Wesley Fofana 2019/20 – scout report
Saint-Étienne have had no shortage of young central defensive talent pass through their club in recent years. Harold Moukoudi, who is currently on loan at EFL Championship side Middlesbrough and William Saliba, who is set to join Arsenal in the Premier League next season are two of the more well-known talents to have recently spent some time developing in Saint-Étienne, as is the player who will be the subject of this scout report, Wesley Fofana.
19-year-old Fofana has been enjoying a consistent run in Saint-Étienne’s first-team over recent months. During that time, Fofana has shown himself to be yet another highly promising product of Saint-Étienne’s youth academy, thanks to some impressive defensive displays that have been delivered by the teenager.
In this tactical analysis piece in the form of a scout report, we will examine some of Fofana’s key attributes and try to determine what exactly he brings to Saint-Étienne’s defence and how he fits into their tactics. Additionally, we will examine some potential areas of improvement for the young centre-back in this tactical analysis piece, in order to explore some ways in which the defender can potentially work to become an even more well-rounded defensive prospect.
One of the most impressive aspects of Fofana’s game is his dominant aerial ability. The 19-year-old centre-back has contested an average of 6.38 aerial duels per 90 in Ligue 1 this season according to Wyscout, managing to win an impressive 71.2% of those aerial duels that he has contested.
This impressive success percentage gives the Saint-Étienne teenager the second-highest aerial duel success rate in France’s top-flight this term according to Wyscout, trailing only Mateo Pavlović of Angers with regard to aerial efficiency.
One of the reasons that Fofana has been so successful when engaging in aerial duels this season can be attributed to his impressive jumping ability, which we can see an example of in the image above. The 19-year-old centre-back, who stands at 185cm tall, has proven to be capable of propelling himself above his competitors in the air due to an impressive jumping ability which has been an effective tool for him this season.
In the image above, we can see an example of Fofana boosting himself up into the air, above his competitors in preparation to contest this aerial ball. Just prior to this image being taken, the opposition goalkeeper sent a goal kick long into Saint-Étienne’s half of the pitch. Fofana then took a run up and managed to gain a significant amount of height on his jump which allowed him to win this aerial battle with relative ease and knock the ball back into the opposition half.
Fofana’s impressive jumping ability is a big asset for his side as it may give Saint-Étienne an effective tool to use both in the defence in open play, as well as in both defensive and offensive set-piece situations. Fofana’s jumping ability makes him a difficult competitor to battle in the air, as once he rises to a height such as the one he is seen reaching in this image above, where his knee is at a level height to his opponent’s head, there isn’t a lot that can realistically be done to prevent him from winning the ball.
As a result, Fofana’s jumping ability has been a big asset for him this season in helping him to earn Ligue 1’s second-highest aerial duel success percentage.
In addition to being athletic enough to rise above his competitors when engaging in an aerial duel, Fofana has also shown himself to be more than capable of using his physicality to gain the edge on his competitors in the air. We can see an example of Fofana getting the better of an opponent with the use of his physicality in this next image above.
Just prior to this image being taken, Fofana’s opponent attempted to engage in a physical battle with Fofana in order to try and gain an edge on him when competing in this aerial duel. The opposition centre forward backed into the Saint-Étienne defender and attempted to outmuscle him prior to jumping for this ball.
However, Fofana has shown himself to be comfortable engaging in these kinds of physical battles throughout the 2019/20 season. As these two players jump for the ball, Fofana aggressively battles for the ball, using his body and limbs to gain an edge on his opponent and ensure that he doesn’t rise above him, thus helping him to come out of this aerial battle successfully once again.
This style of jump and manner of using his body and limbs to gain an edge on his opponent in the air is a tactic that Fofana can be seen utilising quite regularly. The 19-year-old defender is happy to get physical when competing in an aerial duel.
This next image shows us an example of how Fofana aggressively advances his position on the pitch in order to engage in aerial battles in the midfield area, something which he can often be seen doing following opposition goal kicks.
