Kasper Dolberg‘s move from Ajax to OGC Nice in August 2019 for a reported fee of 20.5 million Euros went under the radar of many fans that summer. He was a once-promising prospect that burst onto the scene with a very impressive 2016/2017 season at Ajax, scoring 23 goals in all competitions that season made him an in-demand player.
However, following that season he seemed to have lost his form and he became a bit-part player in Ajax’s historic champions league run in 2018/2019. His move to Nice for some appeared as a fresh start for the Dane. Dolberg’s first season with Les Aiglons saw a goal return of 11 goals in 26 appearances. As underwhelming as it may seem, Dolberg may have finally found his footing this season at the French club. Having now scored three goals in six matches this season, Dolberg may have now found the form that has been eluding him since that breakout season in 2016/2017.
Also at 23 years old, time is on his side. In this scout report, we will provide a tactical analysis of Dolberg’s key attributes for Nice in Ligue 1. We will provide an analysis of how Nice plays and the tactics they use. We ultimately try to assess the role that Dolberg plays within Patrick Vieira’s side and how he might just reach the potential that so many thought he had.
Nice’s number nine
To begin, we must understand the type of player Dolberg is and the way he is used at Nice. Standing at 6’2” and possessing natural athletic ability, Dolberg provides Nice as a large frontman with mobility. In days gone past he would’ve been seen exclusively as a target man, but today he can do much more. His natural speed and decent feet on the ball allows him to comfortably play as a lone striker in Nice’s 4-3-3 set up.
Nice like to play with quick inverted wingers that complement Dolberg. While Nice also have other players that can play the forward position, it is only Dolberg that processes the traits of a classic number nine within the club. His physical attributes that we have already mentioned make him differ from the rest, but it is also the way he plays and helps the team that set him apart. The types of runs he makes on and off the ball, the type of goals he can score, as well as his natural finishing ability, these aspects together make him the striker that is key for Nice and Vieira’s side.
Types of goals scored
So far, Dolberg has scored a total of 14 goals in 29 appearances in Ligue 1. This season alone he has scored three goals in six appearances. The types of goals he has scored so far are as defined below:
Whilst it’s only a small sample size, you can begin to understand the type of forward that Kasper Dolberg is. From the types of goals scored alone, you can infer that Dolberg is very much in the mould of a classic number nine. He will not be seen or used in the way Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal. Also, he will not be seen having large amounts of dribbles or take ons in matches. This season he has averaged 1.94 dribbles per 90 which ranks him 66th in Ligue 1. Compare that to the leader Neymar who has 14.95. While Neymar is a completely different player compared to Dolberg, it shows just how different players can be, while still being effective.
We can understand even more the type of striker that Dolberg is at Nice based on his heat map so far this season, with his most critical points being placed right inside the penalty area. As a solo striker it is his job to be in the box for crosses, balls played centrally, and any deflections that may occur. We can also conclude that he likes to move around the pitch looking for space between defenders, something that we will begin to look more closely at below.
For Dolberg, he excels at finding space between the two central defenders and exploiting it. His five goals from through balls show his productivity in this attacking phase. For example, let’s take a look at his most recent goal against Lille.
Here you will see the Lille back four connected by the blue line and Dolberg highlighted within the red circle. Dolberg is always looking for space between the two defenders. Rony Lopes is currently in possession of the ball to the right of Dolberg.
The central defender for Lille is attracted to the man on the ball, Rony Lopes. This causes the Central defender to move forward and try and engage Lopes. However, when the defender moves forward, this leaves space for Dolberg to run into as highlighted above.
Lopes elects to pass to Alexis Claude who can pass to the open Dolberg the first time. Dolberg is completely open in between the defenders as the Central defender elected to engage and move out of position. He is then able to receive the ball in stride and hold off the opposing defender due to his pace and strength and slot the ball into the net. In this attacking phase, Dolberg took a total of three touches. One is receiving the ball, the second being a touch forward whilst holding off the defender, and the last touch coming as his chipped shot into the goal.
The goal ultimately came from Dolberg’s intelligent movement and his ability to interpret the space around him. The passes from Lopes and Claude were important, but they would have never happened without the intelligent movement from Dolberg. This of course is not a one-off goal for Dolberg either. He has scored four others like this as well as created many other chances from these movements. These runs into space not only create goals for himself but his team also.
Above you will see an attack from last season’s match against Bordeaux. A ball is about to be played in the box from the right-hand side. Dolberg, highlighted in the red circle is about to make a run to the near post. The defenders have identified this and intend to defend him when the ball is crossed. The quick sprint made by Dolberg had the Bordeaux defenders convinced the ball was coming towards him. However, this was not the case.
The two central defenders would follow him leaving Pierre Lees-Melou, highlighted in the yellow box, unmarked for a free header into the goal as shown above. Dolberg had made the run to the near post with such conviction, it had the Bordeaux convinced the ball was for him. This run ultimately left Pierre Lees-Melou wide open for that goal. It can be argued that the ball was just hit into the area missing Dolberg but based on the run and Dolberg’s expressions when the goal was hit, we can see that this was the intention from Dolberg.
Close range threat
We have already mentioned how Dolberg’s intelligent runs create goals not only for himself but for his teammates as well. However, Dolberg as a classic nine provides a goal threat from close range as well. His intelligence of knowing where to be within the 18-yard box paired with his size allows him to be a threat in the box.
He has scored a total of the majority of the goals within the box. Only one is a shot from just outside the box into the bottom corner. The rest are from within the box and five coming from crosses. Let’s take a look and see how he can be so effective from close range.
In last season’s match against Lyon, Dolberg was able to score two close-range goals that won his side the match. His first goal would come off his instincts as a goal scorer.
You can see a long-range shot being taken by Pierre Lees-Melou, and Dolberg highlighted in red standing just behind the Lyon defender Jason Denayer. In the image below on the left, you will see while the shot is being taken the Lyon defenders standing and waiting to see their goalkeeper make the save. Meanwhile, Dolberg can also be seen sprinting forward anticipating the shot being blocked back into play.
Dolberg’s suspicions were correct and the Lyon keeper had parried the ball back in front of the net for Dolberg to score an easy tap. This chance also does not come from luck alone. Dolberg had anticipated the shot to be blocked and that there may be a chance for him to score. While the shot may have been blocked somewhere else, Dolberg would always run in regardless due to his natural goal-scoring instincts.
The second can be seen above. Dolberg is highlighted in red and is on the left. He is beginning to move centrally within the box waiting for the cross. The centre-back is unaware that Dolberg intends to run in front of him and receive the cross.
Dolberg times his run correctly and can move in front of the centreback and score by connecting his foot to the cross providing his team with the winning goal. He has shown his natural ability to put himself in the right place at the right time in this match.
The frontman correctly assessed the situation and made the right decisions to put himself in a goal-scoring situation. Whether it is the anticipation of a possible block in front of a goal like the first goal, or the ability to time his run correctly to run in and score.
Dolberg has shown that he has the attributes that can one day make him be one of the league’s best strikers.
Kasper Dolberg has the size, ability, and intelligence to become one of the world’s best strikers. He can create goals with his intelligent movements inside and outside the box. These movements not only set himself up for goals but his teammates as well. Having only just turned 23 this month, time is on the Danish striker’s side. Given the right opportunity like he is having at Nice, Dolberg may just be able to reach the potential that so many thought he could reach as a teenager at Ajax.