Çağlar Söyüncü 2019/20 – scout report
Leicester City failed to secure a replacement for Harry Maguire in the summer transfer window, forcing Brendan Rodgers’ hand to select Çağlar Söyüncü alongside Jonny Evans at centre-half. And yet Leicester City have started the season well and are on track for automatic qualification into the Champions League.
With the January transfer window bearing down on us, does Rodgers still need to find a replacement, or has Söyüncü got a bright future in the heart of the Leicester defence? This tactical analysis will assess Söyüncü’s impact and consider whether he will still have a place in the first team come January.
Caglar Söyüncü has been paired with Jonny Evans in a 4-1-4-1 formation since the start of the season and has shown his defensive prowess. Few pundits would have backed the unproven youngster to outperform his experienced teammate. It is interesting how far he appears to have come when compared with Jonny Evans. Defensively, Söyüncü has performed better, winning 73% of his defensive duels which indicates the development he has made. He is now a stronger player who is more capable when competing against quality forwards in the Premier League.
This is supported when observing his limited success last season when he was winning only 52.8% of his defensive duels. Although the season is only fourteen games in, he is already getting noticed defensively and his defensive duels statistics are promising reading – they even eclipse that of Virgil Van Dijk this season, who has won 69% of his duels. It is this prowess that is sparking interest from other clubs to sign Söyüncü, with Manchester City rumoured to be leading the charge.
The image above shows Leicester City playing a high defensive line to apply greater pressure on Crystal Palace. The inherent risk is the space in the rear for opponents to exploit on the counter. As the ball is played into space, the positioning and acceleration is impressive. With no space to turn and a good tackle employed, Söyüncü shuts down the counter. This was typical of his performance in this match, which aimed to stop the opponents gaining possession high up the field and maintaining the momentum in Leicester’s favour.
Later in the same match, Söyüncü’s physicality was more evident when he dominated the opponents’ forward line and bullied them off the ball. In the image above, the ball is played through when the full-back is caught up the field. Söyüncü’s reading of the play and his physicality gets him to the ball first and gains possession back for Leicester. He reads the play well and understands the risk and reward of being caught out of position. It is this desire to win the ball that is fast making him a cult hero at the King Power Stadium.
His ability to react to the play as it unfolds separates him from his partner and makes him one of the in-form centre-backs in the league. The fluidity of his play and the ability to roam comes from the tactical decision-making in the 4-1-4-1 formation. This was most evident when Leicester were away at Liverpool in early October.
Ndidi’s role in front of the back four bolsters the defence and provides freedom for Söyüncü to commit defensively. The image above highlights the tactics with Jonny Evans dropping deep whilst Söyüncü commits to the header, comfortably beating Sadio Mane to the ball. The intelligent play of the back four means that, as Söyüncü moves forwards, Evans can cover the gap in the defence more fluidly by acting as a sweeper until the formation is restored. The risk is that the opposition forward exploits the area marked, gambling that the defender gets beaten in the air. Söyüncü’s aerial dominance this season has frustrated opponents, averaging a 68% success rate in the aerial battles, the ninth-best performance across the league. Considering that Leicester City have already played Tottenham, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, and Arsenal this season, Söyüncü is performing against strong forward lines and is still coming out on top.
It is unusual to see a centre-half pairing performing so well with such little game time. As a senior player in the squad, this is a testament to Jonny Evans’ leadership and his command of the defensive line. Having spent a year warming the bench in 2018/19, Söyüncü understands the system and has stepped in with ease.
Supporting the offence
The best defenders can support the offence and are dangerous as target men at set-pieces. As a centre-half, there has been little evidence of support to set-pieces since his arrival at Leicester City. However, following his display against Crystal Palace earlier in the season, he was a significant threat and scored his first goal for the club.
Having committed ten players to the box to defend Maddison’s cross, Crystal Palace were unable to clear the ball effectively and Söyüncü slotted a well-timed header under the keeper. He is evidently a target man and assumes his position on the edge of the six-yard box where he can affect the play.
From the image above, the defence has failed to clear the ball. Anticipating a failed clearance means Söyüncü gambled in the right position and broke the deadlock in a fierce contest. Aerially, he looked good in front of goal but he was unchallenged due to the defensive errors. He showed a desire to score and his first goal of the season proves that Leicester City have another potential threat in front of goal. This will be a critical part of his game to develop if Leicester City are to take advantage of Maddison’s strong deliveries.
A centre-half in 2019 needs to offer more offensively than ever before in the Premier League era. Building from the back and delivering key passes is critical and this is the area of Söyüncü’s game that needs the most attention.
The image above is an example of the vision that Söyüncü has: picking up the ball in the middle of the field and thrusting into the final third. He has recognised the full-back’s overlapping run and is attempting to thread the ball through. As he opens up his body, the defenders close the gap and gain possession when he misses the pass. The result is a loss of possession high up the field with the potential for a dangerous counter attack.
Jonny Evans has greater success in this area with an average of 6.34 passes into the final third compared to 3.89 for Söyüncü. Defensively, Söyüncü is already performing well but ought to focus on delivering greater support to the offensive play, particularly when he has the space and the time to pick a pass. A ball over the top to the runner or perhaps passing to the opposite wing with three players in sight could have been the better option.
This scout report concludes that Leicester City have landed on their feet following a disappointing spell in the summer transfer window. Söyüncü is a quality player who is the in-form centre half in the Premier League. However, he needs to develop his support to the offensive build-up play and offer a greater goal threat from attacking set-pieces. This would really be the icing on the cake and would move him into the upper echelons of the game.
The analysis suggests that Leicester City’s focus in the transfer window will be to hold onto their key players with Maddison, Söyüncü, Evans, and Chilwell all attracting interest. Rodgers may want to bolster his first team squad in January, but only if big money gets spent to lure his brightest talents away from the King Power stadium. Leicester City may prove once again to be the victims of their own success if Söyüncü is released in January.
Given Leicester City’s league position, this is unlikely and I anticipate that Rodgers will be naming him on the team sheet in February. Replacing Söyüncü is likely not on Rodgers’ wish list but with Morgan (35) and Evans (31) both getting older, defensive signings might be needed for the second half of the season, particularly if injury strikes.
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