Just prior to this image being taken, the Bordeaux goalkeeper launched the long ball forward from a goal kick. Due to his impressive aerial ability and in order to give his side the best possible chance of winning the subsequent aerial duel which followed this Bordeaux goal kick, Fofana vacated his right centre-back position in order to burst forward and contest this aerial duel with the Bordeaux midfielder.
Fofana manages to get a significant enough amount of height on his jump here once again to rise above his opponent and ensure that he and his side come out on top in this aerial battle.
It may be fair to say that this tactic of aggressively pushing into the midfield in order to contest aerial duels is a risky one for Fofana to be taking on, considering that upon departing from his right centre back position, he leaves a large gap in the Saint-Étienne defence which could potentially be dangerously exploited if the opposition managed to win this aerial battle and then catch Fofana out of position.
However, the gamble pays off on this particular occasion being presented in the image above, as it often has done when Fofana has taken it on and probed into the midfield to contest aerial duels, which may show both his confidence in his aerial ability in addition to giving us another example of his quality in the air.
Fofana’s aggressive interceptions
Fofana’s aggressive movement into the midfield area isn’t reserved solely for aerial battles. The 19-year-old defender often vacates his position on the right side of central defence in order to aggressively press the opposition or in order to push into the midfield area to contest a ground duel or attempt to complete an interception.
This image above provides us with an example of the beginning of a passage of play in which Fofana ends up leaving his centre back position to hunt the ball down in midfield. Here, we can see the opposition forward nearest to Fofana beginning to drop from his advanced position into the midfield area, as his side attempt to build from a goal kick. As this forward drops into the midfield, Fofana is immediately alerted and follows his man.
The centre forward who had dropped from the more advanced position ultimately gets onto the ball in a slightly deeper position and links up with one of his teammates in midfield, who we can see on the ball in this image, in the process of attempting to play a through pass to the left-sided forward who is now making a run into the space that has been vacated in the centre of Saint-Étienne’s defence, due to Fofana’s aggressive movement.
This shows us how Fofana’s aggressive movement could backfire, as it does leave space in his side’s defence which the opposition could very well capitalise on and end up straight through on goal.
However, Fofana manages to read this play well and performs a vital interception which prevents Bordeaux from playing this forward through on goal. On this occasion, Fofana’s aggressive pressing pays off as he wins back possession for his side after chasing the ball aggressively into the midfield.
Fofana can often be seen operating in more advanced areas of the pitch, almost in the manner one would typically associate with a roaming, ball-winning midfielder. It isn’t uncommon for the 19-year-old to depart from his base right centre-back position in pursuit of an attacker or the ball itself, as we saw in the previous image.
In this next image, we can see Fofana operating in a more advanced area of the pitch once again. Saint-Étienne’s full-backs often get forward in the attack, with a midfielder subsequently dropping into the defence. This then results in Fofana pushing out into a wider defensive position. We can see Fofana operating in this wider defensive position in this image above.
Just prior to this image being taken, Saint-Étienne’s opponents here, Rennes, won the ball on the left side of their defence and subsequently played a pass into the central midfielder who we can see in possession of the ball in this image. As this midfielder receives possession, Rennes’ left-winger begins to make a darting run forward in an attempt to get in behind Fofana.
The 19-year-old defender intelligently reads this and begins to make his way back into a deeper position, while jockeying in the space that the Rennes midfielder could potentially play the ball through to his wide teammate.
As this passage of play moves on, we can see that a couple of Saint-Étienne players have made their way back to offer support to their defence by pressuring Rennes’ ball-carrying midfielder.
This pressure forces the Rennes midfielder to play an attempted through ball to the winger who was making his supporting run. However, Fofana had been anticipating this pass and manages to quickly change the direction of his movement, surging forward and pouncing on the attempted pass to win back possession for his side.
This passage of play provides us with an example of Fofana’s speed in addition to his intelligence and technical ability.
Fofana’s tackling ability
As we have seen throughout this scout report, Fofana can be effective in a variety of different areas of the pitch. In addition to his intercepting ability, Fofana has showcased his imposing tackling ability when operating in slightly wider areas this term.
