Ligue 1 handed down its verdict on 28 April with the announcement of the definitive end of the championship. It is time to take stock of the season that has just ended and to highlight some young individuals. We’re going to look at the full-backs, and especially three of them, which are among the most promising in France.
Left-back Rayan Aït Nouri and right-back Mohamed Simakan are revelations, having made their first starts this season and even established themselves as first-team players at their clubs. For left-back Faitout Maouassa, it is more of a confirmation, given that the former Nîmes player has already known Ligue 1 for several seasons.
Their performances this season have boosted their value and attracted the attention of some of European’s big clubs. According to Transfermarkt, Simakan is valued at 7.20 million euros (2.5 million in October 2019), Aït Nouri at 15.50 million euros (6 million in October 2019) and Maouassa at 8 million euros. In this data analysis, we will take a close look at the statistics of these three promising full-backs in different areas of the game, to assess their strengths and weaknesses, and more generally define their profile.
Simakan has played 1610 minutes this season with Strasbourg. His defensive abilities and imposing physique (187 cm and 82 kilos) allow him to be versatile in defence and also to play as a central defender. The 20-year-old defender discovered the right-back position this season and has been very successful on his right side. He has surprised everyone with his ability to defend well but also with his forward runs and his ease with the ball at his feet. His ability to adapt to a position he didn’t know shows how versatile he is, which is essential in modern football. The Strasbourg player’s profile and the fact that he has played several matches as a central defender this season should be taken into account in this data analysis.
Aït Nouri played 50 minutes during the 2018/2019 season but discovered Ligue 1 this year with 1347 minutes of play with Angers. He is a real revelation in his position as a right-back and member of the French U-21 team at only 18 years old. From the top of his 179cm, Aït Nouri showed all his qualities on his left side with a lot of dynamism and a great technique. He is the modern wing-back who contributes a lot offensively but is also solid defensively. He has the particularity to be naturally attracted by the left half-space and likes to direct his runs towards this space.
The former Nïmes player Maouassa has confirmed his place this season with Rennes, with 1920 minutes of play. His team finished third in Ligue 1 and the 21-year-old defender should discover the UEFA Champions League with Rennes next year, despite the interest of several European clubs. His dynamism, agility and speed at driving the ball allowed him to perform well on his left side and to be an offensive asset for his team.
In the history of football, the role of the full-back has changed a lot. In the past, they had to content themselves with defending well and providing security on their side, with little attacking input. But his contribution to the game has grown over the years until full-back has become a real attacking element in the team.
The work rate is therefore very important for his players, in order to be able to respond to the offensive and defensive demands of his team. Players in this position have more freedom in the offensive phase as they start from a lower position and are less subject to the pressure and marking of the opponent.
His role in the last 30 meters is multiple. He can stretch the opponent’s block by his positioning, run inside the opponent’s block, combine with his winger and become a decisive passer by his ability to put his partners in a scoring position. Trent Alexander-Arnold is bringing a new dimension to this position, with an ability to act as a playmaker from a low and off-centre position.
During this data analysis, the three players will be compared with other Ligue 1 full-backs (about 40) who have played at least 1000 minutes this season in this position. With this limit of minutes, the three young players will be compared with full-backs who are for the majority first-team players in their teams. All stats will be per 90 minutes so as not to take into account differences in playing time between players.
This graph above shows the ability of full-backs to improve their team’s game by driving the ball. This allows us to judge their ability to carry the ball (total distance per 90) but especially if they carry the ball efficiently towards the opponent’s goal (progressive distance per 90). All three players have quite similar stats and are among the best in the championship in this field.
Their runs are sharp and carried forward, to draw pressure on them and penetrate the opponent’s block. Aït Nouri is the most “efficient” with 169.6 yards of progressive distance by 90, compared to 165.6 for the other two. One must relate his forward runs to their ability to dribble the opponent. Ghislain Konan is the one who tries the most dribbles in Ligue 1 at his position with 5.76 (49.45% success). He is followed by Aït Nouri in the second position with 4.41 (45.45% success) and Maouassa in 3rd position with 4.22 (52% success). Simakan is quite far behind with 2.01 but has a percentage of successful dribbles of 63.89%. This shows that he is more cautious and less inclined to dribble than the other two, but that he is able to do it when he needs to.
We’ll now look at their offensive contribution on this graph above. Maouassa is the most prolific full-back in the league with three goals and two assists. Aït Nouri made two assists and Simakan was not decisive this season. The vertical axis of the graph shows the successful attacking actions per 90 and the other axis shows the xG+xA per 90 to see how decisive they could have been. It’s very mixed for all three players with Simakan far behind, especially in successful attacking actions per 90.
With this graph, you can feel that Simakan has played several games as a central defender and that he is naturally less attracted towards the opposing goal than the others. Aït Nouri and Maouassa, for their part, are very successful in attacking actions and among the very best in the league in this area. But the Angers player contributes little in terms of xG+xA with 1.11 and is even behind Simakan and his 1.21. You have to take into account that this is his first real season in Ligue 1, just like Simakan, and what they do is already quite remarkable. Maouassa is at 1.85 of xG+xA and that’s a long way from his goal and assist statistics.
The Rennes player has scored some insane goals this season and that’s given him a fairly low xG, which explains this notable difference. Fabien Centonze’s excellent season in Metz is also worth noting, as he has made a huge contribution to the attacking side of the game.
The graphs above show the direction of the passes of the three players. Simakan has the lowest percentage of backward passes and the lowest percentage of forward passes. 49% of his passes are sideways and we can see the caution mentioned earlier. However, this caution is manifested by a number of progressive passes per 90 minutes of 10.12, which is above Maouassa (7.45) and Aït Nouri (9.69).
