Ludovic Blas – Player Report

Player Profile:

  • Nationality: French
  • Age: 22
  • Date of birth: 31/12/1997
  • Current Club: FC Nantes
  • Career: Guingamp, FC Nantes
  • Position: Right Wing
  • Secondary Position: 10 / Striker
  • Preferred foot: Left

Overview

On the 2nd of September 2019, FC Nantes secured the signing of Ludovic Blas from recently relegated Guingamp for a fee in the region of €8 million and since then the 22 year old has been a key figure for the Ligue 1 side, making 24 league appearances (22 of which as part of the starting line up).

Prior to his previous side’s relegation, Blas had racked up over 100 Ligue 1 appearances across four different seasons following his promotion from Guingamp’s reserves. The Frenchman has raised eyebrows with his performances for Nantes this term, finding the back of the net on five occasions in the league whilst also posing a creative threat. His style could perhaps be likened to that of a Riyad Mahrez type player with excellent close control and vision whilst also regularly favouring cutting inside onto his stronger left foot.

The forward, who is of Martiniquais descent, has a good level of pedigree for his age. As well as his vast Ligue 1 experience, he was part of the French national team that won the U19 European Championship in 2016, where his individual contribution was recognised by being named in the team of the tournament alongside the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Sam Lammers.

With the ability to play out wide or through the middle, Blas has had an impressive first campaign for ‘Les Canaris’ and he should be looking to kick on following the summer break, whether it be with his current club or another potential suitor.

Physical

Despite standing at about 5’11, Blas is slight in build and fairly lightweight which can hinder him in duels and challenges for the ball. The 22 year old is capable of competing aerially and can leap quite high when drifting in at the back post, whilst his almost lanky stature means that he wins a lot of fouls through his opponents being overly physical.

He has a decent burst of acceleration but is not a particularly pacy winger as he prefers to use close control and sharp changes in direction to beat his opponent rather that sheer speed. The Frenchman is agile and can evade challenges by moving his body well in order to shift his weight in different directions, he also displayed good stamina to look lively throughout and he had played over 2000 minutes in all competitions this season with 10 league matches still left to play.

Technical

Blas is a very technically gifted player who can expertly manoeuvre the ball in tight spaces or under great pressure. His first touch is consistently to a high standard which often puts him into a position to drive at his opponent. He attempts 4.54 dribbles per 90, the second highest for Nantes, demonstrating his eagerness to get at and take on his man when the opportunity presents itself. As mentioned earlier, he is not the type of electric winger that can traditionally be seen hugging the touchline whilst looking to make runs out wide, but he is a different, more creative outlet for his side. He is also capable of dropping deep to join in with build up play, or drifting inside to occupy more of a number 10 role where he can influence the game with his passing vision.

Blas’ final ball is perhaps one of the best parts of his game. When he cuts inside onto his left foot he is capable of threading the eye of a needle with his through balls to find his teammates in behind the opposition defensive line. The Frenchman is always looking to create when in possession which can make him very dangerous when given time to get his head up and pick a pass. Although he possesses the ability to, he tends not to make many longer switches of play, preferring to find ground passes in behind or to link up in tight areas with his teammates.

Furthermore, this ability to retain or move the ball when penned in is extenuated by Blas’ skill on the ball, with his ability to twist and turn to win a foul or wriggle free of his man. He also frequently attempts pieces of skill to flick or lay the ball off to a teammate which can confuse defenders whilst creating space for other players to operate. As he develops further, the 22 year old needs to work on increasing his creative output as he has the ability to unlock defences and has shown that at times this season, yet he also only made 1.17 key passes per 90 and has only one league assist to his name this term – a statistic I found surprising having watched him on several occasions.