This image above provides us with an example of Fofana’s effectiveness at shutting down attacks in wider areas of the pitch through his effective slide tackling.
In this image, we can see the SAS Épinal attacker making a run down their left-wing, driving towards the byline, presumably in an attempt to get into a crossing position. However, Fofana has pushed out to confront the opposition attacker in the wider area. Fofana shepherds the attacker down the wing before timing an effective slide tackle which knocks the ball out of play.
Fofana’s aggressive pressing and tackling ability both work out for the best on this occasion as the opposition’s attack is effectively shut down here. Fofana may be particularly effective in these wide areas thanks to his impressive speed and agility, in addition to his clearly impressive technical defending quality. This all makes him a difficult defender to try and beat in a one on one.
Fofana can often be seen operating in these wider areas of the pitch when covering for his full-back during a counter-attack or during an occasion in which his full-back is forced to press higher up the wing. His tackling ability has not made him an easy obstacle for opposition attackers to try and overcome when these scenarios occur.
We can see another example of one of these occasions where Fofana defends in a slightly wider position in this next image above. Saint-Étienne’s right centre back leaves his central position to confront the Rennes winger out wide. The defender deals with this situation n a very similar manner to the way in which he dealt with the previous one, forcing the attacker down the wing and subsequently forcing them into a position where he can make this same style of tackle which puts a stop to this attack.
These two separate passages of play may provide us with an example of how Fofana’s slide tackling ability can be a big asset for him and his side during occasions when he has to defend the wider areas of the pitch.
Potential areas of improvement
Fofana may be one of the most promising young defenders in Ligue 1 at present. He has got an impressive combination of an abundance of technical defensive quality, in addition to impressive physical attributes and a large degree of intelligence.
One potential area of improvement that the 19-year-old centre-back could look at in order to continue his exciting development is his ability on the ball. During phases of play when his side are attempting to play out from the back, if put under pressure by an opposition player, Fofana will often be seen immediately sending the ball back to the goalkeeper or another Saint-Étienne defender, which can often end up allowing the opposition to increase the intensity of their press and put his side in a worse position than before he got the ball.
Additionally, at times when he attempts to carry the ball up the pitch, Fofana does get dispossessed sometimes, which can often result in a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity arising for the opposition, who may be able to then capitalise on the 19-year-old being caught out of position.
If the teenager improves his ball-playing ability to a greater standard, his development may hit even more exciting heights.
In addition to that, Fofana can also be caught out of position sometimes when attempting to engage opposition attackers aggressively. We can see an example of this in the image above. Fofana had pressed an opposition attacker out as far as the opposition’s left-wing position as we can see here.
However, on this occasion, due to the opposition team’s numerical superiority in this particular position, they manage to pass the ball around Fofana with relative ease. The player who Fofana had originally been pressing on the wing found a teammate int he centre of the pitch, who then passed the ball along to an overlapping full-back, resulting in a break down the left-wing.
On this particular occasion, the 19-year-old’s gamble to act aggressively in the defence didn’t pay off and he was forced to suffer the consequences as the opposition subsequently exposed his weakened defence.
As we saw in some previous images in this tactical analysis piece, Fofana’s aggressive nature often works out favourably for him and his side, however, this image shows that it doesn’t always work out exactly how he had planned. With that in mind, it may be fair to say that Fofana could improve on this decision-making aspect of his game.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece, it may be fair to say that Fofana has proven to be one of the most promising young talents in Ligue 1 this season, having delivered some impressive first-team performances for Saint-Étienne during the 2019/20 campaign.
The 19-year-old is already proving himself as one of Ligue 1’s most accomplished and effective aerial defenders, as is evident by his impressive aerial duel success rate. Furthermore, Fofana’s distinct, aggressive nature in the Saint-Étienne defence works out positively for him and his side more often than not.
At just 19-years-old, it may be fair to say that Fofana has all of the ability necessary to go on and develop into a top-class centre-back.