Diop in action

Sofiane Diop – Player Report

Sofiane Diop is one of a number of talented young players on the books at AS Monaco. Following his breakout season with Les Monégasques in 2018/19 (when they narrowly avoided a shock relegation), and a spell on loan with FC Sochaux in the French second division the following year, Diop established himself as a first team regular in Monaco during the 2020/21 season. They mounted somewhat of a title charge, eventually falling just short and completing the season in third place in Ligue 1. However, it could have gone very differently for the midfielder, who was reportedly training with the reserves upon his return from loan and put up for sale last summer, prior to the arrival of new manager Niko Kovač.

Having come through the youth ranks at Ligue 1 rivals Stade Rennes, who boast an impressive youth development program, Diop joined up with Monaco at the age of 18, making 13 first team appearances during his first season with the club. After returning from his loan spell, Diop established himself in the core group of starters during what was an impressive campaign, racking up over 2000 minutes of first team football. His performances caught the eye on his way to ending the season with a tally of seven league goals and now at 21 and with a good level of first team experience, he will be looking to kick on and become a major creative force for Les Monégasques.

Diop has represented France at under 18, 19 & 20 levels, an achievement in itself given the talent within the French national camp, but he also has a Senegalese father and Moroccan mother, making him eligible to represent one of three different countries at senior level in the future. Should he continue to develop in the manner he has up to this point in his career, it won’t be long before he is attracting the attention of the national squad selectors.

The 21 year old last signed a contract extension with Monaco back at the start of 2019, and that contract is due to run until the summer of 2023, however, with Diop playing such a significant role for the club last season, it would seem inevitable that Monaco will wish to tie him down to a new contract should his development continue in this vein, to increase his transfer value as well as retain one of their most exciting young talents.

Player Profile:

  • Nationality: French / Senegalese
  • Age: 21
  • Date of birth: 09/06/2000
  • Current Club: AS Monaco
  • Career: Stade Rennes (Youth), AS Monaco, FC Sochaux (Loan)
  • Position: Attacking Midfield
  • Secondary Position: Left Wing / Right Wing
  • Preferred foot: Right

Physical

At just 5’5″ and with a slim build, Diop is notably small in stature and frame, which can hinder his strength and effectiveness in physical duels. The agile forward can sometimes be muscled off the ball fairly easily when in direct duels, and due to his height and build, he poses little to no aerial threat. However, he does possess a good burst of pace and a very impressive change in direction which allow him to nip ahead of opponents and evade challenges. In a lot of respects, he is your typical small and nippy winger who can utilise his agility to cause problems on or off the ball.

The 21 year old retains a low centre of gravity that can prove useful when shielding the ball and aid his rapid changes in direction. His overall top speed is quick but not so much that he afford to be overly reliant on raw pace, whilst he has no major recurring injury troubles thus far in his career. Stamina wise, Diop rarely completed a full ninety for Monaco last campaign, seeing through the entirety of just 6 out of 24 Ligue 1 starts during the 2020/21 season, however, he displays good energy levels when on the pitch and works hard for his team when required, pressing and hassling defenders and timing his pressures effectively to regain possession or force errors.

Technical

Arguably the strongest area of Diop’s game is his technical ability in possession of the ball. The winger possesses excellent close control and can dribble at speed or face up to his opponent and take them on in 1v1 situations. He looks at ease with the ball at his feet, and is often very positive, looking to find a forward pass, get a shot off or take on a defender. His first touch frequently allows him to be on the front foot and avoid danger, whilst he is comfortable receiving the ball under pressure. He receives the ball on the back foot or half turn well which can allow him to be positive in possession. With a dribble success rate of 62% last season, Diop has shown his capability to drive with the ball and put defenders on the back foot, and he looks threatening when running with the ball in the opposition half, playing with a freedom and creativity that can cause problems for opponents. As with all attacking players of this mould, Diop does like to take risks and as a result, can often lose possession in the process, but his ability to create something from nothing makes his inclusion in the team worthwhile.

Diop is predominantly right footed, and 86% of his attempted passes were via his stronger foot last season. The forward is capable of unlocking defences with his passing, and just like when carrying the ball, his first thought is to look forward and be progressive whenever possible. Last season he ranked in the 77th percentile from the top five leagues for progressive passes per 90, illustrating his desire to move the ball forward and be proactive in possession. Diop was only able to register one assist in Ligue 1 last term (from 2.3 xA), but he also made 1.3 key passes per 90 to create opportunities for teammates. He demonstrated impressive vision at times, and is capable of being involved in intricate passing moves in the final third. The young forward is also capable of delivering dangerous set piece deliveries, but he could perhaps look to improve his consistency in this area as he continues to develop. Further evidence that the forward was a real creative force in what was a free flowing Monaco attack at times last season, is that he was able to instigate 2.8 shot creating actions per 90.

After prolific strikers Ben Yedder (20 goals) and Volland (16), Diop (7) was Monaco’s third top scorer in Ligue 1 last campaign, an impressive tally for a 21 year old enjoying his first full season of first team football in the French top flight. His composure in front of goal is striking for a young player, who evidently possesses great confidence in his ability in possession. The French youth international displays composure and a killer instinct in one v one situations with the keeper, and he demonstrated this last season, which was encapsulated by him expertly chipping the Saint-Étienne goalkeeper to take his tally to seven for the season.

Diop pounces on a loose pass before showing great composure to lift the ball over the goalkeeper.

