Samuel Kalu 2019/20 – scout report
It may be fair to say that Samuel Kalu didn’t enjoy the best start to 2020. The 22-year-old winger featured in each of Girondins de Bordeaux’s last three Ligue 1 games prior to the postponement of professional football in France, however, prior to those three games Kalu had sat out five straight Ligue 1 fixtures, featuring in just one other game for Bordeaux in 2020.
The Nigeria international struggled with injury and had questions raised over his level of commitment by Bordeaux manager Paulo Sousa, however, the winger has shown plenty of promising signs on the pitch thus far during his time in France since moving to Bordeaux from KAA Gent in the summer of 2018.
In this tactical analysis piece, in the form of a scout report, we will attempt to examine Kalu’s strengths and weaknesses and how both of those are highlighted by his various different roles within Les Girondins’ tactics at times.
Kalu’s dribbling quality is one of his more noticeable and most important traits. The winger is capable of beating multiple men with his tricky dribbling ability. His impressive balance and agility, in addition to his speed and power, help him to perform well when running at opposition defenders and make him an asset to his side on the ball in a variety of different scenarios.
As we mentioned in the introduction to this tactical analysis piece, Kalu is a player who has performed in a variety of different roles within Bordeaux’s tactics. Les Girondins’ most commonly used formations are the 3-4-2-1 shape and the 4-2-3-1 shape. Bordeaux have lined up in one of these two formations in 68.7% of their league fixtures this term, according to Wyscout.
Kalu has played in a variety of roles within these shapes, including the deep, right-sided midfield role, the central attacking midfield role, and the left-wing role. The player has performed in each of these positions to varying degrees of success thus far throughout the 2019/20 campaign, as each position requires Kalu to tap into a different part of his game, with some roles highlighting more of his best qualities than others. We will discuss his strengths and weaknesses throughout this tactical analysis piece and attempt to explain which roles may suit the winger best, based on his performances this season.
Kalu’s dribbling ability is one trait which the winger can exhibit to a fairly strong extent regardless of where he is playing, as the attacker can operate well when running in behind, thanks to his power and pace, in addition to operating well when running at defenders, thanks to his impressive technical ability on the ball, balance, and agility.
This first image above is taken from a game in which Kalu lined up on the left-wing. Here, we can see the Nigerian attacker on the ball, attempting to cut inside from the wing, while he is supported by another wide man who is making an overlapping run. However, Kalu only has eyes for the small gap between the two opposition defenders in front of him here. As he cuts inside, he manages to weave through this gap, exhibiting his agility, balance, and his impressive close control.
The two Saint-Étienne defenders who have come out to approach Kalu leave enough space for the winger to cut inside and this is the area where the 22-year-old can typically cause the most damage on the pitch. If Kalu is kept to a distance, out wide, his threat is lessened considerably as opposed to if he is allowed to get into this area, in and around the edge of the penalty area.
Saint-Étienne fail to keep the winger away from this area on this occasion and Kalu proceeds to wreak havoc once he gets inside the box. This next image above shows us that as play moves on, the winger does successfully weave between the two defenders. The Saint-Étienne man nearest to the byline attempts to tackle Kalu and stop his threatening run, as we can see here, however, the 22-year-old powers through and ends up getting past the two defenders, continuing his run into the penalty area.
As this image here shows us, the Saint-Étienne defender who tried to tackle Kalu is ultimately left face down on the ground as the winger powered through his tackle. As the Nigerian continues his run, he drags out the next Saint-Étienne defender, as we can see here, who he also manages to evade by quickly cutting back to the outside, via the inside of his right foot and turning well to keep his dribble going, at pace, without allowing this next defender to really trouble him at all.
As he drives on towards the byline, Kalu manages to knock a low-cross in towards the six-yard box, threatening the Saint-Étienne goal. While the winger doesn’t manage to create a goal on this occasion, this kind of run is actually one that he has made on multiple occasions this season, particularly when playing from the left, and Bordeaux’s goal in this game was created after Kalu managed to pull off another dribble in the vein of this one that we have discussed here, showing how effective this aspect of his game can be.
