Sandie Toletti 2019/20: Paris Saint-Germain Feminine midfield options – scout report
This article is a continuation of the one posted last week that looked at using data to bring in a new central/defensive midfielder to Paris Saint-Germain Feminine. You can find that analysis here where we shortlisted a number of targets that PSG could target in the summer who fit the bill based on the metrics used. Based on the issues Gavin Robertson identified in his analysis of Paris Saint-Germain Feminine and Formiga coming to the end of her career at 41-years of age, PSG’s need to find a replacement in the heart of midfield becomes imperative.
Data has become such an integral factor in assessing transfer targets for recruitment departments. PSG women are on the cusp of breaking the dominant Olympique Lyon by being three points behind them in Division 1 Feminine (at the time of writing). For them to be able to move into the top tier of women’s football, they will need an astute and technically gifted midfielder to bring balance and aid them at both ends of the pitch.
This tactical analysis scout report will dive deeper into the targets we identified in last week’s article and assess their suitability of fitting into Paris Saint-Germain Feminine’s tactics. We will revisit their main statistics and assess them based on three core attributes: defensive capabilities, playmaking ability, and positional awareness. These three topics will give us a perspective on how these players can perform in PSG’s system.
Paris Saint-Germain Feminine’s system
First, let us outline PSG’s general style of play and specifically focus on central midfield to outline the issues and what qualities these targets need to possess. PSG usually operate in a 4-3-3 formation that typically holds two forward-thinking central midfielders and one defensive midfielder. Their attacking structure is predicated around the midfield three whose movement and positioning is key to PSG’s attacks. Grace Geyoro, Formiga, and Nadia Nadim are the three first-choice midfielders in this setup. One major point to highlight is PSG’s versatility to adapt and change formation within matches. For example, while they may start off in a 4-3-3, the team converts to a 4-2-3-1 to a 5-3-2 formation depending on whether they are on the front foot or defending. Nadim is key to this because of her profound ability to fill in gaps that are needed in attacking situations. Whether she lots in at left-wing or attacking midfield, she has a positive effect on PSG’s forward movements. Here Formiga will use her passing ability to distribute possession to the forward-thinking players alongside Geyoro who act as the double-pivot. The full-backs – especially the right side – are given license to bomb forward and provide attacking thrust.
From defensive setup, the team are excellent at creating compact, low-block shapes that are designed to keep dominant opposition out. As I mentioned earlier, PSG are able to change formations and usually opt for a 5-4-1 from their 4-3-3 when playing against possession-based teams. While Nadim influences the forward line, Geyoro and Formiga have more of an effect in this phase of play. Geyoro and Formiga’s role changes depending on the opposition. Against Lyon, Geyoro was tasked with being the deepest lying midfielder and fulfilled the half-back role. She essentially became the third centre-back while Formiga was deployed in front of the defence, spraying passes when possession was won back. PSG also employ a high pressing scheme that is highlighted by their passes per defensive action (PPDA) statistic. The second-place team has been averaging a 5.34 PPDA. Compared to Lyon with 6, and other continental rivals like Wolfsburg at 7.06 and Arsenal at 7.93, this represents the side’s emphasis on regaining possession at the earliest possible opportunity.
However, there are flaws in PSG’s system, one being the space left between the full-backs and centre-backs with the right-back flying forward. As a result, it requires the midfielders to cover more ground and this is where PSG face problems. With Formiga not the most mobile player, she isn’t able to cover as much ground and therefore leaving the team with space in behind. Having someone who can freely shuffle across in and around the penalty area is of utmost importance, especially when playing against teams in the Champions League. They face Arsenal in next month’s knockout round and the London club are known to keep possession and are extremely dangerous in the final third with the likes of Danielle van de Donk, Beth Mead, and Vivianne Miedema all technically proficient ball carriers.
With this information in mind, we now have a clearer idea of the type of profile Paris Saint-Germain Feminine need to go for. Now, let’s take a closer look at the first realistic option PSG could opt for.
