Since emerging from the Montreal Impact’s youth ranks, Ballou Tabla has widely been regarded as one of Canada’s elite talents. Just one season after debuting for his hometown club, the 20-year-old made the move abroad, signing a three-year deal with Barcelona’s highly-rated B team, La Masia.
Tabla made 30 appearances for them before returning to the Montreal Impact this summer on loan. This tactical analysis will highlight the type of player Tabla is and illustrate where the winger could slot into Wilmer Cabrera’s tactics until the end of the season. Moreover, this analysis will illustrate what the Montreal Impact winger needs to do to take the next step in his career.
Style of play
Tabla, by definition, is your classic one-vs-one winger and loves taking on his direct opposition at every turn. The 20-year-old usually starts from the right-wing but is equally comfortable featuring from the left, as illustrated in his heat-map below. At times, he will make cameo appearances as his side’s number ten, however, an attacking midfield position does not take full advantage of Tabla’s qualities.
The Impact winger is at his best in a counter-attacking setup, as he can make the most of his incredible turn of pace. As mentioned prior, Tabla thrives when he is used as his side’s main outlet in the final third and loves to have the ball at his feet. Last season, the Canadian international completed over 50% of his dribbles attempted, illustrating his ability to beat the fullback in front of him.
Tabla is capable of getting past his defender with ease, but his end product is currently lacking. With La Masia, the Montreal Impact winger found the back of the net twice, slightly underperforming his xG of 2.47. If he wants to take the next step in his career, Tabla will need to get himself in more dangerous scoring positions.
It’s not only about getting in the right positions for Tabla. When he does liberate himself from the opposition, Tabla could be hesitant to pull the trigger and would rather keep dribbling. He currently averages 1.9 shots per game, but could easily increase that output by becoming more ruthless in the eighteen-yard box. Below is Tabla’s statistical output between 2017 and 2019.
While Tabla’s end product is an aspect of his game he will target for improvement, his vision is certainly not in question. With the ball at his feet, the Impact man is among the most dangerous players in MLS and is capable of picking apart the opposition at will. At times, he struggles against teams that sit in a deeper block, however, his passing ability remains one of his biggest assets. Highlighted below is a sequence where Tabla’s vision and patience come to the fore.
Driving at the heart of defence with a defender on either side of him, Tabla slows down his dribble, allowing his forward to complete his run in behind the back four. Rather than take on his defender as he so often does, the 20-year-old exhibits increased patience and anticipates his striker’s run.
As soon as his teammate has the beating of his man, Tabla releases the ball and puts in a perfectly-weighted through ball, playing his striker in stride. Below you can see the opposition’s backline out of sorts with the FC Montreal man finding himself in an abundance of space. This sort of pass is not uncommon of Tabla, despite his desire to hold onto the ball himself.
On the ball
On the ball, Tabla is your typical ‘get you off your seat’ type winger and has all the tools to get to the byline with regularity. Flamboyant and incisive in possession, the Montreal Impact winger is devastating in full form. While the winger loves keeping the ball for prolonged periods of time, Tabla has recently evolved his game into becoming a more selfless player. Since his spell abroad, Tabla has become less static as a player and is constantly on the move.
Rather than trying to do everything himself like it was the case in his youth, Tabla has now found a balance between holding onto the ball and releasing it. Pictured below is a sequence where Tabla creates space for a teammate after briefly being in possession.
After interchanging positions with Saphir Taïder, Tabla finds himself in the middle of the pitch with the entire D.C. United defence in front of him. Recognizing that he will gain little from beating his man, the winger spreads the ball wide to the Algerian international and is immediately on the move. Pictured below is the continuation of this sequence.
With Taïder now in possession, Tabla makes an overlapping run beyond him, creating a 2v1 scenario for the opposing fullback. Taïder now has two options: Cross the ball himself or square the ball into Tabla in space. In large part, the Algerian’s options were facilitated by the 20-year-old’s movement.
After Tabla continues his run and a defender slides across to cover him, Taïder takes a touch inwards and whips in a dangerous cross. This positional fluidity and vertical movement have come to characterize the type of player Tabla is today. In fact, this exact sequence occurred a number of times throughout his game against D.C. United.
Equally comfortable with taking on his man or relinquishing possession and taking off, Tabla has diversified his game plenty since leaving Montreal. What hasn’t changed, however, is Tabla’s directness. Since he was a teenager until today, Tabla is unafraid to take it to the opposition and is as direct a winger as they come.
That being said, one aspect to his game that he will need to improve is creating space for himself against deep blocks. The above example is a good start for Tabla, but he will need to do this with more regularity if he wants to increase his output.
Off the ball
When not in possession, Tabla is the type of winger that likes to stay wide, playing off the shoulder of the last defender. While it is not uncommon to see him drift centrally, as highlighted above, the Montreal Impact get the most out of the 20-year-old when he’s getting chalk on his boots. Playing on the opposite side of his fullback, Tabla regularly makes vertical runs beyond the defence and is a true counter-attacking menace.
Tabla’s versatile enough to play on the left-wing as well and routinely swaps wings with his teammate. As a result, it’s difficult for the opposing team to get a reference point. Pictured below is a trademark run Tabla likes to make, which allows him to get in dangerous positions.
Operating in the left-back’s blindspot, Tabla makes a darting run into the opposition’s box. With his defender beat for pace, the Canadian international cuts across him aligned with the first post and is now in a prime scoring position.
With Tabla in an abundance of space beyond the defence, it becomes a simple pass for his centre-midfielder to play. Tabla would cap off this sequence with a tidy finish, something he will be hoping to do more moving forward. This run is typical of Tabla’s game as he often disappears from his fullback’s field of vision before reappearing in a dangerous scoring position. As he gets more top-flight experience, expect Tabla to become more of a goal-scoring threat, as illustrated above.
While he has only returned on loan, Tabla remains one of the Montreal Impact’s most intriguing forwards. His directness coupled with his ability to beat his man makes him a nightmare to defend against. However, he will need to add end-product to his game if he wants to take the next step in his career and become an effective winger at the top level.
This scout report detailed Tabla’s progression since leaving Montreal and demonstrated he could prove to be useful to the Montreal Impact’s playoff aspirations. With his loan expiring at the season’s end, it remains to be seen what’s Tabla’s next step.
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