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Ligue 1 2021/22: How ‘desired’ Ludovic Blas can hone his game amid Lille, Rennes and Benfica links – scout report

Ludovic Blas (180cm/5’10”, 69kg/152lbs) was a key figure in the Nantes side that achieved Coupe de France glory last season, with La Maison Jaune beating Nice 1-0 in the final thanks to a Blas penalty kick, securing UEFA Europa League football for 2022/23. Only goalkeeper Alban Lafont and centre-back Andrei Girotto accumulated more minutes for the Brittany-based club in all competitions than the influential attacking midfielder managed in 2021/22.

The 24-year-old joined Nantes from Guingamp back in the 2019 summer transfer window for a near-club record fee of €8m. Now valued at double that by Transfermarkt, the former France U20 international has been the subject of much speculation in recent weeks, as reports have linked the ‘desired’ player with a move to Nantes’ fellow Ligue 1 competitors Lille, Brittany rivals Rennes and Portuguese UEFA Champions League side Benfica of late.

At present, Blas remains part of Antoine Kombouaré’s side but for how much longer remains to be seen, following a highly-rated and influential campaign at Stade de la Beaujoire which did wonders for the 24-year-old attacking midfielder’s reputation.

Amid this intense transfer speculation, we’ve decided to produce a tactical analysis rundown on Blas’ key strengths and weaknesses, along with the player’s role within Kombouaré’s tactics via an in-depth scout report.

This analysis will have a specific focus on four areas of improvement/potential weaknesses within the 24-year-old’s game, explaining how the Nantes man can yet improve and continue to hone his game to be the best possible version of himself, ultimately. All stats and data used in this scout report come from Wyscout.

Data analysis

We’re going to kick off this tactical analysis piece by providing some data analysis on Blas. The aim of this data analysis is to indicate clearly and concisely the key responsibilities he performs within Kombouaré’s Nantes system and highlight some standout areas of interest within the player’s profile through the data.

Firstly, we will briefly explain what is being shown by some of the more ambiguously labelled metrics on the visual. We must stress that these weren’t created as a result of some intense fine-tuning, but rather just a basic combination of some raw metrics to create what we believe to be some helpful metrics for use in this analysis.

‘Possession involvement’ is a combination of passes per 90 and passes received per 90, which we’ve combined to try and get a measure of how involved, overall, the player is in his team’s possession phases in relation to other players in the data set labelled in figure 1 — while Blas is a versatile player who’s occupied various positions over the last calendar year, including the wings, deeper in midfield and even the centre-forward position, he’s primarily played as a central attacking midfielder or ‘10’, so these are the players we’ve compared him with.

‘Positive passing’ is a combination of forward passes per 90, progressive passes (A forward pass that attempts to advance a team significantly closer to the opponent’s goal) per 90 and passes to the final third per 90. These were combined as a means of looking into how aggressive/forward-thinking the player is with the ball in relation to his peers, particularly designed to highlight his effectiveness in the ball progression phase of play.

‘Penetrative passing’, meanwhile, is a combination of through passes per 90, passes to the penalty area per 90 and smart passes per 90, designed to look at the player’s defensive line-breaking nature, particularly with a view to looking at the player’s effectiveness in chance creation.

‘Creative passing’, then, is a combination of xA per 90, shot assists per 90 and key passes per 90. This one is designed to show how effective the player is at directly creating goalscoring opportunities for his teammates.

We hope that these explanations have made the labelling clear and the visual easier to interpret.

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Figure 1

So, with all of that out of the way, let’s get stuck into the analysis! Directing our attention to figure 1, some aspects of this chart stand out immediately. It’s clear that Blas is not among the most defensively active attacking midfielders in Europe — certainly not proficient in this area, anyway.

On the attacking side of things, he takes a lot of shots while maintaining a respectable shot accuracy rate, considering the high volume of shots that leave his boots. Additionally, he engages in heaps of offensive duels — a statistic that’s not surprising from watching the player on the pitch and being familiar with his style of play at Nantes — though his offensive duel success rate leaves a lot to be desired. He does, however, draw plenty of fouls too.

In terms of passing, Blas also isn’t a standout in any particular area. He plays a low volume of passes in general, and while his positive/penetrative pass success rates, respectively, are good, they aren’t out of this world.