As can be seen in the above video, many of Diop’s opportunities originate from his sense of anticipation, to either make an instinctive finish or knowing when to apply pressure on the opponent or take a gamble on a loose ball breaking his way. His reaction time is impressive and allows him to adjust accordingly when receiving the ball, and many of his chances last season came from first time snapshots where he was forced to react quickly to pounce in the final third.

Overall, Diop’s technical ability is very impressive and should stand him in good stead as he continues to develop other areas of his game. His finishing was particularly impressive last campaign and did over-perform his xG, and he displayed an impressive cutting edge in the final third. He is comfortable and positive with the ball at his feet, showing a willingness to run at opponents and create something from nothing. Whilst he is capable of picking a pass, he could perhaps improve the consistency of the delivery of his final ball, so that he may more frequently turn provider as well as goalscorer.

Tactical

Diop has proven to be a versatile player throughout the last season with Monaco. He has occupied several different positions within Les Monégasques’ forward line. The 21 year old has popped up wide on both wings, as more of an inside forward just off the striker, as a number 10 and as a central midfielder in a midfield three. In the 2020/21 season, he was playing in a Monaco side that had the third most possession and the fourth most shots in Ligue 1, a side that was set up to attack and play free-flowing football in the opposition half by utilising the pace, creativity and directness of their wide players to feed the clinical strike force of Ben Yedder and Volland. They demonstrated their cutting edge and devastating pace on the counter-attack, but also their ability to sustain attacking onslaughts on low blocks during what was an impressive season.

Diop’s movement and positioning off the ball is another strong part of his game, that have lead to chances falling to him in dangerous areas. Whilst the initial runs of Ben Yedder and Volland often grab the attention of defenders and drag them out of position, Diop often reacts well to drift into the spaces that have been vacated, in order to latch onto knock downs, flick-ons or loose balls. He often takes up positions around the penalty spot, where he is able to attack knock downs, and many of his chances originate from him drifting into areas in front of goal which make him difficult to pick up. As a wide player, he is able to make those threatening runs from out to in, causing overloads in the penalty area and being a headache for defenders trying to pass him on as he drifts infield. Perhaps these infield runs can cause the play to become too cramped, especially if the wingbacks are unable to get forward fast enough on the overlap, and sometimes he would do well to hug the touchline to stretch the opposition and isolate defenders to take them on with his impressive close control.

Defensively, Diop sticks to his task well, and displays good awareness to cut passing lanes and close down opponents. Despite being primarily a forward thinking player who is most effective in possession, his defensive work rate and efficiency is also very noteworthy. The image below, taken from Fbref.com, illustrates Diop’s defensive output (and percentile) compared to other attacking midfielders and wingers from the top five European leagues.

As can be seen here, Diop ranked very highly in pressures, tackles and blocks last season, displaying his willingness to work hard defensively and buy into the team’s system and demands. These are impressive statistics, as they add another string to Diop’s bow in terms of what he can bring to a team. It is often talked about that managers and coaches enjoy working with forward players who are keen to get involved in the defensive side of the game as well as when the team are in possession, and the 21 year old has proven that he can bring a lot to the table in that area. This also makes him a valuable prospect in terms of being a transfer target, with this level of defensive output making him appealing to teams that deploy a high intensity pressing style as well as the less defensively proactive sides.

Psychological

Currently, Diop displays a nice mix of youthful enthusiasm and composure in his play, which he would do well to hang onto. His finishing can often be beyond his years and shows a real ruthless streak in 1v1 situations, whilst his defensive statistics illustrate a willingness to work hard and get stuck in when required. The young forward’s number of successful tackles perfectly demonstrates his ability to get involved in the physical side of the game and put real pressure on his opponents. His movement and positioning see him take up dangerous areas, especially to pick up second balls, however, with more experience he will be able to time and judge his runs more effectively in order to better stretch the opposition and cause even more problems.

The Future?

After establishing himself as a first team regular last season, Diop will be keen to further cement his starting spot in a highly competitive Monaco squad. With two years left on his current contract, he may also be looking to prove that he deserves a new deal, and Monaco will likely be keen to tie him down or they may run the risk of losing him at a cut price. At just 21, the midfielder has the vast majority of his career ahead of him, and has the technical ability, work rate and cutting edge to play at a very high level.

Despite being linked with a move to the Bundesliga, with Borussia Dortmund said to hold an interest, it currently seems that Diop is set to stay at Monaco for the immediate future. This will give him a good opportunity to continue his development in a team and league that has seen many young talents really refine their ability and move onto bigger and better things throughout their careers. Although Diop is not yet the finished product, the impact he had on his team this season, and how comfortable he looked whilst playing at a very high level, should not be underestimated. The next season will be an important one in terms of cementing himself as a key player for Les Monégasques and also increasing his reputation on the European football stage.

Closing Thoughts

I believe there are a number of reasons to be very excited about the upcoming talent that is Sofiane Diop. He has many of the tools necessary to do very well in his career, and he is both an entertaining player to watch whilst also contributing defensively, which can sometimes be a hard balance to find for creative, forward thinking players.

At Monaco, he is one of a number of very talented young players in the squad, and I wrote about another one of them in the shape of defender Benoît Badiashile. I enjoyed watching Monaco and Diop last season, and look forward to seeing if they can build upon last season’s successes in the coming campaign, hopefully with the midfielder playing a key role in the side.

Statistics and player information from Transfermarkt, WhoScored and Fbref.

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