Eintracht Frankfurt are earning a growing reputation for elite talent identification. This summer saw Luka Jović and Sebastien Haller leave the German club for a combined £105 million. They had signed both strikers for £6.3 million each. 

Frankfurt aren’t looking to become a selling club, but the turnover in profit from just two players is quite staggering. The German side will instead be looking to build on last season’s seventh-place finish. They came only four points short of fourth-place Bayer Leverkusen, who claimed the last Champions League spot. They also came incredibly close to a place in the Europa League final, losing on penalties to eventual winners Chelsea in the semi-final.

Although they are yet to replace their two strikers, Frankfurt have gone quietly about adding to their squad this summer. The most intriguing of their signings, is that of 22-year-old Swiss international, Djibril Sow. This tactical analysis and scout report will look into the midfielder’s prowess at former club BSC Young Boys, and evaluate his potential impact for Eintracht Frankfurt.

Djibril Sow’s career so far

Despite spending most of his youth career in Switzerland, Sow moved to Borussia Mönchengladbach as an 18-year-old. However, after spending the majority of his two years at the club in the reserves, he decided to move back to Switzerland, and sign with BSC Young Boys.

He became part of a Young Boys side that won the Swiss Super League for the first time in over 30 years in the 2017-18 season, before repeating the feat the next year too. Young Boys were dominant in Sow’s two years at the club, winning the league titles in both seasons by 16 and 20 points respectively.

Sow was widely heralded by the Swiss press for his consistent performances and last year continued to grow into a creative midfield maestro, demonstrating an incredible range of accurate and varied passes, combined with composure and skill on the ball.

Positionally 

Djibril Sow is a versatile centre-midfielder. He can play as a deep-lying playmaker, but is also just as at home playing in an attacking-role, behind the striker. He would often switch between these roles during games for Young boys.

When playing deeper, Sow was the key to the build-up play, coming deep to receive from the goalkeeper, as the two centre-backs split. We can see this in the below analysis.

Djibril Sow 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Djibril Sow moves into the space created by the two centre-backs splitting wide.

He was used as the predominant ball-carrier in the side, and his excellent passing ability, both short and long, meant that he could launch attacks quickly, or dictate the build-up play.

Sow would often remain deep during attacking phases, and worked as the pivot in Young Boys’ midfield. We can see this from looking at his heat map.

Djibril Sow 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Djibril Sow’s heat map from the 2018/19 season.

The furthest forward patches highlight how he comes wide in a deep position to support the wing players, and act as a pivot when the team were attacking from wide areas.

Djibril Sow 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sow supports the wide players in a deep position, to act as a pivot. He can quickly and effectively switch the play with his accurate long passing.

When given more freedom to roam forward, Sow liked to sit close to the forward, acting as the final link from midfield to the front-line. All three goals and five assists that Sow registered last season came from taking up these positions.

He showed incredible composure and confidence in the final third last year, and has excellent awareness of what is around him. His assist in the 3-2 win over St Gallen last year showed incredible ability and vision. He flicked the ball first time with the inside of his foot, into the path of teammate Guilleme Hoarau, who was lurking behind him, to score.

Djibril Sow 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sow’s creative instincts, paired with his excellent awareness, make him dangerous when positioned inside or near the opposition 18-yard box.

Defensive contributions

Despite Sow being a player with attacking flair and excellent passing range, he is also very strong defensively. Last season he won 64.7% of his defensive duels, and made 4.39 interceptions per game.

He presses his opponents with intensity and uses his six-foot frame to get in between the opposition player and the ball, to dispossess them and break up attacks. He averaged an excellent 9.71 recoveries per game last season, with 50.9% of these coming in the opposition half. This highlights his ability to press effectively.

These defensive statistics show what a well-rounded midfield player Sow is, and that he will contribute to Frankfurt’s defensive efforts this season, despite being labelled a playmaker.

