After moving to Borrusia Mönchengladbach last summer from Guingamp in Ligue 2, Marcus Thuram has had a solid first season in the Bundesliga. His role in Marco Rose’s system has been crucial: being able to operate on the left-wing in a 4-3-3, but also as a second striker in Rose’s 4-3-1-2.
Positioning & movement
Marcus Thuram has played across the whole front line this season. Though the majority of his play has either been on the left of a front three or in a two up front.
However, even though Thuram has played more games upfront (18) than on the left (13), the majority of his play comes from the flanks (mainly the left) until he reaches the penalty area. This is because Thuram thrives off of one-on-one situations and isolating a player, this can be best done when operating in the half-spaces or near the touchline.
Due to the tactics Rose implements, Thuram can drift into the half-spaces because of the role that the number ten plays. This is often Breel Embolo and the wide movement of the forwards often opens up space for him to work within the middle.
Whether he is operating as a centre forward or as a wide man, Thuram will look to create distance between himself and the defender. This allows him to isolate his marker one-on-one and drive at them with the ball; where he is most dangerous.
The image above shows the positioning previously described. Thuram (highlighted) receives the pass from midfield after distancing himself from the defender. This creates a clear one-on-one situation, to which Thuram won and ended the phase forcing a save from the keeper.
In this image, although operating through the middle as a centre forward, Thuram still has similar movement in attacking phases. He looks to distance himself from the centre backs by drifting into half-spaces and occupies wide positions often as previously shown in his heatmap. Here he is highlighted dropping into the half-space so he can receive the ball, this allows him to turn and run at a defender. In this instance, he plays the ball out wide for a cross, which Thuram gets on the end of.
Yet again, the image above shows Thuram finding himself in a wide position even though he’s playing in a front two. He receives the pass and then has five yards to run into, he ultimately takes on his man and gets an assist from the play.
These movements do not only benefit Thuram but they can aid his teammates through opening up spaces in behind. Due to his muscular physique, defenders will either sit off the forward or they will tightly mark him, leading to them leaving their position. This is where teammates can take advantage.
Above you can see that Thuram (highlighted) is offering a short pass, resulting in pulling the centre back out of position. This allows Stefan Lainer to make a vertical run into the space created behind by Thuram’s movement. The ball is played over the top to Lainer and he can get a cross into the area. This entire play was dependent on Thuram dragging his opponent out of position. Yet, if the defender did not follow Thuram, he would’ve been able to pick the ball up in the half-space, turn and run at the defence.
Diversely, Thuram is also able to make runs in behind the defensive line. The 22-year-old can utilise his immense pace when making these runs.
Instead of offering the ball to his feet, the image above shows Thuram making a smart run behind the defence so that he can be played through on the right side. He ends up getting tackled in the end but nevertheless, it shows the intelligent kind of runs that the Frenchman can make.
Shown above is an example of Thuram’s incredible pace. With the ball being played over the top of the opposition defence, Thurman is 5 yards behind his opponent, yet gets to the ball first with ease and can then run at him directly. This is a large benefit to the team, as a simple ball into space can be so dangerous to the opposition.
These runs in behind are of great use to someone with Thuram’s speed, especially in the Bundesliga where many teams play a higher line; meaning an exploitable ball behind the defence is more likely to happen than in the Premier League for example, where many teams will operate defensively in a low block.
Direct and skilful dribbling
Whether on the wing or up front, Thuram thrives when he is being direct and dribbling at the opposition defence, hence why he positions himself in the half-spaces and out wide often.
On average, Thuram attempts 8.28 dribbles per game, and with a 67.2% success rate; it is clear to why he dribbles so often. With quick feet and a very direct style it is extremely difficult for the opposition to stop Thuram in his tracks without fouling; shown by the 1.9 fouls Thuram suffers on average per game.
With the additional strength that he possesses over many other wingers, it allows Thuram to be much more direct and powerful when dribbling; driving inside the area before shooting or crossing a lot of the time. With 90.6% of his shots this campaign coming from inside the area, it would seem like the Frenchman was a ‘poacher’. Yet, these high shot percentages from inside the area are primarily due to Thuram’s directness with his dribbling which often drives him into the area.
In the image above, Thuram has driven into the area with the ball; showing his intent and direct nature when he receives the ball. It also shows his delicate dribbling, where he chooses the inside route past the defender; and finishes well with his weaker foot to score.
