In recent years, AS Monaco have had a great ability to produce great players that go on to be sold for huge fees. These players have either been brought up through the academy or bought for a small fee from a club while they were still within the youth teams. Players such as Kylian Mbappé, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, and Anthony Martial fall into either one of these categories. Whilst recently Monaco may not have produced players as high of a standard as the ones just named, they may now begin to see some players emerging. One of those players is Sofiane Diop.
The 20-year-old Frenchmen played last season on loan at FC Sochaux in Ligue 2, but is now back with Monaco and has appeared in all nine matches so far this season for Niko Kovač’s team. In this scout report, we will provide a tactical analysis of Diop, explain what type of player he is, and give an analysis of how Monaco play and how Diop fits within Kovač’s system. Overall, we will present an analysis of a player that may become another of Monaco’s great young prospects.
Standing at 5′ 9″, Diop is an attacking midfielder comfortable playing in multiple positions. He has so far played mostly as a left central midfielder within a 4-3-3 but has also played on both wings, as well as a wide left midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation. He is very much a modern midfielder as he is comfortable on the ball as well as without it. To help further understand Diop as a player for Monaco, we must first understand the way Monaco play under Kovač.
So far this season, the Croatian gaffer, once of Bayern Munich, has set up his team predominantly in a possession-based 4-3-3 system. The image above shows the line-up Kovač often has composed so far this season in Ligue 1. While in possession, the full-backs will push up high and wide. Meanwhile, the front three play fluidly and will interchange their positions accordingly throughout the match. Florentino Luis, or Cesc Fabregas once of Chelsea, will drop in between the two centre-backs creating a 3-4-3 formation at times. The two central midfielders will provide width in the build-up play, linking up with the advanced full-backs as well as the front three. These two midfielders along with the holding midfielder will create the most passes in the team.
Within Kovač’s side, Diop has predominantly played as the left central midfielder in the 4-3-3 formation. His first appearance this season came in the first match against Metz. He came on in the 16th minute for Aleksandr Golovin, who picked up an injury. He has since played very well in the absence of the Russian. Diop has now played in all nine of Monaco’s Ligue 1 matches this season and has started five matches. Within these appearances, he has played five times as the left central midfielder, twice as a wide left midfielder, and twice as a wide right midfielder.
From his heatmap, we can see that he does most of his work on the inside left, reflecting on his starting positions. From his nine appearances, he has registered one goal so far. Now that we understand the basic tactics used by Kovač and where Diop plays within this system, let’s now look at what Diop does while on the field.
So far this season as a replacement for the injured Golovin, Diop has been very efficient. He has averaged 47.78 passes per 90 with a success rate of 83.9%. This ranks him 38th for most passes completed within all of Ligue 1. The first being Marco Verratti with 114.06 passes per 90 minutes, with a success rate of 93.04% for PSG. However, a statistic that places Diop closer to Verratti in terms of passing is progressive passes. Verratti leads that list as well with 16.36 per 90. Diop sits 11th in that list with 8.84 per 90. While these are two very different players who play for different teams with different sets of standards, it does show the efficiency and skill that Diop is capable of.
The graphic above shows the ball progression either by a pass or dribble done by Diop so far this season. You can see that the passes and dribbles are in the areas reflected by his positioning on his heatmap. We can also see that he progresses the ball much more by passing forward rather than carrying it. Diop had attempted 75 progressive passes with 60 being successful, yielding an 80% success rate. Another point to notice when looking at his ball progression success rate is that his least successful pass is also of the shortest distance. Usually, you would think it would be the other way round, but he is very efficient in the passes he makes that are 30 meters or longer.
What this shows is that while he doesn’t make as many long passes, he makes sure they are efficient passes with a high success rate. Overall these numbers show that Diop is a smart progressive passer and knows when to make the right pass, something that a player of 20 years of age would not normally have.
For Monaco, Diop is primarily a player playing a part in linking up play and bringing the ball forward. An example of this can be seen below.
To start, Diop receives the ball on the halfway line (highlighted in red). He will quickly link up with a one-touch give and go with Fabregas. From here, Diop will receive the ball back from Fabregas and dribble forward up the inside left.
Diop would eventually play the ball wide left to Kevin Volland who is just wide outside of the screen. He would continue his run towards the box before Volland places a cross into the box. This shows a clear example of what Kovač expects of his central midfielders. They collect the ball from deep and bring it forward to get the front three involved. While this action did not lead to a goal, it shows the ability and intelligence Diop showed to quickly move the ball forward for his team.
Off the ball work
While on the ball for Monaco this season Diop has been very efficient, he has also however been very good with his work off of it too. The image below shows Diop’s defensive statistics this season, as well as his rankings in comparison to other Ligue 1 players.
We can conclude from these numbers that Diop tries to be very active off the ball. For modern football, players need to be effective in transition, and Diop fits the bill. He currently has 6.71 recoveries per 90. While this only ranks him just inside the top 50 of Ligue 1 players, it does show that he is still very active at regaining possession for Monaco.
Furthermore, his counter-pressing recoveries stand at 4.09 per 90. For his positioning in the Monaco side, he needs to be efficient in this statistic. They look to try and win the ball back as quickly as possible high up the pitch. As one of the central midfielders in Monaco’s three-man midfield, it is his job to help regain possession of the ball constantly throughout each match. An example of this can be seen in their match against Nantes.
Here we will see Diop pressing the Nantes defender quickly. Nantes have just regained possession and are looking to play the ball out from the back. Diop, highlighted in red, sees the ball will soon be passed out wide to the Nantes right-back. As soon as this pass happens, Diop sprints to shut down the right-back forcing him to play the ball long and lose possession of the ball. If he had won the ball in this situation, he would be able to quickly play in one of his teammates in the front three. Diop will continually do this for his team as they look to regain possession quickly high up the field.
In the images below, we can see Diop’s effectiveness in transitioning from defence to attack. On the left, we can see Diop highlighted in red about to win the ball back for Monaco. He successfully wins the ball and begins to drive forward. This can be seen on the right.
Diop drives forward with Ben Yedder moving from his central position outside to give Diop a passing option further forward. This can be seen in the bottom right image.
He would then pass the ball outside to Ben Yedder who would drive forward to the left corner. After his, he would continue his run forward into the box in hopes of a cross from outside.
This phase would not lead to a goal as Nantes would ultimately regain possession. What this phase does show however, are the attributes that Diop gives to his team. He first successfully wins the ball back for his team and then can drive forward and release it to one of the attackers ahead of him. He has shown that he has the ability to fill the hole that was left by Golovin being injured.
Sofiane Diop has definitely taken full ownership of the left-sided central midfielder position in Kovač’s side. He will feel that once the injured Golovin returns he will leave his manager in a tricky situation on who to start. Diop has shown he has a great ability to link up play and move the ball efficiently while being able to contribute defensively as well. For Monaco, they will look to him as a player that may just one day bring them value that so many others have already done in years gone by.