France for a long time have been such prolific producers of young talents. Not only limited to Ligue 1, now many European teams are looking to dig even deeper in search of raw talents that have the potential to be special if nurtured properly. In this scout report, we’ll take a look at one specific player who has attracted the attention of many football enthusiasts after his move from Valenciennes to Angers this summer.

This summer, many have made the leap from the lower tier of France into top-flight football all around Europe. Florian Aye of Clermont has moved to newly-promoted Brescia in Serie A, ball-playing defender Modibo Sagnan has left Lens for Real Sociedad in La Liga. Sochaux have even let go of numerous young and talented players with names like Olivier Verdon and Jeando Fuchs both joining Alaves as well as Lucien Agoume earning himself a huge jump to Inter Milan.

Many also stayed in France, but managed to secure a move to a Ligue 1 club. Talented youngsters like Harold Moukoudi, Alpha Sissoko, Abou Ba, Fabien Centonze, Jean-Ricner Bellegarde, Yehvann Diouf, along with many others have all jumped ship to various Ligue 1 teams. Included in the list is defensive midfielder Julien Masson, who arrived at Stade Raymond Kopa this summer after having plied his trade at Valenciennes last season.

Masson joined Angers this summer, for a fee of merely €1.5 million. This can be considered a ridiculous bargain considering the talent and potential he possesses and how inflated the market is right now.

Masson may have played brilliantly at Valenciennes, but can he also impress under Stephane Moulin at Angers? We will take a closer look at that in this tactical analysis.

Physical

Decent power

Masson is 1.83m (6’0) tall. He has a rather lean body build with visible muscle and he doesn’t seem to be too skinny. He possesses fairly decent strength as he seems to be able to hold off the defenders when on the ball and sometimes even shrug an opponent off the ball. However, it is not his most outstanding physical feature. In fact, he ‘s not exactly a physically outstanding player overall.

The 1998-born defensive midfielder is also not that impressive when it comes to aerial duels. He has decent strength and a lot of times he’s able to at least make it difficult for his opponent to win the ball. But the fact that he doesn’t really reach a very good vertical height when leaping means that he’s often beaten to the ball – sometimes even by shorter players who are able to outjump him. His positioning and timing are not so bad though. But being a defensive midfielder, who’s often defensively active both in and outside the box, Masson often needs to challenge for the ball in critical areas – aerial balls in this case – and when he doesn’t win it, it could turn out really badly for his team.

According to his stats, Masson makes three aerial duels per game on average, succeeding in 46% of his attempts. Again, not very impressive for a defensively active midfielder, but you can also see that he doesn’t seem to make a lot of aerial challenges in a game.

Decent pace

The newly-arrived Angers midfielder is also not a very quick player overall. He doesn’t seem to have that quick burst of acceleration that smaller midfielders usually have that could massively help them beat their man in a shorter distance and tighter space. However, Masson doesn’t seem to accelerate very quickly and although he actually has a pretty decent top speed – it takes him some time to reach his maximum pace.

However, despite his not-so-impressive pace, Masson is quite agile and he’s got good body balance and coordination. This also helps him a lot when playing in tighter space as due to this, he can turn his body rather quickly to beat his man – but he, of course, needs to work very hard to get away from his opponent. He also seems to be quite a good dribbler due to this and it doesn’t seem easy trying to muscle him off the ball due to the combination of his strength, balance, agility, and ball control.

Rather lacking in endurance

Masson works hard and he covers a pretty decent amount of ground. But he’s not really the most active player on the pitch and he doesn’t seem to have such impressive stamina as well. He mostly holds his position around the middle third of the pitch, covering the half-space on the left and sometimes moving to the left flank. He tends to limit himself to jogging a lot of times throughout the game rather than pushing himself to sprint. This seems to be his trick to conserve stamina throughout the game. However, against teams who play really quick, who press aggressively and break swiftly on the counter, Masson is really struggling to keep up.