The young Strasbourg player has a real quality for improving his team’s play, whether through passing or running. This makes him all the more interesting to play as a central defender with the ability to break lines with passes or carry the ball forward. One could even imagine him a little higher up the field, as a defensive midfielder or central midfielder, as he is so versatile.
Aït Nouri and Maouassa are more attracted by playing forward with respectively 47% and 45% of their passes in this direction. Maouassa does not shine for the moment by his passing qualities, and his number of progressive passes is among the lowest in his position. It is more by running and taking space that the Rennes player performs and destabilizes the opposing defences.
On the graph above, you can see the different percentages of the accuracy of the three players in different passing areas. The last radar represents the average player in Ligue 1 and is composed of the averages of all Ligue 1 full-backs (more than 1000 minutes of play) in the different types of passes. Of the three, Simakan is overall the most accurate and he does well in advanced areas of the field.
Indeed, he has 70.91% of successful passes in the 3rd final of the field and has a pass completion percentage of 80.7%, compared to 78.2% for Maouassa and 79.17% for Aït Nouri. Maouassa is below the other two young players and the average player in most categories. Note that he is the one who makes the fewest passes per 90 minutes with 36.98, against 41.42 for Simakan and 43.3 for Aït Nouri.
The latter is very important for his team’s build-up play because he touches quite a lot of balls despite the fact that his team has one of the lowest percentages of ball possession in Ligue 1 (44.8%). The young Angers defender once again shows his regularity in the attacking phase, being able to disrupt the defences with his dribbling and dynamism, as well as his passing game.
To finish the data analysis on the attacking side, we’re going to look at one type of pass that’s essential for full-backs, the cross. The graph above simply shows the number of crosses made per 90 minutes with the percentage of successful crosses. Aït Nouri is excellent in this area, and his technical quality allows him to have a percentage of successful crosses of 42.31%, which is high.
Among the 15 full-backs that make the most crosses in Ligue 1, Aït Nouri has the highest success rate, and this adds another major quality to his profile. Simakan is quite far from the other two in terms of the number of crosses with only 1.51 per 90 minutes (among the worst in his position). It must be said that Simakan touches only 11.7 balls per 90 minutes in the final third of the field against 13.9 for Maouassa and 18.9 for Aït Nouri.
The Strasbourg player has been trained as a central defender, which explains why crosses are not his major offensive asset. Maouassa tries 2.81 crosses per game with 30% of success and is globally in the average in this area. He does not shine but is not among the least successful.
The full-backs have to face almost every match with agile, fast and dynamic players such as the opposing wingers or other players who are positioned in their area of the field. If the full-back is eliminated by the opponent, the whole structure of his team is in danger. In the graph above, you can see on the horizontal axis the number of past dribbles per 90 (how many times the player gets dribbled per 90 minutes) and on the vertical axis, the % of defensive duels lost.
For both stats, the lower the number, the more it shows the quality of the player in this area. The young Maouassa is impressive in this area by being the player least often dribbled at his position with 0.45, far ahead of the average which is 1.32. Moreover, he is efficient and loses only 36.23% of his defensive duels where the average is 39.3%.
Simakan is even stronger in defensive duels with only 32.69% of duels lost and is dribbled 1.02 times per 90 minutes (above average). The young Strasbourg player is in the top three of the full-backs that lose the least defensive duels. Aït Nouri also performs well in defensive duels with 36.04% of duels lost but is close to the average on the dribbles past with 1.27 per 90 minutes. It must be said that Angers is a team that does not press much and has one of the lowest possession levels in the championship, so it suffers more attacks.
Another important element for a full-back is the ability to have a high work rate and to press his opponent. The graph above shows the pressures performed by 90 minutes and the % of successful pressures (when a player makes a pressure, if the ball is recovered within five seconds, it is considered successful). The “pressure” stat calculates the pressure made by a player towards an opponent who possesses the ball or is about to possess it.
Aït Nouri and Simakan are very efficient in this area with respectively 15.9 and 16.8 pressures per 90 minutes. The young player from Angers is the second-highest percentage of successful pressures with 37.1% and 33.2 % for the player from Strasbourg. Maouassa is much lower in the ranking with 12.8 presses per 90 minutes and 27.3% successful. This stat shows a certain aggressiveness and a willingness to harass the ball carrier. Pressing the opponent increases his chances of intercepting the ball. Maouassa makes 4.27 interceptions per 90 minutes where the average is 4.8 for full-backs in Ligue 1. Simakan is at 5.09 and Aït Nouri has a great stat with 5.41.
This data analysis allowed us to better define the profile of these three very promising full-backs. Maouassa is very efficient in the defensive duel and is rarely dribbled. With three goals and two assists, he has been a great offensive asset for his team and shone by his ability to destabilize the opposing block with his dribbling skills and progressive runs.
For Simakan, who is basically a centre-back but has been repositioned right-back, he shone in another way. He is above all a very good defender, active without the ball and very strong in the duel. His offensive contribution in the last 30 metres was rather weak, but he was able to improve his team’s build-up play through his passes but also his forward runs.
He’s a very interesting profile in the sense that we can imagine him playing in several positions. His versatility could appeal to some very big European clubs (Borussia Dortmund has shown interest). Aït Nouri is certainly the most complete of the three and shines by his ball technique. He is an excellent dribbler and the quality of his crosses are very important for his position. He is just 18 years old and we can predict a great career for him. The young player from Angers is also solid in the defensive aspect.