In season 2019/20, Racing Club de Lens were second in Ligue 2 when the season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus pandemic. So, this news ensured them a return to France’s Ligue 1 after absenting from it for five years. Under new management of Franck Haise, Lens have started this season with getting 13 points from seven matches in the top league. They have won four matches and two losses, bringing them to the top half of the table.
One of the reasons for their new success in this early season is their shrewd business in the transfer market in the summer. Haise and his team have acquired Seko Fofana, Facundo Medina, and Corentin Jean, plus a few more. However, one of the new signings that have impressed the most in this early season is Ignatius Ganago.
For a better understanding of how Ganago influences his club’s early success, this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report will analyse Ganago’s playing style in Lens and how Haise utilises him in his tactics. This analysis will also highlight the aspects of his strengths in terms of his movement and dribbling ability.
Born in Douala, Cameroon, Kpene Ignatius Ganago started his professional career with OGC Nice from 2017 until 2020. The 21-year-old forward made his debut on 9 September 2017 and scored his first goal during a match against Monaco, making him the youngest goal scorer of the 2017/18 French Ligue 1 season. After scoring three goals and assisting one goal for Nice last season, he earned his first move to RC Lens, his present club.
Ganago is a right-footed forward who is very versatile to play in any position as an attacker. He mostly plays as a centre-forward, but he also can be deployed at both flanks. The heatmap below shows the area of his touch on the ball. Over his career, he’s profiled as a player who can make a bigger impact inside or at the edge of the opposition’s penalty box. Playing as a forward gives him the freedom to use his skills to hurt his opponents. We can observe that he is most active at the half-space or inside the 18-yard box.
Standing at 179 cm and 82 kg, the young Cameroonian has a body build that is suitable to play as a forward. He has physicality and strength to fight or protect the ball from the opposition. His athletic body makes it difficult for the opposition’s defender to take him down easily. Combined with his intelligence to find any pockets of space to exploit for scoring goals, he has attempted many shots to increase his goal tally. Since moving to Lens, he has scored four goals in six appearances, ranking him in the sixth place for most goals in this season.
Role in Haise’s tactics & style of play
Haise normally deploys his side into a 3-4-1-2 or 3-5-2 formation, which makes his team plays with eight players sitting at the back. They reject the idea of controlling the possession as their average possession is only 46.8%, below than league average (49.7%). They tend to soak up the pressure in their own half, so the head coach needs his attackers to be fast once they win the ball in the defensive third. Haise wants his forwards to be flexible in terms of creating spaces or exploiting any empty spaces in the attacking third.
Ganago has mostly been featured as the centre-forward in Lens’ 3-4-1-2 formation. The map below illustrates the average position of Lens against Saint-Étienne and Nîmes in Ligue 1. For both matches, we can see that Ganago plays in front of the opposition’s penalty box and inside the right half-space. This is where you can see Ganago’s link-up play with his teammates becomes more apparent. Ganago commonly drops deeper into half-space to drag the defenders away and provide space for the other attackers to exploit, and vice versa.
This playing style proves beneficial for Lens as it helps to create dangerous opportunities in the final third. This style of play can be seen in the below image. Kakuta drags his marker away from his original position in half-space. Ganago (in red circle) reacts quickly to exploit the space before his marker catches his movement. This link-up play between Kakuta and Ganago creates an advantageous situation to create chances in Saint-Étienne’s 18-yard box.
Other than that, Haise also uses Ganago as a target man in Lens’ build-up. Standing at 179 cm, he is one of the tallest players in the squad, so his manager wants to utilise his height to receive the aerial ball. As mentioned before, Haise’s tactics revolve around sitting deep and launching a quick attack. It is common to see Lens’ goalkeeper passing the ball long into the middle third. Ganago needs to be in the position so his other teammates that standing near to him can receive a second ball.
