Jean-Marc Furlan at Caen: Three positions the club must improve to help the promotion magnet – scout report
Jean-Marc Furlan is set for a return to management. The 65-year-old has been announced as the new manager of Ligue 2’s Caen, a club that finished the 2022/23 campaign in fifth place. With a fifth-place finish to build on for next season and Furlan now taking the reins, perhaps spirits should be high for Les Vikings heading into 2023/24; there may not be a better man for the job of helping the team make the final push towards promotion than their new boss.
Furlan’s promotion record is highly appealing, with the former Libourne, Troyes, Strasbourg, Nantes, Brest and, most recently, Auxerre coach having won promotion to Ligue 1 from Ligue 2 in one way or another on a total of five occasions. While he hasn’t got as much of a stellar record once he gets to Ligue 1, his ability to take teams to the promised land of the top flight is as good as anybody.
This tactical analysis piece and team-focused scout report will provide a brief overview of what Caen fans can expect from Furlan in terms of strategy and tactics before taking a look at the Normandy-based club’s squad and where they may be able to bolster their squad this summer in order to give their promotion specialist coach the best possible chance of working his magic one more time to give Caen the push they need to reach Ligue 1 once again for the first time since 2018/19.
What to expect from Jean-Marc Furlan
In terms of what you can expect from this coach, Furlan summed it up well himself during an interview with Ligue 1’s official website back in 2015 following, ironically, a 3-1 Ligue 1 loss for Furlan-led Troyes at the merciless hands of Caen themselves.
“When I was 20 years old, Johan Cruyff and Ajax were dominating Europe, it was totally innovative football, revolutionary and that method — that Dutch schooling — really stuck with me”, the French coach explained.
This is a coach who’s passionate about the work that goes on at the training ground and really takes pride in developing a group over time; a coach that other coaches can look at and draw inspiration from through his passion for the art of the session.
His love of Cruyff and the 1970s Ajax sides that dominated the Eredivisie and, for three straight years at the beginning of the decade, the UEFA Champions League is evident in his approach to the game and how he typically sets up his teams, as well. Furlan will generally favour a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 in possession and an aggressive, high-octane approach without the ball. Caen fans can expect his team to set up to dominate the ball in most games next season and showcase some creative attacking exploits to generate goalscoring opportunities game after game.
At the same time, Furlan’s teams are often a lot better with the ball than they are without the ball, and can be vulnerable in defensive scenarios. This is a coach who’d probably much rather see his team win 5-4 than win 1-0.
Figure 1 illustrates this shape that Furlan can typically be expected to set his ideal team up in — of course, with parts moving around depending on individual roles — this is just a very basic outline of how he’ll typically set up his teams.
Generally, the build-up play from the back is methodical as his players work their way through their half of the pitch. Hopefully, once they reach the final third, he’s created a scenario that puts his attackers in a beneficial scenario where they can feel comfortable showcasing their abilities while helping their team slice the opposition open and create a goalscoring opportunity.
While the initial part of the possession play is carefully constructed, expect more freedom of expression in the final third. In this part of the game, Furlan’s teams normally exhibit plenty of fluidity and movement as they link up with one another, pull opponents about and slice through the opponent’s defence on their path to goal. The wingers and striker will generally combine quite well in these scenarios — and will hopefully build up a good relationship over the course of the campaign to help them in doing so — but, again, individual profiles will always be taken into consideration and alter how the team performs.
In his last Ligue 2 campaign with Auxerre, for instance, left-back Quentin Bernard played a vital role in build-up and ball progression because of his specific profile and qualities. This saw him invert into midfield quite frequently and act as a key passer in the first and second phases that his team could rely upon in a unique but effective role. With Caen, it won’t necessarily need to be a full-back again — Furlan can incorporate different roles and profiles into his setup to find the right balance for his group of players within the general idea of the strategical vision we’ve outlined above.
Caen’s current strengths
Looking at Caen’s current squad, then, it’s clear that Furlan arrives at a team with a decent base in terms of quality but that could do with a clearer structure, having failed to really settle on one last term.
In terms of strengths in the squad, starting with the backline, the attacking full-backs (Ali Abdi at left-back and Hugo Vandermersch at right-back) have skill-sets that can really help Furlan on his arrival at Stade Michel d’Ornano. Both players like to bomb forward and provide width on the flanks, both would be suitable for the wide defensive options in Furlan’s 4-3-3 and both are useful creative outlets from the wide areas.
Figure 2 shares both players’ respective ball progression maps from 2022/23, highlighting the areas where they typically like to take defenders on with their dribbling. Abdi is a slightly more prolific dribbler, especially in more advanced areas as he generally likes to get a bit higher than Vandermersch.
Looking at their shot assist maps from Ligue 2 last season, again we can see evidence of Abdi operating a bit higher. Expect to see him overlapping into really advanced positions or carrying the ball all the way to the byline before crossing while Vandermersch likes to cross slightly earlier from a deeper position.
