Lyon 2022/23: A closer look at their academy graduates – scout report
The Olympique Lyonnais academy system is famed for having produced some of the best players to grace a football pitch. Throughout his tenure as owner, Jean-Michel Aulas has emphasised the importance of a ‘Lyon DNA’ with a focus on creating a pathway to the first team for talented young players. With Aulas recently announcing his retirement, it will be interesting to see if Lyon continues their focus on youth development under the new hierarchy.
A few well-known names who have graduated from the Lyon academy system include Karim Benzema, who of course has gone on to experience copious amounts of success at Real Madrid, and Nabil Fekir who made over 140 appearances for his hometown club before moving on to pastures new. Alexandre Lacazette and Corentin Tolisso have both recently returned to the club for a second stint, they came through the Lyon academy and played significant roles in the first team before moving on to Arsenal and Bayern Munich respectively.
This tactical analysis will take the form of a scout report where we take a closer look at the Lyon Academy pathway. We will perform an analysis of some of the more recent academy graduates and how they are utilised in Laurent Blanc’s tactics. We will also look at some players who have been loaned out to gain experience this season and assess whether they are ready to step up. Finally, we will look at the next generation of talent coming through the academy and highlight some potential gems to watch out for in the future.
Established academy graduates
The first player we will look at for this analysis piece is Rayan Cherki. The 19-year-old is widely considered to be one of the best-ever prospects to come through the academy system at Lyon. He made his debut for Les Gones in 2019 and has been something of a regular ever since.
This season, Cherki has been used in a multitude of positions as Lyon looks to improve on the failures of previous campaigns. We’ve seen him deployed as a winger on either side, as a number ‘10’ and occasionally as a forward in a front two alongside Alexandre Lacazette. He has contributed three goals and four assists to the Lyon cause so far this campaign.
The pizza chart above allows us to compare Cherki to his fellow Ligue 1 players this season. We can immediately see that his attacking contributions far outweigh his defensive ones. Furthermore, we can also see that his goal contributions per 90 are significantly lower than his expected contributions. Cherki appears to be incredibly progressive with his passing, although not always accurate, the pizza chart tells us that he is a player who will make things happen in the attacking third.
The data visual above clearly shows us Cherki’s progressive actions per 90 this season in Ligue 1. He is performing above average in both metrics as he averages 4.96 progressive runs per 90 and 5.5 progressive passes. The benefits Cherki adds to this Lyon team are numerous.
Firstly, his progressive passes can help to break through the opponent’s defence, allowing Lyon to transition from defence to attack quickly and efficiently. This can catch the opposing team off-guard and create openings for shots on goal. Secondly, his progressive runs can help to stretch the opponent’s defence and create space for other players to make runs and get into scoring positions. This can lead to confusion and disorganisation in the opponent’s defence, making it easier for his team to score. Furthermore, he can allow Lyon to control the pace of the game and dictate the flow of play. This can give their team an advantage and help them to retain possession more effectively.
If we wanted to compare Cherki to one of his peers, the player that currently fits the profile closest is Brighton’s Paraguayan forward Julio Enciso. We can see from the radar chart above that they are incredibly similar. Of course, the most obvious difference is that Cherki very rarely contributes defensively which confirms what we saw in the pizza chart. A team such as Brighton would actually suit Cherki’s skill set very well as he flourishes when his team sees plenty of possession. He is a player that thrives when he is allowed the freedom to express himself on the football pitch. He loves having the ball at his feet so making him the focal point of any attack will always prove to be beneficial.
Here in Figure 1.1, we can see Cherki’s positivity in possession. He receives the ball and spins past his marker, he then is able to carry the ball forward before playing an accurate pass through to Barcola who makes a run from the wing in behind the opposition’s defensive line.
Additionally, Cherki’s dribbling skills are on show in Figures 1.2 and 1.3. The Lyon starlet gave the Rennes defence a torrid time all game and as depicted in these images, he was frequently able to drag defenders out of position to create space for his teammates. He is able to dribble to the byline and execute a successful pullback to Barcola who slots the ball beyond the scrambling goalkeeper.
Some may criticise Cherki and say that he has been underperforming but in all honestly, he has been a stand-out player in a mediocre Lyon team. As the players around him begin to improve, Rayan Cherki will continue to shine and has the potential to be a key play for years to come should he opt to remain at the Groupama Stadium.
Moving on, the next player we will look at is Bradley Barcola. The youngster has broken into the first team of late and is already attracting interest from Premier League clubs.
Barcola can play anywhere across a front three. He has great pace and is incredibly comfortable with the ball at his feet. He has scored five goals and assisted six so far this season which shows he is more than capable of contributing to the team as a creative force as well as being a goalscorer.
The pizza chart shows us that he is exceeding his expected goal contribution per 90 by a vast amount with his actual goal contributions. He is also very adept at being progressive in possession whether it be carrying the ball up the pitch himself or finding a teammate via a progressive pass. Additionally, Barcola is not afraid to do the hard work defensively and is more than willing to track back and enter into defensive duels as Lyon attempt to regain possession.
The club that has most recently been linked with Bradley Barcola is Premier League giants Liverpool. Given the current acquisitions of Cody Gakpo, Luis Diaz and Darwin Núñez, it is not unthinkable that Liverpool’s rumoured interest in Barcola lends itself to their preparations for life after Mohamed Salah.
