Nîmes Olympique had found themselves sitting at the bottom of the Ligue 1 table after the first 19 games of the 2019/20 season. Bernard Blaquart’s side was five points off the survival position going into 2020 and desperately needed some spark to keep their hopes of playing in the next year’s Ligue 1 alive.
In the wake of winning the relegation battle, the Crocodiles signed Yassine Benrahou from Bordeaux on a short-term loan deal on January 3, 2020. While Nîmes was looking for a creative attacker to contribute goals, the youngster was looking for more playing minutes and game experience, something that he had failed to amass during his time with Les Girondins.
The move eventually ended in a win-win situation as the Moroccan’s two goals and three assists helped the Stade des Costières-based outfit to garner 15 points in the final nine games and consequently survive the relegation. As for Benrahou, he started all the games for the Crocodiles since the move after having started only once in the first 19 games of the season for Les Girondins.
In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we will do an analysis of the qualities that make Benrahou an exciting potential to watch out in the future. We will also see his importance in Nîmes’ team and how he fitted into Blaquart’s tactics which inspired them to retain their Ligue 1 status and which will help the team in the next season.
Benrahou is a creative attacking midfielder who likes to dictate his team’s attacking play in the middle and final thirds of the pitch. For most parts of his early career, the 21-year old played on the right-hand side of the field which eventually became his strong side. Hence, even though he has played as a number 10 for Nîmes, the heatmap shown below indicates that it is the right-hand side that the Moroccan influences the most.
Benrahou likes to get involved in a game constantly. Hence, he tends to be on and around the ball all the time that allows him to cover a significant amount of grass on the field, especially horizontally, which can also be seen in the heatmap. Hence, although the right flank and half-space were the major areas of operation for Benrahou, he influenced the left side as well although he never played in that position throughout the season. This can also be associated with his role in the Nîmes team as we shall see in this report.
Although Benrahou is primarily a left-footed player, he has a decent right foot. It not only allows him to drift into the central spaces using his left-foot but also influence the wide channels to put in crosses with his right foot.
Role in the team
Benrahou was brought into the team as a central attacking midfielder (number 10) that Blaquart was looking for a while. Since the youngster’s arrival, the Crocodiles played with a 4-2-3-1 system that consists of a number 10 for seven out of the nine games that he was involved in. Before that, Nîmes only played that formation on two occasions. For the remaining games, Blaquart used formations that did not involve a number 10 which highlights the team’s lack of depth in that position and the specific role that the 21-year old was brought in to play.
Being the most creative player in the Nîmes team, Benrahou’s role nuder Blaquart as a central attacking midfielder was that of a roaming playmaker who sat at the heart of every attacking play and was responsible for creating goal-scoring chances for the side. Hence, the Moroccan was given the freedom to make lateral movements near the ball on either side of the field, as we shall see in a couple of following figures.
As shown in the figure above, Benrahou has positioned himself near the left flank as the attack is being formed from that side. In this case, Nîmes was able to successfully resist the press from Marseille and switch the play to the right flank in the next few seconds, as shown in the following figure.
The figure above has been taken 26 seconds after the previous figure. Observe how Benrahou moved from the left flank to the right flank to get involved in the attacking play once again.
Such positional freedom during possession indicated that Blaquart wanted to build his team around the 21-year old. Benrahou’s movements not only affected the team’s attacking play, but also the movements of the players around him. For instance, when he moved into a half-space, the near attacking midfielder drifted towards the touchline. Whereas if the youngster was on a flank, the near-sided attacking midfielder tucked inside.
Nîmes seldom built from the back under Blaquart. Most of the time, the goalkeeper started the attacking play with a long ball towards the forward players. Standing at 172 cm and 62 kg, Benrahou is not a physical player by any stretch. Hence, his role during the first phase was certainly not to contest in an aerial duel with an opposition defender. Rather, this responsibility was handed to the more physical players, like striker Nolan Roux or Zinedine Ferhat, who are relatively adept in the air with both being six feet tall. Either of the players, therefore, dropped slightly deep in an attempt to win the long ball and flick it in the space behind the sticking defender. Benrahou, on the other end, made a run into that space to try to win the second ball from the header.
As shown in the figure above, Ferhat (10) is engaging in an aerial duel with a Dijon defender. Observe that Benrahou is making a run beyond the Dijon backline in an attempt to win the second ball which will isolate him one versus one against the opposition goalkeeper.
This was the most widely used attacking tactic of the Crocodiles during the initial phase of the attack. Having said that, when Blaquart’s team won the possession in the middle third and could not progress it vertically, they circulated the ball back towards the defenders who then looked to build the first phase of an attack. During these moments, Nîmes set themselves up in a 3-1-4-2 system where one of the pivots occupied the third center-back position and another pivot stayed ahead of the back three, while the full-backs provided the width. Benrahou, in this case, dropped into the middle third (center) to provide a creative outlet for his team. This movement consequently allowed an attacking midfielder to push up. The structure is shown in the figure below (the two forward players are not visible in the image).
