In every league, you will find some clubs that do an excellent job of discovering and developing talent, such as Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, Porto in Portugal and Ajax in the Netherlands. However, France is entirely different from the rest of the European leagues such as Serie A and Premier League; each club has a large number of young talents at all levels.
One of these young talents that shines continuously with Caen is Kelian Nsona, the French talent who has participated with the French Junior national team in several tournaments, most recently in February and March. He started playing for Caen last season but was not an essential player in the coach’s tactics as he played only 153 minutes. But this season he has become one of the most critical players in the team.
Positioning and general features
We will start this analysis with some of the characteristics of Nsona, and highlight his movements and his position on the field. The 18-year-old is a right-footed player, so he often plays as a left-winger. However, in some games, the coach places him as a right-wing and has also played as a striker a few times.
Below you can see the Nsona favourites and the most used positions this season and last campaign. In most games, Nsona is a left-winger. As you can see, he played 61% of his matches as a left-winger, while he played 27% of his matches as a right-winger, and in 9% of the matches, he was at the front of the front line.
Since he plays with the right foot, it is natural that he plays on the left side, but the unnatural thing is that Nson does not prefer cut inside, or target half-spaces like all the wingers of this generation. We will explain why he tends not to cut inside in the following section.
This is his heatmap below; we can see Nsona’s position and movements through this map. Obviously, he sticks to the side and receives balls on the touchline, and even in the final third, he keeps the same style.
Without further ado, let us get to know the player’s features, and why has he been considered an important talent for the French national team and the Ligue1 teams.
Dribbling is a crucial feature of Nsona and is clearly an essential weapon in his deadly arsenal. Nsona ranks seventh in the list of players with the most dribbling. He does 6.71 dribbles every 90 minutes with a success rate of 61.9%.
The first features you will notice when watching Nsona are speed and physical strength. The French talent uses these two features in all his dribblings. He always uses his speed to hit the ball forward and catch up with the physical strength to overcome opponents in physical duels.
Here is a real example, Nsona is in a 1v1 situation, with lots of space to the side. The French talent pushed the ball forward and then used his speed to catch up. In this way, he was able to dribble the opponent’s player and penetrate the opponent’s box.
Now we know the technique that Nsona uses in dribbling, but let us see how he uses his dribbles to help his team in the final third and even in the build-up.
Nsona has played 17 crosses since the start of the season, which is 2.08 crosses every 90 minutes. Indeed, this is not a large number, but it is considered a significant number, especially in the Caen system, which does not suit his abilities, and we will explain this in the following sections. However, the interesting thing is that 41.17% of those crosses were from inside the box.
The reason why he reached such an impressive number of crosses from inside the box, although his team system does not place him in a 1v1 situation on the sides significantly, is his speed and physical strength. Because when placed in a 1v1 or even 2v1 situations, there will be space on the side of the box that the opponent cannot protect. Here he will use his speed and physical strength to dribble the player and outperform him in a physical battle if the opponent’s player tries to intercept him.
For example, in this picture, Nsona is in a 2v1 situation on the sides. The opponent’s player tried to enter a physical struggle with the French teenager, but Nsona overcame him and managed to play a cross from inside the box.
His ability to use his speed in executing dribbles makes him an important and very dangerous player in counterattacks. Indeed, his team does not rely much on counterattacks, but Nsona does engage in them at times. The average xGChain in counterattacks rate in every 90 minutes was 0.08, with a success rate of 25.88%. Moreover, we must also say that he did not participate in many matches, whether this season or last season.
Below, we can see a graph showing his preferred actions during counterattacks. It is clear that he prefers to run with the ball, and is trying to use his speed to dribble and reach the open space.
For example, in this picture, Caen managed to recover the ball, and a counterattack began. Nsona quickly moved forward to ask for the ball, and his teammate after retrieving the ball played a long pass towards the French talent.
Then, Nsona used his speed to catch up with the ball and dribble the opponent’s player to reach the empty space.
His speed and dribbling are also crucial in the build-up phase, and his team tries to rely on his ability to transfer the ball to the opponent’s half. His average xGBuildup rate in every 90 minutes was 0.16. An acceptable number, mostly since his team relies a lot on long balls in the build-up.
For example, in this picture, the full-back is moving forward, and Nsona is pulling back. In this way, he can receive the ball without pressure. Moreover, since the opponent’s pivots are busy marking the pivots of Caen, Nsona will be in a 1v1 situation with much space in front of him that will allow him to use his speed through and dribble the opponent’s winger.
Nsona makes 2.74 progressive runs every 90 minutes, and this chart shows that the player makes a large number of progressive runs from half of his to the opposition’s half.
Weaknesses in Dribbling
Nsona is indeed a good dribbler, but there are some weaknesses in his dribbling, and these weaknesses make him exposed and reduce his danger to the opponent’s goal a lot.
He made 78 dribbles in the final third, 52 of them successful, meaning the success rate of his dribbles in the final third is 66.7%. This number is excellent, but the problem is that the end result is lacking.