Kalu can often be seen performing a stepover as we can see in the next image above in his games. On this occasion, the winger is playing from the right side of the pitch, however, as we discussed, his dribbling ability does tend to prove effective from either wing and furthermore, this particular skill is one which he performs frequently regardless of which wing he is playing off of as well.
As he approaches the penalty area and an opposition defender, Kalu performs a stepover with his outside leg. The Nigerian usually performs this move with his outside leg regardless of which wing he is on, so on this occasion, as he approaches the box from the right, he performs a stepover with his left foot, as he often does, however, on the left side of the pitch, he typically does this with his opposite foot.
However, the stepover isn’t the entirety of this movement that Kalu makes, as he always quickly knocks the ball towards the byline with his outside foot straight away after performing this quick stepover in an attempt to beat defenders and drive inside towards the goal or towards a close-range crossing position.
This next image shows us an example of this. As this particular passage of play moves on, Kalu quickly plants the left foot with which he had performed the stepover just seconds before and goes on to knock the ball towards the byline with his outside leg, as we can see here.
This movement is one which he frequently performs, often to great success. The winger manages to gain an extra step or two on his opponent via this movement and as a player who tends to perform well closer in proximity to the penalty area than he does further away from the box, the effectiveness of this movement makes it an important part of his repertoire on the pitch.
As this passage of play moves on, we can see that Kalu managed to get himself to the byline and create a crossing opportunity, beating the defender to this position as a result of his dribbling technique, in addition to his pace.
Once Kalu gets to this position, he dinks a cross into the box, meeting the welcoming head of his teammate Josh Maja, who finishes the move off with a goal. This shows how effective this particular aspect of Kalu’s dribbling quality is, in addition to the winger’s effectiveness in and around these areas close to the box, once again as we’d also seen an example of in the previous passage of play that we discussed.
The last element of Kalu’s dribbling ability that we will discuss is his effectiveness on the counterattack. The previous two passages of play that we have discussed have looked at Kalu’s ability to beat defenders, however, the winger is also effective on the counterattack, as we will now discuss, beginning with this next image above.
As we can see here, Bordeaux’s opponents, Dijon FCO, are retreating here as Les Girondins are breaking on the counter. With Bordeaux 2-0 up at this particular moment, as the scoreboard shows, it may not come as a surprise that Dijon were gambling a bit more and playing with plenty of men forward in the attack just prior to this image being taken, however, as Bordeaux win the ball back and begin to break, this leaves the defending side looking a bit bare in defence.
Les Girondins find Kalu with space to run into on the right-wing as they spring this counterattack and the 22-year-old goes on to show how important his power and pace are in these types of situations as this passage of play moves on. Here, we can see that the Dijon full-back is not too far from Kalu, though the Bordeaux attacker is a step or two ahead of the defender.
However, as play moves on, we can see that Kalu has burst forward and increased the amount of space between him and the defender as he continues to counterattack the weakened Dijon defence. We can see in this image that both men are sprinting, however, the defender is, at this point, struggling to keep up with the 22-year-old Bordeaux winger as he continues forward, attempting to put himself into a crossing position.
Kalu is a versatile attacker, however, his dribbling quality has proven to be useful for his side this term from a variety of different positions as well as a variety of different in-game situations, as each of these examples have shown. Kalu is effective both on the counterattack and when his side need to break down a deeper defence. This makes him a useful asset for his side.
We saw a glimpse of Kalu’s crossing ability in both the first and second passages of play in the previous section. There, we noted that the winger performs better within close proximity to the goal and the ideally just inside or on the very edge of the penalty box, as opposed to when he is deeper on the wing or further away from the goal and box.