The image above that taken from PSG game shows a great example of Ganago as a target man. Leca passes a long ball into the middle third, where Ganago is currently standing. He heads the ball into the open space where his nearest teammate, Banza needs to run. Banza makes his run to take the second ball and proceeds to carry it into the final third.
When Lens are out of possession, Ganago tends to press his opposition’s defender or goalkeeper that has the ball. By pressing the ball carrier, he can avert any potential dangers when opponents start to build from the back. In few times, his pressing becomes instrumental to his team as he effectively steals the ball in the 18-yard box and scores a goal. The snapshot below is one of the examples of his pressing play.
Bordeaux’s defender wins the ball back in his own third. Ganago starts to chase the ball from his initial position at the left half-space towards to the defender. The Bordeaux defender decides to pass the ball to the goalkeeper and Ganago is quick to react to steal the ball. He successfully intercepts it and buries the ball into the back of the net.
When his teammates are on the ball, Ganago’s focus is constantly on finding a space in the penalty box where he can receive the ball with less pressure and exploit it to hurt his opponents. To see how good he is in terms of using his ability to find spaces inside the 18-yard box, we need to compare his statistics with the other players who play forwards in Ligue 1.
The statistics that will be used for this purpose are touches in the box per 90 and shots per 90. These statistics analyse the frequency of a player to touch the ball in the 18-yard box and find a space in the box to shoot the ball with enough time. The used dataset is from Ligue 1 20/21 season with forwards who play a minimum of 300 minutes.
We can already assume that PSG duo’s Mbappé and Neymar are the leading pacts for these stats because of their impressive record. What excites is that Ganago has almost the same impact in the penalty box along with these great players. Ganago can be found in the top-right quadrant as he is performing for both stats. Ganago is the second-best for touches in penalty box per 90 with 6.94 touches. He also has an above-average number for shots per 90 with 3.61.
Now that we cover the statistics part and prove he is among the best in terms of finding spaces in the penalty box, we will analyse his brilliance in off-the-ball movement on the field by using match footage. The footage below shows one of the perfect examples of Ganago movements.
Kakuta carries the ball from the middle channel onto the half-space to initiate Lens’ quick attack against Bordeaux. Initially, Ganago stands at one of his markers’ shoulder before he starts to move into the 18-yard box. He finds out that his marker is confused about whether to close down Kakuta or stick to his position. He capitalises on the confusion by running behind his marker and moving into the large gap between his marker and the left-back. He receives the ball from Kakuta in the box, but he loses the ball instantly because of a bad touch from him.
His movement also proves crucial in scoring goals, especially in a crossing situation. Most of the crosses provided by Lens players are whipped crosses or low crosses. These type of crosses are really rewarding for Ganago as it is really befitting his style. When we combine his intelligent movement and pace, he has great skills to receive and finish off the crosses from his teammates.
As we can see, Ganago makes his run once he saw Kakuta run to the wider space. Ganago starts running by following closely to Nîmes’ centre-back. Right after Kakuta crosses the ball, he runs to the near post to beat the defender and catch him off-guard. This off-the-ball movement during crossing situations suits him well as he scores his first goal for Lens.
Another example can be taken from a game against his old club, Nice. Once again, Ganago follows closely Nice’s centre-back as his teammate is adjusting himself to cross the ball. Once his teammate makes a low cross, he runs past the defender and reaches the ball first. However, this sequence ends with his shot over the crossbar. Nevertheless, Ganago’s off-the-ball movement shows to us he is great in finding spaces to receive any crosses from his teammate.
Another skill that sees him performing very well as a centre-forward is his dribbling ability. Once again we will compare him and the other forwards using different statistics to determine his ability to dribble and carry the ball among Ligue 1 players.
To analyse Ganago’s dribbling ability, we will use statistics of dribbles per 90 and progressive run per 90. The size of the circle will determine the percentages of successful dribbles. The bigger the size, the higher the percentage of successful dribbles. The used dataset is still the same that we used in the previous section, which is Ligue 1 20/21 season with forwards who play a minimum of 300 minutes.
