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The next Dante: Exploring young left centre-backs for Nice - scout report

The next Dante: Exploring young left centre-backs for Nice – scout report

Throughout my time watching and writing about French football, few players have given me as much joy as Nice’s left centre-back, Dante (188cm/6’2”, 89kg/196lbs). At 39 years of age, the former Bayern Munich man, who won three Bundesliga titles and the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League during his time with the Bavarian giants, is still as important to Nice’s gameplan, strategy and tactics on the pitch as he was at the beginning of his time in Alpes-Maritimes back in 2016.

However, it appears as though the Brazilian is set to hang up his boots and take up a position on Nice’s technical staff at the end of the 2022/23 campaign, meaning Les Aiglons are now tasked with replacing the key centre-back.

Nice signed Youssouf Ndayashimiye from Turkish Super Lig side İstanbul Başakşehir in January and perhaps the Burundi international is lined up as a Dante replacement. However, Ndayishimiye brings a lot of different qualities to the table than Dante in terms of his playing style, is a right-footer and has primarily played on the right since joining Nice alongside Dante.

This doesn’t mean he’s not Dante’s replacement, Nice could be lining up a change in approach after Dante leaves the playing squad and view Ndayishimiye as the perfect replacement to instigate that change. But even with Ndayishimiye in the squad, Les Aiglons could do with an extra centre-back when removing Dante from their squad. Their other senior options in the squad at present are Ndayishimiye, of course, Jean-Clair Todibo and Mattia Viti.

So, we’ve decided to take a look at some other potential options Nice could consider for the left centre-back position following Dante’s departure, scouring some of Europe’s top leagues in order to find young talent with the right profile to suit Dante’s role within Nice’s squad.

We stop off in Greece, Spain and Ukraine in this analysis and scout report profiling three potential options for Nice, or another team of similar stature searching for a player similar in profile to Dante, this summer.

What’s Dante’s playing style and role?

Figure 1

Firstly, what about Dante himself? What’s his typical playing style and role? Dante’s role is most significant in possession. In fact, Total Football Analysis published an analysis article focusing solely on Dante’s role in possession with Nice back in October 2020 which could be worth a read complementary to this article!

He’s heavily involved in possession, as his high percentile ranking in passes per 90 suggests, while he’s got good passing accuracy too and typically plays a relatively high number of forward passes and progressive passes.

The long pass is, perhaps, the key subgenre of pass within Dante’s game. He loves playing the ball long and essentially acting as a ‘quarter-back’, if you like the term, or deep-lying playmaker from the centre-back position, launching balls over the top for his attacking teammates to chase down or floating switched passes from left centre-back to the right wing.

Figure 2

Figure 2 shows Dante’s progressive passing map from this season, which highlights plenty of long balls from left centre-back to the right wing or the edge of the box on the right-hand side of the pitch.

Figure 3

Defensively, Dante is involved a relatively average amount of the time for a Ligue 1 centre-back in relation to volume of defensive actions. However, his defensive duel success rate is quite impressive, as is his ability to position himself to make interceptions at key moments.

Similarly, the 39-year-old doesn’t necessarily engage in a tonne of aerial duels but has an impressive aerial duel success rate, demonstrating his reliability in this area as well.

Jorge Cuenca, 23 years old, 190cm/6’3”, 75kg/165lbs

Figure 4

First up on our list of young left centre-backs of the relevant profile is Villarreal’s Jorge Cuenca. The 23-year-old Madrid-born former member of Barcelona’s famed ‘La Masia’ hasn’t enjoyed a tonne of game time in La Liga this season, featuring in just six games — the same amount of games he’s played in the UEFA Europa Conference League. As a result, we’ve used the 2021/22 season when he was out on loan at Getafe for the above pizza chart.

Getafe are a team with a very distinctive playing style that would influence the percentile ranks in the graph above, but in terms of his ability on the ball, there’s nothing at all to worry about with Cuenca — he’s similar to Dante in that he exudes confidence and self-assuredness on the ball. He promotes a slow, relaxed playing style, while he’s typically happy to bide his time and wait for the right opportunity to play the pass rather than rush it. All this would make him a good fit for Nice in the left centre-back slot.

Figure 5

His progressive passing map indicates that he doesn’t typically play the ball into as advanced areas as Dante does, and he switches the play far less often, though does still play some switches. Of course, this can change with a different team. In general, we’d say Cuenca demonstrates impressive vision and a really good ball-striking ability. He’s capable of pulling off well-weighted switches to improve his team’s position.

Furthermore, again similar to Dante, he’s comfortable carrying the ball into more advanced areas, stepping out of the backline and pushing forward either to create different passing angles or to drag opposition players out and potentially create space for teammates to exploit that he’d trust himself to find with his progressive passing quality. What’s obvious when watching Cuenca play is his evident patience and care to scan for not just any option, but always in search of just the right option.

Figure 6

Cuenca’s defensive territory map appears relatively similar to Dante’s in terms of average line height and area of engagement. Over the last calendar year, we’d say that Cuenca’s positioning has been the standout defensive attribute. He typically defends via his body positioning, not diving into challenges or rushing out of position to close down attackers. He’s patient and focuses primarily on ensuring he occupies an advantageous position, generally happy to wait for the attacker to come to him while blocking the optimal lane of progression.