Blas doesn’t play many deep completions which is, like everything else, partly a result of his team’s tactics and overall strength, along with his specific role within those tactics. It’s more common to see Blas receiving the ball deeper before looking to turn and drive forward with it than it is to see him linking the attack together during a sustained period of possession, which comes few and far between, relative to stronger Ligue 1 sides, at Nantes.

This does see him play plenty of long passes, though, as his dropping deep requires him to get his head up and spread the ball around the pitch at times — a task which he’s performed very well and which is perhaps the best indicator, based on his role and the team’s style, from this data visual of the player’s technical quality. We’ll discuss this area of his game more based on our observations of the player later on in this tactical analysis piece.

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Figure 2

Figure 2, here, shows Blas’ heatmap in the league for the last calendar year. We can see he tends to drift around quite a lot, both in terms of his in-game movement when deployed as a ‘10’ and in terms of his starting positions and roles, as he sometimes occupies the wings from the get-go, performing a different role to the ‘10’ role that he’s played most often over the last year.

Either way, he’s a player who loves to drift about or drop deep — go wherever he deems his presence necessary to occupy space, give his team the best possible option and look to influence the game with the ball at his feet. In this way, the player’s off-the-ball movement is one of the key strengths in his game.

Of course, Blas typically occupies advanced areas of the pitch. This, combined with Nantes’ relatively low possession percentages, goes some way to explaining why his possession involvement is relatively low in comparison to other attacking midfielders within our data set, so this is by no means a perfect indicator of where Blas falls in all of these areas in relation to Europe’s top-five leagues.

This visual does, however, provide some decent insight into Blas’ playing style at present within his current team and their setup, and we’ll refer back to this visual at times throughout this tactical analysis piece.

Without further ado, let’s progress into the four key areas of improvement that we’ve identified within Blas’ game for this analysis.

Shooting

Firstly, we’re going to take a look at shooting, which Blas does a lot of as indicated in figure 1. The player ended last season as Nantes’ highest goalscorer in all competitions, bagging 15. However, it must be noted that he was also his club’s penalty taker, and this total included eight non-penalty goals.

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Figure 3

Figure 3 shows Blas’ shot map from the last 75 shots, excluding penalties. From this, we can see that he is quite trigger-happy in front of goal. While one of his long shots did lead to a goal, many — especially those coming from an angle — were quite wasteful.

Blas is left-footed and fairly comfortable using his weaker right foot but clearly prefers the left if possible. He loves to drift to the right and cut in onto his favoured left foot to strike, which is why we see so many shots taken from the right side of the box. However, the vast majority of them failed to hit the target.

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Figure 4

We see an example of one typical Blas attempt on goal in figure 4. Here, the Nantes man can be seen cutting in from the right wing onto his favoured left foot, at first demonstrating some great technical quality on the ball via his dribbling — which is the strongest area of his game — to set up the shooting opportunity. This is visible in the top two quadrants of the image.

After cutting onto his left foot, the 24-year-old lines up the shot, as seen in the bottom left quadrant. However, as the final, bottom right quadrant shows, the shot was ultimately blocked. This doesn’t come as a massive surprise, given that Blas opted to take the shot with two defenders directly in front of him and little space to squeeze the ball through.

Attracting two defenders in like this via the dribble is very valuable as it creates great space for teammates elsewhere, which we can see from the top right and bottom left quadrants of figure 4. However, Blas decided not to try and play one of those teammates through, potentially progressing into a better goalscoring position, and instead decided to go it alone. This led to his shot being blocked and deflected into central midfield for the opposition to start a counterattack.

This passage of play provides a textbook example of why shot selection is important, and decision-making in terms of shooting is undoubtedly an area in which Blas can improve. We’d like to see him become more selective with his shots and cut out some of the low-probability shots from awkward angles and with bodies in front of the ball. It’s common to see Blas shooting into opponents from angles like this which inevitably leads to blocks on most occasions. This, in turn, then often leads to opposition counterattacks.

So, not only can it be wasteful for Nantes and their attack, but it can also leave La Maison Jaune vulnerable to the transition, as was the case in figure 4.

We aren’t saying Blas should never shoot, nor that he shouldn’t shoot from distance on occasion but he should be more selective and cut out shots like the one we see in figure 4 where the chances of success are really slim. Attempts like this occur too often with the 24-year-old at present.

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Figure 5

Figure 5 shows an example of Nantes progressing the ball into the box via the wing, with Blas (circled centrally) running into space ahead of him, created by his team’s progression around the opposition defence, thus forcing them to retreat and open up space in front of them.