Kalu manages to get himself into these areas where he is most effective more frequently when he is played in more advanced positions, such as either wing in Bordeaux’s 4-2-3-1 shape, as opposed to when he is played in deeper positions, such as the wide midfield roles within Bordeaux’s 3-4-2-1 shape.
We saw examples of Kalu in the closer area to the box in the previous section but just to recap, it’s important to note that the positions in which he originally picked up the ball on both occasions were close enough to the penalty box and additionally, in the first image, he had a man running behind him on the overlap, which is something that can help to create space for him as that run can effectively operate as a decoy of sorts.
However, when Kalu plays in deeper positions, he often picks up the ball deeper on the pitch, which often gives him a greater distance to have to travel to reach that area closer to the box in order to create effectively, naturally making it more difficult for him to get into the positions that we saw him occupy in the first two passages of play in the previous section.
In this next image, we can see Kalu occupying a slightly deeper position as the ball gets played out to him from the midfield. Here, we can clearly see that Kalu is occupying the right-sided midfielder position within Bordeaux’s 3-4-2-1 shape. On this occasion, the winger picks up the ball a bit further away from the box than he generally likes to operate and an opposition defender is approaching him, as we can see.
This opposition defender manages to keep Kalu away from getting inside the box and he prevents the winger from beating him on the outside. While the winger does manage to make his way closer towards the box than he was when he picked up the ball, he doesn’t manage to get inside the penalty area or make up as much ground as he did in some of the previous images that we have looked at.
Additionally, the lack of an overlapping player leaves Kalu in a 1v2 situation against two opposition defenders which makes life increasingly difficult for him on this occasion. We can see the winger lining up a cross here, however, he is playing the ball further away from the box than he did on the previous occasions which we’ve seen him play a cross, which ultimately doesn’t work out in his favour.
While Kalu is an impressive dribbler and he is good at playing those eye of the needle passes through defenders in close proximity to him, in addition to being good at playing crosses closer to the goal, both low and high, as we’ve already seen, Kalu’s long-passing ability isn’t quite as good as his playmaking ability from close-range and this means that when he is forced to play a cross from slightly further away than his ideal position, as he is on this occasion, he struggles to create a chance.
Additionally, as these two defenders are pressing him and Kalu is driving down the wing, he does ultimately end up swinging at the ball and playing the cross without really giving himself the time to get his head up and really pick out the pass and see where he wants the ball to go.
The winger keeps his head down prior to and while he lines up this cross and this may also be a contributing factor to why this cross, and plenty of the crosses Kalu makes in this style, doesn’t really come off. This is a frequently seen negative feature of Kalu’s game. When running at full speed, the winger often doesn’t allow himself the time to pick out a cross and this often results in the ball not finding its intended target.
This can occur, at times, when Kalu springs forward on the counterattack as he does sometimes rush the final ball when running at full speed and when placed further away from the box than he ideally likes to operate and it is a negative to the counterattacking side of his game as well as when he plays in a deeper position, such as the right midfield one we see him operating in here.
As Kalu plays this cross, the ball ultimately has far too much weight on it and it fails to meet any of the Bordeaux attackers who had been making runs towards the centre of the box. The ball ends up falling towards the far side of the penalty area and this attack amounts to little.
This passage of play shows us an area of his game that the Nigerian winger can still improve upon. This crossing from a further distance is an element of his game which rarely threatens the opposition when compared with his quality when operating in and around the edge of the penalty area. This cross doesn’t work out as well as the cross that we saw him pull off after his stepover in the previous section, indicating that while Kalu is a good playmaker, he may not operate as well when starting from deeper positions.
While Kalu’s dribbling quality tends to be effective regardless of which wing he plays from, his longshots are a useful aspect to his game which can be wasted when he is played from the right-wing.
Kalu likes to take on longshots, however, he is also right-footed and his left foot isn’t incredibly strong. The winger likes to cut inside and take on longshots from the left-wing and this is an effective aspect to his game which can trouble the opposition goalkeeper when he plays from the left. However, this part of his game isn’t as prominent when he is played from the right-wing.
