Scout Report: Cody Gakpo

Since the announcement of Erik Ten Hag as Manchester United manager, a host of talents related to Ajax or Dutch football have dominated the transfer rumor mill. The summer window did include 3 former Ajax players and 1 Dutch international among the 6 incomings, so it’s probably not wrong to say that players whom Ten Hag is familiar with have a higher chance of being signed at this point. One such player who has dominated transfer reports and also the headlines for all the right reasons is Cody Gakpo.

Today we’ll be taking an in-depth look into Cody Gakpo’s profile, strengths, traits and fitment for Manchester United.

Player Details

Date of Birth: 07/05/1999
Position: LW/SS/CF/AM
Strong Foot: Right
Height: 1.89 m (6ft 2in)
Current contract start: Jan, 2022
Contract end date: June, 2026
Current Market Value: £32m

Career History

Cody was born in Eindhoven, and has since featured in every youth level for PSV Eindhoven. He made his debut for the famed Jong PSV in the 2016/17 season, but it was the 17/18 season for them where he scored 7 goals in 12 appearances that announced his arrival. He made the bench for the senior team at the end of that year. He regularly started making the bench for the senior side in the 18/19 season. By mid-season he was getting more gametime, and the hat-trick against Go Ahead Eagles in December 2018 catapulted him to first team regular. The 19/20 season saw him finally breakthrough at the senior level as he made 39 appearances for the PSV senior side and bagged 8 goals and 7 assists. Gakpo has only gone from strength to strength since that breakthrough year, boasting 21 goals and 13 assists in 47 appearances in the 21/22 season that saw him win the Dutch Footballer of the Year 2021-22. With many top clubs chasing him in summer 2022, Cody decided to remain at PSV and has started the 22/23 season in scintillating form, with 12 goals and 9 assists in just 15 appearances. A move to a top club seems inevitable at this point.

Position and movement

Gakpo’s position is often debated on Twitter, especially by Manchester United fans who hope he can play as a central striker. Let’s dive into that.

As per Transfermarkt, so far in his career, Gakpo has played LW 154 times, RW 20 times and CF/SS 19 times. This season, Gakpo has played LW in all his 15 appearances for PSV. But in his 5 appearances for Netherlands, he has played in a central role (CF/SS) 4 times. I analyzed his Eredivisie and Netherlands games of 22/23 for all the viz in this article. Here’s his pass reception map.

From the pass reception map, we can clearly see a touchline winger who loves to receive the ball wide. And this goes in line with what Gakpo does on the pitch. He loves to stay wide, away from crowded areas, receive the ball and then use his strong carrying to dribble inwards while looking for a breakthrough. In that sense, he is your typical isolation left winger who stays wide and loves to beat his man, or seeks the run on transition behind the defense line in the left half-space. But his starting point is usually on the left touchline.

Even if we consider the heat map of his Netherlands games in the Nations League where he has started in central positions for most part, this is how it looks:

Although there are some hotspots in central areas, there is still a clear left-leaning tendency. For example, in his latest game for the Netherlands, Gakpo lined up as an AM behind Depay and Bergwijn on paper, but was often found in LW areas to create a front 3 with Depay as the CF. He has an excellent burst into central areas when the CF drops to create space for him (similar to how Rashford or Salah ghost in when Martial or Firmino drop from a central area), but he rarely starts from a central position, preferring to stay wide and make the run when the space is created on the transition or through clever movement from a central player.

Carrying & Dribbling


Gakpo’s biggest strength is his carrying. He’s a very powerful dribbler of the ball, with a right mix of power, skill and pace helping him beat his man or dribble into dangerous areas constantly. It’s one of the main reasons why Gakpo is comfortable staying wide and waiting for his chance. It’s because he knows he has the skill and pace to cut inside and create havoc in the defensive shape with his dribbling. Here’s a chart of his progressive carries in a team sequence this season:


As you can see, a lot of them are in those high advanced positions on the left wing where Gakpo receives the ball. A direct correlation from the previous viz, one can almost see how each time Gakpo receives on the left wing touchline, he decides to progress inwards with the ball at his feet. He’s a very strong entrant into the penalty box, often carrying into the left half-space to force situations that defenses are uncomfortable to deal with. For reference of volume, his dribbles per 90 in Eredivisie was the same as Antony in 21/22.

Shooting & Goal-scoring

As discussed before, Gakpo’s scoring rate is phenomenal. He already has 54 goals in 150 appearances for PSV with 33 coming in the last 62 games. Below is the shotmap for this season:

What is expected based on the previous viz are the shots from the left half-space area. After carrying into the box from the left, he has the skill to test the keeper from that angle. 7 of the 11 goals shown here are from that area, while many other shots seem to test the keeper at the very least. This indicates a very consistent and reliable shooter from an angle that helps the right-footed player.

More than half of Gakpo’s goals are from this style of shooting after carrying into the danger area. Here are 2 examples.

In this example, Gakpo sees himself isolated against the fullback with space to cut into. Before the defence can recover, he has the power and strength to cut past the man and fire a far-post curler with precision.

In the above example, Gakpo once again finds himself 1v1 with space and is immediately able to cut past his man with a quick burst from a standing position to give himself the space to shoot. On this occasion, he pulls back his leg to unleash a Mbappe-esque drilled near post shot that beats the keeper cleanly. Once in those positions to shoot, he has the skill to pick between a far post curler and near post drilled shot. 


But what is also interesting is Gakpo’s shots from central and right-side areas. He has enough of them to speak about. These (and some of the left half-space shots too) are largely a byproduct of his excellent off-the-ball running when space is created in central areas. Gakpo has the awareness and movement to run into central areas behind the opposition defense when the chance presents itself. Let’s look at some examples of this movement. 

From the halfway line itself, Gakpo has the awareness to begin a strong run knowing that there is space behind the defense line to take advantage. He has the acceleration to cover that distance quickly as the ball is in the air and then the technique to control it and set himself up for a 1-on-1 with the keeper. Needless to say, this move ended up with him scoring.


In this sequence, Gakpo has the sense to drift into the central striker area when his CF drops to receive the ball. This is immediately noticed and one pass later, Gakpo finds himself with a straight angle to shoot, which he rarely misses from. 

Other than these 2 avenues of scoring, Gakpo also has a strong header thanks to his height and strong frame. Roughly 1 out of his 6 goals are from a strong header from the back post or in central areas, when the crosser is on the right side. Given his height, he should probably be more scoring headed goals.

Passing & Creativity

While primarily a dribbler and scorer, Gakpo also has decent passing technique. He has 37 assists in his career so far, which suggest a strong final ball. Here’s his progressive passes for this season.

A few things are clearly noticeable. The volume isn’t as high as his progressive carries, suggesting that he isn’t as progressive in his passing. Most of the progressive pases here also double as his key passes (passes that lead to shots) and assists. This indicates that he’s a very final ball focused player. From those positions in the left half-space, he is able to cross into good central areas for his teammates to score from. The disruption that is created thanks to his strong dribbling into the area from the left side, creates space for his teammates to score from when the defenders are attracted to Gakpo. This allows him to pick them on occasions when he isn’t able to score himself. Last season in the Eredivisie, the Eindhoven winger created 11 big chances and also averaged 2.6 key passes per 90 minutes played and that shows he’s capable of playing passes to split open defenses and create goal-scoring opportunities for his teammates.

In short, he isn’t a progressor from his passing in the true sense, with most of his creativity being of the final-ball variant after a strong carry to create space for others.

If we look at the expected threat of attackers from the 21/22 season for all the top 7 leagues’ attackers, Gakpo looks really good. For clarity, xT is the Increase in probability of scoring by a pass or carry.

While he delivers a higher threat from carries, his xT from passes is almost as high thanks to his strong final ball and advanced positions from where he plays those balls. Only a handful of attackers in Europe better him in either aspect. When it comes to goal threat, Gakpo is among the best. 

Defending & ball-winning

If the impression so far was of a player who waits on the touchline and cuts in to shoot/pass but doesn’t defend much, then you’d be mistaken. Gakpo is a strong defender when his team doesn’t have the ball. Here’s his defensive action map of this season:

On the outset, what is clear is that he has more defensive actions in his half than the opposition half. Most of them are on the left side of the pitch but there’s also a strong presence at the center of the pitch. While ball recoveries dominate the most, he also boasts a lot of tackles, interceptions and challenges across the pitch and even many aerial clearances in his own box, thanks to his height and frame. Overall, he’s a very useful defender who is willing to come deep and central to win the ball for the team and has the workrate and pace to then position himself wide on the touchline to receive when the team has the ball. His running is constant and helpful to the team in both phases of defending and attacking.

Areas to Improve

While Gakpo is a very well-rounded winger who ticks most of the boxes for a strong, technical inside forward with a high goal threat, he isn’t without weaknesses. One major issue is his first touch being erratic. He stays aways from crowded areas since his hold up and touch in tight situations isn’t great. When he has space on the wings and time to control the ball and settle into his preferred form facing a defender, he is most comfortable. Expecting a lot of back-to-goal control and first touch in central areas where low blocks are dense, might not end well. This makes his long-term potential as a central CF in a front 3, especially for a possession-based top team that faces a lot of low blocks, a little tough.



Given his height and strength, he should be adding more headed goals to his collection. He does have value when defending aerially as evidenced from his clearances but doesn’t have as many goals from headed situations, with the few being more placed than powerful.

At times, his decision-making is also not great. The confidence Gakpo has in his skill, dribbling and technique often makes him make over-ambitious dribbles in situations where he might be better off holding the ball and picking out a pass instead. While this hasn’t been an issue when playing for PSV, who rely on him in transition and don’t mind the occasional ball loss during an attack, once again, playing for a top team that’s more concerned about keeping the ball, progressing and not losing it cheaply might require some more maturity from the 23-year-old Dutchman.

What does the future hold?