When this happens, Blas is excellent at attacking the space that opens ahead of him, and this can be one of the main ways in which he threatens the opposition’s goal and creates good goalscoring opportunities.

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Figure 6

As play moves on into figure 6, we see that the ball was pulled back to the edge of the box for Blas to get onto the end of the cutback cross with his late run into the penalty area and manage to hit the target with the resulting shot.

Blas has these late runs into the box in his locker; they’re a valuable skill for his team and he’s great at pulling them off thanks to his excellent off-the-ball movement and ability to interpret space, which is a key skill in his game.

His team should look to take advantage of these skills in this particular situation and set opportunities like this up for him regularly if possible, while Blas should also look to exploit this skill in his game as much as possible.

The shot in this example is far more effective than the wasteful one we saw in figure 4. No, we aren’t saying this is the only type of shot Blas should take but if he did take more of these kinds of shots from this position, perhaps leading to fewer shots overall but more selective, valuable shots from key areas, perhaps it would lead to a net gain for his side as he’s got the skills in off-the-ball movement to perform a role like this quite effectively.

In any event, we’d recommend Blas get more selective with his shot locations and improve his decision-making in front of goal.

Penetrative passing and creative passing

As defined by us above, penetrative passing in figure 1 is a combination of through passes, smart passes and passes to the penalty area. Meanwhile, creative passing is a combination of xA, shot assists and key passes. These are all areas in which an attacking midfielder can offer something to his side but in Blas’ case, that’s not really what we’re seeing.

While ball carrying and dribbling are key areas of strength within the Nantes man’s game, he’s not a particularly strong creative passer. At times, Blas struggles with the timing of his passes while on other occasions, the 24-year-old struggles with the weight of his pass, sometimes making them too strong and other times making them too light but rarely getting the balance just right.

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Figure 7

Figure 7 shows a typical example of a Blas penetrative pass attempt. In the top left quadrant, he receives with his back to goal in the middle third with runners ahead of him to give him options. As he takes the ball, he turns inside and begins moving centrally.

He continues moving centrally in the top right quadrant, at which point we see him noticeably get his head up a couple of times to scan for the movement ahead of him and help with his decision-making as he lines up the pass. At this point, in the top right quadrant, we see the runner at centre-forward in a good position to receive, facing forward and moving in behind the opposition’s backline with space around him.

When the pass is actually played just a second later, however, after another touch from Blas, that runner is now after losing some momentum and is facing more towards Blas than he is facing towards the space in behind the opposition’s backline. Additionally, the opposition’s left-back has closed the gap between himself and this runner too now, giving the player less space to work with.

The result of this is that in the bottom right quadrant, the opposition left-back is able to cut out the through pass when it’s played into the space ahead of the striker, as that player had lost some momentum by this point so was slower in chasing the ball down and had more competition from the left-back.

It may be harsh to call for the pass to be played earlier on this particular occasion, though it would’ve been helpful for Nantes’ attack had it been played earlier. Perhaps more scanning before receiving the ball would’ve helped Blas to operate with more conviction and attempt the pass a bit earlier, helping his striker to get in behind the opposition’s backline.

It’s not worth getting too hung up on just one example here, but this passage of play shows what we mean when we say that Blas’ timing can improve on these types of passes on occasion.

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Figure 8

Figure 8 shows Blas in possession on the right in loads of space. After just receiving the ball before this image and now seeing the opposition defence retreating in front of him, leaving him with lots of time to ponder his next move, the 24-year-old takes the opportunity to get his head up and pick out a pass to one of the runners ahead of him moving in behind the opposition backline.

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Figure 9

However, moving on into figure 9, we see that the resulting pass was played with way too much power, giving his runners no chance of getting onto the end of the ball and really troubling the opposition goal, leading to this chance going down as a wasted one.

Again, let’s not get too hung up on one example here, but this is indicative of a greater issue in Blas’ game — his struggle to hit passes like this with an adequate amount of power. It’s undoubtedly an area of his game that he still needs to hone, as there’s a lot of inconsistency in his passing game in relation to pass weight.

In some ways, Blas may be better suited to operating as one of the runners ahead of him in these examples rather than the deeper player required to get on the ball and pass. As mentioned earlier, he’s got excellent off-the-ball movement and ability to exploit space, which would be a useful skill for the runner in the forward line.

