Gaël Kakuta at Lens 2019/20 – scout report
Gaël Kakuta is back at RC Lens, 13 years after leaving it to join Chelsea. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder has joined Les Sang et Or in a loan with an automatic purchase option if Lens remain in Ligue 1. Despite good performances with Amiens, where he was decisive on several occasions, the former Chelsea player was unable to prevent his club’s relegation to Ligue 2.
Lens is the 12th different club from his professional career, having played in England, Netherlands, Spain, Italy and even China. As Lens coach Franck Haise said when introducing his new player, he will give Kakuta an important role in his tactics and will try to make the most of his qualities and creativity. In this tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, we will look at Kakuta’s attacking profile and what he can bring to his new team.
Left-footed Kakuta played mainly as a number 10 in the 4-2-3-1 tactics of Amiens. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder is versatile in attack and is also capable of playing as a second striker or on the wing (preferably the right-wing). This advanced playmaker position gives him the freedom of movement he needs. Kakuta needs flexibility in order to perform at his best. We’ll see that later, but what perfectly characterises the former Chelsea player is his ability to surprise defences and be unpredictable. The new Lens player has an above-average technique and is very complete, capable of both creating and finishing. He has scored two goals and given five assists this season in Ligue 1, in a team with offensive difficulties (19th worst xG total in Ligue 1 with 25.62).
His partnership with the powerful striker Serhou Guirassy has done Ligue 1 defences a lot of damage. Kakuta was trying to play around him and take advantage of the fact that his teammate was attracting pressure on him to free himself space. Guirassy was also a good support to combine with Kakuta and was also performing well in his in-depth movements to take advantage of the new Lens player’s passing quality. The arrival of Ignatius Ganago at Lens will allow him to have an interesting profile in attack, performing well in his off the ball movements and solid in the duel (176cm and 82kg). Kakuta has a very interesting left foot and a large skillset. Lens hasn’t been very good at set-pieces this season, and the arrival of a skilled player in this area will do a lot of good.
As you can see on his heatmap, Kakuta regularly roams from his position in areas where he will be more productive. Note that he likes to start from an off-centre position on the right-wing, then cut inside on his left foot. Kakuta’s attacking contribution can be great in a team that knows how to showcase his qualities and style of play. He rarely drops deep to participate in the build-up but prefers to position himself between the opposing lines and receive the ball in a dangerous area for his opponents.
It’s in high areas of the pitch that one notices his qualities, particularly his quick decision-making and execution speed. The former Chelsea player can quickly notice the flaws in the opponent’s block to position himself or put a partner in a scoring position. Amiens was one of the teams with the lowest average ball possession, at 44.9%. As a result, when he was receiving the ball, Kakuta was expected to make the difference. He will most certainly have this offensive responsibility also at RC Lens and will have to bring creativity to the game.
His role in RC Lens tactics
After being nominated in place of Philippe Montanier, Haise has only managed Lens on the two last games of the season. The former Lens reserve coach has kept the three-man defence set-ups by Montanier and should renew it this year in Ligue 1.
The pictures above represent the two tactics made by Haise for the last two games of Lens in Ligue 2. It’s a 3-4-1-2 tactics with two wing-backs that have the role of stretching the opposing block and bringing offensively in the flanks. The attack is composed of two complementary strikers and a playmaker (Tony Mauricio on both games). It is in this role of number 10 that Kakuta should play at Lens.
This system should give him a lot of freedom to move all over the attacking front while being able to combine with two players in front of him. The width provided by the wing-backs and the depth provided by the two strikers should give Kakuta space to express himself and have interesting passing solutions. All this will also depend on the profile of the strikers. We can imagine the association of a second mobile striker like Corentin Jean or Gaëtan Robail, with whom Kakuta will be able to combine or sometimes exchange his position, with that of a striker who is more at ease in-depth like Ganago, Florian Sotoca or Simon Banza.
It is in the final third that Kakuta is at his best and capable of performing well in tight spaces. For the graph that follows, I’ve compared the attacking players of Lens who have played at least 500 minutes this season. Note that Charles Boli has played several games as a left-back but has also played higher up the field.
According to Wyscout, a through pass is « a pass played into the space behind the defensive line for a teammate to contest. » A smart pass is a « creative and penetrative pass that attempts to break the opposition’s defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack. » These two stats allow us to judge the ability of players to be creative and efficient in creating or finding space for their partners. As shown in the graph above, Kakuta is quite good at this compared to Lens players, making 2.18 through passes per 90 and 2.43 smart passes per 90. It shows Kakuta’s ability to be productive with the ball and find space inside the opponent’s block. Lens tended to have trouble creating goalscoring opportunities against teams that had a low block. The arrival of Kakuta may allow Lens to perform better in these phases of the game.
