Ibrahima Niane is a name that not too many people will have heard of before this season. In the 2019/2020 season, he only managed three goals from 21 appearances. However, this season the 21-year-old Senegalese striker had taken Ligue 1 by storm. He has scored six goals within the first six games of the campaign, with a hattrick against FC Lorient. That being said, when everything seems to be going your way, things can change dramatically. On October 15th, it was confirmed that he would be out for serval months because he had ruptured his cruciate ligament.
The 6’2″ striker’s fantastic start to the season was put on pause due to this injury and it would have been fascinating to see if he could have continued this great run of form for the rest of the season. Niane brought pace and power to the Metz forward line, and before his injury, he had scored their last six goals by himself. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of the Senegalese striker, examining what his role is within Metz’s system and an analysis of what we may expect from him when he returns from his injury.
First off, to understand how Niane got off to a great start for Metz, we must make sense of the tactics used by Metz under Vincent Hognon. Continuing from last season, Hognon sets his team up in a 4-5-1 formation, with Niane as his central striker. The formation can also be seen as 4-3-3 with the wide midfielders pushed higher upfield. With possession, Metz will build-up play through Habib Maïga. The central midfielder will look to play the ball upfield using the wide midfielders. Niane will stay central as Metz will look to cross the ball to him in the box. Using his height and strength he offers the ability to receive the ball either in the air or to feet as a target man.
During a match, you will generally not see Niane moving too far back into his own half as he will be occupying the opposition’s central defenders. Niane has received the fourth-most long passes per 90 this season in Ligue 1 with 3.35. This further reinforces the claim that he gets the ball from deep, or crosses. He is Metz’s target man and they look to him to hold up play. Now that we have an understanding of how Metz play and the role that Niane plays within the tactics used by Hognon, let’s examine the strengths of Niane and what the striker does well for his side.
Niane, the striker for Metz
A change that can be seen as a positive for both Metz and Niane is his move to play central more often. Last season he had been deployed as a wide forward or a wide midfielder. This season however he has strictly played the central forward position. He has played mostly as a lone striker but has also played with a partner on occasion. Why this change has helped is because of the way Metz wants to play and how they can get the best out of Niane from these positions. Niane is naturally quick and powerful. He has the ability to hold up play with his strength and size but also has the ability to run in behind opposition defences.
These attributes can be likened to Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku at a young age. We know Metz want to play this way based on the fact that Niane receives the fourth-most long passes per 90 with 3.35. Below we see an example of Metz’s long passes to Niane.
Metz had just won possession back off of a deflection cross attempt. Maïga had collected the ball and passed to the left-winger Thierry Ambrose. From here, we can see Niane positioned just in front of one of FC Lorient’s central defenders. Once Maïga settles the ball, Niane will begin to make his run forward, anticipating a quick forward pass.
The pass is then attempted by Maïga, and you can see Niane sprinting forward. Thanks to his pace, even though he is seen here to be behind the central defender, he is quick enough to eventually pass him.
While the pass was over hit, Metz would be given another chance at a long ball to Niane again less than a minute later. An almost identical situation can be seen below.
This time, it is also the same pair trying to connect with Ambrose playing a long ball towards Niane. This time he can make a better pass, and Niane can control the ball and pass to Opa Nguette, the right-winger.
Nguette attempted a shot but his effort went over the bar. What these two instances show is the way that Metz want to play and the way Niane can execute this phase of play. He possesses the ability to play in behind and receives balls for himself or sets up his teammates.
As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Niane had managed to score six goals from his six starts before his injury. We can see the breakdown of the types of goals scored below. The graphic above also includes his three goals from last season highlighted with a pink circle. From this total of nine goals, Niane has scored three headers, four right-footed, and two penalties.
One thing to note from his goals is that all of his headed goals have come from this season alone. From this graphic, we infer that Niane likes to shoot from a wide variety of positions, regardless of the quality of the opportunity.
He is currently exceeding his xG of 2.81 with his six goals, but you can see how he is doing that with ranking in the top 10 for shots taken. With those shots, he averages an xG/shot of .14. To summarise these numbers, Niane takes many shots with a very low percentage chance of scoring. We can compare this to PSG‘s Kylian Mbappé who leads these categories with an xG of 5.41 and xG/shot of 0.21.
While his shooting percentage is not the best, this season he has been most successful with scoring from close range. His ability to score from crosses has helped him and Metz immensely as well. Niane’s first goal of the season came from a header against Reims and can be seen below.
Metz had just won a freekick on the right-hand side of the field, with Farid Boulaya standing over the ball. Niane can be seen highlighted in blue. Boulaya would whip the ball into the penalty box and two Metz players would run forward while Niane would hold his run. Niane initially took a step backwards, confusing the Reims player marking him. The ball would go over the two players that ran forward and he ran upfield and headed the ball at the keeper who parried the ball into the goal.
That goal was made from the two teammates of Niane running forward but also Niane’s ability to lose his marker. The step back had confused the man marking him, which allowed Niane to then leap forward unmarked and head the ball in to make the score 1-0. Niane’s second headed goal can be seen below and shows his ability to stay free within the box.
This goal comes from Metz’s match away at Marseille this season. The ball is with left-back Matthieu Udol on the left-hand side. Niane can be seen in-between Marseille’s centre-back and left-back in red on the right-hand side of the image above. Matthieu Udol will drive down the left channel and play a cross into the box. Meanwhile, Niane will move into the box.
Niane can connect to the cross unmarked thanks to miscommunication by the Marseille defence. Maïga who can be seen on the bottom of the image made a run forward confusing Marseille’s left-back. The centre-back thinks Niane is being marked by the left-back, but he is not and is left open for a free header which he can head into the bottom left corner. This goal shows not only Niane’s ability to find space between defenders but also his composure to place the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
Niane has proven his ability this season to be a deadly header of the ball. He has shown his ability to shoot from distance which can pay off from time to time, but his goal threat moving forward should focus more on his ability within the box.
In terms of improvements for Niane when he returns from injury, he should look to shoot less from distance as previously mentioned, but also look to retain possession better.
The graphic above shows Niane’s losses either from an inaccurate pass or duel in the last year. Losses of possession can be seen all over the pitch in the image, and losses from duels within the penalty box can be understood as losses from headers or crosses. However, he is simply losing possession for his team in duels in places where he shouldn’t. As a lone striker, he is losing possession from duels in places that can cost his team. If he is looking to improve himself, he will need to retain the ball better in the central third of the field. He has lost the ball so far 86 times centrally within his 200 total losses. This season alone he has attempted an average of 4.46 dribbles per 90 dribbles, with a success rate of 45.83%.
Whilst some of his dribbles this season have lead to goals, his dribbles centrally are letting him and his team down. Moving forward, he should look to understand when and where to dribble centrally if he wants to improve his ball retention.
Unfortunately for Metz and Ligue 1, we will not be able to see Ibrahima Niane for quite a few months. His improvement in front of goal had seen him start the season on a high with six goals in six games and it would’ve been great to see if he can continue his fine form in front of goal. His ability to score from open play and set pieces makes him a valuable asset to Metz and at 21 years old there is still lots of time to improve. Time is on the Senegalese striker’s side and we hope to see him back scoring goals for Metz in the new year.