Left centre-back Romain Thomas is Caen’s current club captain and is another player who Furlan will likely be relying on next season as he looks to push Les Vikings on to get closer to promotion. Figure 4 displays the centre-back’s progressive pass map from this past season. The veteran made 10.57 progressive passes per 90 while retaining an 80.43% progressive pass success rate, both of which rank very highly among Ligue 2’s centre-backs from last term.
Thomas has the capability to be a leader on and off the pitch for Furlan heading into next season both through his personality and through his playing ability; the centre-back can be crucial in helping Furlan to implement his style at Caen.
Thomas is also a very capable defender, with a stellar 71.56% defensive duel success rate and 62.7% aerial duel success rate to his name from last term. His defensive capabilities will be crucial in helping Caen to try and maintain or even better their defensive record from last season (43 goals conceded, more than just five other Ligue 2 teams).
Moving on into midfield, for us, there’s one definite part of the central trio that Furlan can be looking forward to getting to work with and another part that Furlan could help develop moving into next season but doesn’t look like an ideal fit on the surface.
Firstly, Bilal Brahimi who primarily lined up at left central midfield for Caen last season should be a significant element of Furlan’s plans at the Normandy club next season. The 23-year-old is similar in profile to Marseille’s Azzedine Ounahi as we explained in an article from January titled: “Replacing Ounahi: Why Angers must monitor Caen’s Bilal Brahimi – tactical analysis”.
Figure 5, above, shows Brahimi’s shot assist map from last season’s Ligue 2. This map highlights that the creative midfielder typically generates goalscoring opportunities for his team via the half-spaces but can also end up on the wings at times. Despite providing just one assist last season, he clearly demonstrated creative quality exceeding this, as his 4.67 xA would suggest.
Caen scored 52 goals from 58.76 xG (the second-highest xG in Ligue 2) last term. If Furlan can help his team stop underperforming their xG and move to the other side of it while still generating the same quality of chances they are right now, Brahimi will certainly end up with more assists to his name.
The 23-year-old playmaker is a bit of a free spirit on the ball and likes to roam around a bit. Again, he’ll frequently be found occupying some space in the half-spaces and if he’s found in these positions, he can be a lethal creator as well as a very threatening ball-carrier as figure 6’s penetrating carries map indicates. A lot of the midfielder’s penetrating carries begin in the half-spaces before ending up in far more dangerous positions, highlighting Brahimi’s immense quality to add threat to his team via his dribbling.
The other midfielder who we could see feature heavily for Caen next season is 25-year-old Djibril Diani, who primarily plays as a holding midfielder. Diani is good at finding space to receive passes and is very reliable on the ball, very rarely putting a foot wrong which is important for your deep-lying midfielder who plays in a sensitive position where, if possession is lost, it can be critical.
However, Furlan often likes his deep-lying midfielder to be a bit more of a deep creator as opposed to just a safe passer on the ball. Indeed, Diani is an excellent defender as his positioning percentile and defensive duels won % percentile in the above graphic would indicate. He’s a technically good defender with good positioning who’s often found closing attackers down effectively. He’d be an especially useful asset for Furlan in defensive transitions where his team could very well be vulnerable.
Personally, I feel like Furlan should find a way to make use of Diani, whether that’s as a holding midfielder or even as a defensive-minded right central midfielder. With the progressive passing quality of Romain Thomas, along with the ball-carrying quality of the full-backs and Brahimi, perhaps it won’t be imperative for Furlan’s holding midfielder to be a key ball progressor this time around yet Diani clearly isn’t the profile Furlan would typically look for in this position and could well end up a backup option if Caen can find a capable defensive midfielder who’s also proficient in possession, so let’s see!
In attack, Caen are looking quite healthy for the starting XI. Firstly, they’ve got 33-year-old Yoann Court; he primarily played at right-wing last season but has plenty of experience playing as a left-winger and as a central midfielder as well throughout his career. It’s possible he could be moved to right central midfield but he’ll likely remain on the wings, perhaps even interchanging with Godson Kyeremeh, who primarily played as Caen’s left-winger last season despite the 23-year-old having plenty of experience on the right throughout his young career.
Caen’s manager last season, Stéphane Moulin, liked having his wingers lining up on the opposite side to their preferred foot. This allowed Court to cut in on his left and swing plenty of crosses in from deep and towards the centre, as figure 8 depicts. Of course, the winger also crossed from further upfield a lot but he liked to try and cut into the half-space; this is a tendency Furlan can work with, as the advancing full-back can provide the width, allowing Court to exploit space inside if he finds it, potentially helping Caen to overload the middle of the park.
Court is also a handy set-piece taker — and it’s always nice to have one of those in the lineup too if you can get them in!
Right-footed Kyeremeh, meanwhile, is a winger who loves to take on his full-back. He’s a high-volume dribbler, capable creator and goal threat who can improve every aspect of his game even further.