Montpellier’s Sandie Toletti
Sandie Toletti plies her football in Division 1 Feminine for French side Montpellier. An experienced practitioner with 111 appearances at just 24-years of age. In a nutshell, Toletti is a playmaking midfielder that’s more effective in her passing than defensive work. Let us remind ourselves of her season’s statistics and we’ll use that to breakdown her strengths using in-game examples. Montpellier play in a compact 4-4-2 formation with Toletti at the heart of the double-pivot. Her role is that of an all-action deep-lying playmaker, who actively tracks runners and works in tandem with her central midfield partner.
The most obvious traits that stand out is her average forward passes per 90 minutes and recoveries per 90 minutes. What is even more impressive is her conversation rate of forward passes per 90 minutes which sits close to approximately 72%. That immediately jumps out and gives PSG a way of progressing possession forwards. Looking back at the other PSG midfielders, Toletti’s statistics for average forward passes blow them out of the water. The next highest figure belongs Aminata Diallo at 17.73 making Toletti an excellent passer. The Montpellier midfielder is essentially a hook between the defence and attack, collecting possession from her centre-backs and supplying passes into the forward players connecting the team together. A strong presence in midfield, she is a dynamic passer who is capable of playing different types of passes to break down teams and dictate the tempo of a game. While Toletti is defensively aware, she is better playing a supporting role when it comes to the defensive side of her game in midfield.
We already know that PSG are a team proficient at keeping shape and rely on their defensive solidarity to build on their attacking structure. This is an area that Toletti can improve in but is slightly underrated. Besides her ability on the ball, Toletti is capable of putting in a defensive shift. As we’ve mentioned in this article earlier, she makes 10.53 recoveries and 5.8 defensive duels per 90 minutes. Part of what makes Toletti decent in a defensive capacity is her positioning that puts her in a good place to stop the opposition from advancing. She relies on interceptions as her defensive weapon of choice, anticipating the opponent’s movements towards their penalty area.
What Toletti does possess is timing and the strength to challenge in defensive duels against attacking players. Her physical strength has been a feature of her game being able to come up against even the strongest strikers. Combined with her anticipation, we can see an example of these attributes to diffuse the situation above. Before the opposition attacker drives into the box, Toletti spots the pass and makes her move to intercept the striker.
When Toletti reaches the striker, we can see the challenge she puts in to knock the attacker off the ball quite easily and deals with the situation. While Paris Saint-Germain Feminine may be a more possession dominant team against a number of teams in the league, the teams in the Champions League and Lyon will command the majority of possession. Toletti will be very useful alongside Geyoro giving Nadim a platform to work off of.
Another attribute in Toletti’s locker is her ability to identify when she needs to close down a player or stand off. She may seem to lack pace, but her positioning and intelligence allows her to decide when to close down an opposition player. In the example above, we can see how she holds her position instead of pushing towards the attacker because it would give the player a quicker decision to make and possibly miss out. In this case, she makes herself look big and forces the attacker to try and either drive past her, in which case her physical attributes come into play, or play a pass. Toletti manages to intercept the ball and put her team on a counter-attack.
However, Toletti has lapses of concentration when tracking back into her box. While she is efficient at tracking runners, she is prone to ball watching which gives her opponents space to attack the ball. As I’ve mentioned earlier, Toletti is much better alongside a more defensive-minded player and while she does play in a double-pivot 4-4-2 for Montpellier, I feel like her skillset would fare better in a 4-3-3 that PSG employ. This would allow her to dictate play and provide extra protection to her defence. Toletti is excellent at supporting a defensive midfielder but struggles if the responsibility is left to herself. This makes her statistic of 5.5 recoveries in the opposition half make more sense because she has players behind her to provide cover giving her the license to take risks.
Deep-lying playmakers often draw attention away and take the pressure off the players around them and use their exquisite passing ability to create space and break down opposition defences. Collecting possession from the central defenders, these playmakers will play short or long-ranged passes depending on the team’s tactics and options available. They struggle against high pressing teams, however, but the very best playmakers will more often than not use their nimble feet and anticipation to evade oncoming defenders. Playing quick passes is part of their repertoire to alleviate pressure. Even though the role we’re looking to fill in is one of a box to box midfielder, I believe Toletti is capable of fulfilling this role because of the way she utilises her traits, which will be explained in more detail below.