I mentioned above that Nsona relies on his speed and physical strength to dribble players; this means that he needs spaces in order to be able to dribble the opponent’s players. Therefore, he cannot go deeper or cut inside because it is difficult to find space in which to use his speed. That is why most of his dribbles in the final third have been on the sides.
He depends on speed and physical strength only and his neglect of movements that make the opponent’s player lose his balance make him exposed as they find it easy to anticipate what he will do.
For example, in this picture, Nsona receives the ball and there is space through the centre and space on the side but the opponent’s player Victor Lekhal knew that Nsona would not dribble him and enter the central area, so he prepared himself to move to the side when the French talent tried to move. Moreover, this is what happened, Nsona tried to use his speed to advance the ball to the side, and Lekhal managed to stop him.
This is a similar example, where he tried to move towards the empty space on the side of the box, the opposition full-back predicted what the French talent would do, and managed to stop him and recover the ball.
Nsona engages in 3.49 defensive duels every 90 minutes with a success rate of 54.76%. The thing that made him reach these numbers is his speed and physical strength that make him able to defeat the opponent’s players.
For example, in this picture, when Lalaina Nomenjanahary received the ball and advanced towards Caen’s half, Nsona used his speed to catch up with the opponent’s player, then used his physical strength to keep him away from the ball and in the end recovered the ball.
This is a similar picture, Caen lose the ball, and the opponent team begins a counterattack, and the opponent’s player moves the ball towards the half of Caen. Nsona used his speed to catch up with the opponent’s player, then put his body between the opponent’s player and the ball, and was able to recover it.
This graph shows that most of his defensive actions were through defensive duels, as he did not make any interception or sliding tackles. Obviously, his physical strength is critical in the defensive phase.
His physical strength not only helps him in the defensive phase, but also helps him in the offensive phase because it makes him able to keep the ball in situations that are difficult to control such as crowded spaces, and this is very important for his team.
For example, in this picture, Nsona was able to protect the ball thanks to his physical strength, after which he used his speed to move the ball into the empty space and escaped from the opponent’s pressure.
Nsona has to improve on this point, as he does not pose any danger to the opponent’s goalkeeper. The French talent’s average shots per 90 minutes stand at 0.91. The thing that made him get such a low figure in the shooting is his dribbling technique; I mentioned above that he does not cut inside, because he will not find areas where he can use his speed, and therefore he cannot shoot from the sides.
Below you can see the graph, which depicts his shooting positions during the year, including goals, shots on target as well as blocked attempts. In this picture, there are some essential points that we must focus on.
Firstly, it appears that he does not shoot much from outside the box, which is normal because he does not cut inside, as only 13.33% of his shots were outside the box.
During the year 2020, he scored only two goals, a goal with his club Caen against Amiens after he received a long ball and his teammate put him face to face with the goalkeeper and a goal against Italy’s youth team after receiving the ball on the six-metre line.
However, the exciting thing is that eight of the 15 shots taken by Nsona were on the side of the box (53%) but none of them rattled the inside of the net.
The reason behind his shooting struggle is his dribbling style as the player always tries to use his speed, and therefore he is forced to head towards the empty space, and the empty spaces are on the side of the box, and here Nsona will be forced to shoot from a closed-angle.
In this picture, Nsona is close to the box. He can go through the centre which would put him in a position to shoot from all angles but he preferred to kick the ball into the empty space and use his speed to catch up with the ball, which forced him to shoot from a closed-angle.
This chart shows that Nsona did not get into good positions to shoot from, as he only registered two chances with an xG rate of 0.5 and converted these two chances into two goals. His average xG per 90 minutes is only 0.07.
His team’s playing style does not suit him
Some weaknesses indeed affect the level of the French talent but some tactics do not suit his abilities and prevent him from shining and providing high performance.
Caen rely a lot on long balls, as they plays 46.16 long balls every 90 minutes. This does not suit Nsona’s abilities. He can indeed win long balls, but he cannot use his speed in this way, because when the second ball reaches him, Nsona is in a crowded area and cannot use his dribbling abilities in tight spaces.
Also, even when the second ball reaches him, his back will be facing the goal, and here he cannot dribble or use his speed. His physical strength may help him protect the ball, but not for long because he will be in a crowded area and cannot escape from it.
Even when his team tries to build with short passes, Nsona will not have a large role and will not be able to use his abilities. Usually, the coach asks him to retreat to drag the opposition full-back and at the same time move into free space on the sides, as you can see below.
His defensive numbers are also low, as he averages 0 sliding tackles per 90 minutes, makes 1.68 interceptions per match and recovers 2.32 balls in the opponent’s half. Honestly, these are bad numbers, but it is his team’s playing system that made him get these bad stats.
Caen play with a mid-block, meaning Nsona cannot recover balls in the opposition’s half. And in addition to this, the opponents are not of a high level to try to penetrate the Caen block and most of them will play long balls. In this case, the French teenager cannot do anything.
Nsona is definitely the best talent in Caen and Ligue2, and he could develop in a few years and turn into the best winger in the world. He indeed suffers from some weaknesses, but this is normal when he is 18 years old.
It seems that he will achieve many things in the future but now he must work to improve his weaknesses, and he may be the new Kylian Mbappé.