He is much stronger on his left foot and uses it whenever possible – so much so that on occasion even if he is in a position to cross with his right, he would rather try to take on the defender and cut inside on his left. This can make him quite predictable when defending against, however, for defenders it is one thing knowing he will cut inside, but it is a much more difficult task trying to stop him as he can ghost past defenders, or play passes into the space that the full back has left in order to close him down. Once on his dominant foot, Blas rarely looks to cross the ball in the air and prefers to look for passes or shots from range where he tries to bend it into the far corner.

The example below shows Blas (circled) pulling wide to receive the ball in space, but rather than getting to the by-line and putting in a cross with his weaker right foot, he drives inside, attracting several defenders before finding a clever pass to a teammate on the edge of the box. This highlights his preference to cut inside and how it can be effective, as although staying wide and putting in a cross may have stretched the defence, his decision to cut inside meant that several defenders felt the need to close him down, therefore freeing up space for other players in and around the penalty area.

Fig. 1 + 2. Blas receives the ball out wide before driving inside, attracting defenders and freeing up space for teammates.

His shooting from range can also be dangerous, with the forward posing a real threat from both inside and outside the box. Blas took 2.2 shots per 90 this season and just under three quarters of his shots came from outside the area – displaying his confidence to shoot from distance. The shot map below shows how often he shoots from distance playing either in the number 10 role or out wide as a right sided winger. There is perhaps a small correlation that where he has cut inside from the right hand side onto his left, his shots are blocked less often and he forces the keeper into more saves.

Fig. 3. Blas’ shot map from open play in the Ligue 1 2019/20 season.

This lack of confidence on his right foot can hinder Blas at times (taking only 5 of 46 shots this season with his weaker foot), as defenders can become aware that he has limited options when running at them as he is quite unlikely to try and drive to the byline and put in a cross. However, players with this type of style have proven to be very successful throughout the last couple of decades (e.g. Robben, Salah etc.) and whilst I am not comparing him to these players, they are evidence that having a much much more dominant foot does not have to harm their performances. On the whole, Blas is a very skilled player when dribbling or passing and can be a real attacking asset for his team in the right system.

Tactical

Blas’ movement is another part of his game that can cause problems for opposition defences. Whether playing as a 10, second striker or right winger, the Frenchman is able to evade marking and receive the ball in the half spaces regularly. As a 10, he is able to drop deeper in order to build up the play or turn and try to create something going forward. He looks to take the ball on the turn, in behind the opposition midfield when they have tried to press high, but less so in advanced positions when his team have possession in the opposition half.

Blas aims to receive the ball on his back foot from either a defender or holding midfield player before spinning and looking to find a pass to the wingers or strikers, or he may decide to just shift the ball out to the other side of the pitch. Below is a good example of the attacker dropping into midfield to receive the ball and help his team play though the press by turning and playing a progressive pass in behind the defence.

Fig. 4 + 5. Blas drops into space behind the Marseille midfield before turning and finding a through ball for the winger.

This type of movement can be very effective for Nantes as it allows Blas to bridge the gap between midfield and attack whilst acting as a catalyst in transitional phases of play. As a wide player, he demonstrates more dangerous movements in the final third which is where he can really pose a threat to the opposition goal. He predominantly played out on the right hand side and would look to make runs inside either with the ball at his feet (as previously mentioned) or when his teammates have possession, in order to create overloads in central areas and free up space out wide. This example illustrates Blas’ movement from outside to inside, where he found a clever pass in behind before making a great supporting run into the penalty area to score.

Fig. 6. Blas plays a pass in behind (red arrow) before driving inside to attack the space in the penalty area (purple arrow) where he would eventually be found by the cut back to score.

When the ball is on the other side of the pitch, the 22 year old tries to maintain his team’s width by staying wide when he doesn’t have the ball, but he times his runs well to make last minute bursts towards the back post to create overloads and get on the end of heavy crosses that come in from the left hand side. His lack of physicality can become a problem when challenging in aerial battles but he can still be a cause for concern for the full back by drifting into the danger area.

