international break, one coming in his country’s 2-1 win over Spain and the other coming in a 2-1 win over the Czech Republic. The centre-forward recently commented that he’s convinced “a big season awaits” his club side.
This tactical analysis and scout report will look at how Embolo has seamlessly fit into Philippe Clement’s Monaco set-up to become a vital member of his new team. We’ll provide an in-depth analysis of the main strengths and weaknesses of the striker who’s been described as a “nuisance” for Les Monégasques’ opponents in recent weeks by dissecting his role in Clement’s tactics in 2022/23 thus far, in addition to his recent performances with Switzerland and last season’s performances for Mönchengladbach.
We’ll kick off this scout report with some data analysis. We’ve analysed some data gathered via Wyscout to compare Embolo with all centre-forwards from Europe’s top-five leagues in the 2022/23 campaign so far. The results can be seen in the bar chart we’ve made for figure 1.
Starting with defending and aerials, we see that Embolo engages in a relatively high number of defensive duels and has an even better defensive duel success rate. However, he also makes plenty of fouls compared to other forwards.
As we’ll go on to analyse in greater detail later in this piece, Embolo’s defensive work rate is excellent but so too is the intelligence of his pressing. This has helped him and his side in front of goal on multiple occasions so far this term, so it’s not a major surprise that he stands out in defensive duels.
Moving on to the attacking section of the bar chart, we see that Embolo ranks highly in most of the key areas that we’ve chosen to analyse on this graphic. Notably, he generates a fairly high amount of xG, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise as his movement and positioning in front of the goal tend to be good, as does his shot selection though he can snatch at chances on occasion.
Meanwhile, it’s also not surprising to see Embolo rank incredibly highly for offensive duels per 90, as the forward loves to use his large, solid frame to protect the ball from defenders and gain territory for his side. He’s a very difficult player to dispossess once he sets himself after receiving the ball with his back to goal, but Embolo is also great at putting his body between the opponent and the ball to shield it from the challenger while carrying it into a more advantageous position for his team.
With all of that said, Embolo’s offensive duel success rate leaves a lot to be desired, and this aspect of his game will be analysed in greater detail later in our scout report.
Finally, we’ve got the passing section of his graph. Along with the raw metrics provided by Wyscout, we’ve got a couple of other metrics on here, one we’ve labelled: ‘penetrative passing’ (a combination of through passes per 90, passes to the penalty area per 90 and smart passes per 90) and one we’ve labelled: ‘creative passing’ (a combination of xA per 90, key passes per 90 and shot assists per 90).
Embolo isn’t just a direct goal threat, he’s also a valuable creator for his side, as the impressive ranking in penetrative passing and creative passing, respectively, suggests. The striker doesn’t get massively involved in his side’s play for the full 90 minutes but it’s common to see him drop deep and get on the ball a few times per game to receive to feet, turn and thread a through ball in behind the opposition’s backline from a more typical ‘number 10’ position.
So, Embolo doesn’t get massively involved in his team’s general possession game, but when he does get involved, he tends to be brave and forward-thinking on the ball with one goal in mind: split the opposition’s defence open and play a teammate through on goal.
As was the case with the areas we previously discussed, this part of the forward’s game will be analysed in greater detail later in our scout report.
Figure 2 shows Embolo’s heatmap from the 2022/23 campaign so far, in all club competitions. This heatmap shows how deep Embolo tends to get and further emphasizes our points on what kind of forward he is, particularly from what we mentioned in our last few paragraphs discussing his passing game.
The Monaco man loves to drop off from the backline into some space where he can receive to feet, turn and play a through ball in behind the opposition’s backline. As a result, he spends plenty of time in between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines, which our heatmap above indicates.
Embolo’s heatmap from 2021/22, in figure 3, tells a similar story to his heatmap in figure 2. This aspect of the player’s game is nothing new, it’s how he’s performed for years. Last season, while he got a little bit wider than he has, for the most part, this season so far, he dropped deep a similar amount and loved receiving to feet with his back to goal.
Compare this to Wissam Ben Yedder’s heatmap from 2021/22, shown in figure 4. The 32-year-old, who played as Monaco’s primary centre-forward last season — a role occupied by Embolo for the most part so far this term, got deep far less in central areas. He sometimes drops off into the right half-space but tends to sit higher in the positions you’d typically expect to find a ‘number 9’, in contrast to Embolo who loves to drop and receive in deeper areas.