In the face of huge interest from many clubs, instead of moving in January 2022, Gakpo signed a new deal with PSV that runs through 2026, so the club won’t feel under any pressure to part with him. After another round of heavy interest in the summer, he once again decided to stay at PSV. A large part of this could simply be him ensuring he continues his red hot form while starting for PSV in the build up to the winter 2022 World Cup in Qatar. As things stand, his scintillating form means that he starts in most games for Netherlands. There’s a very good chance he will be much more willing to move after the World Cup.

From a Manchester United POV, the links have intensified in recent months. The Dutch connection and Gakpo’s red-hot form mean that the rumors won’t go away anytime soon. In one sense, it is understandable. For Ten Hag’s tactics, an isolation wide winger strong at dribbling and final third shot creation from dribbles, is a perfect match. Such a profile combined with an inverted fullback completes the wing dynamics for a Ten Hag XI. Antony is a good example, who shares much of the movements and traits of Gakpo from RW. Ten Hag’s insistence to buy Antony even at £82m is explained by that desire of profile to combine with Dalot, who is a good progressive inverted fullback, and United’s lack of a profile who’s best role is as RW.

At LW, things are more complicated. While Gakpo could be a good Ten Hag profile in a standalone manner, United already have Rashford, Sancho, Elanga and Garnacho in terms of profiles who’s best role is at LW. The bigger lack is at CF, where United need a good box presence that can offer hold up, which doesn’t seem to be Gakpo’s long term calling. This presents a lot of confusion on where Gakpo really fits. 



But one can’t rule out Ten Hag’s insistence to go for the perfect profile. His chase and acquisition of Lisandro Martinez proves that even though United had 3 top center-backs to choose from, Ten Hag badly wanted a left-footed progressive CB with an aggressive ball-winning profile. The results of that are clear to see this season. In a similar vein, if Ten Hag deems all 3 of Rashford (better as an off-the-ball mover than wide isolation dribbler), Sancho (better as a narrow creator) and Elanga (similar to Rashford) as imperfect fits and would rather quickly move towards a profile he knows will work for his team, then this could become another transfer which comes before more pertinent gaps in the XI (like CF, DLP, GK), just because a player is available and is well-known by the manager.


Personally, I do think there are ways in which Rashford, Sancho and Elanga can still fit into Ten Hag’s tactics or that the Dutch manager’s flexibility can find a way to make them work. But if Ten Hag is insistent on buying a wide isolation LW with strong dribbling, high goal threat, great final ball, and high threat on transition, he won’t find a better available profile than Cody Gakpo.

21/22 Midfield Role Ranking System

Football, at its core, is a really subjective sport to analyze. Other than the issues that come with judging individuals in a team sport, the complications of understanding if a player is good or bad are plenty and can probably never be stated outright in that form. But that doesn’t mean we stop rating players, does it? There is assessment going on, regardless of the difficulties in assessment. Often, the judgment comes down to – is a player doing what he’s supposed to and doing it well? Which then demands the understanding of what he/she is supposed to do, which in turn leads to the demands of understanding team tactics and instructions of other players. It’s not an easy process.

But today, I’m going to try and make that process a little easier. I’m going to classify Europe’s top 5 leagues’ midfielders into roles and rank them on the basis of how well they performed that role last season. I’ll explain the methodology below, and then open up a request line on Twitter, for anyone to be able to ask for a specific player’s role rank chart. Let’s get into it.



The Roles

I’ll spend more time explaining the midfield roles, since they are key to the results. The 5 roles I’ve decided to classify midfielders into are:

Deep-lying Playmaker
Defensive Midfielder
Ball-winning Midfielder
Box-to-box Midfielder
Advanced Playmaker

As you can see, I’m a huge fan of Football Manager. I just think they’ve nailed down names of player roles really well. They do have a few more, but I’ve decided to stick to these 5 for simplicity. An explanation of each role:

1. Deep-lying Playmaker: The midfielder tasked with progressing from deep. We’re looking at someone who is good at build up, involved in possession, spreads play well, dictates tempo and progresses from deep. Some of the stats that will carry high weightage are ‘Progressive Passes’, ‘Passes into final third’, ‘Pass completion %’, ‘Progressive Carries’ etc. Some good 21/22 references for players in this category would be Kroos and Verratti.

2. Defensive Midfielder: Initially I had named this role as ‘Anchor Man’ but it felt it was too reductive in function. The player most adept at holding, shielding the back 4 or 5, defending transitions and good positioning, makes it here. An aspect of retention and ball safety will also be focused on. Some stats that have been used are ‘% of dribblers tackled’, ‘Pressure Success %’, ‘Miscontrols’, ‘Pass Targets’ etc. References would be players like Busquets and Casemiro from last season.

3. Ball-winning Midfielder: The midfielder who operates with high defensive intensity, presses a lot, wins the ball back and is more about workrate and getting stuck in, than any technical aspects of the game, is covered here. Some high-weightage stats used for this are ‘Pressures’, ‘Tackles’, ‘Interceptions’, ‘Pass blocks’ etc. Good references for this role are Kante and Fred in 21/22.

4. Box-to-box Midfielder: I’ve covered players who love to join the attack in this one. These are midfielders who boast a high goal threat from midfield and routinely link up with attackers without much care for involvement deeper in midfield. Stats like ‘Carries into final third’, ‘npxG’, ‘Shots’, and ‘Dribbles’ have been focused on. References for this role are Naby Keita and Ilkay Gundogan of last year.

5. Advanced Playmaker: These might be slightly tricky to separate from box-to-box mids and deep-lying playmakers, but the reference here is of players who have high final third creation. Instead of deep playmaking, they focus on finding attackers regularly and have good rates for assists. Some focus stats for these players are ‘xA’, ‘Passes into penalty area’, ‘Key passes’, ‘Shot-creating Actions’ etc. Good references from 21/22 might be Luis Alberto and Rodrigo de Paul.

The Ranking

Well, that was all the theory. The rest is pretty much manual work.

Step 1: I downloaded stats of all outfield players from fbref.com

Step 2: I segregated ‘Central Midfielders’ and ‘Defensive Midfielders’ form this list using Transfermarkt filters

Step 3: I cut off all players who haven’t played at least 10 league 90s

Step 4: I create possession-adjusted and per 90 versions of each stat so that we can bring all the stats to a comparable level playing field

Step 4: I converted each stat into a percentile version within this data set. Eg. The midfielder with the highest ‘possession-adjusted per 90 xA’ gets 100 percentile for ‘xA’ and so on. One caveat here is that I am comparing midfielders across leagues for this exercise. So someone with a 90 percentile is better than 90% of Europe’s top 5 league midfielders on that stat, not just his own league. It’s the only way I can get a Europe level ranking.

Step 5: I used the role logic from earlier to come up with scores for each of the 5 roles. I’ve used 13 data points for each role and weighted them on the basis of which stats are more relevant.
Step 6: I use percentiles once again within the role scores to rank them, and then assign each player their best role based on the final percentiles.

The results look like this:

The percentile scores indicate how good the midfielder is at that role. Eg. Kroos is the best deep-lying playmaker in Europe’s top 5 leagues based on 21/22 data, but two-thirds of the same midfielders are better than him for the ball-winning midfielder role. The 25 players in this list have a top 1 percentile score on at least one role. 

Let’s look at the role wise ratings. Here are the top 25 players for each specific role.

Deep-lying Midfielder

Defensive Midfielder

Ball-winning Midfielder

Advanced Playmaker

Box-to-box midfielder

Those were the best players in each role based on season data.

Now, let’s take a look at some player profiles that cover their score and suitability for each role. It’s the same data, but from a single player point of view.

Firsty, Toni Kroos.

The role scores that we calculated earlier, have been used to plot marks along the pentagon to show how good a player is at that role. As discussed before, Kroos claims the top spot for ‘Deep-lying Playmaker’ with a solid 100, but he also looks good for ‘Advanced Playmaker’ and ‘Box-to-box Midfielder’ which hints at what a good 21/22 he has had in terms of playmaking and driving the game. He looks decent on ‘Defensive Midfielder’ and is in the bottom third for ‘Ball Winner’.

Let’s look at another example. Frenkie De Jong.

Now, the data will only reflect what a player has done in 21/22 and not what he CAN do. If a player was played out of position or tasked with a different role, the chart will change accordingly. Frenkie’s best roles appear for ‘Deep-lying Playmaker’, ‘Box-to-box midfielder’ and ‘Advanced Playmaker’ which probably speaks of the various roles he has been asked to play last year. His low defensive output and shielding ability are clear from his inferior scores in the other 2 roles.

Another example.

Koopmeiners was largely touted as a Defensive Midfielder prior to his move to Italy. While that tag is debatable, his usage at Atalanta has been anything but. He’s been deployed as an attacking midfielder or roaming #8 on many occasions, which is probably why his 21/22 stats look good for ‘Advanced Playmaker’ and ‘Box-to-box midfielder’ while also showing a good score for ‘Deep-lying Playmaker’.

A final example to end this article with a bang. Thiago Alcantara. 


He progressed play, he playmaked, he won the ball back, he supported the attack, he shielded the defence – Thiago did everything in 21/22. There’s almost nothing to separate the 5 role scores. Thiago was the most well-rounded midfielder in terms of my calculations.

Well, that’s a wrap. I’ll be opening a request line on our Twitter handle after releasing this article. Comment with the name of the player you want to look at and I’ll RT with the pentagon-shaped role rank style chart like the 3 above.

If there is high interest, I might do a similar exercise for the other positions as well, but I’m not sure of the interest of 21/22 rankings since 22/23 has already begun. 

See you on Twitter.

(Data: Statsbomb via fbref

Pentagon viz help: Ken Flerlage and Nigel Shaw)

Search for a CF: Summer Shortlist 2022

At the time of the writing of this article, Manchester United have embarked on their pre-season tour with only 1 summer signing finalized – Tyrell Malacia. The aggressive rebuild isn’t really going as per plan and to make matters worse, the red side of Manchester has been shaken by Cristiano Ronaldo’s absence from pre-season due to “a family issue”. Rumors say that the Portuguese is looking for a way out of the club in a bid to play Champions League football next season – something that really doesn’t come as a big surprise, knowing the man. Regardless of where you stand on the Ronaldo debate, one thing is clear – United need a proper center-forward who suits Ten Hag’s style.

