Moussa Niakhate 2019/20 – scout report
Moussa Niakhaté is a 24-year-old footballer who currently plays as a defender for Bundesliga side FSV Mainz 05. He joined FSV Mainz 05 in the summer of 2018 and, during the 2019/20 season, he has started 33 out of the 34 league games the team has been involved in. Niakhaté is a key figure in the FSV Mainz 05 backline, having played as a central defender in 31 games this campaign. When FSV Mainz 05 played with a back three, Niakhaté would find himself playing on the left side of the three.
Niakhaté has captained the side in 12 games during the 2019/20 season, which has seen him been a leader and role model on the pitch. His impressive performances this season have caught the eye of some big clubs across Europe, with AS Roma looking to land the Frenchman, as well as interest from Ligue 1 side Stade Rennais, who are looking to bolster their defence in preparation for the UEFA Champions League next season.
This scout report will examine Niakhaté’s performance this season and analyse the main strengths of his role as a defensive player. In the form of a tactical analysis, we will highlight Niakhaté’s technical ability in possession, as well as his role out of possession. The analysis will conclude by analysing his defensive duties and how he prevents the opposition from being successful.
Niakhaté’s average position this season
Before this analysis digs deeper into Niakhaté’s traits as a player this season, it is important to understand and set the scene as to where specifically on the pitch Niakhaté plays and how this might affect how he plays. As a left-footed player, he has found himself carrying out his duties on the left side, whether that is playing as a left central defender in a back four, left central defender in a back three, or sometimes playing as an out and out left-back.
As we can see from the above graphic, Niakhaté has heavily dominated the left side of the pitch and hasn’t found himself playing in the opposition’s half as much as in his own half. It could be argued that it is a result of the overall teams’ tactics that prevent their defensive players from playing in the opposition’s half, which is why Niakhaté’s average position this season is mostly in his defensive third. With this being said, his performances in these defensive areas have been vital in preventing FSV Mainz 05 from being relegated from the German top flight.
Technical passing ability in possession
One of the many reasons why Niakhaté is on the radar of many top clubs across Europe is due to his technical ability when in possession of the ball. During this season, Niakhaté has attempted 1450 passes, of which, 1177 have been successful, gaining an 81.2% pass completion rate. He has attempted more medium passes than short or long this campaign and has an 88.6% medium pass completion rate. In Niakhaté’s left-sided defensive position, being able to accurately produce medium/long term passes could prove vital in advancing his team through the thirds, as well as placing his team in key areas when in the attacking transition.
In this scenario in the away game against Augsburg, FSV Mainz 05 played with a back three and Niakhaté can be seen in possession of the ball on the left side. Under pressure from the Augsburg attacking right player, Niakhaté produces a lofted, medium pass into his attacking teammates, which bypasses the central midfielders and places his team in the opposition’s half. Although he had other, shorter passing options to retain possession, Niakhaté’s ability to accurately perform medium passes under pressure to advance his team up the pitch is a trait that the team can use.
We can also see in the image that the FSV Mainz 05 current manager, Achim Beierlorzer, was encouraging Niakhaté to play the ball long to find the attacking players, rather than playing a shorter pass which would no doubt have retained possession in their own half.
In the game against Borussia Monchengladbach, Niakhaté can be seen once more play a forward pass which takes his team out of trouble and into an attacking teammate who then has the opportunity to create overloads in advanced positions of the pitch.
In this example, Niakhaté has possession of the ball deep in his own third and looks to progress the ball into the midfield third. We again see him under pressure, this time by the Gladbach attacking midfielder. Instead of hopelessly kicking the ball upfield and hoping his team somehow retain possession of the ball, he plays a progressive pass which splits the two Gladbach attacking players into the awaiting Robin Quaison, who is ready to receive to take the ball forwards.
