Lyon had a memorable 2019/20 campaign thanks to their incredible Champions League journey. In the process, they eliminated two title favorites, star-studded Juventus and Pep’s Manchester City. Domestically, Lyon finished the 7th Ligue 1 with 40 points. And yet again, one of their star performers from the last campaign was Memphis Depay.
Since Memphis Depay played as Center Forward/Left Forward, Attacking Midfield in the past season. For this data analysis, we will be looking at Ligue 1 forwards, which will primarily include Center Forwards and consist of Left Forwards, Attacking midfielders. Considering the Ligue 1 season was cut short to 28 games, we filtered our data with players who played at least 500 minutes. This left us with 53 Ligue 1 forwards.
This analysis will scrutinize multiple data metrics like expected goals, dribbles, offensive duels, etc., which will allow us to define a well-versed conclusion.
Depay’s multi-functional nature, both as a creator and finisher, makes him unique and allows him to play in different positions. Last season the 26-year-old, played in three different positions, Striker, Left Winger, and Attacking Midfielder, and did exceptionally well in all the positions.
In the 19 club matches he played, Depay contributed with 16 goals (14 goals and two assists). Not only the stats, but Depay was central to Lyon’s attack, and his attacking intensity was second to none. He would usually drop in between the lines to collect the ball, and with his incredible dribbling skills, he created chances from almost nothing.
And whenever he was playing on the wing, he would prefer to cut in and was not afraid to take shot with his powerful right foot. We can see that the Dutch spearhead prefers to play in the midfield area in the heat map.
Last season under Rudi Garcia, Depay played as a Left Forward in a two men frontline or as an attacking midfielder. But when he played as a striker, Garcia gave him the freedom to play multiple roles. He would usually drift to the left or drop between the lines creating space for his strike partner with his exceptional movement.
In addition to that, his intense physicality allows him to contain the ball and help his teammates join the attack.
Let’s look at how Memphis Depay performed as compared to the other Ligue 1 attackers.
We will start with the most crucial metric expected from a forward to thrive. Goal Contribution. The scatter plot below has the metrics goal contribution per 90 and xG contributed per 90 along the x-axis and y-axis, respectively. The Goal Contribution is calculated by adding the assists and goals per 90, whereas, xG Contributed is determined by adding xG (expected goals) and xA (expected assist) per 90.
After analyzing the above graph, we can agree that Depay is a genuine goal threat. He has a goal contribution of 0.90 per 90, along with an xG contribution of 0.58. His goal contribution is exceptional, with almost a goal or assists in 90. We can infer from this stat that he is converting at an unprecedented rate of 155% (goals/xG contribution). These stats rank him even better than M. Icardi and Ben Yedder, who has lower conversion rates.
Another crucial aspect of a Forward in modern football is their ability to bypass the defense. To measure it, we have used the Dribbles per 90 and Dribbles per 90 success percentage metrics. We can see the top 20 Ligue 1 forwards with the best dribbling stats in the below scatter plot.
The plot clearly states how good he is when it comes to dribbling. Memphis Depay averages 6.67 dribbles per 90, the third-best in the league, just behind K. Mbappe and S. Mavididi. His genius in creating space and excellence in ball control mixed with terrifying dribbling makes him a defender’s nightmare. Time after time, we saw him gliding past the defenders with ease. His mesmerizing stepovers are incredibly smooth and are used consistently to embarrass the opponents. The 50% success rate in dribbling last year confirms how deadly he was whenever on the ball.
Rudi Garcia’s Lyon prefers to play with possession, and last year they were second in the league from a possession stat standpoint with 55% possession. Their passing completion was a staggering 85% (third in the league). Let us see how Depay performed in this aspect of the game amongst the other Ligue 1 forwards.
We will be using multiple passing metrics such as Forward passes, Smart Passes, and Ball progression for the comparison.
The first passing metrics we will be analyzing is Forward passes and success rate. We are using this metric as we understand that for any attacking player, one of their key attributes should be moving the ball forward towards the opposition goal. In the scatter plot below, we have plotted the top 20 attackers based on their average Forward passes per 90.
We can clearly see that Depay is one of the best forwards when it comes to moving the ball forward. Last season we saw how Depay attracts the defenders, and if he cannot dribble past them, he uses his creativity to move to find another teammate and progress the attack. Depay averages nine forward passes per game with a 60% success rate showing his creative side.
Let us now look at another passing metric, Smart Pass. A Smart Pass, by definition, is a creative and penetrative pass that attempts to break the opposition’s defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack.
We can see from the plot that although Depay has a low smart pass conversion percentage, he still averages two smart passes per 90. Showing his extraordinary vision and chance creation ability.
Let us dissect the last category of passing attributes. Progressive Passing. A progressive pass is a forward pass that attempts to advance a team significantly closer to the opponent’s goal. In this metric, we will be analyzing Progressive Passes per 90 and their success rate.
From the above plot, we can quickly locate Depay in the top right quadrant. This metric again shows the Dutchman’s ability to progress the attack. Memphis averages 4.17 Progressive passes per 90 with a success rate of 75% percent.
With all the above abilities, we can conclude the Memphis Depay is not only a goal threat but also has an impressive attribute of creating and attack as well.
Another metrics which I believe is vital for any forward player is Offensive Duel. An Offensive Duel is a ground Duel for the player in possession of the ball. This metric will help us to understand how good Depay is to protect the ball compared to other forwards.
We will be using Offensive Duels per 90 and Offensive Duel success percentage for this analysis and will be represented on the x-axis and y-axis, respectively.
In the above plot, we have 20 Ligue 1 forwards with the best Offensive Duel stats. The Dutch forward is third in the list averaging 14.85 duels per 90. He is only behind Mavididi and Niane by a fraction. With the stat, we can conclude that Depay is not only good with his trickery and goal-scoring threat but also good at holding the ball and retain the possession. It’s clear that Depay is one of the best forwards when it comes to holding the ball in Ligue 1.
Based on the above stats, there is no doubt that the Dutchman checks all the columns as an attacking player. But he can improve on certain aspects of his game. One of which is his defensive contribution. As someone famously said, forwards are the first line of defense. Depay certainly has room for improvement in this aspect of his game.
Although Lyon prefers to play possession football hence enjoying a lot of time on the ball, that’s not always the case. In their Champions League match against City and Bayern, they didn’t see much of the ball. Some may argue that was their game plan, but the point is Depay didn’t defend at all. If Depay wants to take Lyon to a higher level this season, he should consider working on this area.
With this data analysis, there are no questions around Depay’s great attacking enigma. He is one of the best-attacking players in Ligue 1, and the stats back that. His versatility and technique make him stand with one of the best in the world. His ability to play and excel in different positions makes him a great asset. As referred by many “footballer by day and singer by night,” Depay could improve his defensive aspect of the game.
We look forward to seeing him next season and delight us with his spectacular goals and fascinating skills enhancing not only their domestic title chances but also in the UEFA Champions League.