Over the past 3 years, the club has brought in 32-year-old Ighalo, 34-year-old Edinson Cavani and 36-year-old Ronaldo in the name of a top center-forward. Martial’s inconsistency and the declining status of these signings has meant that the club hasn’t seen a consistent central forward presence since Lukaku under Jose Mourinho. Even if Ronaldo hadn’t shaken the boat, his age and limitations to be able to play as a well-rounded center-forward that can spearhead an Erik Ten Hag attack, mean that United should be looking hard for a young/peak CF anyway. Rangnick even mentioned that Ronaldo himself indicated that he’s better playing off a proper CF in a front 2, although given the latest circumstances, a direct replacement and upgrade on Ronaldo is probably the best course of action for the club.

United need a long-term CF and in today’s piece, I’m going to use data to create a shortlist for the same and cover the top 6 options in detail. Let’s get into it.

Creating the Shortlist

I’ve done this a few times now in case you caught our CM, RB or RW shortlist before. I’m going to keep this part short in the interest of spending more time with our shortlisted candidates.

1. I downloaded data from Fbref for all outfield players in Europe

2. I converted all stats to ‘per 50 touches’ to better represent what the players do in possession

3. I filtered in players labeled as ‘Center-forward’ or ‘Support-striker’ as per Transfermarkt

4. I filtered in players who have played at least 20 league 90s in 21/22

5. I created percentiles within this dataset to order all relevant stats from 0 to 100 percentile

5. I used a weighted formula to create a score from the relevant stat percentiles to rank our desired profiles

Further expanding on point 5, these are the stats I used to create the weighted score:


NpxG – 20% weightage

Pressures – 15% weightage

xA – 15% weightage

Shots – 15% weightage

Progressive passes received – 10% weightage

NpxG/Shot – 10% weightage

Possession losses – 10% weightage

Aerial Win % – 5% weightage

Our first responsibility is to find a great goalscorer. ‘NpxG’, ‘Shots’ and ‘NpxG/Shot’ together almost make up half the overall score in terms of weight. This will ensure we get a top goal threat who can get into the box regularly, take shots created by playmakers like Bruno, Shaw and Sancho and deliver high non-penalty output. We also want someone who moves well in the attacking third and receives a lot, which is why ‘Progressive passes received’ is a factor. ‘xA’ denotes our need for someone with a good final ball to also be able to play in the wingers or oncoming midfielders when possible. Our pressing structure woes are well documented and the addition of Ronaldo and Sancho and departure of Daniel James were big reasons why the high press completely failed in 21/22. We can’t afford that again, so the new CF has to be a decent presser. Finally, he should be able to keep possession losses to a minimum (this guarantees a good level of close control and decision making in the final third) and be decent aerially, since Ten Hag does like to use his CF as an aerial out-ball from time to time.

With an additional age filter to keep in players under the age of 27, when sorted by weighted score, this is what we ended up with:

Going by vibes as well, if someone said Erling Haaland is the type of CF United need (Ole certainly seemed to think so 2 years ago), then our formula is on the right track. Next, I filtered out players who will not move to United at this point (like Haaland) or do not play CF (like Moffi).

Our list is starting to shape up nicely. A final requirement for filtering can be seen here, though. We don’t want a player who is poor in a certain aspect. Eg. Schick and Isak are at the bottom 20 percentile for pressures and David, for Aerial Win %. We’ve already discussed how the new CF cannot be poor in these aspects. I used a minimum 20 percentile filter on each stat.

This rounds up our shortlist neatly to 6 options. This seems good for now. Let’s get into the details of each candidate.

Player profiles

Before we get into the shortlisted 6, I want to post 2 profiles to preface an understanding of what we want to upgrade on and what the ideal candidate could look like.

Firstly, Cristiano Ronaldo.

While Ronaldo’s goal-scoring was decent, his profile is littered with issues that hold the team back. The biggest one being pressing. His ‘Pressures’ reading 0 percentile is indicative of him being the worst presser in Europe in our dataset of center-forwards and support-strikers who have played at least 20 league 90s. His pressure success is also average. His passing stats paint him as someone too uncreative to assist others, a safe pass % being the only pro. Ronaldo being average for ‘Npxg/Shot’ and ‘Progressive Passes Received’ also hints at his poor CF movement to receive the ball in dangerous areas close to goal, with him often drifting off to the left or deep to take low quality shots from distance.

Next, as a contrast, let’s look at Erling Haaland’s profile, who ranked highest in the set before the realism filters.

While Haaland’s shooting and goal-scoring are world-class (which is the biggest reason he ranked so highly for us given the extra weightage for shooting stats), he looks good for many other metrics too. His final ball is deceptively strong, with this ability to pick out a key pass the reason he has 8 and 10 assists in his last 2 seasons. His excellent ‘Progressive passes received” and “Aerial Win %” indicate his strong box presence and option to be a consistent target. While his pressures applied are below average, he makes up with a high pressure success, which indicates a willingness to wait patiently for the right moment to win the ball for a turnover. He’s not a great dribbler though, which probably indicates you just can’t have everything. As long as most of the boxes are ticked and there is a fitment with the existing setup, it can work. 

With this in mind, let’s begin the breakdown for each of our shortlisted candidates in order of the weighted score.

Lautaro Martinez

Age: 24
Club: Inter Milan
Nation: Argentina
Position: CF, SS
Foot: Right (84% usage)
Contract ends: June, 2026
Current market value: £72m
Rumored transfer value: £60m to £90m

Even though he’s still just 24, Lautaro already feels like a household name in Europe following 3 back-to-back seasons of 25+ goal contributions as a key starter for Inter Milan, which include 3 trophies as well. Whether it’s under Conte or Inzaghi or when paired with Lukaku or Dzeko, Lautaro delivers. And 21/22 has just been his best season yet. Prying him away from Inter is a costly affair given his form and status, but given the financial constraints of the Italian club, and Lukaku and potentially Dybala returning, a strong bid could satisfy all parties.

Strengths: Probably the most well-rounded striker for his age, Lautaro boasts immense shooting skills with his goal threat among the best in the list. One of the reasons he’s a great finisher is because of his intense concentration and consistency. He rarely misses chances and is very aware of what’s happening on the pitch all the time. He has a very ‘precision over power’ approach to his shooting. He’s also a decent shot-creator and safe passer, given his experience in operating in deeper areas. He’s able to drop deep, hold the ball with his back to goal and facilitate others cleanly with smart one-touch passes or disguised passes. In the attacking phase, he has amazing movement to be able to run the channels, provide final man runs and get into the box to create shots for himself as well. He is really quick and really adept in tight spaces. His metrics for ‘NpxG/Shot’ and ‘Progressive passes received’ would have been more if he wasn’t sharing attacking duties with a more advanced striker. His movements on transitions and while breaking down low blocks are so good, that he’s always at the right place at the right time to unlock the defense, create a gap, find a teammate or fashion himself a shooting chance. He’s also deceptively strong in the air, finishing many chances with his head and having the ability to win aerial duels for his teammates. His ‘Aerial Win %’ only reads low thanks to the high amount of aerial duels he engages in. 

Weaknesses: Lautaro is comfortable as a left-sided striker in a front 2. As a natural right-footer, he finds the left-sided angle to pass and carry easier. This adds to a plethora of United attackers who also have a left-sided bias. He’s well rounded enough to pull off a lone striker role, but the evenness to be able to progress and facilitate play on either side from a central position at all times, is in doubt. He also needs to be more aggressive in racking up high xG chances closer to goal, but this could largely be due to him being partnered with a more advanced striker so far.

Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 9.5/10

Mohamed Bayo

Age: 24
Club: Clermont Foot
Nation: Guinea
Position: CF
Foot: Right (88% usage)
Contract ends: June, 2024
Current market value: £10.8m
Rumored transfer value: £8m to £12m

I can guarantee that no one would have guessed Bayo of Clermont Foot was making our shortlist when this process began. And it’s not anyone’s fault. Until 2021, Bayo was playing in the second division of France. A youth product of Clermont, Bayo needed reserve team games and loan spells until the age of 22 to develop himself. In 20/21, he made the starting spot his own and helped his hometown achieve Ligue 1 promotion via 22 goals and 7 assists. In 21/22, he followed this up with another stellar season of 14 goals and 5 assists in 27 starts to help Clermont escape relegation. This has led to him being courted by stronger clubs in Europe this summer. The rumors include Everton looking at him as a Richarlison replacement and West Ham considering him as competition to Antonio, but recent reports have seen Lille lead the race.

Strengths: Clermont only scored 38 league goals this season, 37% of which have been scored by Bayo, showing his importance as a goal threat to the relegation-battling side. Bayo’s best trait is his movement. He is constantly running, looking for spaces in the opponent backline and gets at the end of chances consistently. His high values for ‘NPxG’ and ‘NPxg/Shot’ indicate a striker who gets into good positions and takes high value shots. He has a very strong one-touch finish and is very skilled at close-range finishes, often aiming for the roof of the net with power to give goalkeepers no chance. He’s also a strong dribbler, using his agility and pace to beat opponents rather than technique or flair. He also has a good final ball, boasting 12 assists in 2 years.

Weaknesses: Bayo isn’t very technically gifted. He looks good as the sharp and pacey outlet for a counter-attacking unit (which makes the West Ham rumors make so much sense) but the ability to play back to goal and showcase close control against crowded low blocks for a possession-based team, is in doubt. His pressing and aerial prowess are also not too great, which greatly limit what he can do when the team doesn’t have the ball. While he could prove to be an upgrade in terms of consistent movement and box presence that Ronaldo doesn’t offer, much of the other limitations of the veteran could be repeated with Bayo. If Ronaldo does stay for a year or United are unable to close a better striker, Bayo could serve as a cheap pick up who offers poacher traits that the attack currently doesn’t have, but might need upgrading on with a starter-level forward in a year.

Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 7/10

Moussa Dembele

Age: 25
Club: Lyon
Nation: France
Position: CF
Foot: Right (82% usage)
Contract ends: June, 2023
Current market value: £45m
Rumored transfer value: £10m to £20m

Moussa’s strong 21/22 (22 goals and 5 assists in 31 starts) couple with his contract situation (1 year left) and the arrival of Lacazatte on a free transfer, have meant that the 25 year-old has seen himself be linked to many clubs, like Southampton, for as less as £10m. But, the player recently announced that he wished to stay, among rumors that Bosz could field both Lacazatte and Moussa in a front 2 for the coming season. A bid from a big club, especially if Moussa finds himself benched for the high-profile Lacazatte, could change all that very quickly.

Strengths: Playing the CF in Lyon’s 4-2-3-1 for most of the 21/22 season, Moussa’s best traits paint him as a strong poacher. His 4 shooting stats, ‘Progressve Passes Received’ metric and ‘Aerial Win %’ collectively scream of his ability to be a great mover in the final third, an amazing outlet with box presence and a superb finisher. He is among the best runners-in-behind in world football and has a very central tendency to his movement unlike many left-biased right-footed strikers. His great acceleration and composure in front of goal make him frustrating to stop. He’s already had 4 20+ goal seasons before turning 26. He’s also really good at in-to-out and out-to-in movements, leading defenders away from their positions to create space for himself or a teammate. Before his loan move to Atletico, 93% of his goals had come from inside the box. Can liken him to someone like Jamie Vardy.

Weaknesses: Moussa is at his best when facing the goal. He’s limited when it comes to back-to-goal play and can lose the ball when pressured in crowded areas. He’s not really progressive, either via passing or carrying, and can’t be called extremely safe in his close control either. Dembele shone when Lyon had creators like Fekir and Ndombele feeding him constantly from midfield, but after their departure and the emergence of good movers in the attack like Ekambi and Kadewere, a lot of Moussa’s traits didn’t seem critical enough, often leading to him being dropped. He did win back his place eventually, but the caveats of his success as a player relying heavily on his movement and the requirement of the team to be very service-oriented to get the best out of him, needs to be noted. With United overloading creators like Eriksen and De Jong to help Bruno and Sancho, a service-demanding and low ball-affinity CF like Dembele could work a charm, but a second CF option who provides what Moussa cannot (maybe Martial?), might have to be considered as well.

Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 7.5/10

Tammy Abraham

Age: 24
Club: Roma
Nation: England
Position: CF
Foot: Right (90% usage)
Contract ends: June, 2026
Current market value: £45m
Rumored transfer value: £67m to £90m

Becoming a great advert for English youngsters finding Serie A as a developmental home, Tammy has grown from his Chelsea days into a much more well-rounded and impactful striker, boasting 27 goals and 5 assists in 48 starts in 21/22. Chelsea have a buyback option of €80m (£67m), but Tammy’s insistence of being happy at Roma and Roma’s demands of a €100m fee make this seem like a tough transfer. But with the constant links with Premier League sides like Arsenal and Man United and rumors of Tammy being open to return to his home country, a mouth-watering bid has the potential to see the striker return to England.

Strengths: Tammy’s goal-scoring is world-class. Even before the Roma move, his values for ‘Goals’, ‘NpxG’ and ‘NpxG/Shot’ were always superb, on a per 90 basis. He’s now just gotten a full season to see them translate to top-class season numbers. His shot quality has always been a hallmark and he ranks the best for ‘NpxG/Shot’ in our dataset. This refers to his ability to get into very good areas and take high value shots close to the goal. Good movement and positioning, whether it’s to get into the box between defenders or to get at the end of a searching ball or to pick the space to receive when the team is attacking in transition – Tammy has a natural flair for purposeful movement. Tammy receives 20% of his passes inside the box while 48% of his touches in the box lead to a shot. These highlight what a strong central box presence he is. While not really creative, Tammy has the strength to hold off defenders, play back-to-goal and lay off quick one-touch passes to advancing teammates. He also has the ability to release wide players in transition if the space is there, being more progressive in his passing than one might imagine. He’s very diligent in tracking back and covering passing lanes during the opposition build-up – things he has learnt well under Jose Mourinho.


Weaknesses: Tammy isn’t the fastest on the ground, his height and lanky frame taking off some acceleration. He has a tendency to drift in and out of games, often coming to life in decisive moments, but also seemingly going missing in other moments. His hold up play and ball control,  especially in deeper areas of the pitch, can do with improvement. He’s efficient and neat but the requirements of technical play when far from goal and faced with low blocks, might be tough on him in a possession-based side. Tammy’s carrying is below average, with the player often opting for a quick pass instead of carrying towards goal. This means that he needs to be supported well in attack and cannot be expected to keep hold of the ball for long using close control, until teammates arrive. 

Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 9/10

Victor Osihmen

Age: 23
Club: Napoli
Nation: Nigeria
Position: CF
Foot: Right (90% usage)
Contract ends: June, 2025
Current market value: £58.5m
Rumored transfer value: £70m to £90m

Like Lautaro Martinez, even at the young age of 23, Osihmen already feels like an established star, boasting double-digit goals for 4 consecutive seasons now, the last 2 being at Napoli. His 21/22 season ended with 18 goals and 2 assists in 26 starts. Napoli signed the Nigerian for a club record fee of potentially €80m. The chances of them letting go of their prized possession for anything less than that amount, considering he has 3 more years left on his contract, are slim. 

Strengths: Physically, Osihmen is probably the most impressive striker in our list. His height, strength, pace, agility and energy speak of a combination that is really rare to find. This leads to him getting to the ball often – whether it’s a dynamic leap or a burstful run across the ground or a sprint across the opposition box – Osihmen is usually there, outmuscling or outrunning opponents with a childish ease. His speed and acceleration enable him to make start-stop or direction-changing runs that are hard to track. He’s also really adept at carrying, using his physical traits to power through with the ball, when faced with defenders. His hold up and close control are also strong, thanks to the combination of his physical traits and ball control technique. Similar to Lukaku, he’s easily able to hold defenders off, shield the ball and play it off to his teammate without losing it. His high IQ movement is the reason for his high ‘Progressive passes received’ stat. He is adept at finishing from his head as well as left foot.

Weaknesses: Most glaringly, Osimhen is yet to cross 33 starts in a season. His 2 seasons for Napoli have seen 19 and 26 starts in all competitions, respectively. Repetitive injuries of different nature have plagued the player. While his scoring rate is great on a per 90 basis, he is still yet to cross 18 goals a season, thanks to his fitness record. Also, Osihmen isn’t really creative on the ball. He’s not a great passer and is poor at progression and creation from passes. His strong carrying and physical ability to hold the ball until he can pick out a straightforward pass, is what helps him keep the game going, but don’t expect him to create for others.

Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 8.5/10

Gianluca Scamacca

Age: 23
Club: Sassuolo
Nation: Italy
Position: CF
Foot: Right (91% usage)
Contract ends: June, 2026
Current market value: £26m
Rumored transfer value: £40m to £50m

With his imposing frame, eye-catching tattoos and excellence for Sassuolo this season, Scamacca’s potential movement to a Champions League club has been one of the stories of the summer. With various clubs linked at many points, the consensus seems to be that Paris Saint-Germain have got their man for €50m. But with the deal still not official, one can never rule out anything. I mean, what if PSG target the frustrated Ronaldo, leaving Scamacca open to join United? A man can dream.

Strengths: Scamacca’s most noticeable trait is his imposing 6’5” frame. Likened to Zlatan, the Italian is very strong in the air, but combines that physicality with a good first touch and close control. He probably has the best hold up and close control in our list. Scamacca can pluck balls out of thin air, bring them down with finesse, shield it against defenders and then find a teammate easily. He is very versatile in terms of contribution in open play, having the ability to run the channels or wide areas, stay in the box like a target man or drop deep to help connect play. While not being too creative, Scamacca is a very aware and deceitfully skillful shot creator utilizing smart flicks, dummies, tap-downs, cutbacks, through balls and crosses to find his teammates in good situations. He also has a wonderful shooting technique, able to rifle it from distance or tap it in precisely from close-range.

Weaknesses: His great shooting technique and eagerness to do too much, make him take some bad shooting decisions, especially from distance. He’ll often be found releasing one from afar, when a better choice could have been made. This is the reason for his below average ‘NPxG/Shot’. Scamacca doesn’t have the poaching pedigree of some of the others on our list. This is the first time in his career he has got double digit league goals, while his profile feels a bit too well-rounded and all-over-the-place at times, which might not be ideal for a club wanting a consistent goal threat capable of being the league’s top scorer. 

Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10

Final Thoughts

A final summary of our summer 2022 CF shortlist:

RankNameClubAgeProsConsScore
1Lautaro MartinezInter24Movement, Mentals, Finishing, Link-upLeft-sided bias, Untested as lone CF9.5
2Tammy AbrahamRoma24Movement, Finishing, Transition gameHold up, Consistency, Creativity9
3Victor OsimhenNapoli23Physicals, Movement, CarryingFitness, Passing, Creativity8.5
4Gianluca ScamaccaSassuolo23Hold up, Versatility, TechniqueShooting decisions, Poaching, Final ball 8
5Moussa DembeleLyon25Movement, Finishing, ProvenHold up, Creativity, Need for service, Progression7.5
6Mohamed BayoClermont Foot24Movement, Finishing, AgilityHold up, Technique, Defending7

Roughly speaking, the summary implies that if United want a top CF for years to come, they’re gonna have to pay up. Either of Lautaro, Tammy and Osimhen would prove to be a costly affair. Given their skill sets, it seems like a big swing for the Inter Milan man makes most sense for United. A low-price pickup for Dembele or Bayo would prove to be very cost-effective and immediately give United the poacher option they are missing, but might require an upgrade again in a year or two. These 2 players could work in tandem with Ronaldo or Martial or any future CF. Scamacca, on the other hand, offers something different at a decent price and could be really instrumental in bringing others into play in a unified attack.

