Dieumerci Mbokani is a 34-year-old forward playing for Royal Antwerp in the Belgian First Division A. At 34 years of age, most players are winding down in terms of playing time and performance levels. It appears that Mbokani has inversed this trend with the player on course for his most successful season at the halfway stage of the 2019/20 season. Such success sees Mbokani ranked as the top goalscorer in the Belgian First Division A at this stage of the season.
This scout report will look to provide an insight into the player via objective and subjective tactical analysis. Key contents will include an analysis of Mbokani’s background, his key characteristics, Royal Antwerp’s tactics and comparisons with other players and teams to add context to such analytical points.
Mbokani could be deemed a journeyman player, featuring for multiple clubs in multiple countries. This is by no means a negative comment, given the high level to which Mbokani has played at club level, and the earning of international caps for DR Congo, but more of an observation that the player has rarely stayed with a team for more than three seasons.
Now playing the Belgian First Division A, this is where Mbokani started his professional career. A loan spell to Anderlecht from a lesser-known DR Congo team, TP Mazembe, was followed up by a permanent move to Standard Liège. After that, Mbokani played for numerous clubs in top European leagues including Monaco, Wolfsburg, Dynamo Kyiv, Norwich City and Hull City before moving to his current team, Royal Antwerp.
Despite moving from club to club, the player has an impressive goal record at the majority of teams. Although, he did struggle at Monaco, Wolfsburg and in the Premier League with Norwich and Hull. However, all of those moves were season-long loans apart from Monaco, suggesting a limited time to adapt and a varied mentality compared to making a permanent move.
With 14 goals and four assists in 20 appearances at 34 years old this season, a further investigation into the player and his team should prove interesting.
2019/20 season thus far
As previously mentioned, at around the halfway point in the season, given it looks like Royal Antwerp will qualify for the Championship round of fixtures, Mbokani sits as top scorer with 14 goals and four assists in 20 appearances.
Not only is his output higher than any other player in the league for both goals and goals and assists combined, but his goal record per 90 of 0.66 goals and goals or assists record of 0.85 per 90 indicate he is having an impact on the majority of matches.
Comparing the above statistics to his previous seasons indicate his high-level performances and recent improvement in his game. It is interesting how, while helped by his teammates and club tactics, he has been able to increase his output when the expectation of degeneration overtime was present in the minds of many.
|Team||Goals per 90||Assists per 90||Combines G&A per 90|
|Royal Antwerp (2018/19)||0.4||0.18||0.58|
|Anderlecht (2nd spell at the club)||0.77||0.2||0.97|
|Anderlecht (1st spell at the club)||1.4||0||1.4|
As the table highlights, his current goals per 90 record this season is better than his record at the majority of other clubs and Royal Antwerp last season, only his second spell at Anderlecht, when much younger, did he better his current 0.66 goals per 90.
If we take a look at his expected goals and expected assists statistics, we can also see that Mbokani is only slightly exceeding his expectations. Therefore, we can reasonably assume that his scoring and assisting record can continue, or even improve if multiple factors go his way.
How does he do it?
In terms of style, Mbokani is best known for being a target man, utilising his physicality to hold off defenders within the box to score with his head or feet, or link up with teammates by holding the ball up, flicking the ball on or laying the ball off to teammates if the player comes short or into channels. This can be seen by viewing his heat map below, Mbokani spends a lot of time in central areas in and around the box, but also peels off into the channels to receive direct passes or get involved in build-up play.
Despite such a playing style, Mbokani is only 6ft 1in, a tall player, but not the towering 6ft 3in and above target man we typically see in modern football. Because of his height, he is required to use his physicality and jumping reach to win aerial duels. However, his height also comes as a blessing in disguise as his agility, acceleration and sprint speed benefit. That is not to say that Mbokani is a pacey striker who sits on the last defender’s shoulder, but, without being too tall, he is better equipped to be mobile and adapt his playing style should the game demand it. This enables him to contribute in more areas as a more complete forward, for example, reacting to ball movement in the box, pouncing first on rebounds and using his technical ability in or outside the box when needed. Taller, more one-dimensional target men may struggle with such contribution.
If we look at the breakdown and some examples of goals and assists Mbokani has, we can begin to visualise and appreciate the strong physical and aerial attributes that Mbokani has, but also the more technical and intelligence-based attributes which are supplemented by his physical prowess.
|Right Footed Shot||Left Footed Shot||Header||Penalty||Inside Box||Outside Box|
Mbokani has scored all of his goals within the box, highlighting his central tendencies and ability to find or create space for himself to score with his head following a cross or with his right foot after a ground pass, rebound or low cross. The player rarely uses his left foot to shoot, most likely due to the success of his head and right foot. The player is also awarded penalty duties, with four of his 14 goals coming from this source. This helps to boost his statistics, however, it also demonstrates the mental strength and confidence to step up and convert.
Looking at Mbokani’s assists this season, his varied contribution is exampled. The player has mainly assisted from passes in the box, showing intelligence to square the ball or lay it off when his shooting angle was poor, blocked or if others were in better positions.
For one assist Mbokani found himself on the right-wing, and after playing a one-two with a teammate, delivered a wicked volleyed cross into the box, mixing his technical shooting and passing ability with his vision to spot teammates and play the ball across the face of the goal.
This season, Mbokani has not assisted with his head via a flick-on from a direct ball. However, below is an image from when this occurred last season and highlights his prowess in the air. Mbokani’s general contribution in the air will be appraised when looking at Royal Antwerp’s playing style.
Royal Antwerp play to his strengths
As you can see below, Royal Antwerp are ranked sixth for long passes and crosses, a stat which suggests direct balls to Mbokani from deep to flick on or hold up, and wing play and personnel which encourage crosses to be put into the box for the striker to challenge for, either aerially or on the ground.
Such playing style, in combination with Mbokani’s tendencies and strengths, has resulted in the forward being top for the number of aerial duels so far this season.
In terms of set up, Royal Antwerp’s system also benefits Mbokani. His team play a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Mbokani as the main striker. This means that the player has three supporting midfielders who may move close to support Mbokani or run in behind looking for a flick-on if a long ball is played. If play is more progressive, then the two widest attacking midfielders may move into wide areas and look to take on their full-back to cross. Alternatively, such players can move narrow and look to create combinations in central areas or feed Mbokani with a through ball. Should this occur, or if patient wing play occurs, then the full-backs for Royal Antwerp can then provide width to cross. This means that Mbokani is supported in all areas of the pitch.
Overall, Mbokani has illustrated over the years that he is an effective striker. Apart from a few loan spells which did not go to plan, the forward has produced an impressive goal-scoring record and also chipped in with some assists due to his attributes.
The player has clear physical strengths making him a threat in the air, but at relatively average height, his mobility and technical attributes also come into play, making him a well-rounded centre-forward.
At 34 years old, Mbokani is using all of his experience gained from playing in multiple leagues, his footballing intelligence along with technical and physical attributes which appear as strong as ever. This, in combination with a team which looks to play to his strengths, has been a recipe for success, one with Royal Antwerp and Mbokani will hope to continue for the rest of this season and future seasons, should time and natural performance decreases be delayed.
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