Senegal is currently the highest FIFA ranked African team in the world right now. Sadio Mane and Kalidou Koulibaly are the most high profile names in the team. However, they have many more excellent players coming through. This player tactical analysis takes a look into one of their youngest stars in the U20 World Cup, Dion Lopy.
Red Bull gives Africa wings
The fruitful efforts of Red Bull have brought much attention to the African region. Their recent successes with Naby Keita and Sadio Mane have led to more development in the region. However, there is still much work to do. There are many undiscovered talents in the region. Moussa N’Diaye and Dion Lopy both being excellent examples of this. At 16 and 17 respectively, they are two standout youngsters in what is quite a young Senegalese squad.
Small clubs, big talents
What is most remarkable about these two is where they ply their trade. Back in Senegal, Lopy is with Oslo Football Academy and N’Diaye with Cneps Excellence. You would be forgiven for not knowing both of these clubs. Cneps Excellence are this year’s Ligue 2 (tier 2) winners. Oslo Football Academy is an academy with roots in Norway. They regularly play tournaments in Norway and ply their trade in the third tier of Senegalese football. Most notably, they are the academy behind Krepin Diatta’s meteoric rise. Starting in Sarpsborg 08, he recently moved to Club Brugge and is heralded as a big talent for the future.
Born in 2002, Dion Lopy is a box to box midfielder. He would also be equally adept in a midfield destroyer type role. Lopy has excellent close ball control and press resistance. In addition to his technique, Lopy has an excellent physical presence. Whilst not particularly tall, Lopy is quick in the first 5 yards and has a strong centre of gravity. Furthermore, he imposes himself physically with the sheer amount of ground he covers. For this particular analysis, I will focus on Lopy in the game against Nigeria. He was key to both goals scored and Senegal’s ability to see out the match.
Is that you Gini?
Lopy is excellent in retaining the ball. This makes him extremely press resistant. Whilst drawing comparisons can often be unfair on players, it does have benefits. Lopy has that Georginio Wijnaldum-type ability to come out of the ball in tight areas. Especially those situations where most players would be expected to lose the ball. This ability allows Lopy to occupy multiple players at once, creating overloads in other areas of the pitch.
He likes to feel the player in his back and roll accordingly to a particular side, bursting away. He had an 85% success rate for dribbling so far this tournament. Lopy’s excellent ball retention was on display for Senegal’s second goal. He received the ball with two men who pressed him intensely. Lopy sucked them in, creating an overload on the right wing. He recognized the overload, passing the ball out to the right. Two passes later and Senegal had their first goal of the match.
Ball winning capabilities
Lopy’s quickness over 5 yards and anticipatory abilities make him extremely effective in winning tackles in open play. He recorded an impressive 15 recoveries against Nigeria. One such tackle started the move which led to the first goal. Furthermore, he was key to Senegal holding their one-goal lead in the last twenty minutes of the match. His endurance shone throughout the match. In particular, the last twenty minutes when the game opened up.
He was ever present in both attack and defence. In the Poland and Nigeria games, Lopy’s statistics were extremely strong. He had an astounding 16 ball recoveries and 7 interceptions. However, most impressively, these recoveries and interceptions came in the last 30 minutes of both games. This seems to prove the theory that Lopy excels in the latter stages of the game.
Up until their quarter-final of the World Cup against South Korea, Senegal had only conceded one goal throughout the tournament. Suspended for the game, Senegal conceded three goals. Now, this isn’t purely down to Lopy, but he definitely plays a huge role defensively for the African side.
Senegal employed a minor shift between their offensive and defensive tactics. In defence, they sat in a 4-2-3-1 medium block. Lopy sat as a right-sided defensive midfielder in this phase of play. In possession, it resembled more of a 4-3-3, with Lopy occupying the right half space.
Lopy rarely looked to break beyond the defensive line and remained central for the majority of the game. He mainly operated between the two 18 yard boxes.
Lopy is somewhat tactically naïve. This was evident in his inability to gain space offensively. Whilst Senegal were comfortable in possession, Lopy was poor at losing his man. The midfielder didn’t seem to recognise that he was man marked out of large portions of the game. His offensive behavior remained the same, often coming with his back directly to goal. Furthermore, he failed to rotate with his other midfielders to get the ball in time and space. This meant that he struggled to pick up the ball and impose himself offensively in large portions of the game.
Comfortable in transition
Lopy excelled in the transitions where Senegal won the ball due to his impressive reading of the game. The all-action midfielder was usually well positioned for the support pass immediately when he or his team won the ball back. Because of his close control, Lopy can retain the ball with two or even three players around him. Therefore, he is usually excellent in ticking possession over. He successfully managed the tricky period of transition to possession when teams often give the ball away. This is due to the overwhelming numbers around the ball.
Lopy is actually quite slow in defensive transition. His reactions are different from the transition to ball possession. They are much slower and without a change of pace. This slow reaction seems to be a cognitive one. I’m sure with the correct coaching, an immediate reaction could be ingrained as habitual behaviour. Here is where the huge potential for Lopy lies. If he can increase his speed into defensive transition mode, the number of ball recoveries could improve dramatically.
Lopy would be an excellent proposition for nearly any top club in Europe. There are so many upsides to this player, as well as potential to improve. Most of his limitations are easily improved through concentrated and specific tactical training. A lot of these limitations would also improve within a team with better tactical structure. Senegal, in parts, were quite unstructured. In a team with a clear midfield rotation strategy, Lopy could excel. He would receive the ball more frequently and in better areas. With age on his side, Lopy has a huge amount of development left over.
Lopy is still in relative obscurity at Oslo Football Academy. In all likeliness, he would only command a compensatory training fee, which could pale in absolute significance to his potential market value. At 17, there is plenty of time for the development of this player as this tactical analysis has shown. Lopy has already followed in the footsteps of Krepin Diatta. Diatta also trained with Sarpsborg 08 in July 2008. However, after his performances in this U20 World Cup, I am sure there are many more clubs who would be interested. However, potential suitors must be willing to invest time in training this mercurial talent.
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