Mohamed Ben Romdhane scout report: Why UCL clubs are following the 21-year-old ES Tunis midfielder
After being the second-top scorer of the CAF Champions League with five goals playing as a central midfielder, Mohamed Ben Romdhane has attracted plenty of interest from clubs like Lille, Olympique Marseille, Galatasaray and Besiktas.
The 21-year-old Tunisian player has had a fantastic season for his home-country club ES Tunis and at the moment he’s one of the hottest properties in African football. In this tactical analysis, we’ll see what he could bring to his new club in Europe and what he needs to develop to become a fully dominant midfielder.
Ben Romdhane is a right-footed central midfielder who can play in a variety of positions and roles in midfield depending on the tactics his team uses. Usually the most attacking player in a midfield three, he could also adapt to playing in a double pivot or as the 10 in a 4-2-3-1. What’s clear is that he needs at least one and usually two midfielders playing behind him to take full advantage of his range of movement and attacking threat.
Physically, Ben Romdhane stands at 185cm / 6’1’’ and is very coordinated and elegant in his movements. He has a good pace thanks to his long legs and can cover big distances at a good speed effortlessly.
Two basic stats help us understand Ben Romdhane’s playing style. On the ball, he usually moves the ball quickly from side to side, using his great technique to keep the attacks fluid and get the ball to the wingers in good conditions. After that, he’s excellent at running into the box and getting into scoring positions. His passing accuracy of 88% combined with his 0.28 goals from 0.23 xG per 90 reinforce this analysis.
In defence, he works hard but is the least defensive-minded player in ES Tunis’ midfield. He uses his long legs very well to recover the ball and has all the conditions to become a box-to-box midfielder who can help in all aspects of the game.
In the next sections of the tactical analysis, we’ll have a deeper look into some of the key aspects of Ben Romdhane’s playing style.
Accelerating the attacks
As we mentioned in the previous section of this scout report, Ben Romdhane is usually the most advanced central midfielder in his team. This means he usually stays between the lines, patiently waiting to receive the ball and accelerate the attacks from there. As a highly technical player, he can also drop deep when his team is struggling in the build-up but does better in more advanced positions.
Ben Romdhane’s first touch and body shape when receiving between the lines are excellent. He can easily turn and face the goal with simple and elegant touches before rivals can press him. Once he turns, he can either run with the ball and carry it forward with his great technique and long legs or play quick switch long/medium passes to the wings to then continue his runs into the box. He reads the game very well to switch the play and create space and time for him to get into scoring positions.
The sequence below illustrates this positioning behind the rival pressing line and how he then accelerates the attack. In the first picture, ES Tunis are being pressed in their box and Ben Romdhane gets himself into the free space behind the pressing rivals, creating a passing lane. In the second one, we see him after receiving, turning and running forward with the ball. In the exact moment shown, he’s shielding the ball from the rival before passing the ball into the run of the winger, setting up a good attacking play.
Despite his size and physicality suggesting the opposite, Ben Romdhane is a skilled dribbler with excellent technique and creativity to get away from rivals and play in tight spaces. He’s very elegant and likes to show his ability, much in the line of other North African players like Man City’s Riyad Mahrez or Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech, both in the EPL.
He loves to use stepovers and feints to force rivals to move or attract them before going the other way or releasing the ball. He’s intelligent with these moves and they usually have an intention apart from just dribbling the player and he tries to create space for his teammates and force rivals out of position.
In the example below, we see Ben Romdhane running with the ball and making a step over. With this feint, he forces the defender in front of him to move, freeing the way for his teammate to receive the ball and continue running forward.
This skill on the ball combined with his long stride makes him a player capable of breaking lines with progressive carries and leading transitions with powerful runs with the ball. He can play himself out of pressure with his change of pace and speed and attacks spaces with the ball at his feet.
The play below is a good example of this. He starts the play surrounded by three players, attracts them with a couple of body feints and then takes a long touch to fly past the two rivals and advance into the opposition half at full speed.
In this section, we have seen Ben Romdhane’s role in his team ball progression and also at accelerating the attacks. The final intention of all these movements is getting the ball into good positions, mostly on the wings, to then attack spaces in and around the box. In the next section, we’ll see how he moves in attack and how he achieved his excellent scoring figures.
