In the fifth game week of Ligue 1 football this season, Lille played host to FC Nantes in what promised to be an intriguing affair. Lille were one of three teams to retain an unbeaten record in the league this season going into this match, and although they are yet to really click going forward, they have been solid defensively. Meanwhile, Nantes are a team that have some very promising talents in the likes of Imran Louza and Ludovic Blas, yet they lack a focal point and goalscorer in the final third, and despite having an experienced defensive line, they can be prone to the odd mistake. Both teams’ squads contain a host of talented youngsters and seasoned veterans and so this game seemed as though it could really go either way.
In what was a battle primarily fought in midfield, Lille came out victorious with an own goal and late penalty seeing them through to a 2-0 win over visitors FC Nantes. Despite it being a fairly cagey affair, both sides did have chances and it was arguably Nantes who had the best opportunities, especially in the first period. Kolo Muani went through on goal but his shot lacked conviction, Moses Simon also had a chance to get a shot off but delayed too long and was crowded out of it before, just prior to the half time whistle, Lille went down the other end and a cut back was inadvertently turned into his own net by central defender Pallois.
Chances were at a premium for long periods of the second half, and Lille came close with substitute Ikoné’s shot being cleared off the line, and then Bamba seeing his effort come back off the post. The visitors mustered somewhat of a fightback, winning some set pieces which gave them a chance to get men into the box and they looked threatening on the counter, with Lille’s clean sheet being kept intact thanks to a couple of fantastic saves from Maignan, one in particular was very impressive as he acrobatically flung himself across his goal to deny Louza’s effort from the edge of the area. The game was put to bed in the closing stages when Appiah fouled veteran striker Yilmaz in the area, who then stood up and fired home the penalty to put the result beyond doubt.
Nantes set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Ludovic Blas playing as the second striker off of Kolo Muani, whilst Louza and Pedro Chirivella made up the central midfield partnership, and Moses Simon and Marcus Coco were tasked with providing a threat from wide areas. They aimed to hit Lille on the counter attack, by using Kolo Muani as a focal point for the midfielders to find and then bringing the likes of Blas and the wingers into play. Defensively they were relatively solid, and were able to keep the opposition quiet for long periods, with Pallois and Girotto providing an experienced and capable central defensive partnership. At times they lacked the physicality required of them in midfield whilst although they showed promising signs during build up and in the final third, they just seemed unable to find that final ball and lacked a killer instinct in front of goal, which has been a recurring problem so far this season.
- A1 – Very good, could play higher
- A2 – Strong potential to play higher
- B1 – Good, strong player at level
- B2 – Potential to be strong player at level
- C – Average for the level, rewatch
- D – Below average in this match
- Nationality: French / Moroccan
- Age: 21
- Date of birth: 01/05/1999
- Current Club: Nantes
- Career: Nantes
- Position: Centre Midfield
- Secondary Position: 10 / Defensive Midfield
- Preferred foot: Left
Imran Louza showed quality and composure in possession, but, much like the rest of his team, he was unable to find that final ball or produce sufficient end product in the final third at times. He was the main orchestrator in the team during build up play and transition phases, dropping deep (sometimes even into the defensive line) to pick up the ball and try and find a creative out-ball to progress his team up the pitch. Generally he was tidy and efficient with the ball at his feet and finished the game with a 91% pass completion rate, making 49 out of 54 passes in his 87 minutes on the pitch.
The midfield playmaker was full of creative ideas, finding switches of play and looking to set his teammates off in behind the Lille defence. He found some very useful passes inot the channels for the forwards to run onto and was able to act as a pivot in midfield areas by using his good close control to turn smoothly and get his team heading towards the opposition goal. Generally he was a very tidy player at the heart of this Nantes side and showed his ability to be a creative outlet himself or just to keep the play ticking along with smooth passing interchanges.
Despite his good levels of close control, the 21 year old rarely looked to drive with the ball and instead relied upon his passing game to be influential during attacking moves. He is primarily left footed and therefore uses his dominant side whenever possible, though this rarely hindered him as his technique when passing is impressive and he was able to use his close control to maneouvre the ball onto his stronger foot. In the first half he primarily sat deep and was at the base of the build up play, looking to thread passes into the forwards or freeing up spaces for others to do so, however, as Nantes chased an equaliser in the second period, Louza was granted more freedom to venture further forward.
This freedom meant that he could play more of a supporting role to the front line and he was arguably one of his team’s biggest threats to the opposition goal. First off, he made a delayed run towards the edge of the box to meet a cutback and fire a vicious effort towards goal that seemed destined to find the back of the net, only to be denied by a great reflex save from Maignan, and then he had another effort from range as he cut inside and worked a bit of space to get a shot off, but once again his curling effort was saved by the Lille goalkeeper. Louza was also the primary set piece taker for his team, but his deliveries lacked consistency, whipping some into dangerous areas whilst others failed to beat the first man. This was an influential display from the youngster when in possession.