Toletti is capable of playing this role for Montpellier. Her excellent ball carrying skills make her efficient at quickly recycling possession across midfield. Essentially, she brings two skills to the table, firstly, her ability to alleviate pressure and second, her wide passing range. Toletti doesn’t want to waste time on the ball and looks to play quick-fire passes to a nearby teammate or a long pass if there is a free attacker. Against teams where Montpellier dominate possession, she drops slightly deeper to collect possession and sprays passes into the wide areas to release the wingers or their powerful centre-forward Valerie Gauvin. Gauvin benefited from these types of passes when playing for France with Amandine Henry playing a similar role from deep in central midfield. Gauvin can run the channels and win aerial duels to bring others into play. Toletti makes on average 50.5 passes per 90 minutes with 40.5 of them accurate passes which proves her want to constantly keep the ball ticking over. This season she has averaged 22.46 forward passes per 90 minutes indicating her willingness to want to push the ball out towards her attackers.
Here we can see, Toletti collects possession and runs towards a compact and disciplined team. The opposition team has set up deep trying to man-mark each Montpellier player to keep things tight. Toletti spots one of her teammates free and plays a quick pass into her and makes a move to the opposition’s right side. As a result, this has created time and space for Toletti to find a better, penetrative pass to break down the opposition defensive structure.
Combined with the clever movement of her teammates, the pass has given the midfielder a couple of options. One pass has opened up through the centre and the wide right area. Toletti picks the second pass because of the abundance of space available and gives the striker a chance to find space in the box to score.
Despite being an effective passer and doing most of her good work from a slightly deeper position, Toletti has been seen in and around the opposition penalty area. When it comes to building out from the back she’s seen in front of her central defenders as a passing option and transitions herself into the final through progressive passes and good off the ball movement. In some sense, we can classify her as a box-to-box midfielder, but her skillset heavily leans towards her playmaking style. However, if she wants to improve as a complete midfielder, Toletti will need to improve the frequency and quality of runs. She possesses the athleticism and positional awareness to find the right runs. The statistics speak for themselves, with 1.48 progressive runs per 90 minutes and 2.2 dribbles per 90 minutes, however, she does have a success rate of 72.4%. The reason behind this is her ball progression ability through one-touch passing techniques. Toletti is much more efficient in central midfield positions on the ball when players are pressing her as she has slightly more space to find passes. We find her making more off the ball movements after playing a quick-fire pass into another attacking teammate.
The map above is an example of Toletti’s offensive duels won in a Division 1 Feminine game. In this match against Fleury 91, Toletti won all 10 duels and helped her team advance further into the final third more through her passing than dribbling. Even her heat map proves her want to sit just outside the penalty area.
This example shows one of the by-products of Toletti’s runs into the box. Here we can see her making a diagonal run after playing a one-two passing combination with her teammate. The ball eventually makes its way to the right-wing and the opposition’s focus is on the players in the box already.
Toletti’s run across distracts three of the defenders allowing the ball receiver (white) a chance to turn and shoot with extra few yards of space. The amount of space created by Toletti’s run even puts her in a good position to either receive a pass or pounce on any potential rebound opportunity.
Is Sandie Toletti the answer?
Based on the analysis, Toletti is an excellent playmaker and tempo controller but lacks the dribbling skill to directly influence play through her running. Although, she does have the potential to be converted into a bit more of a direct midfielder. With a good sense of positioning and ability with the ball, Toletti’s improvement could come from playing in a three-man midfield system where she is given more protection.
Toletti represents a solid, experienced option for Paris Saint-Germain Feminine and one that could prove to be a shrewd acquisition. Her signing could even see a shuffle in midfield with Diallo coming to a deep-lying role with Geyoro pushed up alongside Toletti who can provide thrust from midfield. Geyoro has scored six goals and two assists this season already.