Movement in the final third & scoring mentality
Ben Romdhane has lots of things that catch the eye: size, technical quality, passing range… But there’s one that makes him stand out from the rest of the central midfielders and that’s his scoring ability. In this section of the scout report, we’ll focus on his movement and finishing in the attacking third.
This season, Ben Romdhane has scored 10 goals in 35 games, five in the Tunisian Ligue 1 and five in the CAF Champions League. He has only become a scoring threat this season as he had only scored one goal before in his career but looking at his xG, it looks like he has developed that scoring mentality rather than having gone through a lucky spell.
The first thing we need to mention before going into detail is that Ben Romdhane shoots a lot and scores from different positions. He has an excellent shot from distance, both in open play and set-pieces, and also gets into great scoring positions in the box. This unpredictability makes him a difficult to defend player and he uses that to his favour in his movements. The shot map below serves to illustrate how he’s a goal threat from different parts of the pitch.
Let’s now take a look at how Ben Romdhane gets into scoring positions in the box. Running from the second line, Ben Romdhane has a full overview of how his teammates and rivals move in front of him and he understands very well where the spaces may appear and times his movements accordingly. He also has the change of pace to arrive where he needs to be in the exact moment instead of waiting there.
When Ben Romdhane is waiting between the lines but the ball flies over his head and into the run of the strikers or wingers, he’s quick to react and take advantage of the spaces that appear when the rival defenders run towards their goal. With the defenders running away from him, he just needs to time his movements to get into good positions but without getting too close and keeping enough separation to shoot.
The picture below is a very good example. The ball goes directly from the back and over the rival defensive into the run of the forward. As soon as the ball flies over him, Ben Romdhane starts running forward knowing the defensive line will move away from him and there will be space to receive at the edge of the box.
When making runs into the box, Ben Romdhane is very coordinated with his teammates and understands their movements to take advantage of the spaces they create. When the striker runs in behind, he knows there will be space at the edge of the box as the rivals get deeper; when the striker comes deep to receive with his back to the goal, he knows spaces will appear in behind as the defenders follow the striker.
An example of the latest can be seen below. ES Tunis striker comes deep to offer a progressive passing option with his marker following him. This creates a space behind the rival centre-back and Ben Romdhage quickly runs into it, receiving the pass over the defensive line and creating an excellent chance.
Once inside the box, Ben Romdhane has a great scoring instinct and changes directions and pace often to anticipate the defenders and attack free spaces as a striker would do. The movement pictured below is one a classic nine would do, running towards the far post and changing directions to the near post at the moment the pass is happening and leaving the defender with no time to react.
Finally, Ben Romdhane has an excellent finishing from the edge of the box. When he cuts inside from the left and into his strong right foot, he combines power and accuracy and is unpredictable as he has scored curling the ball into the far post or going for a harder shot into the near post.
Below we see how he hits the ball into the top corner from the edge of the box. A player like him who can get into the box and score like a striker and also stay deeper and threaten from distance is a headache for the rivals and someone who will always attract attention and create spaces for others.
Adding goals from midfield is one of the most valuable traits a central midfielder can have and Ben Romdhane has developed that in a very consistent way over the last year. He still has room for improvement in some areas as we’ll see in the next section of the analysis.
Areas of improvement
If we think about Ben Romdhane as a player who understands the game very well, has an excellent technique and is physically capable of holding players and winning duels, then we would probably expect him to create chances and assist quite often. However, that’s not the case for him yet.
Ben Romdhane has a great vision and spots his teammates’ runs all the time and tries to create chances with killer passes from several positions, both through balls or long balls over the defensive line. However, he hasn’t found the
Accuracy to create chances. Has great vision but his final pass isn’t always executed with the appropriate accuracy. Below, we see all his key passes from last season. The creativity is clearly there but he’s not hitting the passes correctly and most of them don’t create a chance.
This is not excessively worrying because the technique is there and the vision too. He just needs some fine-tuning in his delivery and a small improvement in his decision-making process so he doesn’t attempt those passes that are too difficult.
If he manages to take these steps, he will start creating lots of chances too and will become a complete attacking threat for his team.
Ben Romdhane was one of the most exciting players in last season’s CAF Champions League and it’s not surprising that many UCL teams in France and Turkey are looking at him as a young option for their midfield.
His elegance, understanding of the game and attacking threat should translate nicely to a higher level and at 21 he has plenty of time to improve in other areas to become a total midfielder who can dominate at the highest level.