Valenciennes actually also employ the same tactics (which we’ll talk about further in this analysis) and he can also be seen only jogging when his team is playing on the counter/trying to defend a counter-attack.

Linking to his pace – due to his rather unimpressive stamina, Masson is not a very good sprinter both in short and medium/long distances due to his slow acceleration and tendency to decrease his speed significantly after a long distance sprint due to lack of stamina.

Technical

Effective dribbler and excellent playmaker

Masson has excellent first touch and he’s quite skilful at dribbling to add. He likes to immediately knock the ball to one side and then turn when receiving the ball so that he can get away from his man and avoid pressure. He really likes to dribble the ball, bringing it forward before delivering it into dangerous areas. However, he’s not very good at 1v1 offensive situations. As mentioned earlier, he usually doesn’t have the pace to beat his man despite often being able to knock the ball past him.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Masson quickly turning away from his man after receiving the ball to avoid pressure.

According to his stats, Masson doesn’t really make a lot of dribbling attempts in one game – making only around 1.9 dribbles per game. But he has a good success rate of 63% though, which shows his effectiveness in dribbling.

Being a defensive midfielder, Masson is known mostly due to his playmaking skills and aside from his ball-receiving ability – Masson needs to be a proficient passer. And indeed he is a splendid passer.

The 21-year-old midfielder excels at delivering both short and long balls. He seems to be able to serve accurate, perfectly-weighted passes most of the time, and he is often able to find his teammates in advantageous areas. However, a lot of time his problem is the timing of his passes. Valenciennes tend to break quickly with their striker playing off the shoulder of the opposing defender but due to the high chance of being caught in an offside trap, the pass needs to be released at the perfect time – however, Masson seems to often be just a tad bit late when releasing the ball. Sometimes he adds an unnecessary extra touch or takes a long time to make his decision.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Masson setting his teammate up with a fantastic through ball, showing his impressive vision – however his teammate was caught narrowly offside.

Statistically, Masson makes on average, 38 passes per game with 85% accuracy. 12.18 of his passes are directed forward with the success rate of 72.1%. However, he only makes around 0.3 key passes per game on average. This is understandable as his main task is anticipating opposition’s attacks, winning the ball, and progressing it (as well as setting them up for a quick counter).

Prolific ball-winner

Masson is also an impressive ball-winner – technically-speaking. He makes at least 5.5 tackles per game with a 55% success rate which is quite good. He times his tackle very well and he seems to be quite good in reading his opponent’s movements in 1v1 defensive situations. He’s got the aggression and bravery that are expected in a defensive-minded player. He’s not afraid to get stuck in, although he tends to stay on his feet when making a tackle. Overall he makes around 10 defensive challenges per game, winning 52% of them. Those numbers show that he’s actively contributing in defence and he’s quite successful in doing it.

Those numbers are quite similar to those of Baptiste Santamaria who mostly played as a defensive-mid for Angers last season. Santamaria is also quite an effective dribbler, making around 2.2 dribbles per game with an even higher success rate of 69%. He also made more passes last season (42 passes per game) on average albeit with a slightly lower success rate (83%). And just like Masson, Santamaria is also defensively active and effective. He made around 11 defensive challenges per game, also with a 52% success rate. He also made more tackles per game last season with six tackles per game, winning 52% of them.

So, statistically, the two players are very similar although the new signing played at a slightly lower level of football last season. They are technically very similar as well, but they do have differences when it comes to tactical and physical aspects.

Tendency to take long shots

Masson loves to have an attempt from low xG areas – mostly from long distance. We can see that from the picture below.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Masson’s shot map last season. Most of his shots are from outside the box and from low xG areas. The X in the picture means the shot was off target.

We can see from the picture that Masson loves to take shots from distance. A lot of them went off target, however, he tended not to miss by far. Two of his goals were in the picture (outside the box and edge of the box) only produced around 0.04-0.05 xG, but he managed to convert them into goals.