Defensively, Louza was alert and worked hard alongside Chirivella in the Nantes midfield. He read the play well to cut out a couple of loose passes in the centre of the park and showed good strength at times to muscle the opponent off the ball and regain possession for his side. He used his body well to shield the ball and tried hard to screen the back line, though the movement of the very skilful and mobile Lille front line did cause some problems. Occasionally Louza seemed a bit disinterested with his defensive duties and could be accused of being somewhat passive when faced by a tricky winger running at him and he does lack a yard or two of pace which can be a hinderance for him, but on the whole he was fairly competent at fulfilling his tasks when his team were on the back foot.
Imran Louza is a player who I personally enjoy watching due to his composure in possession and his ability to effortlessly dictate the play from deep areas and as a result, I wrote a player report on him towards the end of last season. In this game, he was influential during build up play but could perhaps work on having more of a creative impact in the final third. Along with the likes of Ludovic Blas, Louza is one of Nantes’ main young talents who they will be relying on to produce quality and get them results this season.
- Nationality: French
- Age: 22
- Date of birth: 31/12/1997
- Current Club: Nantes
- Career: Guingamp, Nantes
- Position: Attacking Midfield
- Secondary Position: Centre Midfield / Right Wing
- Preferred foot: Left
Ludovic Blas was tasked with providing a large proportion of Nantes’ creativity in the final third, playing just off the main focal point in the attack: Kolo Muani. Due to the young striker staying more central ahead of him, Blas was given the freedom to roam across the Lille defence and look for pockets of space between the lines. In this match, the young Frenchman was full of creative ideas and although he has demonstrated his ability to beat defenders and find intricate passes, quite a few of his efforts to break down the Lille defence just didn’t come off for him.
The vast majority of the time, the thinking behind his decision making was positive and clever, but on a couple of occasions he let his first touch get away from him or overhit his final ball. However, some of his ideas did come to fruition as he displayed great vision to find one or two impressive first time balls in behind whilst he was able to use his close control to draw defenders in before finding a teammate. He rarely looked to make runs in behind but preferred to either pull wide to support the winger or to drop deep and look for the ball to feet. Once he did bring the ball under his spell and was able to start driving at opponents, Blas was very difficult to stop, and completed 4 dribbles in the match, the most of any player.
His close control and ability to evade challenges make him a nightmare to defend against in one v one situations as he can easily drop his shoulder and leave the defender for dead, whilst he does have the quality to hurt the opposition in the final third with his end product. Blas’ movement across the forward line made him difficult to mark as the defenders were unable to go with him and be dragged out of position whilst the Lille midfielders were occupied by their opposite numbers as the two teams set up in very similar formations. Although Blas is not the quickest or strongest, has has this knack of retaining possession when under pressure and he seems to almost glide with the ball when driving at the opposition. His dribbling put his team on the front foot on several occasions and allowed his teammates to push up the pitch and relieve any pressure that had been building.
Blas does not seem overly enamoured by the idea of defending, and although he does work relatively hard to cut passing lanes and apply pressure when possible, he often seems quite passive when the opposition have the ball. Especially in the role in which he played in this match, where his defensive duties were relatively light and so he had little impact upon his team when they were out of possession. At 5’11 and with a slim build, the 22 year old can occasionally struggle with the more physical aspects of the game and he could perhaps do with filling out his frame slightly more in order to be more competitive in shoulder to shoulder duels as he develops further, although he will perhaps want to retain his slight build so that he can remain as effective when he has the ball at his feet.
Ludovic Blas is another player who I have enjoyed watching over the last year or so and, like Louza, I wrote a player report on him a couple of months ago. This was not one of Blas’ most influential displays in the final third, but nonetheless he demonstrated what he can bring to this Nantes side in the shape of creativity and putting his team on the front foot by beating defenders. Nantes will be hoping for a big season from Blas after a promising first campaign at the club in 2019/20 and he is likely to have a significant impact on how his team fares in Ligue 1 this season. .
- Nationality: Spanish
- Age: 23
- Date of birth: 23/05/1997
- Current Club: Nantes
- Career: Valencia (Y), Liverpool, Go Ahead Eagles (L), Willem II (L), Extremadura (L), Nantes
- Position: Defensive Midfield
- Secondary Position: Centre Midfield
- Preferred foot: Right
This was a tidy yet unremarkable performance from Chirivella at the heart of the Nantes midfield. The Spaniard completed 49 of his 57 attempted passes and displayed good composure and awareness to keep the ball moving smoothly during build up play. He demonstrated his ability to play accurate switches of play and to make crisp, firm passes into the feet of the wingers or front two. He was able to link up smartly with his teammates in midfield areas, but rarely touched the ball in the final third whilst he was happy to step forward with the ball if there were no opposition players in front of him, as he never tried to beat his opponent by dribbling.
His role in this team when in possession was to just keep the play ticking along in order to free up space for one of the more creative midfield players to receive the ball, and for the most part he did this effectively as well as finding a key pass. However, he did hit a couple of shakey passes, one back to the keeper that put his team under great pressure and he was slow to turn in midfield on a couple of occasions which resulted in him being caught on the ball and losing possession.