The defender anticipated Thuram to take the option on his more comfortable right side; with his body shaping up for the Frenchman to take the ball on the outside. Yet, Thuram showed that he is comfortable and confident coming on the inside even if it is on his weaker side.
Yet again, Thuram has driven inside the area, this time noticing that the infield run is covered by two additional opposing midfielders. Thuram instead attacks the outside space keeping close control of the ball and using a burst of quick acceleration to get past his marker. He then plays an inviting ball across the six-yard area, ultimately being cleared by an opposition defender.
Many players can be predictable with their dribbling style, in turn, making it easier to defend against. Thuram has the ability to take the ball on the inside and use more technical dribbling, but also to directly take-on his man down the flank while keeping close control of the ball, to then deliver a cross. This naturally makes him a more dangerous player and gives him an unpredictability to his attacking play.
Aerial strength & hold-up play
At 6’3″ and weighing 88KG, Thuram has a substantial frame and with this comes great strength. This allows the Frenchman to match many defenders physically, creating another strong outlet for Gladbach.
His strength is also a vital component to his overall play, especially as a striker. It allows him to hold the ball up if being tightly marked, then he can turn and take the opportunity to dribble at the opposition, where he is most dangerous.
Many defenders know that Thuram thrives in a one-on-one situation, which is why some like to mark him tightly when he gets on the ball.
This is the case in the image above, with Gladbach in a defensive shape, they win the ball and it is played to Thuram (circled). He is being tightly marked, this is to reduce the chance of Thuram isolation the defender one-on-one. But his strength allows him to hold off the man, as well as another incoming opposition presser and then turn. This then allows Thuram to isolate the initial defender and run at him, while also holding the other opponent back. He ultimately wins a free-kick on the left flank, allowing his team to progress up the pitch.
Again, the ball is played into Thuram on the right flank, and he has a marker tight to him (circled) as well as two additional opponents in close proximity (highlighted). It is a situation where Thuram would not be blamed if he lost possession. Yet, the Frenchman muscles off his opponent and finds a pass to a teammate (highlighted) to break the press. This is impressive, but even more so with the constant pressure from the opponent marking him; showing the asset his strength can give him in holding off players when the ball is played to his feet.
Thuram’s aerial strength is impressive. While he won 46.9% of his aerial duels in 2019/20, with his stature he can certainly improve this number. Still, at around half of his aerial duels won, this area is one Thuram can use to his advantage, allowing his team at times to skip areas of attacking transition through a long ball to the forward.
Yet, Thuram does not aimlessly win headers, he is intelligent with where he lays the ball off and can play a very good cushioned header for his teammates to get to with ease.
Above, Gladbach missed out the midfield with their attacking transition by Jantschke playing a long ball over the top to Thuram; who subsequently wins the header against the opposition defender. Not only did he win the header, but it was also a great cushioned header to bring his teammates into play. In this play, his teammate was tackled, yet Thuram’s play allowed the team to progress the ball greatly with only one pass.
Thuram’s aerial hold up play is shown again here, with a long ball being played to the forward. With Thuram having three teammates nearby, he cushions a header down to allow the attack to develop. Just winning the header would’ve been positive, but his cushioned header allowed the fluidity of the attack to continue and to not break up play and rely on the team winning a second ball.
It is clear that Thuram’s strength in holding the ball up, whether it is in the air or on the floor, is a clear tactic in Rose’s system to progress the ball. Leaving out the midfield in some attacking transitions. The side average 44.12 long passes per game, that being 10.16% of their overall passes. This shows the intent to find the long ball to the forward player that the side has.
Thuram is a great dribbler, yet his crossing is an impressive feat in his game. The Frenchman prefers to play a low cross, opting for this 63.7% of the time when crossing this campaign. With only an 18.9% accuracy from low crosses, it would seem like this was not an efficient way of crossing but Thuram can still create dangerous situations with a low cross even when not finding a teammate.
Thuram often will look to get as close as possible to the goal before crossing, to maximise the chance of it being finished. A cross from a closer distance will make it harder for the defenders to read where the ball will be played.
Above, Thuram had been in a one-on-one situation. He has the opportunity to cross early but decides to take on his man and get to the byline. Then the Frenchman plays a dangerous low cross across the six-yard area which is finished by Oscar Wendt. This kind of ball across goal invites teammates to get on the end of it, but also can result in an own goal or potential rebound shot.