All said and done, there are good options. United should ideally take advantage of the Ronaldo uproar and start looking at some of these names as a replacement. They need to do it anyway, whether it’s now or next year. A 37 year-old fading limited striker is not the face of a youth-focused rebuild. United need to go for the inevitable upgrade. The more they delay it, the lesser the options remain in the market, an effect we have seen when it comes to getting a defensive midfielder.

Thanks for reading so far. If there are any specific requests that are linked to United, please inform us and we can do them separately. 

Search for a RW: Summer 2022 Shortlist

United’s summer business for 2022 has been a case of a lot of noise, but no actual results. What was hailed and expected to be a quick and intense rebuilding of a team that was the subject of huge disappointment and embarrassment in 21/22, has resulted in a complete lack of movement in terms of sales and buys. Coupled with rival teams strengthening proactively, and attempting to build deeper squads as protection against a season that will include a winter World Cup in the middle of it, United’s lack of movement for key starter positions that have issues, is demotivating to say the least.

Defensive midfielder remains a priority position but that seems nowhere close to being addressed, with rumors of Frenkie De Jong and Eriksen doing the rounds, neither of whom fit the archetype. Our top targets based on the shortlist created this year contained Grillitsch, Kamara, Tchouameni and Doucoure, all of whom have moved or are set to move soon. While the midfield search seems focused on a chase behind Frenkie De Jong, today we turn our attention to another problem area of the squad – Right Winger.

Why is RW a problem area?

I’m going to lay out a statement that might cause some debate.

United have no viable right winger starter

Let me explain. Rashford, Elanga, Sancho, Garnacho all prefer playing from the left while Amad Diallo and Pellistri are too raw to command a starting RW position having played just a combined 15 senior team 90s in Europe in their career so far.

The most debated statement here will be Sancho’s. As much as fans would like to believe Sancho can be the permanent RW solution for United, his stats suggest he’s better at LW, while his playing profile also indicates much more comfort playing from the left and cutting in. Laurie Whitwell revealed on his podcast this year that Ole bought Sancho for the LW position, while the decisions of Ole and Rangnick to play Sancho predominantly on the left this season have confirmed these thoughts as well. There is a strong chance that Sancho continues playing off the left, and even if he does take the right side temporarily for a season, it might be in United’s best interest to acquire a permanent RW that fits Erik Ten Hag’s tactics.

What kind of RW should we target?

A tougher question to answer. But if we are going by Erik Ten Hag’s preferences, we have a few hints to go on. At Ajax, he used inverted wingers who were good at wide play. The wingers often held width to stretch play and then had the ability to cut in and create/score when presented with isolation situations (1-on-1s with fullbacks after overloading the opposite side). There are variations to this. Tadic was a more narrow support striker type LW when he played there (A role Sancho or Rashford could mirror), Antony was closer to the isolation winger archetype, holding width and using his dribbling to cut in while Ziyech was more creative attempting to roam inside and pick out passes for his other attackers and midfield runners. But largely speaking, they were all inverted and well-rounded enough to offer wide play and cut in, work with other attackers and provide output in terms of assists or goals when in dangerous areas. This is what I’ll be going on in terms of statistics that I’ll pick out to create a shortlist.

 

Creating a shortlist

I’ll keep this brief so that we can spend more time on the final targets. A summary of my actions:

  • I downloaded data from Fbref (You can find a drive here where I’ve uploaded all player stats and team logos)
  • I converted all stats to per 50 touches to better reflect what players do with the ball
  • I filtered out players with low 90s (>12 league 90s played) and all positions other than wingers
  • I converted all stats to percentiles within this group (Note: This will be very different from Fbref percentiles thanks to a more narrow dataset.)

I used the following 5 stats to create a weighted formula:

Dribbles attempted: 30% weightage

Progressive Carries: 20% weightage

NpxG: 10% weightage

Pressures: 20% weightage

xA: 20% weightage

50% of the weightage is purely towards the 2 carrying stats. The reason is simply because we want a strong dribbler, first and foremost. Pressing and expected assists carry the next most importance because we want a winger who can press (Rashford, Sancho, CR are all very poor pressers) and has a good final ball. The last weightage for NPxG is to ensure that our winger has some good movement to get into the box and generate scoring chances for himself, something that can be of value considering the creativity of Sancho and Bruno.

The final filter was age. We want someone under the age of 25 so that this position is sorted for a long time. The results were as follows:

Kulusevski and Vinicius Jr. topping our list gives us a good indication. Even by the eye test, Kulusevski is one RW who has the perfect mix of carrying, creation, scoring and pressing that would benefit a top team, as Spurs are finding out in recent times, while an inverted version of what Vinicius is doing this year would be a godsend.

So, we’re on the right track. The next step is to find out who can realistically work as a permanent RW for us. We need to filter out players who are better off the left (Ali Cho, Holtmann etc.) and players who would not move to United at this point (Salah, Kulusevski etc.). I also used some minimum filters (10%-20%) on each stat to avoid players who are really poor at 1 aspect (Eg. Someone who is very poor at pressing like Chukwueze).

After these filters, the results are as follows:

These are the top 6 by weighted score who can play RW permanently and are realistic to pursue. This becomes our shortlist. Yay!

Let’s get into the details of each attacker to further figure out their potential to be Manchester United’s right winger.

Note: The pizza charts from here on are based on the same percentiles I calculated on a per 50 touch basis in our narrow dataset of Europe’s wingers who have played >15 90s. They are not Fbref percentiles. These percentiles will seem a bit more extreme (highs and lows) due to the narrow dataset, and will serve to let us know how good/bad someone is for a given stat as compared to the others in the same set of players. 

Nico Williams

Club: Athletic Bilbao
Nation: Spain
Age: 19
Position: RW, LW
Foot: Right (74%)
Contract end: June, 2024
Market Value: £10.80m
Rumored transfer fee: £40m-£50m

The brother of club teammate Inaki Williams, Nico made it as a permanent RW candidate in our shortlist because he has played RW 44 times and LW 6 times in his senior career so far. As you can see, it’s not been a vast career. The Spaniard only had 2 sub appearances last season. This season has been his breakout one as he made 40 appearances across all competitions. Only 14 of these were starts. Bilbao have played a consistent 4-4-2 this season with Bereneguer starting the year as RM, but Nico has been pushing him hard for that spot, often rotating with him. By season end, Nico was featuring more often, ending 21/22 with 5 continuous league starts at RM, seemingly having made that spot his own. 

Pros: If you’ve been missing a throwback electric orthodox right winger, look no further. Nico’s best trait is his dribbling. Using his electric pace, tight ball control and quick direction shifts, Nico is a heavy take-on winger. He stays wide to receive smartly and then has a go at his fullback which will really suit the wide isolation winger Ten Hag enjoys. Additionally, Nico has the combination ability to play give-and-gos and carve out threatening openings with short passes and brisk movement. His off-the-ball workrate is also superb as he fits into Bilbao’s famous pressing ethic. He’s a dream in attacking transition situations, getting into good areas with and without the ball and is a very intense ball-chaser if he loses the ball or the team needs him to help out on the wings.

Cons: Most of Nico’s weaknesses stem from the simple fact that he’s too raw. This was his first season of note in which more than half his appearances were subs. He barely became a Bilbao starter by season end, so a jump to immediate starter at Manchester United might be too soon. If someone questioned how much of an immediate upgrade 19-year-old Nico offered over 19-year-old Amad Diallo or 20-year-old Pellistri, it would be a valid question. Nico’s end product is lacking, merely as a function of his rawness. As the pizza chart shows, he doesn’t boast great final third numbers or final pass threat and is yet to score a league goal (He has 3 in cups). Given his talent, these stats are bound to improve as he keeps developing, but a call for an immediate RW starter might be too early for him. Probably, a year or two down the line, if required.

Overall Score: 7/10

Takefusa Kubo

Club: Mallorca (on loan from Real Madrid)
Nation: Japan
Age: 21
Position: RW, AM
Foot: Left (86%)
Contract end: June, 2024
Market Value: £27m
Rumored transfer fee: £10m-£20m

Kubo came with a lot of fanfare to Real Madrid at the tender age of 18. What started out as 1-2 loans for development has now stretched to 4 loans at Mallorca, Villareal, Getafe, and Mallorca again this season. The Japanese international is now 22 and staring at the last 2 years of his Madrid contract, as Madrid block their 3 non-EU slots with established youngsters, Vinicius, Rodrygo and Militao. The chances of Kubo pushing for a permanent move are higher than ever and as per rumors, Madrid are willing to part with the wonderkid for as low as £15m.

Kubo has played RW in Mallorca’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 this season, racking up 19 starts and 31 appearances. In his whole career, he has started 63 times at RW, followed by 23 times at AM, his second best position. The parallels with Mata in terms of profile are obvious.

Pros: Kubo is technically sound. His ball control, passing, playmaking and carrying are excellent as seen in the pizza chart. He’s a very good progressor and shot-creator, while his ability to dribble into dangerous areas is outstanding. He also takes a good number of shots thanks to his ability to carry into good areas and get in sight of goal. Overall, he’s a very Mata-ish profile or, from a Ten Hag perspective, a potential Ziyech type.