Off the ball, Blaquart instructed his team to organize in a 4-4-2 block. While the right and left attacking players transitioned into wingers, Benrahou pushed high to become the second center-forward alongside the striker, as shown in the following figure.
Benrahou’s role during his team’s defensive phase indicated that the 21-year old seldom contributed to the defensive side of things. Having said that, the Moroccan was an active player when his team was out of possession. The youngster not only engaged in a medium to aggressive press with the opposition man in possession but also provided a cover shadow to block central passes. Even though Nîmes did not engage in a high press during the opposition buildup, Benrahou made 3.96 recoveries per 90 minutes. The following figure shows the recovery map of the midfielder during the last season.
The Nîmes midfielder also made 1.8 recoveries in the final third, 79% of which have been a consequence of the youngster’s counter-pressing.
Benrahou is not someone who has the pace of Paris Saint-Germain’s Kylian Mbappé or Marcus Rashford. He is also not someone with the physicality of Manchester United’s Paul Pogba or Sergej Milinković-Savić. However, he compensates for these shortcomings through his technical strengths. The Moroccan is very good and quick with the ball which makes him a useful asset in driving the ball forward.
The 21-year old has an excellent first touch that kills the ball early consequently giving him time to make a turn and engage in a duel with an opponent even when he is facing his own goal during the time he receives the ball.
Besides first-touch, Benrahou is impressively agile. His agility makes him strong in dribbles and offensive duels since he can quickly change his direction with the ball without losing the balance which not only helps him get past the opponents but also to draw a lot of fouls. Since joining Nîmes, Benrahou was fouled 3.52 times per 90 minutes. Considering the statistics of the entire season, only Neymar was fouled more than that. Moreover, the midfielder engages in 12.96 offensive duels and attempts 5.04 dribbles per 90 minutes, according to Wyscout. A couple of following figures illustrates these technical qualities of Benrahou.
In the figure above, we can see that Benrahou is receiving a long ball from one of his defenders during the transition. Observe that three Dijon players are around the youngster and even the slightest of errors in first-touch would result in a loss of possession. A perfect first-touch allowed Benrahou to keep hold of the possession. The next thing to deal with was the immediate press from the opponents since he wouldn’t have the time and space to maneuver the ball. However, in this instance, he was able to resist the press and quickly get past the opponents, eventually drawing a foul.
In the figure above, Benrahou is engaging in a duel against two Dijon defenders, who are generally good in one versus one. However, the 21-year old was able to dribble past them by quickly making a cut-back with his left foot to get past them. The defender did manage to get his legs out to make a tackle but before it gets to the ball, Benrahou’s quick feet had got the ball past them resulting in a foul.
These two instances show his ability on the ball which makes him a tough opponent for the defenders. Having said that, the Moroccan tends to overelaborate his dribbling quality at times which not only causes dangerous possession losses in the deeper areas but also reduces his dribbling accuracy and success rate in offensive duels which potentially can be higher than 44.64% and 34.72% respectively. This is something that the youngster can perhaps work on in the future.
As shown in the following figure, Benrahou is seen to receive the first pass of the attacking transition in the defensive third. Even though the youngster is facing is own goal and two Marseille players are trying to close him down in such a deep position, he still tried to make a turn and dribble past them instead of laying off a pass to one of his defenders for safety.
It is true that in these kinds of positions if a player can dribble past the press, he can find himself in a large space in front to create an attacking situation for his team. However, taking such a chance in the defensive third, especially when opposition players are closer, has more risk potential than the reward. In this particular case, Benrahou eventually lost the ball in a dangerous area that created a potential goal-scoring chance for the opposition.
The following possession loss map of Benrahou indicates that the 21-year old’s technical abilities help to avoid possession loses in the deeper areas. However, most of the defensive losses that you can see in the defensive third are due to his over-elaboration of technical qualities.
It is not usual for an attacking midfielder to have much influence in the defensive third of the pitch. However, Benrahou’s heatmap shown earlier indicates a contrasting scenario. The 21-year old seemed to have a significant amount of influence in his half, especially on the right-side.
One of the reasons for that is when Nîmes dropped into a low block, Benrahou used to naturally come into those positions being the right-sided center-forward in the defensive phase as mentioned in an earlier section. Having said that, the primary reason weighed towards a tactical plan than a natural occurrence. Since the youngster was regarded as a playmaker for his team, Blaquart used the new recruit in quick transitions from the defensive third. Benrahou positioned himself in the outer space on the right during the defensive block of his team. As soon as the Crocodiles won possession on that side, they quickly tried to look for a pass to Benrahou, who would then have the responsibility to vertically progress the ball.
