Wolfsburg wrapped up the signing of Kevin Mbabu back in April after the right-back has enjoyed his fair share of domestic success in his home country of Switzerland. Over the last four years, Mbabu has accumulated plenty of experience in the Swiss Super League, Champions League and on the international stage and a move back into Europe’s elite competitions was inevitable.
This scout report and tactical analysis of the full-back will examine the strengths and weaknesses of the player as well as where he fits into Wolfsburg‘s tactics ahead of the upcoming Bundesliga campaign.
Kevin Mbabu first came to everyone’s attention after making his Premier League debut for Newcastle United in 2015, operating as a left-back on that occasion against current champions Chelsea. Despite being only 20-years-old and playing on the opposite flank from his natural right-back position, the youngster’s performance was picked out for praise by pundits as the future Swiss international helped his side to a 2-2 draw.
On his first experience of Premier League football, Mbabu put in a fiercely combative and physical display against the likes of Eden Hazard and Pedro, the latter of which enjoyed a torrid time against the debutant. Not only did Mbabu demonstrate maturity beyond his years by instantly adapting to his new position but also a clear desire to dominate his respective flank, not only with strong tackles but also surging runs forward into the opposition’s half.
This impressive outing earned the defender the trust of then-manager, Steve McClaren who continued to feature Mbabu in his starting XI and matchday squads whenever possible from then on. Injury disrupted Mbabu’s season however and the right-back was limited to only five appearances in a season that saw Newcastle relegated from the Premier League. A permanent move back to Switzerland’s Young Boys since has seen Mbabu establish himself within his international side and his club to back-to-back League titles before securing his move to Bundesliga competitors, Wolfsburg.
Mbabu boasts a 6-foot-tall and stocky frame which makes him a physical match for the majority of opponents he comes up against and means he’s no pushover in the air either. His exceptional stamina and moderate pace also allow him to marshall the entire length of the right flank, a standardised requirement of modern fullbacks these days.
Mbabu’s defensive numbers also show up as being rather impressive, in the Champions League last season for Young Boys, he averaged four tackles per game and attempted 5.4, meaning a 74% success rate for the 24-year-old. This suggests that the right-back is a fairly competent tackler and an active one at that arguing it’s rare for opposition wingers to enjoy an easy time against him.
Mbabu also puts out some impressive offensive numbers, making over two key passes per game in the Champions League for Young Boys and for Switzerland in the UEFA Nations League. This, in addition to the just under two crosses the fullback attempts per game demonstrates a varied and creative offensive output.
This was clearly shown in his side’s most recent Nations League semi-final appearance against Portugal where Mbabu provided plenty of service from the right-hand side, varying up his passing and crosses alike in the final third as his pass map shows below.
Mbabu’s variety in offensive output can perhaps be explained by his quick and intelligent decision-making whilst on the attack. The full-back is always ready to provide his team and outlet in possession, taking up wide positions high up the pitch. On the ball, Mbabu always plays with his head up and assesses the best move as he goes.
Mbabu’s desire to advance forward often results in the ex-Newcastle man making many overlapping runs which helps to create space for him to receive the ball in these high areas of the pitch. This space created gives Mbabu the time to weigh up his options and focus on his delivery which has allowed Mbabu to accumulate nine assists in fifty-six appearances in the Swiss Super League over the last two seasons.
Weaknesses and Improvements?
Mbabu could already be considered to be playing at or near his full potential as his all-round game is already demonstrating a complete package with little “glaring” weaknesses. Apart from his tackles per game, the rest of his defensive numbers (i.e. interceptions, blocks, and clearances) could be considered rather low however I believe this is more of a consequence of his tactical role within games and the fact that he plays for one of the more dominant sides in his domestic league.
His high positioning can also sometimes mean he’s caught out of position allowing pacy wingers and cunning midfielders to exploit the space in behind him.
Again, this is a difficult flaw to hold against him considering Switzerland operate in a back 5 formation meaning these situations are always more likely to occur in this system. Nevertheless, the fullback may have to adopt a more conservative approach moving into a more competitive league in order to minimise the number of times these situations happen.
Where he fits in at Wolfsburg
Mbabu has clearly been brought in to provide competition for his Brazillian teammate, William, who was Wolfsburg’s first-choice right-back last year. Wolfsburg tend to operate in a 4-3-3 formation but have also utilised 4-3-1-2 variants, both of which would suit Mbabu’s aggressive positioning and forward runs.
Mbabu’s competition at right-back, William, certainly appears to be more defensively minded than Mbabu, maintaining a closer position to the back four and seeing the Brazillian complete more clearances and interceptions per game last season. Where Mbabu has the edge however is in his offensive output, no doubt due to his preference for playing higher up the pitch. William only managed to produce just under half of the number of key passes and crosses Mbabu managed last season and this may work in the Swiss’s favor.
Wout Weghorst finished last season as Wolfsburg’s leading goalscorer and has just signed a new deal committing him to the club until 2023. The giant Dutchman stands at just under 6 feet 5 inches tall and his penalty-box orientation provides a massive target for crosses coming into the opposition box.
Mbabu’s addition to the Wolfsburg side would see more crosses and passes played into the opposition box from the right-hand side, therefore creating more service for the goalscoring Dutchman. Mbabu’s pace and presence down the flank for Wolfsburg could help to maximise Weghorst’s goalscoring potential and look to boost their chances in European competition next year.
As proven in our analysis, after two impressive domestic seasons as well as his performances in the UEFA Nations League, it’s no surprise to see Mbabu get a move back into one of Europe’s top five leagues. The fullback has looked ready for improved competition for a while now and frankly, I’m surprised he’s been overlooked by a number of Premier League sides who are in need of an upgrade in his position. If Mbabu can maintain and improve upon his numbers even slightly with Wolfsburg this season, I suspect it won’t be long before Mbabu is again linked with a move to a more competitive team.
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