Cons: His output is lacking. For all his great underlying metrics, Kubo doesn’t trouble the goals and assists charts often enough. He has only 2 goals and 2 assists in all competitions this season and just 18 goal contributions in his 4 years in Europe so far. Some of it can be attributed to playing for teams that don’t dominate regularly and him not getting consistent runs in them, but he also lacks the aggression and mentality to take the game by the scruff of its neck and force the issue when the team needs it. This lack of output is a major reason why he gets dropped at times for someone who is a lot more direct and why Madrid are sending him out on loan repeatedly in hopes he can develop an end product. Additionally, Kubo is not the best presser in the world and his defensive intensity to win the ball back and help out in deeper areas is not that great either. His off-the-ball movement to receive in wide and dangerous areas is also average. With the ball, a gem, without it, not so much.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

Nicolo Zaniolo


Club: AS Roma
Nation: Italy
Age: 22
Position: RW, AM
Foot: Left (88%)
Contract end: June, 2024
Market Value: £49.50m
Rumored transfer fee: £40m-£50m

Zaniolo started his career as a midfielder, often playing in a box-to-box role or attacking midfielder role. He has played attacking midfielder 83 times and right winger 51 times in his career so far. But over time, he has been deployed more on the right wing. This season, he played 20 times as a right winger in a front 3 and 18 times as a right-sided support-striker in a front 2 and it seems like the right-wing spot is where he’ll make a permanent home at, whether it is at Roma or any other club. The recent switches to a back 5 have resulted in Zaniolo getting dropped more often, due to not getting his RW slot, which has apparently prompted an altercation with manager Mourinho.

As per the rumors, Zaniolo is expecting a system where he can play RW in a front 3 and a new contract that matches Tammy Abraham’s wages, failing which he would consider moving away. Roma want €50m for the Italian if such a situation comes to pass.

Pros: Zaniolo’s best traits are his carrying and shooting. He feels very comfortable with the ball, driving into half-spaces and fashioning shooting chances for himself. With 12 goal contributions in 30 90s this year, he is an output-based player and those numbers could improve further in a  settled system where he plays RW in a front 3. He has very good positioning IQ to receive between the lines or wide and is a good defender, not shy of getting into tackles and making recoveries in deeper areas. He has an imposing physique (190cm, 79 kg) that helps him in duels and dribbling ability. He is also a good shot-creator from open play, possessing a nice long ball. All of this suits Ten Hag’s winger requirements nicely.

Cons: One of the main reasons he has been moved away from central roles is that he isn’t super creative. His ability to break blocks via through balls and visionary passes is below average. He does have a nice final ball (cross or cutback) that can be developed further, making him better suited to a wide inverted role. His fitness is also one concern, but a large part of that was the ACL injury he suffered in 2020 that took him out for a full season. This year, he’s clocked 40 appearances, and the drops to the bench were largely tactical. His fitness issues could be behind him and his passing progression is a very small issue given United have Bruno and Sancho for that.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

Alexis Saelemaekers

Club: AC Milan
Nation: Belgium
Age: 22
Position: RW, LW
Foot: Right (80%)
Contract end: June, 2026
Market Value: £18m
Rumored transfer fee: £15m-£20m

Alexis moved from Anderlecht to Milan on loan when he was 20 and impressed enough for Milan to pay the  €3.5m fee to make his stay permanent. Over the last 2 seasons, the Belgian has been unable to lock a starting spot appearing 83 times, but starting only 59 times. His 12 goal contributions haven’t been enough for Milan’s ambitious setup to consider him unsellable. The Rossoneri are similarly dissatisfied with Castillejo and Rebic, with none able to hold their spots on the wing. They are looking at targets like Lang, Asensio, Zaniolo and Berardi and would be willing to part with Alexis for as low as £15m to fund a new-look attack alongside Rafeal Leao.

Pros: Alexis is a very direct and intense player. He loves to take on his opponent and has the ability to go out wide and cut inside as well. His consistent and passionate carrying ability profiles him like a classical right winger. He’s also a strong defender, boasting high pressures, dribblers tackled, interceptions and passes blocked. Pioli has also used him as right wing-back and right-back on occasions showing how useful the player is in such situations and where his strengths lie. Even as a right-winger, it’s Alexis’ workrate, wide play and defending that allows Milan to adopt a left-leaning formation which helps Leao and Theo Hernandez to shine in attack. This is similar to how Ole would use Daniel James to let Shaw and Rashford flourish. Considering United’s riches of left-leaning attackers, Alexis could provide a similar base for them to perform.

Cons: While Alexis is better as a wide high-workrate deep winger, he lacks the output, technique and creation metrics that come with an advanced attacker. He might be better as a RM in a 4-4-2 or RWB in a back 5 than a RW in a front 3. He lacks the final ball, creativity and goal threat to trouble defenses. He has never scored more than 2 goals in a season, while his assisting is largely thanks to crosses from deeper and wider areas, rather than creative penetration of the half-spaces. He doesn’t get into dangerous central areas to even give himself the chance to score or create. It’s not a question of opportunity, it’s just not in his skillset. If an inverted winger role with final third impact is the expectation, Saelemaekers falls a little short.

Overall Score: 6.5/10

Yeremi Pino

Club: Villarreal
Nation: Spain
Age: 19
Position: RW, LW, CF
Foot: Right (89%)
Contract end: June, 2027
Market Value: £36m
Rumored transfer fee: £26m (Release clause)

Yeremi rose from the youth ranks of Villarreal, breaking into the senior team at the age of 17 with 12 first-team starts in 20/21. This year he’s taken that to the next level with 28 starts and 40 appearances in all competitions. Still just 19, Pino has made the right wing slot his own, whether in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, while also turning up as a striker on occasions. A host of top clubs are chasing Pino with the €30m release clause in his contract being a very reasonable price for his talents.

Pros: Even though he’s a right-footer playing on the right, often in a 4-4-2, Pino isn’t like an orthodox defensive winger at all. His best trait is his goal-scoring. He has among the best values in our dataset for NPxG and NPxG/Shot and his high progressive passes received stat indicates his amazing movement to receive in good areas. His xA also hints at a strong final ball in advanced positions closer to goal. A lot of this reads like the profile of a goal-scoring striker like Benzema or Nkunku this season. Pino is very efficient, rarely losing the ball by attempting audacious passes and dribbles, more inclined to using his intelligence, movement and awareness to find spaces in the final third and utilize his composure and maturity to finish. In that sense, he’s not a ball-hogger, preferring to be an outlet instead, which could really suit Ten Hag’s preferences of combination movements in the final third.

Cons: Pino isn’t really creative with the ball. While smart cutbacks and quick dribbles add to his efficient nature, the flair for a visionary pass or mazey dribble is probably missing. He might not be able to unlock defenses on his own from deeper areas, rather preferring to be the one on the end of such passes. He’s also not a great presser or ball-winner without the ball, but that could be developed as he grows, since he’s just 19. As long as expectations of what he can do with the ball are tempered and a solution to the high press can be found, Pino could complement the likes of Bruno and Sancho well and offer United something they need badly – movement and goal-scoring.

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Michael Olise

Club: Crystal Palace
Nation: England
Age: 20
Position: RW, AM
Foot: Left (86%)
Contract end: June, 2026
Market Value: £19.8m
Rumored transfer fee: £35m-£50m

Crystal Palace have been nailing some Championship starlet signings recently and Olise is probably the best among their picks. For someone who came from Reading when he was just 19, Olise has forced his way into Vieira’s plans faster than some might have imagined, picking up 31 appearances and 16 starts in his maiden Premier League season. By the second half of the season, he was the go-to RW in the 4-3-3, starting 14 out of Palace’s last 19 games in the league. Given his recent move and the ambition of the Palace project under Vieira, it might be tough to prise Olise away, but there are rumors that if a top team came calling and offered a significant improvement on the £8.5m Palace paid for him, the Eagles would sell.

Pros: Olise is a dream on the ball. Possessing high ball control, natural flair and the directional change of a seasoned dribbler, he is great at receiving in tight areas, turning defenders with pace and driving into dangerous areas with purpose. His technical expertise also extends to his passing, with Olise possessing very good switches, through balls and game–advancing passes in his locker, that can help progress the game or unlock defenses. Everything Olise does on the ball is expert level, and in that sense he is probably closest to the Antony archetype that Ten Hag enjoyed recent success with. Additionally, he is also a good presser who is very willing to work hard when the team needs it, which is a pleasant departure from inverted winger wonderkids who don’t defend.

Cons: On the flipside, Olise is poor in attack without the ball. His movement is lacking, as can be seen by his progressive passes received stat. He doesn’t have the off-the-ball intelligence to read the game, get at the end of other’s passes in threatening areas and be a goal threat, which is reflected in his poor shooting metrics. He prefers to stay wide, receive simple passes on the wing and then use his technique to drive in, which could make him predictable. This is an aspect that usually improves with age though and under the right guidance, especially given Ten Hag’s structural plays that utilize movements in the final third, Olise could pick up this skill. 

Overall Score: 9/10

A final summary of our summer 2022 RW shortlist:

Rank Name Club Age Pros Cons Score
1 Nicolo Zaniolo Roma 22 Dribbling, Shooting, Physicals, Output Creativity, Positional clarity 9.5
2 Michael Olise Palace 20 Dribbling, passing, Flair, Antony-ish Movement, Shooting, Output 9
3 Yeremi Pino Villarreal 19 Goalscoring, Movement, IQ Creativity, Progression, Defense 8.5
4 Takefusa Kubo Mallorca 21 Creativity, Progression, Technique Defense, Output, Physicals 7.5
5 Nico Williams Bilbao 19 Dribbling, Flair, Workrate Output, passing, Maturity 7
6 Alexis Saelemakers Milan 22 Workrate, Defense, Dribbling, RWB/RB Creativity, Final 3rd impact, Output 6.5

And that’s that! Thanks for reading. If there’s anyone you think the stats have missed or is just a gut feeling from your side to be a United RW, do tag us on Twitter and mention so; we might do a scout report on him too (We did one for Raphinha recently. Here).