Not only did Niakhaté identify advanced players who are in positions to receive, but the timing and weight of the pass were perfect for his team to advance through the thirds. The weight of the pass allowed his teammate to receive and exploit the space at that moment. The timing of the pass was perfect which meant he didn’t spend too much time on the ball to lose possession from the direct press and played the pass at the right time to allow overloads in the midfield third to happen due to Gladbach’s midfielders being out of position.
Niakhaté currently sits 68th out of 71 in the most played passes by defenders table this season. He averages 40.02 passes per 90, compared to Bayer Leverkusen’s central defender Edmond Tapsoba who averages 80.86 passes per 90. This analysis does appreciate that the tactics of the team may prevent Niakhaté from making more passes and would rather adopt a more ‘direct’ approach when their defenders are in possession. However, Niakhaté’s technical ability when performing a pass, even if it is seen as being more direct, is accurate which give his team a huge chance of being successful in dangerous areas.
In the same game against Gladbach, Niakhaté is again seen to play a progressive pass into the midfield third, which not only retains possession but sees his team break down the first lines of the press.
Although not under direct pressure, Niakhaté has clear passing lanes to his left who can then progress the ball forwards on the left-hand side of the pitch or he can play a short pass into Jeremiah St. Juste who has made a move in between the two attacking players to create a clear passing line. However, Niakhaté plays a split, progressive pass forwards into Ridle Baku, who has come short to create an additional passing lane.
Although FSV Mainz 05 failed to gain three points from this game, Niakhaté’s technical ability to progress the ball forwards and produce progressive passes is a skill which allows his team to be more direct when in possession and looking to build-up play from the back.
Niakhaté averages 9.27 progressive passes per 90 and in the game against Frankfurt, we saw him produce a forward progressive pass which broke the lines of the Frankfurt out of possession unit to advance his time into the final third.
In this situation, Niakhaté looks to progress once more and this time plays into Taiwo Awoniyi who looks to receive in the left side half-space. As Awoniyi receives, he can then take his first touch into space, which creates another overload and brings other teammates into the game. Off the ball, runners provide options of support to Awoniyi.
The timing and weight of passes by Niakhaté again enable his team to progress through the thirds, break down the opposition lines and into dangerous areas to isolate opposition defenders. This strength Niakhaté holds is one of the main traits he possesses as a central defender.
Niakhaté’s role out of possession
In addition to Niakhaté’s strong traits when in possession of the ball, he is also a vital player in the deployment of his team’s tactics to regain possession and prevent the opposition from attacking into important areas. This season, Niakhaté averaged 7.1 defensive duels per 90 and had a 65.73% success rate of these duels. He has applied pressure to an opponent 373 times and 32.7% of the time his team has regained possession of the ball directly from this applied pressure.
In the game against Hertha Berlin, we saw Niakhaté’s role when his team didn’t have the ball and when he went to apply pressure to the opposing player.
As the ball was played into Krzysztof Piatek in the right half-space from Niklas Stark on the right wing, Niakhaté’s role when the ball is in this area and his team are out of possession is clearly evident. In this game, FSV Mainz 05 played in a back three with Niakhaté playing on the left of the three. As the ball is played into Piatek who drops in to receive, Niakhaté follows him to apply pressure to prevent him from turning or receiving the ball. Although this movement forces him out of position, the defensive structure and cover mean Hertha are unable to exploit the space Niakhaté has left due to him following the run of Piatek.
Five minutes later in the same game against Hertha, Niakhaté again goes to press the receiving player to prevent him from turning and exploiting the space on the counterattack, but this time it is higher up the pitch in the opposition’s half.
The pass is again destined for Piatek after Hertha look to counterattack after regaining possession, Niakhaté is the first player to press to prevent Hertha from counterattacking and overloading the defensive players. Niakhaté’s main role is to stop Piatek from receiving and turning into the two areas marked by the two rectangles in the above image. If Piatek is able to turn into these areas, then FSV Mainz 05 find themselves in either a 2 v 2 situation on the halfway line or, worst case, an overload situation with supporting players from deep.