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Figure 10

We see an example of Blas operating more like this in figure 10 versus PSG. Here, the 24-year-old made a run in behind the opposition’s midfield line to the left, giving his deeper teammate an option for the through pass.

He gets onto the end of the through ball played in the top left quadrant and carries it towards the byline, first bypassing the defender who closes him down in the top right quadrant and then progressing towards the byline in the bottom left quadrant. At this point, the ball carrier pulls the ball back into the box for a teammate positioned centrally to get onto the end of the pass in a great goalscoring position.

The ensuing shot is deflected wide in the end but this was an excellent goalscoring opportunity created largely by Blas’ off-the-ball movement to give the deeper-lying passer a through ball option in behind and then his ball-carrying quality to progress beyond the defence, into a crossing position where he could set a teammate up for a good goalscoring opportunity.

This passage of play allowed the 24-year-old to use his off-the-ball movement to peel away in behind the defence and combine with the passer and then his ball-carrying ability to beat the defence and create a goalscoring opportunity — two major strengths within his game.

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Figure 11

Blas is a good creator from the wings and can offer a crossing threat from wider areas too, as figure 11 shows. Here, he picks up the ball out by the sideline in the top left quadrant and begins carrying it inside after isolating himself 1v1 with the opposition left-back.

After driving the opposition defender backwards, Blas made a couple of stepovers in the top right quadrant before cutting inside onto his stronger left foot as we move on into the bottom left quadrant.

From here, the 24-year-old played an inswinging cross towards the far post that met its target, setting up a decent headed goalscoring chance for Nantes.

Due to his comfort with low cutback crosses from the byline and ability to play higher crosses from wider areas, Blas presents a really good option for his side on the wings. Again, he’s a versatile player who can operate effectively off either wing or move out into wide positions from the ‘10’ position, but in wide areas, he’s probably most comfortable cutting in on his favoured left foot from the right.

We like Blas as a wide creator and think he’s at his best when running at a defender head-on. Additionally, his creative threat from crossing has been more impressive than his creative threat from penetrative passes. As a result, perhaps moving into operating as more of a wide creator would be a good move for Blas.

Even if he remains a ‘10’, though, Blas should look to peel off into wide areas when the space is there like he did in figure 10 and offer options for the deeper passers in behind the opposition defence rather than be the one playing those passes. This would likely accentuate the player’s strengths more.

Where can Blas improve in offensive duels?

To reiterate an earlier point — dribbling is a massive strength within Blas’ offensive game. It’s common to see Blas pick the ball up deep in space, turn and carry it forward beyond opposition bodies. Additionally, it’s common to see Blas draw fouls from the opposition through these kinds of manoeuvres. This is a valuable skill in that it helps his team to generate set-pieces and keep pressure applied to the opposition.

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Figure 12

We see an example of one occasion in which Blas achieved this in figure 12. Here, the player received the ball deep while facing the opposition’s goal in the top left quadrant, beat his first man in the top right quadrant with a big burst of speed while exhibiting some agility and then turned out towards the left again to try and beat the next opposition player in the bottom left quadrant.

The Nantes man generated some contact with the PSG defender while attempting to skip past in the bottom left quadrant, having kept the ball a safe distance away from the defender. This led to Blas going down and winning a free kick here for his side.

Considering he’d been surrounded by PSG bodies during this dribble, the outcome was positive for Blas and his team. This is what he can offer the team as a dribbler — someone who’s got excellent close control, agility and who’s intelligent about drawing fouls to put his side in an advantageous position while maintaining pressure on the opposition.

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Figure 13

We see another positive example of Blas’ dribbling in figure 13. Here, he receives and turns in the top left quadrant before skipping past the outrushing defender in the top right quadrant. From here, the attacking midfielder can drive into the box, which we see in the bottom left quadrant, at which point he draws some illegal contact from an opposition defender, leading to a penalty kick, with the referee pointing to the spot in the bottom right quadrant.

Blas is very good at drawing fouls via his dribbling quality in advantageous areas for his side and this is a valuable quality for a team to have if they’re good at maintaining pressure on the opposition and if they’re good from set-pieces. Every side could do with someone who’s good at progressing into the box and then drawing the foul, however, as Blas does in this last example, demonstrating the universal appeal of the 24-year-old’s ball-carrying skillset.

Even when surrounded by several opposition players, Blas is good at driving through them until either he advances into space or draws a foul.