He has a strong left foot and when given enough time and space, he can use it to great advantage – either delivering the crucial pass or striking a stinging shot on goal. However, he’s not as proficient with his right. He can be seen controlling the ball with his right on some occasions but he tends to dribble with his left most of the time. He tends to avoid his weaker foot. When shooting or passing as well, he seems to shift the ball into his favoured left foot before hitting it. This limits his versatility and it could pose as an exploitable weakness.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Masson shifting the ball to his favoured left foot before taking a shot. He’s not so strong with his right.

Tactical

Masson at Valenciennes

Managed by Reginald Ray throughout the 2018/19 season in Ligue 2, Valenciennes play in various shapes and systems including a 4-3-3, 5-4-1, and 4-2-3-1. Ray employed a 5-4-1 system for most of the first half of the season which proved to be quite disastrous as they only managed to get four wins in 18 matches. However, he switched to using 4-2-3-1 for the remainder of the season which proved to work very well.

Masson mostly played as a left-sided defensive midfielder, partnering with either Johann Ramare or Eden Massouema as a double pivot. In a 4-3-3 formation, he’d play as a left-sided centre-mid with Ramare as the defensive midfielder.

The 4-2-3-1 formation looked like this.Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tacticsMasson’s main task, as mentioned earlier, is to anticipate and destroy the opponents’ attacks and start their own with him being the main ball progressor. Masson’s quite active in his area, but he rarely wanders to the other side of the pitch. This can be seen from the heatmap below.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tacticsAs we can see, Masson sits mostly around the middle third, but he often shifts slightly wider into the left flank to link up with the left winger. Valenciennes play mostly on the flank and they always look to exploit spaces in wider areas. To do this, the wingers often drop rather deep to allow space for the full-backs to advance forward and make an overlapping run. However, Masson occasionally replaces the role of the full-back and makes the overlapping run himself with the full-back (usually Saliou Ciss) covering his spot.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Masson making an overlapping run from the half-space in the middle third to exploit the left flank.

Overall they always try to maintain a compact shape both in offence and defence with the defenders pushing up in attacking phase and keeping a high line when they’re pressing high. They press aggressively and look to overload either side of the flank when in the defensive phase, forming a rather asymmetrical shape. This is why you can see from the heatmap above Masson’s also making movements to slightly to the right side of the pitch below the halfway line.

That was just a slight peek of how Valenciennes played in Ligue 2 last season with Masson in the lineup, but where will he play at Angers? We’ll get to that later in this tactical analysis.

Now we’re going to take a look at Masson’s tactical attributes. Of course, as a midfielder, tactical intelligence is important. Combining that with perfect execution will help his team massively.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Masson dropping deep and receiving the ball and then quickly turning and bringing it forward.

Masson shows how confident he is on the ball and more importantly, the desire to have the ball on his feet by always positioning himself in the perfect spot. He often drops deep to link up with the centre-backs as his team tend to build their play up from the back. After receiving the ball, he tends to try to bring the ball forward and attempt a vertical/diagonal pass rather than moving it sideways (lateral), although against certain teams he is forced to play more patiently and play it around before making the attempt to break through the defence.

In defence, he often positions himself deep in his own half – often even dropping into the box to help his team defend.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Masson entering the box to help his team defend.
Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Masson chasing and pressing the opposing player deep on the left flank.

Masson seems to have a good sense of awareness of where the opposing players are and where they might move to. This makes him always one step ahead of his opponents. He also has excellent vision for a pass – seemingly able to pick out teammates in such advantageous positions in important attacking situations – although as explained earlier in this tactical analysis, his problem is mostly the timing of his pass. But, of course, we can’t blame him solely as the timing of his teammates’ runs should also play a part in this.

Masson shows great tactical understanding and excellent reading of the game with his ability to snoop out and destroy opposition’s attacks. Statistically, he averaged around seven ball recoveries as well as 4.1 interceptions per game. PSG’s Marco Verratti – who was one of the best defensive midfielders in Ligue 1, for example, only made on average 4.2 ball recoveries and 3.4 interceptions per game last season. However, Angers’ Santamaria still holds a better record, making at least 9.1 ball recoveries per game last season and 7.2 interceptions to add to that.