While Embolo’s super comfortable dropping off and receiving to feet in deeper areas with his back to goal, one of the reasons he’s such a ‘nuisance’ for opponents is that he’s just as difficult to defend against when you get tight to him. In fact, his size and strength are something he could probably use to his advantage more often because of just how difficult opposition defenders can find it to cope with him when they’re touch-tight and he’s just backing into them.
This can be a great tool when stationary or when moving, as mentioned above, with Embolo proving himself excellent at using his body as a shield between the defender and the ball while progressing his team upfield. We see an example of this in figure 5. Before this image, the striker had just received to feet inside the opposition’s half, then knocked the ball centrally, attracting the defender in and then keeping him away from the ball with the intelligent use of his large frame and impressive strength.
This aspect of Embolo’s game just becomes more pronounced when he’s moving at pace — more possible when he’s facing the opposition’s goal, like in figure 6, rather than facing the sideline as we saw him in figure 5.
His team can essentially use him as a technically proficient, agile bulldozer who’s got enough quality to keep control of the ball while moving at pace and evading the obstacles ahead of him while effectively bouncing defenders off of him as they approach to challenge him for the ball.
We see the result of the defender attempting to engage Embolo in a defensive duel while the attacker was moving towards the opposition’s goal at pace in figure 7, with the Czech defender ending up on his backside very quickly. The Swiss battering ram continued his charge at the lone opposition defender in the backline from here before ending his carry with an elegant through pass into the path of the teammate supporting him with a run on his left.
This passage of play provides a perfect example of Embolo’s diverse skillset; he’s a powerful runner with a large frame capable of bouncing defenders off him while carrying the ball forward at pace with ease, but at the same time is technically sound enough to get his head up just seconds later and play a perfectly weighted through ball to a supporting teammate, progressing his team into the final third in the process.
This wide range of attributes makes Embolo a highly valuable asset up front.
Figure 8 shows Embolo’s ‘shot assists’ map for this season and last season in club competition. This gives us a clear visualisation of the kinds of passes the Swiss striker likes to play to set up his teammates for goalscoring opportunities. While we see some shot assists came from passes in more advanced positions, generally in the form of low cutback crosses, most came from deeper, central positions — and all of the goal assists came from these areas.
Despite his weight and size, Embolo has a decent touch and agility to turn on the ball. This isn’t to say he’s an amazing dribbler — he’s not to be compared to Ligue 1 counterparts Neymar or Lionel Messi in that regard. The player’s touch can let him down at times. We see him get the ball stuck under his feet and lose control, take a heavy touch that puts possession in jeopardy or even just need to take an extra touch or two to fully turn more than a more agile player would.
However, he’s still deceptively agile and relatively reliable with the ball at his feet. Don’t ask too much of him, don’t ask him to take on and beat several opposition players, but do trust him to receive and evade a challenge or two with the ball at his feet if necessary or use his quick feet to beat a defender in a close-quarters 1v1.
This ability on the ball and agility makes Embolo more reliable when receiving to feet as he drops off, which is a tendency that Monaco have quickly taken advantage of and implemented as a key element of their tactics.
Again, this is not exclusive to Monaco, this is something Embolo offered his club last term in Germany and offers his national side as well, as the two examples (first on top, second on bottom) in figure 9 demonstrates. Additionally, these in-game examples show us exactly how Embolo likes to get on the ball and set up his teammates as was displayed in the shot assists graphic.
This movement and these types of passes are commonplace in the 25-year-old’s game, as his teammates at Stade Louis II have quickly come to realise and adapt to, with Embolo possessing the ability to form a hub of creativity in the side at times.
Of course, as a centre-forward, goalscoring is an essential part of Embolo’s game — even with his chance-creation exploits. As mentioned, he boasts a relatively high percentile ranking for xG per 90 among forwards in Europe’s top-five leagues this season and as his ‘xG map’ for the 2022/23 campaign in figure 10 shows, his shot selection is generally quite considered, with the vast majority of the 25-year-old’s shots coming from high-quality locations and very few coming from long range.
Embolo’s long-range shooting ability hasn’t usually been good, so his decision to avoid taking too many shots from range and instead focus on primarily getting his shots off from high-quality locations close to goal is probably a good and mature one.