One area in which Blas can improve his ability in offensive duels, however, is his ability to play with his back to goal and hold off opposition defenders. Blas isn’t the most physical player in the world, he struggles in physical duels even more than his size would suggest and gets easily bullied when receiving with his back to goal and with a defender touch-tight to him from behind.

If you get tight to Blas and prevent him from facing forward and driving at you, then you’ve got a good chance of preventing him from hurting you at all. Defenders that have gotten tight to Blas from behind and gotten physical with him to prevent the player from turning and running at them with the ball have enjoyed some success in keeping him quiet.

Indeed, the 24-year-old can still draw fouls in situations like this but it’s less effective than when given the opportunity to operate as we saw in figures 12-13.

So, if Blas could improve his physicality a little bit and be better prepared to engage defenders in physical duels, it could benefit his game. We aren’t saying Blas needs to become a massive unit but adding some lean muscle mass and getting more comfortable engaging in physical duels could add another element to his game and increase his threat.

Defensive contribution

Lastly, the final area of improvement that we’d like to discuss in relation to Blas’ game for this tactical analysis piece is his defensive contribution. As figure 1 shows, Blas doesn’t offer a tonne off the ball and the lack of use without the ball is becoming a greater and greater weakness in the modern game, regardless of where you play on the pitch.

If Blas could add to his defensive game in terms of work rate, technical defensive ability and, again, physicality, it would just add another positive element to his game without taking much if anything away from his offensive game — in fact, it could benefit his offensive game too.

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Figure 14

In figure 14, we see a slow pass being played back to a deep midfielder by Angers. Blas is the nearest Nantes man to the ball on this occasion and does a good job of spotting a pressing opportunity as this backwards pass slowly makes its way towards the intended target.

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Figure 15

Blas exploited the lack of urgency and spatial awareness from the opponent here by intercepting the pass and regaining possession for his side in a highly valuable position, setting up a great counterattacking opportunity right in the centre of the pitch, as we can see in figure 15.

This passage of play shows how Blas can, if he wants to, offer plenty to his side without the ball and how this can help his offensive game, as we can see that this has set up a great opportunity for the 24-year-old to drive forward in transition — a great use of his ball carrying ability that Nantes often exploit — or laying the ball off to a teammate before running forward himself to exploit space upfield on the counter.

This was a solid interception from Blas that demonstrated good spatial awareness and attitude. However, instances like this don’t occur often enough for Blas. He engaged in the seventh-fewest defensive duels (4.9 per 90) of Nantes’ 23 players to have enjoyed Ligue 1 minutes last season, while he also made the seventh-fewest interceptions (1.99 per 90) of any La Maison Jaune man.

Furthermore, Blas had a defensive duel success rate of just 54.12% in the league last season, ranking him fifth-lowest in that particular area among Nantes players. So, his level of defensive contribution and defensive quality when he does contribute can both do with some improvement.

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Figure 16

We see an example from this same game of Blas failing to really get stuck in defensively in figure 16. Here, the opposition ball carrier can get quite close to Blas without the Nantes man really engaging him for the ball. He kind of slowly edges towards the player threatening to stick a foot in but never does enough to actually even put the ball carrier off, let alone dispossess him.

You’d like to see a bit more intent to regain the ball from Blas when engaging in defensive duels and a bit more tenacity in his play. He doesn’t need to become a pressing machine (though it wouldn’t hurt) but at least committing fully to the defensive duels when he does need to engage in them would add to his game and his team’s performance both defensively and offensively.

Conclusion

To conclude this tactical analysis and scout report looking at Nantes star Blas, we feel Blas could be best suited to a wide position rather than a central position but the freedom to roam about and occupy space where it opens up in a place where he can help his team is an important skill he possesses too that we wouldn’t want to limit too much. However, still, an advanced wide position may get the best out of Blas right now, in our view, due to the qualities we discussed above in the article.

Blas’ key strengths lie in his off-the-ball movement to exploit space and his ball-carrying/dribbling quality. Meanwhile, the player can improve in terms of shot selection, penetrative passing, physically and all-around defensively.

He remains an exciting talent with plenty of positive qualities who is certainly good enough for Europa League level, having played a massive role in Nantes reaching the competition this term.

However, Blas is a frustrating one because he has so much ability and could become a lot more than he is right now. Whether or not he ultimately goes on to do that remains to be seen and you do get the sense that he needs the right environment/right coach to get the most out of him but hopefully, we’ve shown some of the ways in which he can progress to maximise his potential in this scout report.