The former Liverpool midfielder was tasked with doing the dirty work in midfield and he covered a lot of ground as well as battling away relentlessly in front of his own penalty area. At 5’10 and with a slim build, Chirivella does not provide a physical presence in midfield and despite his work rate, his lack of strength sometimes caused him a problem when trying to tussle for possession, whilst his height meant that he failed to win any aerial duels. He sought to make up for this physical mismatch by reading the game effectively and he did so to a good standard in order to pick off loose passes and nip in front of the opponent to regain the ball for his team.
Overall this was a relatively understated performance from the 23 year old, who battled hard in midfield whilst also recycling possession effectively for his team whenever he received the ball. When he is playing alongside Louza, Nantes seem to lack a physical presence in midfield as well as someone who can drive with the ball from deeper areas, and although Chirivella is tidy and willing to do the dirty work, personally I’m unsure of how much he adds to the midfield pairing and perhaps Touré or Abeid would provide a more suitable partner to compliment Louza’s passing range.
- Nationality: DR Congo / French
- Age: 21
- Date of birth: 05/12/1998
- Current Club: Nantes
- Career: Nantes, Boulogne (L)
- Position: Striker
- Preferred foot: Right
For a young striker, Randal Kolo Muani did well to act as a focal point for his team’s attacks and he did cause some problems for the Lille defence, but perhaps lacked the necessary conviction in front of goal to ever really be a direct goal threat for Nantes in this match. Standing at 6’2 and with a large frame and strong build, the 21 year old provided a physical presence up top for his team and made good use of this to challenge for aerial duels and hold up the ball in the opposition half. The French U21 international won 4 attacking aerial duels, using his good leap to flick on for the likes of Blas to run onto or to nod the ball down to the feet of the midfielders. Whilst he also made good use of his aerial presence when defending to make several headed clearances from his own penalty area. He used his body well to shield the ball and was happy to lay-off possession to a teammate or try and roll the defender and run in behind.
The striker didn’t seem the quickest off the mark, but once he got into his stride he was able to cause problems with his powerful running off the shoulders of the defenders. Due to his speed, strength and control he completed both of his attempted dribbles and also created a great chance for himself, as after shrugging off the defender he ran through one on one with the keeper but his shot was tame and easily telegraphed and consequently Maignan in the Lille goal was able to save and keep hold of the effort. He also created chances for teammates by getting to the by-line after making a run into the channel and cutting back passes towards the penalty spot, which looked as though they may cause problems for the opposition. Kolo Muani needed to take more care over his passing, as although he showed good creativity to bring others into play and make two key passes, he also misplaced half of his attempted passes and had the second least touches of any player to start the match.
The 21 year old could be quite passive defensively and as a result he failed to win back possession for his side or put much pressure on the defenders. He made life a bit too easy for the opposition back line when they had the ball and showed some naivety to commit a couple of needless fouls when he was battling for possession. At times he seemed to lack the desire to challenge for 50/50’s and press when there was a loose ball, and whether that was due to a physchological side of his game or instructions from the management, remains to be seen.
On the whole, the youngster displayed what he can bring to the team as a physical outlet and someone who can hold the ball up, and as other areas of his game improve, he has the potential to develop into a decent forward. However, this match highlighted some things that he needs to develop such as his instinct in front of goal and ball retention. Kolo Muani was recently called up to the highly competitive France U21 squad, perhaps illustrating that he is quite highly regarded in the national camp, and I hope to see more of him for Nantes if he is given further opportunities to play as the season continues.
- Nationality: French
- Age: 21
- Date of birth: 23/01/1999
- Current Club: Nantes (On loan from Fiorentina)
- Career: Toulouse, Fiorentina, Nantes (L)
- Position: Goalkeeper
- Preferred foot: Right
Lafont didn’t have too much to do in between the sticks in this match, and although he executed some parts of his game well, he also left room to be desired in some departments. He was agile to get down low to his left to deny a strike from the edge of the box with what was his best save of the match, and he was comfortable on the ball when passing out from the back or kicking long. He also swept well on a couple of occasions to be quick off the mark to deal with the danger and take the pressure off the defenders.
However, there were some indecisive moments in which he seemed quite shakey. For example, early on in the match, he rushed off his line to the edge of the box to try and clear the ball only for the defender to clear the ball away just before him, and then for the opening goal he got down well to parry the initial shot but he failed to parry it out or away from danger and then in a panic to recover came too far out of his goal and left an opening for the ball to be played into. He was well beaten by another effort that struck the post and came back out, and then there was little he could have done to prevent the penalty being converted as they are almost always a lottery and so he cannot be too heavily criticised for not saving it.
Lafont is still incredibly young for a goalkeeper and has played a lot of senior football for a player of his age and position. Whenever I have watched him, it is clear that he has ability and can make great saves and play out from the back effectively, but there are still a few clear areas of his game that require development and he fails to consistently instil confidence between the sticks.