Tanguy Ndombélé 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

Tottenham Hotspur have recently announced the signing of 22-year-old French central midfielder, Tanguy Ndombélé, from Lyon for a reported £63 million. Despite the 2018/19 season ending trophyless, progression was evident as Tottenham finished runners up in the UEFA Champions League. With this transfer, it appears as though Spurs are attempting to take the next step towards silverware.

It is hoped that Ndombélé can act as a missing piece in the puzzle and become a long term replacement for midfield powerhouse Moussa Dembélé, who at times, Tottenham missed last season. Given this exciting business by Tottenham, this tactical analysis will aim to provide insights into the Frenchman’s rise to stardom which saw him become one of Europe’s most prized assets.

Background

Many believe that Ndombélé is a major coup for the North London club, as the midfielder was reported to be receiving attention from top European clubs including Manchester City and PSG, but where did it all start for the central midfielder?

After playing for multiple low-level French teams as a child, Tanguy joined the Guingamp academy at the age of 14. However, after three seasons with the club, he was released after failing to secure a professional contract. After his release, Ndombélé had trials at clubs such as Auxerre, Caen and Angers but failed to secure a contract. It is reported that the clubs recognised his ability, but criticised the player for being overweight.

The midfielder eventually joined Amiens and made his first-team debut at 18 years old in the French third division. Ndombélé helped Amiens achieve back to back promotions as the club finished third and second in Championnat National 3 and Ligue 2, respectively, throughout the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons. Although, Ndombélé was often used as a right winger during his time at Amiens due to his effective pace and dribbling ability, but lacking experience and game intelligence.

It was Tanguy Ndombélé’s performance during the promotion campaigns with Amiens which caught the eye of Lyon and led them to loan the player for a €2 million fee, with an option to buy for €8 million. The player was moved to a more central position and Lyon activated their buy clause after the 2017/18 season.

2018/19 season

Despite joining Lyon in 2017/18, it was the recent 2018/19 season which has seen Ndombélé rise into popular football knowledge. The Frenchman, who has also earned caps for the national team since his rise through the leagues, predominantly plays in a right central midfield position, as seen in his heat map below.

Tanguy Ndombélé 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Tanguy Ndombélé: heat map.

Within this position, Ndombélé has both defensive and offensive responsibilities as an all-round central midfield ‘8’, as opposed to a solely attacking number ‘10’ or defensive ‘6’. If we look at tactics, within Lyon’s typical 4-2-3-1 formation, Tanguy sits alongside Lucas Tousart in the double pivot, with Tousart the more likely to sit behind the play as the number ‘6’. Ndombélé’s main roles within this formation are box to box, sitting in the midfield and aiming to break up opposition attacks, while linking the team units via passing moves or driving with the ball. The midfielder is permitted to advance and combine with attacking players, Nabil Fekir in the number ’10’ position and the right winger Bertrand Traoré being the players Ndombélé is likely to support. When advanced the player may also make late runs into the box.

However, Ndombélé needs to utilise his discipline and athleticism to recover quickly in order to get goal side of play to screen, attempt to intercept or tackle an opponent. Covering an advanced right winger is also a common theme, as wingers generally stay high and offensive within Lyon’s system.

In addition to the 4-2-3-1, Lyon sometimes favour a 4-3-3. Playing three central midfielders tweaks Ndombélé’s responsibilities somewhat. No number ’10’ places added importance on the Frenchman’s ability to support the three attacking players with runs, movement and passing networks, while the two central midfielders beside him offer a stronger base for Ndombélé relinquish some defensive responsibility. Again, though, the high wingers within the system require him to work and support the right flank.

The Lyon player’s impressive athleticism allows him to cover ground quickly in order to support where needed in either system. Such athleticism and technical ability while dribbling with the ball also allows Ndombélé to drive at pace while shrugging off challenges from his opponents, this is arguably his biggest trait. However, the Frenchman’s passing ability, intelligence of pressing, intercepting and his strength in the tackle all contribute to his all-round central midfield attributes. The same attributes which have led Tottenham to acquire his services for a club record transfer fee.

Tanguy Ndombélé 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Ndombélé looks to use his athleticism to get to the ball first and intercept after the opposition player takes a heavy touch.
Tanguy Ndombélé 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Ndombélé gets to the ball first and uses his strength to hold off a nearby opponent.
Tanguy Ndombélé 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
The Frenchman utilises his power and technical ability to drive and dribble past an opposition player.
Tanguy Ndombélé 2018/19 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
After driving towards the penalty area and attracting opposition attention, Ndombélé uses his intelligence to check his options and play a pass to the edge of the box. The receiving player then has the chance to shoot or pick out a more advanced team-mate.