How he’d fit into Angers’ tactics

Under Moulin, Angers experienced several different choices of formations last season. According to the records, Angers have played in a 5-3-2, 5-4-1, 3-5-2 flat, 3-4-2-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, and 4-3-3 formation last season. 4-3-3 was the most-used formation last season. However, that is a vast variety of formations that were used in a single season which could risk the stability of the team. Lucky for Moulin though, he currently has a crop of players who are versatile and tactically flexible. But Masson doesn’t really look like a very versatile player. His physicality and poor use of weaker foot severely limit his flexibility despite his technical proficiency and tactical intelligence. So where will he fit in?

This is a lineup that I just made (assuming none of the current players moves out of the club) with Masson in the starting 11.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tacticsMasson is mainly a central player that usually plays in a defensive midfield role, however, there were some histories of him playing as a defensive winger on the left wing and a left-sided central midfielder.

In here, he is paired alongside Jeff Reine-Adelaide who is a far more creative and usually far more advanced in terms of positioning. The latter is certainly less involved in defence and will often sit high and create more chances. Meanwhile, Masson could hold his position around the middle third, forming a double pivot alongside Santamaria – although this is usually not what they do in attack. They tend to have only one pivot, so either Santamaria or Masson would maraud forward instead of holding his position.

Angers’ 2-3-5 attacking shape. The red circle shows the players they throw forward. The orange circle shows the player that is a part of the three in midfield.

The picture above shows Angers’ attacking shape which looks a lot like 2-3-5. Both central midfielders will push forward and position themselves between the striker and wingers in the half-space. Meanwhile, the full-backs sit higher, pretty much on the same line as the defensive midfielder who holds his position in and around the middle third. It seems quite likely that Masson will be the one who holds his position in this case.

Just like Valenciennes, Angers also tend to break quickly after winning the ball. They also tend to build up from the back, but very straightforward in the attack – preferring to play quick exchanges of a mixture of vertical and diagonal short-medium passes to progress the ball. This should fit Masson nicely who also played in a team with a similar approach in attack. Using one-two touch passes, they’re playing a pick-and-roll style of football – pass and move, pass and move. This is a bit different than Valenciennes that look to maintain their shape in attack rather than falling into a flexible formation.

Angers like to play through the middle but tend to exploit spaces in wider areas in the attacking phase, which is a similar but also a bit different than what Masson is used to at Valenciennes.

In defence, Angers tend to block rather low and will only press when the opposing team is in a difficult situation or when they enter Angers’ defensive half. Although playing in a much faster-paced Ligue 1, Masson should try to improve his pace and stamina as much as he can in preparation for what is to come in the 2019/20 season. He can’t afford to be left trailing when the opposition’s on the counter and as he is the instigator of his team’s attack, Masson should always be in the right place and at the right time when they need him.

Julien Masson 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Angers’ low defensive block. They tend to only press when the ball’s past the halfway line or the opposing team is in a difficult situation. The two wingers also drop deep with the striker staying forward and preparing to make a run in case they regain possession.

There are a lot of similarities overall, and I believe Masson shouldn’t have that big of a problem fitting in at Angers.

Conclusion

Masson is massively talented, but he still has a lot of things to improve upon.

He is quite decent overall in terms of physicality, but he compensates it with his excellent technical proficiency and tactical intelligence.

An outstanding defensive midfielder who’s very good at winning the ball and making the play. His job is to end the opposing team’s attack and start one for his team – and he does it exceptionally well.

For only €1.5 million, Angers have got themselves a very good package and it can be considered a huge coup considering how expensive transfers can get nowadays. The fee also represents lower risk and even better investment due to the fact that Masson is still young and he’s got time to grow and develop.

This has been the scout report of Angers’ new signing Julien Masson, and can give you an impression of how Masson may fit into Anger’s tactics.


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

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