We can’t fault Embolo’s shot locations much and his xG per shot is highly impressive. However, as the ‘goal map’ below the xG map indicates, the forward could do a much better job of placing his shots into more difficult-to-reach locations and making life more difficult for the opposition goalkeeper. Far too many of the player’s shots go straight down the middle and while some of them have been successful, it doesn’t change the fact that this typically makes life easier for the ‘keeper than if he hits a corner.
The reason why the shots are placed very centrally is more difficult to pinpoint looking in from the outside and any reason we’d suggest would be speculative but it’s evident that Embolo could do a better job of placing his shots.
This was arguably similar last season, as is evident from figure 11. Yes, some shots went into the corners — and the majority of those that were on target resulted in goals — but the bulk of Embolo’s shots were, again, placed very centrally in the goal. Perhaps targeting corners more often could be a reasonable aim for the forward to set himself in order to improve his conversion rate, as his shot locations are excellent.
Briefly turning our attention back to figure 1, Embolo ranks in the 94th percentile for headed goals per 90 among centre-forwards in Europe’s top-five leagues this term; it’s his highest ranking on our graph. Indeed, there is an element of luck involved here but it’d also be fair to say that headed shooting is a strong area of the Swiss attacker’s game.
Figure 12 shows an example of Embolo’s movement to attack the blind side of the nearest centre-back when the cross comes in and subsequent leap to get above the defender and drive a powerful header into the net versus Nice for Les Monégasques this term. This headed goal sealed a 1-0 win for Clement’s men.
Again, this passage of play is also an example of how the 25-year-old’s teammates have adapted to him and quickly learned to facilitate the attacker in order to get the most out of him and what he has to offer. Embolo loves making blind side runs like this one and the crosser anticipated this movement and set the forward up perfectly for how he likes to attack on this occasion, resulting in the headed goal.
Last but not least, we’re devoting our final section of analysis in this scout report to Embolo’s defensive contribution. The Monaco forward offers a lot without the ball both in terms of effort and ability. This has resulted in his team enjoying some great goalscoring opportunities following a dangerous Embolo recovery this term.
Figure 13 highlights the Switzerland international’s high regains from 2022/23, to further illustrate this point on how the player’s defensive ability contributes to his team’s goalscoring efforts.
Embolo isn’t playing for a Monaco side that’s especially aggressive in defence this season — their PPDA of 13.81 is the fourth-highest in Ligue 1 (suggesting they’ve got the fourth-least aggressive defence in France’s top-flight in 2022/23). Still, Embolo contributes as Clement requires him to from the front in defensive phases, creating opportunities for his side via his intelligent pressing and ability to fit into the manager’s organised defensive system.
Embolo doesn’t press like a headless chicken, we must stress that he’s intelligent about how he presses. He is great at pressing from an angle that cuts the passing lane between the opposition’s centre-backs, for example, making life more difficult for the opposing team with the pitch somewhat cut in half as figure 14 demonstrates. As a result of Embolo’s positioning and subsequent closing down of the defender on the ball, the opposition centre-back was forced to go back to the ‘keeper.
This proved fatal for the opposition, as the ‘keeper ended up taking too much time on the ball, being too relaxed with Embolo in the vicinity, giving the striker the opportunity to close him down, get a foot on the ball and stick it in the net to draw his side level late on despite being a man down following a sending off. It was after this game that a jovial Embolo declared “a big season awaits” his Monaco team in 2022/23.
It’s clear how Embolo’s intelligent positioning as well as impressive work rate were crucial to creating this goal for Monaco, and this is just one example of the player’s defensive abilities proving priceless for his new team this season.
Switzerland will hope to see Embolo keep his good form up heading into the World Cup, with the player’s defensive work rate and awareness proving crucial to creating the second goal in Switzerland’s recent 2-1 win over the Czech Republic also.
As the opposition played a weak backwards pass, Embolo pounced on the opportunity to pull off an interception, carry the ball towards goal and take a shot that went past the ‘keeper. However, the player’s awareness, work rate and speed were the real keys to this goal being possible in the first place.
To conclude our tactical analysis and scout report of Breel Embolo, the player has fit in fast at Monaco as his teammates have quickly adapted to the his game to comfortably accommodate him within their setup.
It’s evident that Embolo is a great asset for his team in terms of goal creation, goalscoring and defensive contribution, and while he’s not without his flaws — some of the more relevant of which we mentioned in this tactical analysis piece, he’s been one of the best forwards in Ligue 1 this season, with the striker already proving very impactful for Les Monégasques. For us, his €12.5m transfer fee looks like a real bargain.