This is a perfect example of how a low cross could potentially benefit the team, even if the cross doesn’t initially find a teammate. After reaching the byline on the left side, Thuram plays a low cross into the six-yard area, but the keeper is first to the ball. However, he only parries the ball towards the penalty spot and it could possibly land at the feet of a Gladbach player. Although on this occasion the ball lands at the opposition’s feet, it shows the low cross can create a dangerous situation for the other team even if the initial low cross does not find a teammate.
In the picture above, Thuram has the position in a wide left position and is approaching the byline. Although there is only one teammate with the ability to get onto the end of a low cross across the face of goal, he still plays the cross. Due to Thuram being past the last defensive line, the entire defence is facing towards their own goal, making the possibility of one of them clearing the ball behind for a corner or potentially an own-goal a higher possibility. That is what happens as Federico Fazio scores in his own net.
The statistics could fool you to believe that Thuram’s low crosses are not a significant threat, and he should choose to utilise a higher cross more often due to his much higher accuracy at 40.7%. But the threat from rebounds and the instability the defence will be in are not considered statistically and they are main reasons to why Thuram’s low crosses can be a danger to the opponent.
Overdribbling at times
Although his dribbling is a great asset to his game; at times Thuram prolongs his dribbles when another option such as a pass or shot is available. It does help at times, as he can find teammates in more clearcut positions as shown beforehand, but it also leads to him not shooting enough, with an average of only 1.44 shots per game.
This is a good example. Above, Thuram has cut inside and has half a chance to get a shot away. At the very least, he would test the keeper, or a safe option would be to pass to a player inside, but Thuram tries to cut back and dribble on the outside; where he is tackled.
In the image above, Thuram has already dribbled past two players and has an option to put a cross into the box. He instead chooses to attempt to dribble past a third man and is unable to. At times he needs to assess whether to dribble further or not.
It is clear that Thuram is a very talented dribbler either on the flank or coming inside, but at times he should release the ball sooner for a cross, pass or shot. A low amount of shots per game could be the reason he is underperforming his xG per 90 (0.36) in comparison to his actual goals per 90 (0.3). Taking more shots in positions around the box could lead to a higher goal output for the forward.
However, a balance is needed to be found as the dribbling style Thuram possesses is what makes him such a dangerous outfit for Gladbach.
Although this isn’t a necessity in the Frenchman’s game, with better defensive positioning he would help the team when oppositions are in attacking transition; with it being more difficult for them to progress the ball.
At times, Thuram will not be blocking passing lanes, or be in a position to press the player effectively. Improvements in these areas would inevitably increase Thuram’s interceptions per 90; which was an average of 2.3 in the 2019/20 season. Although this is not a low average for a forward player, it could be higher with better defensive positioning.
In the image above, Thuram’s position is highlighted. He is deeper to attempt to block a pass to the midfielder. Yet, his teammate closer to the ball is blocking this passing lane; meaning Thuram is almost useless in such a deep position. He should instead be further forward so that when the pass is played across the centre back, he can apply instant pressure and potentially force a mistake or backwards pass.
As Thuram is deeper, the centre back can receive the ball and play it out to the left-back, with no dangerous pressure. This ultimately left Thuram out of defensive shape, as he pressed the centre back anyway, but was not in a position to make it an effective press.
Thuram’s lack of defensive knowledge and vision is shown in the image above. He initially is in a good position; blocking the passing lane to the right-sided option. Although as the pass is played to the opposition in the middle, Thuram is attracted to the centre back and moves towards him. This ultimately opens up space for an easy pass across to the player on the right.
If Thuram instead moves towards the player who receives the first pass, he could help encourage the ball to be played backwards, or win the ball considering he also had a teammate closing the player down.
Although this is not a focus for Thuram in his game and does not affect his performance much, improving in this area could lead to Thuram being more beneficial to his team while the opposition is in attacking transitions.
With the analysis provided in this scout report, it is clear that Thuram is an exciting player, with many strings to his bow. His dribbling is the most exciting feature he possesses. Yet, he has aspects in his game to be improved and fine-tuned; such as his defensive positioning and decision making while dribbling.
It has in all been a positive first season in the Bundesliga for the 22-year-old and it will be interesting to see how he develops as a player in the coming years.