Scout Report: Raphinha

Leeds United in 21/22:

Most goals: Raphinha (11)
Most shots: Raphinha (85)
Most shots on target: Raphinha (21)
Highest xG: Raphinha (11.2)
Highest xA: Raphinha (6.8)
Most chances created: Raphinha (65)
Most passes into penalty area: Raphinha (48)
Most progressive passes: Raphinha (169)
Most shot-creating actions: Raphinha (119)
Most players dribbled past: Raphinha (70)
Most carries into penalty area: Raphinha (33)
Most passes received: Raphinha (1193)
Most progressive passes received: Raphinha (191)

It would be no understatement to say that Raphinha has carried Leeds United in 21/22. The Brazilian forward has dominated every relevant attacking stat this season. Not only is he bagging the Leeds’ player of the season award by a mile, his performances have been so huge, that top Champions League clubs like FC Barcelona and Bayern are now strongly linked to the 25-year-old, who is in the prime of his life.

In this article, we’ll analyze the one-army for Leeds this season – Raphael Dias Belloli.

Movement – A wide isolation right winger

Raphinha has started 31 times on the right wing in his 34 starts this season. He has been an ever-present for Leeds this year, boasting the 3rd highest minutes played after Meslier and Dallas. Whether it’s Bielsa’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 or Marsch’s 4-2-2-2, Raphinha has almost always started on the right wing.

Raphinha’s heat map conveys exactly what he is – a touchline wide winger. It’s actually a very in-demand profile and one of the reasons why Raphinha is being chased by top clubs. In general, good left-footed right wingers are rare compared to right-footed left wingers. On top of that, the nature of many left wingers being narrow creators and combining with central players means that managers prefer a right winger who can stay wide and stretch play to compensate. 

For example, Barcelona’s left half space is routinely dominated by the likes of Depay, De Jong, Pedri, Torres, Aubameyang, Fati and Gavi which makes play concentrated on the left side. This gives a wide winger like Dembele or Adama Traore the chance to hold width on the right hand side, receive in space when the play switches and run at opponents. This is exactly what Raphinha does and probably why Barcelona have identified him as a key target.

For Leeds, Raphinha does have to track back, as shown in the heat map, but largely speaking, he is the main outlet in attack. He receives the most passes and progressive passes, as seen in the stat attack at the start of this article. Raphinha’s clever movement out wide ensures he always gets the ball in good areas and then has the ball control and movement to cut into dangerous areas and score or assist in equal measure. Movement wise, it’s a very valuable profile and one of the reasons why he has found great success in the league.

Shooting – A great mover and reliable shooter

As mentioned before, Raphinha is Leeds’ top shot taker and goal scorer as well. For the right winger in the team, who starts from a wide position, Raphinha’s ability to move into good areas to score from both with the ball and without, is tremendous. Raphinha is in the top 20 percentile in the league for both shots taken and expected goals (xG), even after playing for a club that was in a relegation scrap till the last day. This, in itself, speaks of his skill when it comes to getting into good areas and shooting.

If we look at his shot map, his right-sided shot-taking is visible, especially the shots attempted from the edge of the box in the right half-space. But he also has many shots from central areas and inside the box as well, which makes him different from the wingers that just take shots from distance from their preferred angle. Raphinha actually has the movement to get into the box regularly like a striker and fashion himself high value shots from central areas.

Another aspect is the number of saves he forces from his shots. He often gets shots on target, showcasing his technique and ability to hit the target. Not only is he a good mover to get into good areas but he also has the technique to hit the target regularly. It’s a deadly combination that very few attackers can claim to have. 

Chance creation – Huge creator needing a finisher

If Raphinha’s wide movement and goal-scoring painted him as a dribble-and-shoot merchant like many wingers often are, it wouldn’t be further from the truth. Raphinha has excellent passing technique. It’s probably his stand-out trait. He is a strong creator in addition to being a good goal-scorer. Only 6 players in the Premier League have created more chances than Raphinha with 5 of them being the main creators of the top 5 teams and James Ward-Prowse jumping ahead thanks to a lot of set piece creation. It wouldn’t be wrong to call Raphinha the best open play creator outside the top 6 in the Premier League.

Once again, most of his chance creation comes from that right wing and half-space area. What is very clearly noticeable is the amount of short cutbacks from the right side into dangerous central areas. Raphinha is very adept at picking out those smart short passes that find a teammate. It has been Leeds’ misfortune that there was no consistent central threat this season to finish off those chances. With Bamford’s injury, winger  James’ poor attempts to play as a striker and Gelhardt being too raw for a starter role, there was no finisher to capitalize on Raphinha’s creativity. The result sees Raphinha end the league season with just 3 assists. Raphinha’s expected assists tally alone merited 7 assists (6.8 xA). It’s a good argument that alongside a better finisher, Raphinha will be troubling the assist charts. This is precisely what his suitors are banking on.

Progression – Elite and versatile progressor

Raphinha’s skills still have some space for progression as well. He boasts an immense 97 percentile on progressive passes among attackers in the league. Only 10 players have more progressive passes than him this year in the league and the only attacker among those 10 is Bruno Fernandes. 

His high technique levels ensure he is able to find players in a very wide range. Again, it would be easy to assume that, as a right winger who likes to cut in, he might be favoring just a few areas on the right and certain angles to progress. But Raphinha is a lot more talented than that. Whether it’s a pass down the line, an angular ball across the pitch or a diagonal into the box, he has a wide array of passes that can progress the game from different positions on the pitch. The whole pitch is his playground and it shows in his progressive pass map. You can’t ask for more variety and numbers from a winger.

Final thoughts

 

Raphinha’s pizza chart is a good summary of all that we have discussed so far. An elite passer, adept goal scorer and intense dribbler. The stats that look weak in this chart are his shot quality, dribble success, carries into dangerous areas and pressing. The former 4 are bound to improve in a better team, if he gets the opportunity to play further ahead and closer to goal. His below average pressing might be a slight issue for a team that is reliant on a high press. At Leeds, both Bielsa and Marsch stress on a strong pressing ethic which is carried out by most of the outfield players, barring Raphinha. His managers have often let him be the only attacker with comparatively lesser pressing duties, since he makes up for it in all the ways that we have seen so far. In short, he was the one hero player they gave a free pass to. This might not be true for a top team Raphinha moves to. The hero player might be someone more experienced and talented than him or he might join a top team that doesn’t believe in such a concept and wants a coherent high press from all its attackers. It remains to be seen if this proves to be a stumbling block for Raphinha in a top team.

Raphinha has been Leeds’ go-to man this season, whether it’s scoring, progression or chance creation. He has done everything an attacker could have, for a troubled side. The main reason why top clubs are pining for him is because his right winger movement is very desirable and he has the movement and technique to dribble, shoot, create and progress in almost equal measure. A well-rounded consistent attacker, Raphinha finished this season with 14 goal contributions. For a top side, that number increasing to 25 while ensuring consistency, creativity and teamwork, is a good bet to make. Leeds would be very lucky to hold onto him for another year. They should consider themselves lucky they enjoyed his brilliance for 2 years in the first place. Whichever team gets Raphinha next, is going to enjoy a top-class well-rounded right winger.

Search for a CM: Cheick Doucoure

While rivals Manchester City and Liverpool are locked in a close battle to decide who takes home the major trophies in the last few remaining games of the season, Manchester United’s season has seem finished for a while now. With Champions League qualification mathematically out of reach, the team playing in complete disharmony and disinterest (as evidenced by the recent 4-0 loss to Brighton) and multiple players having already announced their departure with a few others considering the same, it’s safe to say that both fans and players have mentally moved on from this season. 

The midfield search has also been affected by the poor performances of the season. The Devil’s DNA curse of midfielders covered in this series being picked up by top clubs soon after (Locatelli, Guimaraes) seems to have worked its magic again, with Aurélien Tchouaméni being strongly linked to a move to Liverpool last week. Regardless of whether he moves to Liverpool or Real Madrid, it’s safe to say that his heightened reputation and United’s absence from the Champions League have probably put Tchouameni out of reach for the summer. With Matic and Pogba leaving, the need for a midfield progressor is higher than ever, and with multiple positions to cover within a limited budget and no Champions League to offer, a smart and cost-effective buy who fits the tactical requirements is the need of the hour. Enter Cheick Doucoure, our latest recommendation for the player who can solve United’s DM issues.

Career History

Born in his home country Mali in January, 2000, Doucoure consistently played for the academy AS Real Bamako in Mali until the 16/17 season. The famed academy is responsible for kickstarting the careers of many top footballers like Gervinho, Kolo Touré, Salomon Kalou and Jason Denayer. RC Lens, who were then in Ligue 2, scouted him and picked up in 2018, soon after which he became a mainstay in the side at the age of 19. He played a total of 34 games in his debut 18/19 campaign which is extraordinary for a youngster. 

125 appearances over 4 seasons for RC Lens have seen Doucoure make the journey from Ligue 2 to Ligue 1. With Lens finishing 7th last season and sitting at 7th again this season, it has been nothing short of a magical rise for the club, just as it has been for Doucoure. At the tender age of 22, he already seems like the calm and composed leader for the club who dictates play from a deeper midfield position. His consistent and well-rounded displays have started getting attention in Europe and he has been constantly linked with many clubs, especially Premier League ones, in the last 2 windows. With his contract expiring in 2024 and Doucoure seeming ready to take the next step, this summer presents a great opportunity for a club to bolster their midfield with one of Europe’s rising stars without spending a bomb.

 

Profile Details

Name: Cheick Doucouré
Position: CM, DM
Age: 22 (DOB: Jan 8, 2000)
Foot: Right (94% usage)
Height: 180 cm
Nationality: Mali

Strengths & Weaknesses

In our CM shortlist article for the January window, Doucoure came out looking strongest for Pass completion %, Progressive passes, Interceptions, Progressive carry distance and Progressive carries. He ranks in the top 25% among Europe’s midfielders for these metrics making him a great passer and carrier with a good knack of positioning. This is close to what we want for our DM. 

Let’s dive into more detail for his key stats. I created a pizza chart to expand the above stats to 16 key stats we need to check for a DM. Here’s the result:

The more we expand on Doucoure’s passing, the better it looks. He ranks comfortably in the top 25% for all passing metrics and looks especially impressive for progressive passes. And this is  a player playing for RC Lens. There’s a good chance his passing stats (Esp Pass %) go up if he plays in a more structured top team. These passing stats for a 22-year-old show no issues at all.

