Ligue 1 2022/23: Five promising players who Laurent Blanc must revive at Lyon – scout report
After an underwhelming performance in his first and ultimately only full Ligue 1 campaign in charge of Lyon last term and an equally underwhelming start to the 2022/23 campaign, Peter Bosz has been dismissed as manager of Lyon, with former Bordeaux, France, PSG and Al-Rayyan boss Laurent Blanc set to return to a French top-flight dugout as Lyon boss this weekend.
Blanc achieved domestic cup and league success with both French clubs he’s previously managed and due to that, along with the illustrious playing career he enjoyed, the former centre-back comes to Groupama Stadium with a massive stature, and one would imagine that the Lyon squad will be keen to impress their new boss as he begins his tenure in charge of the underperforming giants.
Blanc arrives at a club that has failed to win any of its last five league games. The new boss will hope to oversee change in that regard straight away but faces a tough test at Rennes in his first game on Sunday, with Les Rennais currently sitting four points ahead of Les Gones on the Ligue 1 table.
This tactical analysis piece presents a scout report looking at five players who we believe must be revived under Blanc at Lyon. These five players either fell out of favour, never really had much of a run in the squad or simply failed to perform to their maximum levels under Bosz for one reason or another, and unlocking the potential in some of them could be key for Blanc, certainly in his first few months in charge before he can do any business in the transfer market.
For our analysis, we’ve created some data profiles for the five players comparing them with players from their position(s) in Europe’s top-five leagues (Ligue 1, EPL, LaLiga, Serie A and Germany’s Bundesliga) for the period specified on the visuals corresponding with our discussion of those players to provide some insight into their playing styles and ideas for how Blanc may look to utilise the players within his tactics as he seeks to fire up a lukewarm Lyon.
Alongside raw metrics from Wyscout, you’ll see ‘possession involvement’ (a combination of passes received per 90 and passes per 90), ‘positive passing’ (a combination of forward passes per 90, progressive passes per 90 and passes to the final third per 90), ‘penetrative passing’ (a combination of through passes per 90, passes to the penalty area per 90 and smart passes per 90) and, lastly, ‘creative passing’ (a combination of xA per 90, key passes per 90 and shot assists per 90) labelled on our visuals.
Houssem Aouar, 24 years old, 175cm/5’8”, 70kg/154lbs
Firstly, let’s talk about Houssem Aouar. Total Football Analysis recently published an article looking in detail at the one-time Pep Guardiola-praised attacking midfielder whose performances for Lyon under Rudi Garcia in 2019/20 propelled Les Gones to their best-ever Champions League performance as they made it to the semi-finals.
In that tactical analysis piece, we go through Aouar’s career chronologically, looking at different roles he played under different managers to try and determine why he went from such a key, highly sought-after player among Europe’s elite to somebody who was allegedly part of a fire sale under Bosz this past summer.
It was evident that Aouar’s playing style didn’t mesh with Bosz’s vision for the team perfectly, with a player like Lucas Paquetá — now moved to West Ham United — fitting the Dutch coach far better. Is that a slight on Aouar or a slight on Bosz? It’s difficult to say from the outside looking in but what’s for sure is that Aouar is still a high-quality player whose potential is just sitting their waiting to be tapped into.
Given Lyon’s current dreadful run of form, reigniting the fire inside Aouar and making him a confident key component of the team once again may be one of the top priorities on Blanc’s to-do list, and it’ll be interesting to see if the 1998 World Cup-winning player can extract the full potential from Aouar where Bosz failed to do so.
From our analysis, Aouar works best in a patient, low-tempo possession system where he’s relied upon to be the main creator who flicks the switch on receiving the ball and turns that settled period of possession into a dangerous attacking opportunity. He is comfortable operating in a ‘10’ or ‘8’ position, with the academy product having initially broken into the first team at Lyon under Bruno Génésio in a deep-lying double-pivot role. The player’s vision, technical passing quality and subtle yet lethal off-the-ball movement are highlights in his game.
Rayan Cherki, 19 years old, 176cm/5’9”, 71kg/156lbs
Next up on our list is Rayan Cherki — the 19-year-old academy product wunderkind who’s seemingly just waiting for an opportunity to explode onto the first-team football scene in Ligue 1. Cherki has been earmarked as an extremely exciting talent to watch for years but despite delivering some impressive performances at the first-team level already, the playmaker has thus far failed to really establish himself in senior football.
‘Talent’ is only worth so much and doesn’t comprise the full picture for any top-class professional footballer. With that said, though, Cherki has talent in abundance and is another creative midfield player who could play an important part in Blanc’s quest to get his team scoring even more goals to take them from Ligue 1’s joint-ninth-highest scorers to a bit higher in that list, which would undoubtedly help their league position.
Cherki thrives in tight spaces and loves to move around off the ball to occupy pockets of space between three or four opposition players where he can receive the ball and either turn and run at the defence from there or link up with teammates via a quick passing play.
His ball control, exceptional dribbling quality and one-touch passing ability help him to thrive in tight spaces, and he could represent a very strong option for the team to position inside the final third, allowing him to find space and fire passes into his feet from deep. From there, Cherki has the ability to hold onto the ball and allow his teammates to get upfield to support him and help his team gain some territory, while he’s also capable of creating via line-breaking passes from advanced positions. Additionally, he’s a big threat when left 1v1 with the defender.
While Cherki’s defensive work rate and ability leaves a lot to be desired — something that surely didn’t help him under Bosz, understandably given this conflict with the coach’s philosophy, and won’t do him any favours moving forward either, the player obviously has immense ability with the ball and can still be a game changer for Lyon this season.
