After PSG sold Jonathan Ikoné to Lille in 2018, he has improved a great deal. The Frenchman has also recently featured in the national team, as well as being a star in the Under-21 team. Even though in the UEFA Champions League, Lille did not do well, they were fighting for the top places in Ligue 1 before its cancellation. In this tactical analysis, we will see how Ikoné contributes to this team’s success in various ways.
Ikoné is a player with pace and flair who can play in many attacking positions. In this scout report, we will analyse his performance in all positions he plays in as well as analysing where he is best at. He seems to be most comfortable on the wing but has been played as a forward in many games. It usually depends on what type of gameplay Christophe Galtier wants to employ.
As a winger
As mentioned before, Ikoné seems to be most comfortable playing on the wing. This is the case because, on the wing, he gets more of the ball than as a forward. Consequently, he can show his attacking abilities more often and have more of an impact on the game.
Also, when he is on the wing, his movements are more unpredictable for the opponent as he likes going into the middle. He goes in between the midfield and defensive line, where the opponents are not expecting him to be. This creates space for Ikoné. He does this from both wings, depending on where he plays.
He normally does this when the ball is on the other side, making himself an easier option to play with than if he had been on the wing. An example of this is shown in Figure one, where Lille’s left-back has the ball and Ikoné has moved from the right wing into the middle.
Additionally, this also creates space for the right-back to run into. Therefore, by doing this movement, Ikoné makes himself an easier option to play with and leaves the flank for the right-back.
Moreover, it also causes the opponent’s defensive line to be unsure who to mark or whether to step up and mark Ikoné in the middle.
As we can see in Figure two below, Ikoné is alone in between the two opponent’s lines but also, the opponent left-back does not know who to mark.
This doubt from the left-back is a great opportunity for Lille who can either play through the middle to Ikoné or switch the play to the right-back who has space in front.
Attacking through the middle
There is another reason for Ikoné to come into the middle and it is because he excels in creating chances through the middle. He does it especially with one-twos and with his through balls.
Ikoné associates well with players through the middle which is the most dangerous area to attack from. He breaks the defensive line by combining with his teammates via quick passes.
An example is in Figure three and four where he dismantles the opponent’s defence which allows him to go through on goal. With this, Ikoné generates very effective attacking opportunities.
The other reason Ikoné likes playing through the middle is because of his through balls. Ikoné is good at supplying the pass between defenders to give his teammates shooting opportunities. These passes are lethal as they cut through the defence and usually leave the teammate alone.
In Figure five, we can see how Ikoné is driving through the middle and picks out a perfect pass to leave his teammate through on goal.
Also, Ikoné has six assists and 1.89 deep completions per game this season. A deep completion is a “non-cross pass that is targeted to the zone within 20 meters of the opponent’s goal” according to Wyscout.
Therefore, both of these statistics mean that Ikoné is very active in using his vision to provide teammates with goalscoring opportunities near the opponent’s goal.
Attacking from the wing
The other option Ikoné has when on the wing is to stay closer to the touchline. When Lille’s right-back has the ball, he becomes an easier option then. Additionally, this also helps Ikoné get to a situation he enjoys which is running at the defence with the aim of dribbling past them.
Just like in Figure six below, where he received the ball on the wing and immediately runs to the opponent left-back for a 1 vs 1 situation or another attacking opportunity.
Ikoné is an agile player who dribbles well. He does 7.03 dribbles with a 63.2% success rate which is impressive. This shows that he likes looking for dribbling situations because if he gets past the defender, then he creates superiority in the next passage of play.
Furthermore, we can see in Figure seven that most of his dribbles are from the right-wing and they are usually successful. A reason he likes dribbling from the right side is that he can either cut into his left foot or run towards the end line with a turn of pace.
However, the downside of dribbling a lot is the higher risk of losing the ball. This is true for Ikoné who loses the ball 11.01 times per game which is more than the average. This is negative for the team as one of his losses might disrupt their attacking play and result in a counterattack.
Defending on the wing
Ikoné presses differently depending on the opponent’s formations. If the opponents have three centre backs, Ikoné steps forward to perform a man-marking strategy, as seen in Figure eight.
If the opponents are playing with a back four, then he just presses the opponent’s full-back. Ikoné does well in pressing as he makes 1.85 recoveries in final third and 0.52 dangerous recoveries per game. These are both good stats which show that he can also be aggressive in defence and one of his recoveries might result in a dangerous attack for Lille.
This high recovery rate in the final third might also be the reason why Christophe Galtier puts him as forward sometimes.
Additionally, Ikoné reads the game well and knows when to cover for his teammates. For example, if the right-back is high up the pitch after a play, Ikoné drops into his position such as in Figure nine.
This generous movement shows that Ikoné works well for the team and does this also when he plays as a forward and has to cover for midfielders.
As a forward
There are a few reasons why Ikoné, who is normally a winger, is played as a forward. First of all, he plays well through the middle as seen before. Secondly, he recovers well when pressing up the pitch. Thirdly, for more defensive-minded games, Lille’s coach prefers to put Renato Sanches on the wing for more balance in his tactics.
However, Ikoné does not get the ball as much when he is a forward, and this limits his influence in the game. Also, on the wing, he used to get the ball and run towards the goal but as a striker, it is harder to do this as he has defenders on his back marking him.
This means that Ikoné likes to drop down to participate more in the play. As we can see in Figure 10, he has dropped down significantly to be a passing option for the throw-in.
Him acting as a forward also brings back another topic which is his goalscoring abilities. He only has three goals this season. For an attacking player of his calibre, he should have more. This is also related to his 1.49 shots per game which is average.
To score more, you also need to shoot more to increase the chances. Seeing that he likes to play through the middle, he does get in the positions to shoot but usually decides to pass instead.
Moreover, he has 0.12 goals per game but an expected goals (xG) of 0.20 per game. This means he is not converting his chances as well as he should. Therefore, Ikoné should work on his shooting chances and his conversion rates to get to the next level of his ability.
Lille is a side that when given the chance to counterattack, will go up in numbers. Ikoné is one of the main assets in this aspect because he is mostly in those advanced positions and is a quick player.
Also, he usually stays in the edge of the area when Lille defend corners as he is not the tallest player.
This gives him a better chance to counterattack if Lille regains the ball. For example, as noticeable in Figure 11, Lille is counterattacking with 4 men and are in superiority, with Ikoné being one of those three with a lot of space in front.
Overall, this tactical analysis shows that Ikoné is a talented player who excels in dribbling and playing through the middle to dismantle opponents. Him attacking through the middle which is the most dangerous area makes him a nuisance for opponents. He also provides Lille with many attacking opportunities and positions but there are features he needs to improve on such as his shooting abilities and his losses. If Ikoné manages to improve this, there is no doubt that bigger teams from the Premier League among other leagues will come knocking on Lille’s door for the young Frenchman.