The image above is taken from a Ligue 1 clash between Bordeaux and Paris Saint-Germain and here, we can see Kalu in possession of the ball and approaching the box from the left-wing. We saw in the first section in which we discussed Kalu’s dribbling that he likes to cut inside between opposition defenders and as we can see, the Nigerian has got that opportunity here and he manages to do so effectively once again, getting himself into the left half-space position where he can cause some damage from a distance.
As play moves on, we can see that Kalu’s movement has attracted plenty of PSG defenders to him in an attempt to thwart this attack, however, at this point, the winger is already lining up a shot, as we can see.
Kalu’s strike is a powerful and accurate one and as we can see in this next image, it does manage to test the goalkeeper who is forced to pull off an impressive save to keep the powerful strike from going into the net. On this occasion, the strike may have gone slightly too close to the centre of the goal, helping the PSG ‘keeper to make the save, however, this passage of play does provide us with an example of his longshot-taking ability and how effective that can be when he is played off the left-wing.
This is an aspect to Kalu’’s game which may be somewhat wasted when he is played from the right and it may be fair to say that it’s a tool that may be useful for his side.
Kalu doesn’t just offer his team quality on the ball, he also offers Les Girondins something off the ball. Kalu is a pacey and powerful player and this is evident both in his dribbling quality when in possession and in his attempts to win the ball back from the opposition when out of possession.
Bordeaux have engaged in an average of 69 defensive duels per 90 this season in Ligue 1, according to Wyscout, winning 57.8% of them. Meanwhile, Kalu has engaged in an average of 7.47 defensive duels per 90 this term, winning 51.3% of them. Additionally, the winger makes an average of 3.33 interceptions per 90, which may indicate that he is fairly engaged in his side’s efforts out of possession.
However, one aspect of Kalu’s intensity off the ball which can be negative for his side at times is his tendency to give away fouls. As we stated, Kalu is an intense player when trying to win the ball back and the opposition can sometimes take advantage of this by drawing simple fouls out of the winger. Kalu has made an average of 1.88 fouls per 90 in Ligue 1 this season, according to Wyscout.
This image above shows us an example of Kalu giving away a foul. The opposition defender is in possession of the ball here and he is in the process of playing a long-ball up the pitch towards his side’s attackers. As he lines up this long-ball, he draws pressure from Kalu who makes his way over to the opposition defender at pace.
As Kalu arrives at the opposition player, the ball has already left his boot but Kalu still follows through with this tackle, fouling the defender with his trailing right foot and giving away a free-kick. This particular free-kick isn’t necessarily in a dangerous position, however, while Kalu’s defensive efforts are a positive for his side, his tendency to give away fouls such as the one we’ve seen here is an aspect of his game that does allow some room for improvement for the 22-year-old winger.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece in the form of a scout report, it might be fair to say that Kalu’s dribbling ability and playmaking ability when in close proximity to the goal and operating just inside the edge of the penalty area may be the most positive aspects to his game. If you were to compare Kalu to a somewhat more high profile player, you might look to Bayern Munich winger Serge Gnabry as a player in a similar mould to the Bordeaux man, with regard to some key aspects of his game.
Additionally, while Kalu is a versatile player who can do a serviceable job in a variety of different positions, he can be used ineffectively at times in some positions which may not allow the winger to showcase his talents to the best of his ability. Kalu’s best position, based on this tactical analysis, may be the left-wing position where he can influence play more frequently within close proximity to the opposition penalty area, as well as having the option to cut inside onto his stronger right foot which he can have the option of pulling off a longshot with.
Kalu’s weak foot, his long-ball playing quality and his crossing from areas that are farther away from the penalty area are some of the areas that the 22-year-old can still improve upon to make himself an even more well-rounded player, however, when played to his strengths, Kalu is a very effective player at what he does and is one that should be watched closely.