Attacking impact

Sow has good ball control, and is confident on the ball, completing 60.7% of his dribbles last season. He also ranked in the top five central-midfielders in the league for fouls suffered. He is strong, quick and has excellent footwork, particularly when under pressure.

Djibril Sow 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sow rounds a player with his quick feet before finishing.

Due to his size and speed, he is good in a 1v1 situation, but he is also difficult to track and is, therefore, a threat for quick counter-attacks. When given the freedom to push forward, Sow is a player who will make surging runs past the forward line, and with the wind in his sails is difficult to catch.

Djibril Sow 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sow surges forward on the counter-attack.

Passing ability

Frankfurt have signed Sow knowing how effective he will be at getting the ball from midfield into the forward line. 

For Young Boys last season, he ranked third in the league for percentage of completed passes into the final third, with 82.7%. The only central-midfielders, aged 22 or under, with a higher percentage in the Bundesliga, were Kai Havertz, and Arne Maier. That’s good company. He also ranked third out of central-midfielders in the league, for total pass completion with 89.5%.

His long passing is very strong too. Last year he was completing 75.97% of his long passes, the highest percentage in the Swiss Super League. The only players with a higher percentage in the Bundesliga last season were Havertz, Thiago Alacantara, James Rodriguez, and Julian Baumgartlinger.

His five assists in the league last year ranked him 10th overall amongst his peers, but Sow was the youngest player in the top 10.

How he fits in at Eintracht Frankfurt

It’s Sow’s passing that made him a top priority for Frankfurt, who were the worst passing side in the league. Frankfurt ranked last in the league last season for pass completion percentage. They completed just 77% of them and made fewer passes per minute than any other team, with just 12.7.

They were also very low in the league for passes made as a team per 90 minutes. Only Schalke, Fortuna Düsseldorf, and last-placed Nürnberg ranked lower.

Frankfurt used their wide players to break the lines, and the centre-midfielders were rarely used as playmakers. This is backed up by Frankfurt ranking fourth lowest in the league for passes into the final third.

Frankfurt’s tactics were based around getting the ball forward as quickly as possible into their front three. This was often through the long ball being played by the defenders into the forwards. They wanted their front three of Rebić, Haller, and Jović, to get the ball as quickly as possible. Only FC Augsburg made more long passes than them last season. However, Frankfurt’s long pass accuracy rating was only just above the league average of 58.59%, at 59.9%.

The signing of Sow suggests they understand their front line may not be as potent this year, and that they will need some more creativity coming from the middle of the pitch, whether that’s with accurate passes into the final third, or with Sow dropping deeper and playing more accurate long balls than Frankfurt played last year.

Djibril Sow 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sow’s stats from last season show his passing ability, whether long or short, but also highlight his defensive contributions.

Room for improvement

Only 22.9% of Sow’s shots last season hit the target, which is far from impressive. However, when we look at his shooting map we can see that only one of his 17 shots from outside the area hit the target.

Djibril Sow 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Djibril Sow’s shooting map from the 2018/19 season.

That’s a 5.89% accuracy. Whereas with shots from inside the 18-yard box he was hitting the target 38.9% of the time. That’s still not groundbreaking. But if he can either improve his accuracy from distance or cut shooting out altogether from that range, then he is a midfielder with the potential to score more than three goals a season.

Frankfurt will be hoping he can improve on this, although it is not what they signed him for.

Conclusion

Despite Frankfurt’s stellar season last year, this is most definitely a big coup for the side,. The transfer has certainly raised a few eyebrows around Europe. It was Head-coach Adi Hütter’s relationship with the player that no doubt sealed the transfer. Hütter knows him well, having worked with him whilst manager of BSC Young Boys. That, and Frankfurt’s recent track record of turning young players into multi-million euro transfers, and Sow’s decision starts to make more sense.

It will be interesting to see how Sow impacts Frankfurt’s playing style. He will be the creative link to the forwards that Frankfurt missed last season. One thing for certain is that the German side have picked up one of Europe’s most promising playmakers.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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