Romain Faivre, 24 years old, 180cm/5’10”, 69kg/152lbs
Like Aouar with Guardiola, Romain Faivre is another Lyon player who’s received the highest of praise in the not-so-distant past, with Arsenal and Barcelona legend Thierry Henry stating, when the player was still at Brest: “Faivre has something few players have — he breaks lines”.
Lyon secured this “special” player’s services last January but so far, he’s failed to replicate his performances for Brest under the slightly brighter lights of the Groupama Stadium. This doesn’t mean he’s a lost cause, however, and although he’s been sidelined with injury for the last two weeks, Blanc could be looking to Faivre as a catalyst for his Lyon revival.
Thierry Henry’s description of Faivre is 100% on point — he does break lines, and this is a key, key element of his game. At Brest, Faivre was a crucial aspect of his team’s ball progression but not really due to his passing ability, more due to his ball-carrying ability. The wide man loves to drop deep and receive from the centre-back or holding midfielder before getting his head up and driving upfield with the ball.
Faivre is very comfortable driving into space and has lots of ‘gravity’ (ability to draw opposition defenders into him, thus creating space elsewhere for his teammates to exploit), which Lyon can make a lot more use of moving forward to break teams down.
The 24-year-old is refreshing in that he’s a footballer who’s brave and confident enough to always look to get on the ball and take the game into his hands (or, feet, in this instance). This is, at least, the sense you get from watching him due to his immense ball-carrying quality — a skill that Lyon need to utilise better if they’re to extract the full potential from this player; otherwise, what was the point in signing him?
If Blanc is as high on Faivre as his former France teammate was when he made those comments, then things could be looking up at Lyon for Faivre.
Maxence Caqueret, 22 years old, 174cm/5’8”, 63kg/138lbs
Moving on from attacking midfielders/wingers, this time we’re looking at a central midfielder in the form of highly-rated 22-year-old Maxence Caqueret. This is someone who played quite regularly under Bosz but for all of his gametime, you still get the sense that we’re far from seeing the best of the midfielder, which is a real shame because he’s always stood out as a fantastic talent, even in youth teams alongside the immensely talented Cherki.
Another Lyon academy product, Caqueret is comfortable playing as an ‘8’ in a three-man midfield or even deeper, as one member of a double-pivot.
Off the ball, Caqueret is very workmanlike and always puts in a serious shift when it comes to pressing and harrying for the ball back, hence his 95th percentile ranking in defensive duels per 90 and 86th percentile ranking in interceptions per 90 as seen in figure 4, above.
On the ball, though, Caqueret is, for us, even more impressive as he’s someone who excels in driving the team forward, frequently playing it to those positioned in the final third with success, making him a top asset in the ball progression phase.
Indeed, his technical passing quality and vision are highly impressive but so too is his press resistance. Caqueret has impressive agility, a reliable touch and good ball control; you’d be comfortable enough serving him the ball despite some pressure and trust him to come out unscathed without putting the team in great danger.
While Faivre is an excellent line-breaker via his carries, which is very fun to watch, Caqueret is just as effective in that regard via his passing and is a great option to have to find the likes of Cherki and Aouar between the lines.
France’s World Cup squad midfield is looking shaky with Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kanté and Boubacar Kamara all doubtful. The fact that Caqueret is not a natural choice to slot in for them is a testament to the fact that he may not have been thriving at Lyon under the previous regime, regardless of your opinion on whether that’s mostly his own fault or the coach’s fault. It’s clear that there’s more to get out of Caqueret and Blanc will significantly boost his midfield if he can inspire that improvement.
Sinaly Diomandé, 21 years old, 184cm/6’0”, 74kg/163lbs
Our fifth and final player who we feel there’s far more to see from at Lyon if Blanc can manage them more successfully than his predecessor is 21-year-old Ivory Coast international centre-back Sinaly Diomandé.
Diomandé struggled for much game time under Bosz both this season and last season, with the Dutch coach preferring converted midfielder turned centre-back Thiago Mendes to Diomandé at right centre-back alongside 19-year-old starlet Castello Lukeba.
This isn’t massively surprising, as Diomandé just doesn’t really seem like a Bosz centre-back, which was probably his problem throughout the 58-year-old’s Ligue 1 stint. Again, though, that’s not necessarily a slight on the centre-back, who could be reborn under a new coach with a fresh vision.
Diomandé is a more passive centre-back, in general, while Bosz typically requires his centre-backs to be very comfortable with stepping up and defending aggressively.
On the ball, Diomandé is a very reliable passer who’s got good line-breaking ability and can be a useful progressive passer from deep.
However, as I mentioned, Diomandé’s game time was severely limited under Bosz for the last year-plus, so it’s difficult to get into too much detail on the 21-year-old. However, if given more of a chance under Blanc, perhaps Diomandé will be a revelation. The Ivorian certainly has a useful sounding board to bounce things off of in the form of legendary centre-back, Blanc.
It’s a common theme throughout this scout report that these players are not at all bad players and weren’t bad players when Bosz was there, nor is Bosz’s vision necessarily ‘wrong’. The big problem just seemed to be that Bosz and this group of players were not a great fit for one another, with some of those who did thrive under Bosz getting sold when big offers came in.
Still, there’s so much talent at Lyon that was not being utilised well for quite some time that Bosz’s tenure did become frustrating for fans of those players who know what they’re capable of and weren’t getting to see that on the pitch.
Blanc has plenty of ability that has been untapped for too long waiting to explode and that’s exciting for Lyon fans and the new coach. This doesn’t necessarily mean Blanc is the man to extract all the potential from these players but it’s evident that there are lots there to be extracted and for us, the new manager should make it a priority to do that with at least some of those we’ve discussed.