Last summer, Nicolas Pépé from Lille to Arsenal for a club-record fee stole the spotlights. This season, Boubakary Soumaré is again stealing the spotlights at Lille. However, one of their teammates at Lille slip under our radars. Let me introduce you Jonathan Ikoné, 21 years old forward playing for Lille since July 2018.
Ikoné is an academy graduate from PSG’s academy. On June 2016, he decided to sign his first professional contract with PSG despite Juventus showing interest for him. After a year at PSG, Ikoné was loaned to Montpellier where he showed his quality under Michel der Zakarian. On July 2018, Lille bought him for €5m.
Ikoné isn’t talked about enough despite showing very useful and crucial attributes for today’s game. We will analyse them in this tactical analysis/scout report.
Playmaking abilities and intelligence
Under Christophe Galtier, Ikoné is playing as a #10 in a 4-2-3-1, his preferred position, behind Victor Osimhen. Playing as a central advanced midfielder, Ikoné likes to drift towards either side of the pitch. Nevertheless, he seems to prefer the right side, as you can see on his heatmap below.
Ikoné possesses the two biggest assets for a #10 in today’s game. He is able to create without the ball thanks to his off-the-ball movement but he can create with the ball as well.
Lille are struggling this season as it didn’t click since Pépé’s departure but Pépé did benefit a lot from Ikoné’s off-the-ball movement last season. In the illustration below, you can see Ikoné (the red circle) attracting the defender for Pépé to have more space infield to take the shot and score.
With the ball, Ikoné is also very creative. He spots space very well and makes the right pass in the right space and tempo. Something not many players are able to do at 21 years old. On both illustrations below, you can see a 19 and a 20 years old Ikoné (red circle) spotting space very well to play the ball to his partner, thus resulting in a goal on both occasions. His creativity is also highlighted by his xA per 90. He is ranked 8th in terms of U-21 forwards in Europe big five leagues for xA per 90.
As stated earlier, Ikoné is able to spot space for others. However, he is also able to spot space for himself. There, he saw Lyon defenders focusing on his teammates so he decided to make the runs between Jason Denayer and Lyon left-back. It resulted in a goal.
However, his off-the-ball movement shouldn’t be restricted as what he is able to do in the final third. Indeed, Ikoné knows how to make himself available between the lines to help ball progression. He is also able to go wide to open passing lanes if his teammates struggle to find solutions. This is highlighted below. He will receive on the right flank then turn his body quickly in free space. That will massively help Lille’s ball progression in this case.
Dribbling ability and versatility
Ikoné’s preferred position is as a central advanced midfielder. However, he can play everywhere behind the striker. This season, he has played 10 games on the wings. He didn’t perform very well with no goal or assist coming from there but he can contribute there if called upon. However, he can be a good winger in a different system. Indeed, his manager Galtier is asking a lot from his wingers defensively and they need to be fast enough to thrive on the counter since they start from deep. Ikoné doesn’t have that electric pace like his Lille teammate Jonathan Bamba, hence why he didn’t contribute in terms of goals and assists.
We did talk about many of his strengths but what makes Ikoné special is his dribbling ability. With 2.5 dribbles completed per 90 on 59% completion, Ikoné is ranked 10th in Ligue 1. In terms of dribbling completion, he moves up to fifth. A very efficient dribbler who can cause havoc thanks to it.
In illustrations below, you can see Ikoné’s turn and dribbling ability. Firstly, he turns himself quickly to make space for himself. Then, he is in 1v1 against Brest’s defender. He takes the outside to put a low cross with his weak foot for Osimhen who scored. His weak foot is correct but not outstanding. He can’t shoot with it from long range but he can make passes with it if needed.
Ikoné is also very efficient in tight spaces. He is able to attract multiple players in a very close area to make a great pass in tight space to one of his teammates free of marking. In both illustrations below, he attracts four players before releasing the ball to Rémy who went on and scored. This isn’t common for a young player to be able to keep the ball in tight spaces and make the right decision in a very short space of time. Ikoné is a special player.
Something underrated for someone of his size is Ikoné’s ability to stay on his feet under pressure. He doesn’t get dispossessed very often, which makes him able to get fouls resulting in very dangerous set-pieces sometimes. In the illustration below, he resists to his opponent and gets a foul.
Defensive work rate
Galtier asks a lot from his players from a defensive point of view. We can say that Ikoné understood it very quickly and his intelligence at intercepting the ball and cutting passing lanes is very good. You can see many of Ikoné’s strengths in the illustrations below. He reads the game well in order to intercept the ball then turn himself quickly to make an assist to Loïc Rémy.
However, Ikoné needs to work on his body orientation and his space awareness when he has to close opponents. In illustrations below, you can see his reactivity isn’t good enough to put himself in a good position to defend the inside and force his opponent to take the outside. He will have to overcommit thus resulting in his opponent coming on the inside with ease.
Weaknesses and question marks
Ikoné needs to improve his offensive output. He has scored three goals and provided five assists in 1674 minutes of play this season. Last season, he only scored three goals and provided six assists. He needs to contribute more although he is only 21 and has time to improve in this area. It’s also down to the fact he always looks for his teammates. He needs to learn how to be selfish sometimes.
Ikoné badly needs to improve his stamina. He started 20 games out of 22 this season but he only has 72 minutes of play per game on average this season. Galtier often likes to take him out because he doesn’t feel like he can make an impact in the last 10/15 minutes of a game. However, it isn’t all down to him. As mentioned above, he needs to do a lot of defensive efforts to recover the ball and launch counters.
Ikoné is still a bit wasteful. He makes wrong decisions at times although he did improve massively this season. In the illustrations below, you can see Ikoné having multiple passing options. However, he decided to turn and lost the ball in trying to pass it to his striker. If he made a backward pass to one of his teammates, Araujo on the wide left or Renato Sanches on the wide right could’ve been reached by his teammates thus resulting in a better action than lost ball in between five opponents.
As we stated earlier in this tactical analysis/scout report, Ikoné is a very good dribbler and uses it to attract players. However, he knows he can create a difference thanks to his dribbling ability so he tends to use it even when he shouldn’t. That goes along with his decision-making. You can see on the illustration below Ikoné prefers to dribble his opponent rather than go out wide or make a backward pass to his teammate.
At last but not least, we need to acknowledge Lille’s style of play and tactics. They don’t play a possession-heavy style and Ikoné might struggle in a system less reliant on counters. You can see Pépé struggling to adapt at Arsenal. Ikoné might know the same faith when he will move to a bigger club.
In 2019, Ikoné got called up by Didier Deschamps for the first time and did play four games during Euro 2020 qualifiers. He also played four Champions League games with Lille this season. So, how do we define his next step? Maybe in a very good club in Europe before going to elite clubs.
Do you remember when we stated earlier he likes to drift wide right? It can be reminiscent of a certain German playmaker under Mikel Arteta. Ikoné and Pépé developed a very good relationship on the pitch at Lille and Arteta will likely look at a replacement for Mesut Özil very soon. Ikoné would be a very good option for Arsenal and Arteta would love to have a creative, young player to work with.