He has shown capability to play in several different roles throughout this campaign and from the matches I observed, Blas is least effectuive when playing as a second striker as he is less involevd in the build up play where he can be effective by progressing his team up the pitch, whilst he perhaps lacks the physical attributes to challenge aerially or make quick runs in behind. However, I believe Blas can be very effective when utilised as either a right winger or 10 (both of which have been in a 4-2-3-1 formation for Nantes) as it allows him more freedom to link up with teammates and make late runs into the penalty area from deep or take on shots from range.

Fig. 7. Blas makes a delayed run drifting in off the right wing to create an overload at the back post.

Blas is not given many defensive duties by Nantes and as a result it is difficult to judge his defensive ability and awareness. However, from what I witnessed, he tracked his man effectively when playing as a wide midfielder, although he did miss a vital header in one match which caused his team to concede despite him having tracked his man all the way to his own penalty area. When pressing Blas cut passing lanes quite effectively and tried to close down the opposition with urgency and has been in the 90th percentile for pressing in the top 5 league wingers (including his league appearances for both Guingamp and FC Nantes this season).

Fig. 8. Blas’ radar from the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season.

As can be seen in the above graphic, Blas ranks highly in dribbling, passing and pressuring the opponent. All of which can be very important for an attacking player of his style, he also ranks quite highly for goals, as although he has only scored 5 in the league this season, that makes him the team’s joint top scorer. It is clear what area of his game requires improvement with both his expected goals and assists struggling in the lower percentiles, however, based on the performances I have seen from him he certainly has the raw talent and skill and there is a strong possibility that his output will increase with experience and as he gets used to his new surroundings with FC Nantes.

On the whole, his movement can cause real issues for opposition defences, no matter what position he is playing in, but his role and playing style changes drastically when playing out wide compared to more of a playmaker role where he looks to move his team up the pitch by making progressive passes from deeper areas. Blas is an effective presser but must improve his end output and goal contribution.

Psychological

Blas oozes confidence in possession and rarely seems rushed even when under pressure from defenders. However, he does have a tendency to drift in and out of games and is sometimes unable to have a consistent impact on proceedings all through the match. Especially when deployed further forward as a second striker in a 4-4-2 where he can be starved of service and struggle with few options ahead of him. He rarely let mistakes get to him and continued to trust his ability to have a positive influence for his team whilst he was adequately aggressive when defending, showing the ability to make some solid tackles to win possession for his side.

The Future?

Having only signed for the club at the start of the season and with his contract running until the summer of 2024, it would seem likely that Blas will remain a Nantes player heading into the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season. However, at only 22 years of age and with such a vast experience and rich pedigree, it would be unsurprising to see clubs begin to show an interest in the Frenchman over the coming months and years.

Despite sitting in 13th position at the close of the season, Nantes found themselves just four points shy of 5th in the French league so although he would be an asset to the majority of the clubs, it is unlikely that Nantes would be willing to sell to a competitor. Out of the rest of the top 5 leagues, Blas’ style of play would be a good fit in Italy or Spain and he would be able to make a positive impact at his current level, however, his lack of physicality may hinder him should he have the opportunity to move to England and he may require further development in some areas before making the jump across the Channel.

System wise, Blas would fit best into a team where he is given freedom to roam and create from either out wide or behind the striker. Blas would suit a slightly more possession based side where he could use his vision to break down blocks and movement to find holes and create openings in the opposition defence.

Closing Thoughts

Blas is a player who I enjoyed watching, as despite lacking any standout physical qualities, his technical ability and eye for a pass make him effective for his team. His movement to either drop deep or make runs inside makes him difficult to handle but he probably needs to improve his overall goal contribution tally in order to really start to standout in France and Europe to the average onlooker. Blas is still young and has the potential to be a real talent as he develops further over the coming seasons and I will be keeping an eye out to see how his career unfolds.

Stats courtesy of https://fbref.com/en/

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