Technical attacking midfielder
Kakuta combines very good technical abilities with a lot of dynamism once the ball is at his feet. He manages to speed up his team’s game thanks to his ball control and his ability to find space well between the line. The former Chelsea player was taking a lot of risks in possession of the ball, as he was the one who had to create his team’s game in the final third. This resulted in some mistakes in passing (only 72.51% successful passes) but interesting stats in terms of creation as seen before (smart passes and through passes). His creativity doesn’t stop at his ability to exploit flaws in the opponent’s block with his passes, but also with his creativity in his dribbling. With his short-dribbling skills and fast direction shifts, Kakuta knows how to eliminate his opponents in 1vs1 situations. Kakuta has attempted 5.74 dribbles per 90 this season, with 44% success. The majority of his dribbles are made high on the field, and therefore in tighter spaces, with a high density of players. We regularly see the offensive midfielder nearly full stop and then making a sudden acceleration with his “quick feet”, which surprises his opponents.
In the above action, Kakuta moves off-centre to receive the ball with more space and less pressure from the opposition. He will then show his skills in the small spaces by doing a one-two with his partner, to break an opponent’s line, and receive the ball facing the game. After his first pass, Kakuta moves behind his opponent’s back so that he doesn’t have the information about what he is going to do. The opposing player does not have time to turn around to intervene.
Once again under pressure from two opposing players, Kakuta will show exceptional vision. He notices his partner’s movement in-depth and gives him a superb pass, which breaks several opposing lines. His partner can then quietly control the ball and score. Technical quality is nothing without intelligence and vision. Kakuta’s taking of information after his one-two allows him to be one step ahead of the opposing defence and make that pass.
On this action above, Kakuta positions himself between the PSG’s middle and defence line to escape the pressure from the opposition. Even before receiving the ball, the 29-year-old already knew what he was going to do, and knew Guirassy’s position. He controls the ball in such a way that his body is perfectly oriented to make a forward pass. Once again, it is Guirassy’s in-depth movement that allows Kakuta to make the pass. The former Chelsea player makes the pass between Thiago Silva and the PSG left-back because there is more space to exploit for Guirassy. With the Brazilian’s back to goal, it was difficult for him to turn around and anticipate the Amiens striker’s movement. The pass is in the right tempo and allows Guirassy to score against Keylor Navas. Kakuta also has a great shot, and although he has only scored two goals this season, he has been dangerous several times on out of box shots.
On the above action, against PSG, Kakuta scored a great goal. He receives the ball in the left half-space and finds himself in a very closed angle, with very few solutions except to shoot. Kakuta will then make a very powerful shot, estimated at 0.04 of xG and which ends just below the crossbar. It also shows a lot of self-confidence to make such a move.
Flair and unpredictable
The essential quality for a playmaker is to be able to do the unexpected, which opponents cannot anticipate. Kakuta is able to bring this attacking flair to his team and find opportunities to score where many would not find them. The 29-year-old attacking midfielder often has brilliant inspirations that make him unpredictable and constantly dangerous to his opponents.
On the above action, Kakuta will once again position himself in the left half-space, to receive the ball in good conditions. It’s on the passing time that Kakuta takes the information about Guirassy’s position. The former Chelsea player has great inspiration and makes a superb backheel pass for his striker, which eliminates two opposing players. This puts his partner in a one-on-one situation against the Rennes defender. This inspiration resulted in an assist after a great pivot shot from Guirassy.
On the above action, Kakuta receives the ball back to goal on a team touch. He uses his body well to prevent his opponent from retrieving the ball and moves towards his strong foot. The opposing defender expects him to continue to run on his left foot and dribbles towards the penalty area, but the new Lens player will surprise everyone. With a superb direction shift, Kakuta eliminates his opponent and frees himself from the opposing density. He saw the free space at the far post and sent a perfect right-footed cross. This cross results in a decisive pass and surprises the opposing defence. Note that Kakuta has the lucidity, after his dribble, to raise his head to notice the dangerous space for his partner.
As we’ve seen in this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, Kakuta’s transfer to RC Lens has everything to be a good deal. He’s a player who will bring his experience, flair and creativity to Lens’s attack, as well as great ball technique. Kakuta is a very talented player who has been slow to adapt to the demands of the top level. But his two seasons at Amiens are very promising and his loan to Lens will allow him to express himself in an environment he knows well. He will clearly be one of the players to watch next season in Ligue 1.