There was a very little interest from the papers and the media about Khéphren Thuram when the young French midfielder made his switch from AS Monaco to OGC Nice on 1st July 2019. Although he has now slowly started to increase his reputation and make a name for himself in a league which is no stranger to wonderkids. After making his professional debut at only 17 years of age in the UEFA Champions League against La Liga giants Atletico Madrid back in November 2018, Thuram has progressed steadily and kept improving his game with regular playing time.
Now playing for OGC Nice under former Arsenal, Juventus and Manchester City player Patrick Vieira, Thuram has started to slowly establish his mark in the Ligue1 outfit featuring regularly either in the defensive midfield or central midfield role.
In this tactical analysis, we look at the various defensive and offensive attributes Thuram possess and how he could develop his game in certain areas to become the next big thing in French football. This analysis also reflects on some of the very subtle intelligent pieces of play made by Thuram in this season.
Role in Vieira’s system
Patrick Vieira has been tactical in his approach and has generally deployed a versatile 3-4-3 or a compact 5-3-2 formation throughout the course of this season. His team’s stability relies on winning the battles in the midfield third and using the maximum of both the flanks with either attacking full-backs or wide stretched wingers. Vieira usually likes to use a single or a double pivot anchoring his midfield who sits just in front of the defensive line. This role is fulfilled by one of former Manchester United player Morgan Schneiderlin or Lees-Melou or Khéphren Thuram. With the inclusion of Schneiderlin in the team, Thuram has found his playing time slightly reduced but he would certainly benefit from someone alongside with 200 games in the Premier League under his belt. Thuram has been deployed as the lowest-lying defensive midfielder while playing the single-pivot or he has found himself playing alongside Schneiderlin in the double pivot.
As in the above instance, we can easily analyse how Thuram has provided himself as a passing option for all his defenders by splitting the two forwards from the opposition. It might not seem a very complicated role to play but hoving around exactly in the centre of both the players makes it difficult for them to decide who goes out and presses Thuram. Being an avid passer of the ball Thuram receives it from his centre-back quickly turns and sprays a long diagonal to hi right-sided winger who is left with lots of space to attack. Using this simple intelligent technique Thuram cleared the first line of pressing from Lille and made the most important transition from midfield to attack.
Strengths: Defensive attributes
Standing at 191cm tall, Thuram towers above most players on the field. This also makes his reach far better than most average grown-up men, which he, in turn, uses to spring into tackles and reach out to win balls that seem far out of his reach at points. He averages 6.58 defensive duels per game, winning 66% of those them. Which is a decent return for a defensive midfielder learning his trade. He also averages 5.96 recoveries per 90 which states that he works hard for the team in winning the ball back. Thuram also averages a little mediocre 2.78 successful ariel duels per 90 minutes, he has a success rate of 50% in this statistic, which could be a bit on the higher side considering his height, but he is someone who would gradually build upon his stature and eventually improve on the ariel side of his game as he gets better physically.
Thuram averages 51.76 passes per 90 minutes and has a passing accuracy of 89%, this comes to show that he has started to link up well with his teammates since his arrival from Monaco. Being constantly deployed on the right-hand side of the midfield he has shown glimpses of his link-up play which by far is his best quality on the football pitch. His passing percentage for backward and lateral passes is on a high of 100% and 97% respectively. Stating that he is a very calm and composed figure in the defensive third. He is usually found slowing things down under pressure with simple passes and linkup play. He provides a calming influence on his team while under pressure which is reminiscent of Vieria himself back in his playing days.
In the above instance we see that how Thuram has provided a very stable midfield line of passing, he is exactly where he should be and just as he is about to receive the ball he takes a quick look around to scan his surroundings and look for passing options. Here he had an option of turning and playing to his fellow midfielder who is right below him or to play it the more attacking option just outside the box. He chooses to go with the latter and after a quick one-two, he shoots with his weaker left foot from just inside the box to score.
Strengths: Progressive runs
One of Thuram’s best qualities on the pitch is his ability to make runs from deep midfield and central midfield when he carries the ball beating one or two players and releasing a simple pass to the forward line. This allows OGC Nice to make that all-important transition turning simple possession into considerable attacking scenarios. For a player of Thuram’s stature, he has an exceptionally good balance while on the ball. One of the major attributes complimenting his ability to beat players and carry the ball is his ability to not overdo it. He rarely tries to take on more players than he can beat. He is intelligent enough to release the ball before he runs into traffic and gets outnumbered. He averages 3.38 progressive runs per 90 minutes and ranks a very impressive 10th in the league in the parameter. For someone who has found himself playing second fiddle to two different players, this is a statistic that says a lot about the kind of player Thuram is.
Here in the above frame, he takes the ball just inside the opposition half and straight away looks up and takes his man on and quite easily gets past him and keeps progressing unitll he approaches the final third.
As soon as he approaches the final third of the pitch rather than taking any more players on he sees the right pass onto Kasper Dolberg who has a clear sight on goal. This again amplifies the subtle bit of awareness Thuram has in his game that gives him the knack of picking right the right pass at the right moment in time. In this instance, he gets the ball deep inside his own half plays a clever one-two with his teammate to receive the ball back and keeps on carrying it up to the halfway line.
Being a defensive midfielder one would presume that Thruam’s tacking would be on par with his other attributes. But that is not the case as he has managed just 14 tackles in the league and has attempted zero sliding challenges. Although he wins some of the defensive duels he engages in but most of them are ariel duels, there’s a lack of ‘dirty work’ ethic associated with him at this moment in time, a player who would bring people down just to prevent an attacking transition from the opposition. This is an area where he could improve his game considering his greater reach and long legs. He is also hesitant to put down a sliding challenge while stopping a counter-attack from happening, the kind of tackles one would label as ‘taking one for the team’.
Weakness: positional play
Thuram is caught napping in his own third more often than not while the opponent builds up from midfield. His lack of interceptions states that with only 19 interceptions so far throughout the season. Most central defensive midfielders down the years gone by have built their game around man-marking and intercepting balls going to the opposition’s main man. Thuram lacks a bit in this regard but the way he has been progressing under Vieira who was a master at this art himself there are positive signs that he would improve considerably in this regard.
Being the son of one of the most famous defenders of all time, Khepren has an amazingly difficult job at hand if he has to fulfil his father’s i.e. Lillian Thuram’s shoes. But playing under a legend of the game in Patrick Veiria who excelled in a similar role is going to enhance the raw talent that Khéphren Thuram no doubt possesses. If he manages to keep his head down and progress slowly through the ranks we might as well see him knocking at the French senior team’s door in the coming years.