His carrying looks even more impressive now. While he doesn’t carry too frequently, when he does it often seems to be progressive or entering into the final third. This also fits in exactly with what we want. We don’t want a very dribble-happy DM, just one who knows how to pick his moment to progress via carrying. Doucoure seems exactly like that.

Lastly, his defending deserves a detailed look. His tackles and interceptions look good. It shows he’s not shy to win the ball back but very high percentiles for these would imply a mobile ball-winning type like Fred and McTominay which we don’t want. Similar logic for pressing. We don’t want a presser who leaves his position constantly to press ahead, but someone who archives high success when he presses so as to not let opponents bypass him. Doucoure looks good on that front, pressing very less but boasting a high pressure success %. That fits in with what we want. His dribbled past seems a little low for our criteria. Ideally we would want someone who is rarely dribbled past. This needs further introspection. His aerial win % also doesn’t really turn heads. His physique and height aren’t really that great, so it would be wise to not assume Doucoure will be an aerial monster.

All in all, Doucoure ticks many boxes for the kind of DM we want. His passing and carrying are highly progressive without being a dribble merchant while his defending is measured without being a press-happy midfielder, although his dribbled past stat needs further analysis and his aerial presence isn’t great.

Technical Fitment: 8/10

Tactical Analysis

Let’s dive into how these stats translate to actions on the pitch. We need to understand how RC Lens plays and Doucoure’s role for them this season. Lens have mostly lined up in a 5-2-3 or 5-2-1-2 this season with Doucoure forming the pivot with Fofana on most of those occasions. The duo have started together in a pivot 34 times this season, showcasing their unreal consistency and Lens’ reliance on them. The pair are the 2 of the 3 most played squad members for Lens. In a possible 39 90s (at the time of writing) Fofana has accumulated 38.1 90s and Doucoure has played 33.7. 

Doucoure is the one who holds among the pair as right-sided CM while Fofana is more aggressive as a left-sided box-to-box midfielder. The two have a great understanding of when to move ahead and when to drop back. With a back 5 behind and attacking 3 ahead, one would think that Fofana and Doucoure might find coverage tough, but such is their mobility, awareness and intensity that they dominate midfield against most teams all on their own. Both are highly progressive, see the ball a lot and have impeccable sideways and vertical movement to support play in all 3 phases.

Looking at Doucoure’s pass reception map, it is clear that he acts in a dual role as DM and RCM as well. It is clear that he drops into the DM area to receive passes from his defenders, which is a good sign of what we want from United’s new DM and what the likes of McTominay lack immensely. But other than being heavily involved in the first phase, Doucoure is also able to push up the pitch especially into right-sided areas to help in the second phase of build up and ensure his team enters into the final third. The only player who has more middle third touches and passes received than Doucoure is – you guessed it – Fofana. As the designated advanced playmaker Fofana ends up topping those stats, but Doucoure is a close second. Defender Medina is another one who enjoys a lot of touches and is a target of passes in build up, being key to get Lens out of their third.

But what does Doucoure do after he receives the ball in the positions above. This is what he does:

He progresses. Mind you, this is just a map of his progressive passes. As seen in his pizza chart, his progressive carries are also among Europe’s best. In terms of passes alone, Doucoure has immense variation and ability to spread play on both flanks, find runners wide, thread short grounded central balls and play dangerous balls into the final third as well. He can do it all. He obviously ranks first in his team for progressive passes highlighting Lens’ reliance on him for progression. He also boasts great ranks for long pass completion and passes under pressure showcasing his ability to switch and press resistance.

His pass completion % is bested only by the 3 center-backs who play safe and Fofana. Even from his pizza percentile, his pass completion % was at 72 percentile in Europe. This is probably due to the system Lens play. Doucoure doesn’t have enough players in close proximity to aim at, due to playing a pivot. This probably gets fixed when he plays in a 3 man midfield or has closer options like an inverted wingback or progressive CB. At Lens, he carries all the load himself, leading to his pass % dropping ever so slightly. Overall, it’s not a real concern.

The movement is good, the passing is good, but what about the D in DM? Can he defend?

Yes, he can. As we saw in his pizza chart, Doucoure is great at winning his tackles and pressures. He comes out successful whenever he attempts a tackle or pressure and his dribbled past is decent on a team level too. His recoveries also show good defensive awareness. The reason Doucoure’s dribbled past stat compared to Europe seems a little weak is because Lens as a team are prone to transitions. The open 5-2-3 formation with 4 wide players often leaves the center unguarded. As great as Doucoure is, it leads to him being dribbled past in terms of stats, but his tackles won and pressure success highlight a player who definitely knows when to commit and come out winning. 

Again, logic dictates that with extra support like a 3 man midfield or inverted wingback, Doucoure could really take those numbers higher and become a solid DM. The comparison would be with someone like Rodri, who was a progressive gem at Atletico Madrid at a similar age of 22, but took around a year to adjust to the Premier League especially in terms of defensive transitions. But once that fine art of positioning (and fouling) was perfected, Rodri has looked like a world-class DM in the last 2 seasons. Doucoure can have a similar path in a new system that is structured like Ten Hag’s could be (hopefully) for United next season.

Let’s take a look at 2 examples that showcase all these traits in match situations.

In the first example, Doucoure receives the ball from his center-back while under pressure from the opponent striker. He has the strength to shield and awareness to turn and pick a smooth pass to his right wingback. Doucoure takes a few steps forward to offer support, but sees his wingback unable to progress and smartly holds back to give himself an option for the return ball. He positions himself between the 2 opponents so his wingback can see the pass and return it back to start the move again. Doucoure now has the vision and awareness to spot the gap on the left wing due to the opponent moving across the right to defend. He quickly pings the diagonal with perfect technique before the opponent backline can reorganize. His left winger takes it down perfectly. With the left wingback overlapping, Lens have carved open an attack, all thanks to Doucoure.

The above example was classic progressive DM play who starts the build up, is available for recycling and dictates play by switching and picking out wide players. The next incident is more of an example for when he helps in the advanced phase as a RCM.

Doucoure receives the ball in a tight area on the right side where opponents are crowding on him. He has the awareness to pick a quick short pass to his right wingback and the energy to power past his marker and receive the ball back. The touch from the receive alone takes him past 2 more players, giving him ample space to wait for the overlapping run and thread a through ball on the flank. The wingback is now in a dangerous crossing position. With 2 strong give-and-gos, Doucoure was able to bypass the 4 opponents players on the right flank, which showcases how good a support he can be in advanced and wide areas of the pitch as well.

In summary, Doucoure is adept at playing a nice mix of DM & CM and possesses the awareness and ability for build up, progression and defending. There is a slight improvement needed in reducing his dribbled past stat, which should be very doable in a good system as he develops with age.

Not much to nitpick here. It’s almost as good as it gets.


Tactical Fitment: 9/10

Transfer chances

Contract Start: Dec, 2019
Contract End: Jun, 2024
Weekly Wage: £3,000
Quoted Transfer Fee: £12m
Expected Transfer Fee: £12m-£17m

What’s even more exceptional about Doucoure’s current status is that for a player who boasts such impressive stats and consistency, his wages, transfer fee and media hype are criminally low. His £3,000 weekly wage is £17,000 less than United’s lowest earner, Tahith Chong. His rumored transfer fee is less than what United paid for a 19-year-old Dalot. This is genuinely a case of picking up a hidden gem, who will undoubtedly cost a lot more once he gets picked up by a mid-table club and proves himself for 1-2 years. 

And that’s exactly what is happening. Aston Villa were strongly linked with a £14m move in January and are returning for the Lens midfielder this summer, but they are facing competition from Crystal Palace who are willing to increase the bid to £17m to convince Lens. Let’s be honest – these are peanut fees for the likes of Manchester United. United can easily bid £20m and offer a 10x wage increase and still get a top footballer who is a tactical fit for a profile they desperately need and call it a steal. 

These are the kind of players who United later get linked with for heavy prices at their peak. One example is Michael Olise, whom Palace picked up last year from the Championship for just £8m, but is now being rumoured to cost upwards of £50m for a potential move. Doucoure will most likely have such an effect if he joins a mid-table EPL team this summer. If United have learnt anything from their transfer gaffes over the last decade and want to prove that the new transfer committee (after multiple sackings of the old guard in the last month) is truly a football-focused strategic one, they should be all over gems like Doucoure, before such players get too big for United.

The deal is an easy one. United can easily swoop in and offer a fee and terms better than Villa and Palace at any moment. It would take less than a day for Doucoure and Lens to accept the offer and United to get their man early for Ten Hag to start pre-season work on time. It all depends on intention though. Are United even looking for such a player? Is the scouting team even aware? Either way, it would be a huge miss if they don’t make a move this summer.

Thanks to the ease of a potential transfer, I’m rating the chances highly. This one should be a shut-and-closed case if United show intent.

Transfer Chances: 10/10

Final thoughts

In summary, Doucoure has none of the hype, wages and fee of a potential top DM, but he has the progression, consistency, defensive strength and intelligence of one. This is a classic case of ‘hidden gem’. A low-cost transfer and 1-2 years of settling into a system, can iron out the few gaps and make Doucoure a very top DM at his peak.

Technical Fitment: 8/10
Tactical Fitment: 9/10
Transfer Chances: 10/10
Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 9/10

Whom would you like to see covered next from our shortlist?

Bruno Guimarães – 8/10
Maxime Lopez
Ismaël Bennacer
Florian Grillitsch
Aurélien Tchouaméni – 8/10
Cheick Doucouré – 9/10
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa

(Notes:
1. All playing stats are from Fbref.com
2. All contract information is from Transfermarkt.com
3. All viz are made using Opta data
4. All images are from Getty Images
5. All mentioned data is accurate till May 10th, 2022)