How does Ndombélé compare with his Tottenham team-mates?

Below, you can see a statistical analysis of Ndombélé and his new Tottenham team-mates. This allows us to analyse how the French midfielder’s playing style and strengths are converted into performance metrics, and how the player performs in such metrics against the players he is now competing with for a starting position. Similar forms of comparison are performed within a scout report at professional clubs. League differences between the Premier League and Ligue 1, for example, the quality of opposition, intensity and the team-mates each player has experienced over the last season will influence the statistics slightly, however, a holistic data-driven comparison is still one of the most effective ways to compare the players.

In addition to a comparison of all current Tottenham players, Moussa Dembélé’s data from his final season with Spurs in 2017/18 will be included. The aim of this is to appraise what Tottenham lost when Dembélé left, and how Ndombélé may replace the departed Belgian.

Attacking midfielders, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, are included within the comparison. Without Ndombélé in the squad for the 2018/19 season, and after Moussa Dembélé left, Eriksen and Alli frequently had to drop back into a number ‘8’ position. In a similar vein, Victor Wanyama, Eric Dier and potentially Harry Winks are commonly characterised as defensive midfield number ‘6’s. This leaves Moussa Sissoko as the most applicable comparative for Ndombélé in terms of a box to box number ‘8’. A lack of box to box midfielders since Dembélé left is potentially another reason why Spurs signed Ndombélé. Now at the club, he can aid the work that Sissoko currently does for the team and free Eriksen and Alli to be pushed further up the pitch where they operate best.

While compared players do not fulfil the same role, it is beneficial to compare all of Tottenham’s central midfielder options in order to appraise Ndombélé, and effectively identify how all players contribute to offensive and defensive metrics within the midfield region. In addition, we currently do not know how Mauricio Pochettino will fit his new signing into his system, so an overall comparison is beneficial.

All stats shown are average per game statistics using data from all competitive club matches in the 2018/19 season, apart from Dembélé’s 2017/18 data. Data was not filtered and so stats are taken as an average from all central midfield roles up taken by each player, this was done to achieve the largest and therefore most reliable data set.

 

Player

 

Goals

 

Assists

 

xG

 

xA

Second Assists Passes (Success %) Passes into Box (Success %) Dribbles (Success %) Progressive Runs
Ndombélé 0.07 0.07 0.08 0.11 0.15 58.79 (90) 2.11 (60.4) 5.05 (80) 1.67
Eriksen 0.2 0.31 0.14 0.23 0.1 53.07 (80.7) 4.47 (45.7) 2 (69.4) 1.37
Alli 0.2 0.2 0.29 0.12 0.03 43.33 (82.2) 3.29 (55.3) 3.43 (56.3) 1.59
Sissoko 0 0.07 0.03 0.08 0.02 45.7 (86.9) 1.3 (48.1) 3.25 (62.3) 2.17
Wanyama 0.08 0 0.08 0 0 47.88 (86.6) 0.42 (60) 1.25 (73.3) 1.34
Dier 0.13 0 0.06 0.06 0 57.87 (86.8) 1.49 (38.2) 0.44 (70) 0.88
Winks 0.03 0 0.02 0.01 0.12 65.02 (92) 1.55 (52) 1.95 (79) 1.3
Dembélé 17/18 0 0 0.02 0.04 0.07 63.31 (93.7) 0.85 (64) 4.34 (82.7) 2.7

From the data, we can see that Eriksen and Alli excel in goals, assists and expected metrics, this is unsurprising given their attacking nature. Ndombélé is ranked fifth for goals per game, joint third with Sissoko for assists per game, joint third for xG per game and third outright for xA per game. This highlights that typically, Ndombélé is ranked just below the attacking midfielders, but higher than the more defensive midfielders for goal contributions, making his box to box playing style shine through.

As we move on, we can see Ndombélé excel in other offensive metrics, even ahead of Eriksen and Alli. He is ranked first for second assists, second for passes per game, with the highest accuracy, and third for passes into the box, although he performs with the highest success rate within that metric. Such passing stats back up previous notions of the player having an effective range of passing. This ability may enhance the Spurs midfield.