Based on the scatter plot above, world-class Mbappé and Neymar are leading again in the statistics. Mbappé is the number one for progressive runs per 90 while Neymar is superior for dribbles per 90 in the top league. It is clear from this scatter plot that Ganago places himself in the lower right quadrant. The 21-year-old has a high number of dribbles per 90 with 6.94. However, his number of progressive runs per 90 is lower than the league average, which is 1.39. His successful dribbling also not bad with 40%, although it can be better and improved in the future.
Both statistics tell us that he is not a ball carrier for his side, as the role already being covered by Kakuta, hence why he has a lower number of progressive runs. However, it is a different story for his dribbles per 90. The number shows that he is confident with his dribbling ability, which he tends to use it for releasing himself out from opposition’s pressing.
After looking at the stats, we have a fair idea of Ganago’s dribbling ability compared to other Ligue 1 forwards. Now, it would make sense to move on to a more in-depth look at his ability on the field. One example of his pace and the ability to go past his man can be seen in the images below, taken from a match against Nîmes.
Ganago receives the ball from Kakuta after he intercepted the ball in his own third. In this case, Ganago is waiting near to the touchline before receiving it. One of Nîmes’ players closes him down quickly from behind. Knowing he is under pressure, he uses his dribbling skill to fend off that player.
He continues his run while another defender comes to block him. Next, he behaves like he wants to move inward by using his left foot and instantly pushes the ball outward using his right foot when the defender tackles him. He gets past the defender and continues his run into the penalty box.
He also uses his dribbling skills to beat off the opponents and place himself in the penalty zone. He always uses it when he receives the ball inside zone 14. For this reason, we can analyse this in the below image from the same match.
Once again, the movement starts with Ganago receiving a pass from Kakuta. Having received it in zone 14, the nearest defender tackles him to steal the ball. He uses the same moves as mentioned above by using his stronger right foot. Then, he zig-zags the other two defenders and puts himself one-on-one with the opponent’s goalkeeper. Since he holds the ball too long, he already attracts all defenders to close down on him, making him lose the ball and missing an opportunity to score.
Ganago is still young, so he still has some issues that need improving. One of Ganago’s weaknesses is his lack of good first touch when he receives the ball. While he can use his intelligence to find spaces to hurt his opponents, the attacks will be broken once he receives the ball when under pressure.
In Lens’ throw-in situation against Lorient, Ganago moves to the thrower to receive the ball. He receives the ball with a heavy touch, making the ball goes out again. This turnover of possession could be a waste of an opportunity to create chances for Lens. Ganago needs to practice his first touch when receives the ball under pressure as this could prove beneficial in continuing the attacking phase.
Ganago also tends to hold the ball too long when he is in dribbling to beat off his opponents. This behaviour runs the risks of losing possession during crucial times, especially in transition. There are times he chooses to hold the ball instead of passing to his free teammates.
We can see this weakness in a match against PSG. After dribbling it into the penalty box, Ganago has two passing options; one is in the centre of the box, and another one is waiting at the far post, ready to head the ball into the back of the net. Instead, he decides to continue his dribble into zone 14. When he arrives at that area, all of PSG defenders gather around him to block his shot. He tries to shoot, but the ball hits the post and Lens lose another golden opportunity.
These are the two main weaknesses that Ganago needs to iron out. The Cameroonian is still at a younger age in terms of match experiences. So, he still has time on his side to improve his play.
This scout report shows us Ignatius Ganago is a brilliant signing for RC Lens. The young forward shows his understanding of Haise’s tactics, his brilliant movement and his skills to beat off any defenders in Ligue 1. Although Ganago still has some aspects that need to be improved on, the potential and time for that to happen are there. Given time and space, he has everything to become a world-class forward in the future. It is within time until big clubs such as Arsenal and Liverpool notice his talents.