The figure above shows an instance against Dijon where Nîmes has won the ball in their penalty box and is transitioning into the attacking phase. Observe how Benrahou has dropped deep to receive possession on the right while facing his own goal. We have established earlier that the 21-year old’s technical attributes allow him to break such kind of opposition pressures and progress the ball forward from the deeper areas without losing possession. Such kind of a movement from Benrahou is not unusual in every game. In this instance, the youngster passes the ball back but he can make a turn or put a one-touch lateral pass to progress the ball higher as we will see in the following counter-attacking example.
Benrahou has once again received a quick pass on the right flank from one of his defenders in his half. A less intense press from an Angers player has given time to the Moroccan to make a turn and run at him. Instead of taking on the opposition, the 21-year old finds his full-back free on the flank and quickly combines with him to form a one-touch passing play. The youngster finally receives the ball in the space in the middle third beyond the opponent.
Benrahou then drives into space ahead of him and spots his center-forward, who is making a run beyond the high backline of Angers. The Moroccan provides an accurate ball beyond the defenders and continues his run into the attacking third.
Eventually, the center-forward finds Benrahou with a pass in the opposition penalty box but unfortunately, the 21-year old could not convert this opportunity. Four passes within 10 seconds allowed Blaquart’s team to move the ball from their box to the opposition box, Benrahou being the pivotal factor in the counter-attack. This play signifies the reasoning of his influence in the deeper areas.
Areas of improvement
Benrahou is an exciting player to watch and has the potential to play for a better club with more game time and experience. However, the youngster requires ironing in certain areas of his play to reach his potential. Just like most of the youngsters, Benrahou’s frailties are majorly tied to the mental aspect of the game rather than technical or physical.
One of the things that the youngster needs improvement on is decision making, especially during the attacking phase. Since he is pivotal in how Nîmes attack, his decision making could cost his team several goal-scoring chances. A couple of following examples will elaborate on this idea.
The figure above shows Benrahou taking on a Marseille midfielder while the full-back and the right attacking midfielder are seen to be making runs on the flank. A through ball to the full-back would have isolated the opposition left-back two versus one with the Nîmes’ wide players. However, the 21-year old chose to dribble past the opponent and consequently lost the possession and a potential goal-scoring chance for his side.
The figure above is taken just six minutes before the previous image. In this case, Benrahou is in a pole position to create a three versus three against the Marseille defenders. In this case, instead of making a run towards the backline, the youngster tries to put in a long diagonal ball beyond the left most defender for his attacking teammate who is making a run on the right half-space. The pass was unsuccessful and so was the attack. Contrasting decisions, while both being the wrong ones, within few minutes highlights the need to improve in the decision-making aspect of Benrahou’s game.
Another aspect of his attacking game that Benrahou needs to work on is his positioning without the ball. Off the ball movement is one of the crucial elements in the modern game. However, Benrahou’s propensity to be constantly near the ball, as we touched upon earlier, prevents him from being in the positions from which he can create high-value chances. The following figure shows one of such instances.
The image was taken seconds after a Nîmes midfielder passed the ball to the ball receiver (Roux). Observe that Benrahou has moved into the exact space where Roux had positioned in the wake of receiving the pass. Instead of making an off the ball run into the available space in zone 14, the 21-year old became static (as evident in his body shape of not making a run) and allowed the opponent to tackle Roux, who is not the quickest in making the turns. Had Benrahou quickly sprinted into space beyond Roux, the striker could have laid off the ball to the Moroccan who would have had ample space in the final third.
Another instance, only a few seconds after the previous one, is shown in the figure above. Benrahou’s propensity to move towards the ball has once again prevented him from occupying the pockets of space available between the lines and on the flank in the final third. This forced the man in possession to go diagonal towards the Nîmes striker who was making a run beyond the Marseille backline. These kinds of balls are more difficult than the short passes and, in this case, too, the possession was turned over. Benrahou’s movement into space would have allowed his team to keep possession in the final third.
With more playing time and experience at the top level, Benrahou’s mental attributes will definitely improve which can allow him to become a better player in the future.
Overall, Benrahou is a player filled with high potential. Although he is not the most physical player, the technical attributes, especially agility, dribbling, and crossing, of the 21-year old sets him apart. However, the 21-year old needs improvements in decision making and off the ball movements, especially because he has been handed an important responsibility to create chances for his side.
Benrahou has improved his new team significantly which can be seen from Nîmes’ results in the latter half of the last season which nearly saved them from relegation. Ligue 1 staying at Stade des Costières meant that the Crocodiles activated the €1.5m clause of the Moroccan that was set by his former club, Bordeaux. With a new manager incoming for Nîmes for the next season, it will be interesting to see if the midfielder can have a similar kind of impact as he had on Blaquart’s side. Nevertheless, he will be a player on which other European teams will have an eye on.