The recent signing for Spurs attempts over five dribbles per game and successfully completes 80%, providing further reinforcement of one of his key strengths which draws on athleticism and technical ability, his dribbling stats were the highest of all Tottenham midfielders. In regard to progressive runs, which links well to dribbles and the notion of progressing and driving with the ball in midfield, Ndombélé is ranked second behind his Sissoko who’s game is most similar to the Spurs new man.

In comparison to the man many hope Ndombélé will replace, Dembélé, the Frenchman performs better in the majority of metrics. Ndombélé offers a higher goal and assist threat in both actual and expected data, more second assists, more dribbles and more passes into the box. Although, Dembélé outperforms the new signing in terms of passes per game and pass accuracy, as well as the number of progressive runs. High performance by Dembélé in these metrics is not a surprise, given his large influence with both feet on the Spurs passing network as attacks progressed, and his powerful turns and bursts from midfield as he held off opponents with ease. While there are some differences between the two central midfield players and this is the unknown aspect of how Ndombélé will settle in the Premier League, all offensive metrics between the two are relatively close, suggesting Tottenham may have found a play capable of filling Dembélé’s boots going forward.

Player Ball Recoveries Possession Losses Interceptions Defensive Duels (Success %) Aerial Duels

(Success %)

Ndombélé 6.63 9.2 4.02 6.33 (27.1) 1.23 (51.8)
Eriksen 5.12 11.19 3.06 4.45 (15.6) 1.25 (21.3)
Alli 5.33 10.44 3.6 6.4 (17.1) 2.05 (36.6)
Sissoko 7.32 7.52 3.42 4.89 (25) 1.47 (40.7)
Wanyama 9.19 9.94 5.1 9.28 (18.9) 3.93 (46.8)
Dier 7.88 9.28 4.68 7.18 4.38 (52)
Winks 7.37 7.03 3.99 5.69 (23.9) 1.76 (31.6)
Dembélé 17/18 8.78 7.35 3.21 8.03 (25.1) 1.91 (28.6)

When looking at the defensive metrics, we tend to see a reverse of the trends identified in the offensive metrics. Eriksen and Alli are now located towards the bottom of the rankings, while the specialist defensive midfielders are placed towards the top of the ranking, with Ndombélé and Sissoko generally in the middle as midfield all-rounders. However, the ex-Lyon midfielder excels ahead of his more defensive team-mates in some areas.

Ndombélé is ranked fifth for ball recoveries, third best for possession losses, where a lower figure is superior, and third for interceptions. The latest signing for Spurs does not complete the highest number of defensive duels and aerial duels as his team-mates, but his success rate is ranked first and second, respectively.

The defensive metrics described highlight Ndombélé’s capability of performing the defensive side of the midfield ‘8’. The player utilises his physical, technical and psychological attributes to contribute effectively when compared to specialised defensive midfielders, Ndombélé even outperforms such defensive specialists within certain metrics.

In comparison to Dembélé in defensive metrics, the popular Belgian does outperform Ndombélé in the majority of metrics. This may have been due to Dembélé’s typically deeper starting position in the left defensive midfield position, but, it does appear that Tottenham’s record signing does have room to grow in order to meet the performance levels of Dembélé. However, at 22, Ndombélé has time to flourish, and, with the likes of Dier or Wanyama next to him, the record signing’s role may be more offensive in nature.

Conclusion

Overall, Ndombélé has demonstrated his capabilities of performing in all areas as a central midfield player. His impressive athleticism and technical ability stand out as he drives and dribbles past opponents. With the ball at his feet, he has the ability and vision to successfully link play during passing sequences and he has the game intelligence as well as the frequently cited physicality to contribute to defensive phases.

Within the data, Ndombélé generally compares well with his Tottenham team-mates as he offers a blend of offensive and defensive contributions, whilst excelling in certain areas. Ndombélé is not a carbon copy of Moussa Dembélé, and he does require improvement to reach the levels of the Belgian defensively. However, at 22, the ex-Lyon player, certainly has the potential to build on an impressive base of physical, technical and psychological traits in order to reach those levels and become a key player for Spurs in the coming years.

For now, it is unclear how Pochettino will utilise the French midfielder. But, Spurs fans will be hoping the new signing can hit the ground running and add a new lease of life to their midfield and aid the claim for trophies at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.


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Connor McGillick

Lecturer in Performance Analysis at UCFB Etihad
BSc Sport Science, MSc Performance Analysis. Current Lecturer in Performance Analysis at UCFB Etihad. Involved in applied and taught areas of scouting, recruitment, match analysis, performance data, set piece appraisal and tactical insights.
Connor McGillick
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