Aerially, the 190cm centre-back is similar to Dante in that he usually engages in a low number of aerial duels but wins a high percentage.

Cuenca is valued at €6m by Transfermarkt, making him the most expensive player on our list, while the Villarreal man is also the most high profile. However, having been out on loan last season only to return to Estadio de la Cerámica to be a bit-part player in 2022/23, perhaps there’s a pathway for Nice to get their hands on the 23-year-old if they want to.

Eduard Sarapiy, 23 years old, 186cm/6’1”, 66kg/145lbs

Figure 7

Eduard Sarapiy, on loan at Dnipro-1 from Metalist Kharkiv until the end of the season, is our second centre-back option. The Dynamo Kyiv academy product has experienced what was described by the brilliant ‘Zorya Londonsk’ English-language Ukrainian football page as a “meteoric rise” over the last couple of years and undoubtedly deserves recognition for his success.

He has gone from playing for MFC Metalurh in Ukraine’s third tier to the second tier with FC Metalist in 2021/22 to playing in Ukraine’s top flight and the UEFA Europa Conference League with Dnipro-1 this term, while also proudly earning his first national team call up.

Sarapiy is also heavily involved for his team in possession, as his high percentile rankings in passes per 90 and received passes per 90 indicate.

Figure 8

The Dnipro-1 man doesn’t carry the ball forward from his centre-back position as much as Dante or Cuenca do — he is quicker to pass the ball and takes fewer touches than those two previously-discussed players.

Sarapiy is the only player on our list who’s actually right-footed. Still, the Ukrainian centre-back is two-footed enough to compensate when necessary and not disrupt the flow of possession too much, though he does naturally prefer to play with his right.

The 23-year-old may not be as much of a direct threat as Dante but is still a very handy player to have in your ranks if you are looking for somebody to spread the ball around the pitch from deep.

Compared to the other centre-backs in this analysis, Sarapiy is more defensively active but doesn’t greatly compromise on his success to achieve that. Valued at €1m by Transfermarkt, perhaps Nice would like to take a punt and see if Sarapiy can take his ‘meteoric rise’ one step further.

Figure 9

Sarapiy defends higher than Dante or Cuenca with Dnipro-1, so perhaps would need a bit of adjustment to Nice’s defensive approach if he were to join their team or a side of a similar ilk to Les Aiglons.

While he’s typically situated higher upfield, though, Sarapiy is generally good at timing his interceptions, doesn’t rush out of position or get dragged out of position very easily and is typically aggressive and strong in the tackle when he does commit to a challenge.

Konstantinos Koulierakis, 19 years old, 185cm/6’1”, 78kg/172lbs

Figure 10

The final player on our list is 19-year-old PAOK centre-back Konstantinos Koulierakis. Despite his young age, Koulierakis is a first-team regular for PAOK, playing 76% of his team’s minutes in the Greek Super League this term.

Again, this is a player who’s heavily involved in possession with a propensity to get the ball moving forward when possible. Koulierakis has also played the most long passes (8.76 per 90) of any player on our list today, highlighting this significant area of his game as it pertains to Dante’s profile.

Figure 11

Koulierakis is similar to Dante and Cuenca in how he likes to carry the ball into midfield quite a bit during the progression phase. At PAOK, he’s demonstrated great vision, a solid weight of pass, in general, and the ability to switch play to quickly put his team in a more advantageous position by exploiting a teammate in space on the opposite wing. Like Dante, he plays the ball into advanced areas quite a lot with PAOK when playing these switched balls.

It’s not just switches of play to the opposite wing that the opposition need to be aware of when it comes to Koulierakis, however, as chipped balls down the line are a common feature of the 19-year-old’s game too.

Certainly for a teenager, Koulierakis exudes calmness and confidence on the ball, demonstrating plenty of composure at left centre-back.

Figure 12

Defensively, Koulierakis tends to sit fairly high, more similar to Sarapiy than Dante or Cuenca in that regard. The Greek defender has the highest average line height of any centre-back on this list, indicating how he and his team like to approach them game defensively.

It is common to see the Greece international jumping out of the defence to close players down but he walks the fine line between closing the players down and overcommitting very well, ensuring he remains in charge of the engagement.

The 19-year-old is generally good at timing his challenges and has demonstrated very solid ability to use his body against attackers to unbalance them or just prevent them from turning, forcing them to move backwards instead.

Of course, at times, we do see Koulierakis get too tight to an attacker without committing a challenge which can lead to him getting turned and his defence getting a tad exposed but in general, the defender deals with these situations quite well.

Koulierakis is valued at €2m by Transfermarkt and is the youngest player on our list. We feel his style of play would be a good fit for Nice but also appreciate that young players must be careful about the moves they make and when they make them. Still, we feel Koulierakis is ready for the next step in his career, so perhaps Allianz Riviera could be his next home.


To conclude our tactical analysis and scout report, we hope we’ve shone a light on some interesting players for you in this analysis. If so, we’d implore you to investigate the players further and let us know what you think as well! Whether or not they go to Nice, we certainly feel they’d be good options for a club like Nice looking for a ‘new Dante’, and anticipate seeing these players move on to bigger and better things in their careers before long.