As soon as the ball is progressed upfield in the transitional phase from defence to attack into the Hertha’s attacking players on the left side, this triggers Niakhaté to go and make the first pressing action to prevent them from exploiting the space in behind. Meanwhile, the other defensive players will provide the cover and balance to Niakhaté in a compact shape as we see above which prevents Hertha from progressing through the central area.
In the first half against Frankfurt, we see Niakhaté implementing his out of possession role when the ball is played into the central area in his own half.
As soon as the ball is played into the Frankfurt striker who has dropped into the middle third to receive, this triggers Niakhaté to carry out his role and go and press the receiver to prevent them from turning and force them to play a backwards pass. Beierlorzer set up the team in a back four in this game and on many occasions one of the back four would step out into the midfield third to instigate the pressing action, just like we see Niakhaté performing in this image.
It is clear that Niakhaté has a highly defined role in the team’s tactics when out of possession. As soon as the ball is progressed into the strikers in certain areas of the pitch by the opposition, Niakhaté will start the press to prevent them from progressing further and keep their out-of-possession compact shape.
Successful implementation of defensive duties
In the last part of this analysis, we will look at Niakhaté’s implementation of his defensive duties and how he prevents the opposition from capitalising on being in dangerous positions with the ball. This season, Niakhaté has attempted to tackle 56 opposition players and won 41 of these. Niakhaté averages 7.1 defensive duels per 90 and 65.73% of these are successful duels. He has won 42 duels on the left flank and 29 in the penalty area. Niakhaté is a vital player in the FSV Mainz 05 defensive setup and holds strong qualities off the ball to prevent the opposition from being successful.
In the game against Hoffenheim, the home side are on the counterattack and looking to exploit the space in an overload situation. As St. Juste goes to deny Hoffenheim from advancing on the counter, Niakhaté makes a regressive run off the ball to block the passing line to the Hoffenheim support player.
Instead of going to press the player receiving the ball, Niakhaté identifies the space off the ball which could be a dangerous area for the ball to be played into and manages to regain possession and prevent Hoffenheim from being in with a goal-scoring opportunity.
To be able to make successful interceptions, a defender not only has to have the correct body position but has to be in the correct positions off the ball to allow them to intercept and regain possession. In the game against FC Koln, we can see Niakhaté obtaining a position as the last defender to intercept and prevent an attack.
As the ball was played over the top for the FC Koln striker to run onto, Niakhaté anticipated this ball being played and enabled his body to be in the sideways position which meant he was able to turn and follow the run from the striker. Niakhaté closed down the receiving player which allowed his teammates to make recovery runs back into position.
If Niakhaté wasn’t in a sideways position and was caught ‘flat-footed’, then he wouldn’t have been able to turn quickly and follow the run, meaning the striker would have been in on goal and could have found themselves behind.
This season, Niakhaté has made 42 interceptions and has made 54 blocks. Of these blocks, 29 have been a block from a shooting attempt. In the game against Augsburg, we saw Niakhaté performing one of these essential blocks deep in his own penalty area.
As the Augsburg player looks to get a shot away at goal, Niakhaté times his block to perfection to prevent the ball from going to goal and instead goes out for a corner kick. Niakhaté provided the cover to his teammates and went to go and close down the angle to make it difficult for the attacker to strike at goal.
This analysis has delved into Niakhaté’s performance this season and identified the strong technical traits he holds when in possession of the ball. This allows his team to advance through the thirds and into positions where they can hurt the opposition. In addition, this analysis has also looked at Niakhaté’s role in his team’s out-of-possession tactics and when the trigger point is for him to go and press the opposition to try and regain possession.
Lastly, this analysis has looked at Niakhaté’s defensive duties and the strong positional sense he holds, as well as timing his runs off the ball to intercept key passes and shots at the goal.
Niakhaté is a highly-recognised figure within the FSV Mainz 05 squad and will continue to improve as a defender. It is no surprise that he is catching the eye of numerous clubs across Europe and experience in the UEFA Champions League would allow him to develop even further.