We have a detailed scout report on the 23-year-old from a couple of seasons ago here which provides a more in-depth analysis of the attacker but to sum him up, Kyeremeh is a very capable creator thanks to his dribbling and crossing quality; he loves drilling low, hard crosses into the box for attackers to latch onto.
Furthermore, his off-the-ball movement makes him a handful in the box and helps him to occupy high-value goalscoring positions regularly. Expect to see him boost his goal numbers over the next few seasons as he continues his development. I think Kyeremeh is a very exciting attacker in Ligue 2 worth keeping a close eye on.
Lastly, centre-forward Alexandre Mendy finished the 2022/23 campaign as Ligue 2’s second-highest goalscorer (19). The 184cm/6’0”, 86kg/189lbs striker can be a handful for defenders to control as he’s very good at using his large frame to back into defenders, overwhelm them physically and create a chance either for himself by turning towards goal or for a teammate by laying it off with his back to goal.
We have an example of the former in figure 11. Here, we can see Mendy using his strength to hold off the defender before demonstrating great intelligence, speed and agility to turn the defender and create a great goalscoring opportunity which he manages to convert.
This opportunity turning into a goal was far from a given considering how and where the striker received the ball from wide just prior. It showcases some excellent aspects of Mendy’s game in that the forward managed to turn this into a goal.
In general, Mendy’s shot selection is decent but could be even more refined as he can be wasteful with his shots at times, with some coming from less-than-ideal positions. He’s generally intelligent with his positioning and shot selection, however, which played an important part in his impressive goalscoring record last season.
Where do Caen need to bolster their squad for Furlan?
It’s clear that there’s a lot for Furlan to be positive about on arrival at Stade Michel d’Ornano but with that said, there are still areas in which the squad can improve ahead of the season opener; it’s not a complete squad ready for the title challenge just yet.
Above, we can see the 4-1-4-1 shape as detailed and shown earlier but this time, with Caen’s squad laid out in where they’d likely play within Furlan’s ideal setup. We have three definite question marks in the starting XI: the goalkeeper, right centre-back and right central midfielder.
As for the goalkeeper, Caen’s current number one is Anthony Mandréa. He ended last season having prevented -6.59 goals (conceding 6.59 more than expected) — the second-worst record for goals prevented in Ligue 2; he fared particularly badly against shots placed low to his right. His save rate of 67.94% isn’t dreadful but also fails to put him amongst the elite of France’s second-tier.
Furthermore, Mandréa isn’t among the best goalkeepers in Ligue 2 on the ball — something that Furlan would hope to improve in his goalkeeping department. So, if Caen can find a goalkeeper with better shot-stopping ability and on-the-ball ability, that’ll give Furlan a much better base to build from.
Secondly, while left centre-back seems pretty well taken care of along with the full-back positions, Caen have a hole at right centre-back that needs filling, especially with Ibrahim Cissé and Adolphe Teikeu seemingly set to leave the club as their contracts expire this summer. If they can retain Cissé, he’d be a decent option but even then, it’s possible for Caen to upgrade this position either with a loan or a permanent transfer.
Someone who, like Thomas, offers ball progression quality on the ball would be optimal, as well as good anticipation, positioning and, ideally, pace to cover counterattacks and isolated 1v1 defensive situations that will inevitably be faced for Furlan’s team as they look to dominate the ball and pin the opposition back in their half. It’s possible Caen could get some real quality in at right centre-back either via the loan market or possibly a permanent transfer.
The prospect of playing under a promotion magnet like Furlan, as well as learning from the experienced Romain Thomas will be attractive draws for players and teams searching for loans, along with the fact Caen will likely promote a style of play that bigger teams would like to see their out-on-loan stars playing.
It’s a similar story at right central midfield and, perhaps, holding midfield if the ideal profile presents itself. If not, I do think Caen could get by with Diani who clearly possesses plenty of positive characteristics. It’s difficult to find just the right profile for a Furlan-style holding midfielder and they shouldn’t rush to get just anyone to fit the role if the right person doesn’t come along. However, if they do find a comfortable deep-lying playmaker with off-the-ball quality for defensive transitions of the required standard who’s attainable, it’s a major investment that they should be prepared to make for their promotion hunt.
Caen could do with adding goals from midfield and a box-to-box right central midfielder who’ll also offer defensive work-rate without the ball could be just the right fit for them. Someone of the profile presented by Gustavo Sangaré of Quevilly-Rouen Métropole would be an interesting fit in their midfield.
To conclude this tactical analysis and scout report, we hope this piece presents some interesting ideas as to how Furlan might approach his next job at Caen once the 2023/24 campaign gets going. Hopefully, for Furlan and Les Vikings, the club and recruitment department can help him out this summer by signing the necessary profiles, as discussed, to give the Ligue 2 whisperer the best possible platform to secure his sixth Ligue 1 promotion.