The radar above allows us to analyse whether there are any similarities between the two players. Obviously, it is important for us to take into account that Barcola has been utilised in various positions across the Lyon attack whereas Salah primarily plays on the right wing for Liverpool. Additionally, we can see that Salah is far more effective in his goal contributions and how dangerous his passing is, although Barcola is effective in terms of his progressive passing and his defensive contributions.
In this instance in Figure 2.1, we can see Barcola’s pace on show. This image is taken from Lyon’s recent victory over PSG. Les Gones executed Laurent Blanc’s counterattacking plan to perfection and Barcola was key to that. Here, we can see that a long ball has been played forward towards Kumbedi who is able to play a first-time pass into the six-yard area where Barcola is able to use his acceleration to get there ahead of his marker and pass the ball into the net.
Here in Figures 2.2 and 2.3, we can see how comfortable Barcola is with the ball at his feet. He receives the ball and leads the defender a merry dance before darting past him into the penalty area where he has the chance to shoot or pass the ball to a teammate. This is one of the reasons why Bradley Barcola has become an integral part of this Lyon team, they can rely on him to carry them up the pitch and carve out opportunities for himself and teammates.
Bradley Barcola has gone from strength to strength since being introduced to the first team. His versatility is a wonderful asset for Laurent Blanc to use and is just one of the reasons why clubs such as Liverpool are watching his performances. He is a joy to watch when carrying the ball up the pitch and going 1v1 against defenders, it will be interesting to see how his career plays out and if he will remain at Lyon or make the move to a bigger club.
Continuing our analysis of recent academy graduates, we now turn our attention to Saël Kumbedi. The 18-year-old right-back has made the step up to first-team football with relative ease. Whilst his primary focus on the pitch is his defensive responsibilities, Kumbedi is also an excellent attacking outlet for Lyon due to his pace and ball-carrying abilities.
From the pizza chart, we can glean that Kumbedi is very busy defensively due to the number of defensive duels he participates in per 90 – 11.14 to be exact. Additionally, whilst his passing may not be classed as ‘dangerous’ he does look to pass forward when possible with 64% of them being accurate.
This radar chart shows us how Saël Kumbedi compared with Manchester United’s Aaron Wan-Bissaka. We can see that they are not dissimilar in profile as both are pacy fullbacks who like to maraud forwards whenever possible. Kumbedi offers more goal contributions per 90 whilst Wan-Bissaka is more effective in terms of his passing and more willing to take shots at goal.
Kumbedi, who is just 18 years old, has a lot of time to improve his skills on the pitch. However, given his recent performance, it won’t be long before he starts gaining attention from top-tier clubs. Manchester United, for instance, could be a suitable destination for him, considering his solid defensive abilities and promising attacking instincts.
In Figure 3.1, we can see just how far Kumbedi likes to push up the pitch to offer an attacking outlet when Lyon are in possession. He is intelligent with his movement though. On the occasion that Blanc sends Lyon out with a back three and Kumbedi is deployed as a wing-back, he will throw caution to the wind and be far more attacking than when they are in a back four where he is slightly more conservative and thoughtful with his attacking movement.
Here, we can see Kumbedi’s defensive positioning as he recognises that Lyon are susceptible to the counterattack and makes the move from out wide to the central area in order to cut off a passing lane. This enables him to be in the right place and at the right time to make an interception and ensure that Lyon can then retain possession and build an attack of their own.
When Lyon agreed to sell Malo Gusto to Chelsea, some fans may have been concerned about who could fill in the right-back position but there should be no worries at all about Saël Kumbedi. Whilst he is still young and has plenty of time to learn and improve, he is already demonstrating that he is more than capable of playing an integral role for this team.
Players out on loan
In this section of the scout report, we will focus on the players that Lyon have sent out on loan to gain some first-team experience and analyse whether they will be capable of playing a role in the first team in the near future.
Florent Sanchez Da Silva
For a number of years, Florent Sanchez Da Silva has been synonymous with the Lyon youth system. After Lyon loaned him out to Villefranche for six months in 2022, Da Silva returned to Lyon with the goal of breaking into the first team. However, he failed to do so and Lyon subsequently loaned him out again to Volendam in the Eredivisie in January 2023.
By comparing Da Silva to other midfielders in the Eredivisie, it becomes clear that he is much more involved in defensive play and passing rather than contributing to goals. However, this is largely influenced by the fact that his team, Volendam, are currently at the lower end of the table and have conceded a total of 65 goals so far this season.
During his time at Volendam, Da Silva has scored one goal and provided one assist so far whilst at Villefranche the previous year, he scored zero goals and provided three assists, so he’s not what we would consider a vastly attacking player. He is far more effective when he is threading passes through to teammates or using his excellent off-the-ball movement to create space.
The radars show us how Da Silva compares to the current Lyon central midfielders. We can see that his profile is not too dissimilar to that of Maxence Caqueret, who has found himself deployed as a ’10’ recently, we can see the two players like to do their fair share of defensive work and are relatively useful passers of the ball. There are, equally, some similarities between Da Silva and Johann Lepenant in terms of their defensive output. However, the latter is more accurate with his passing and positioning.
It is Corentin Tolisso’s role in the team that appears best suited to Da Silva. As we can see both players are similar in their goal contributions per 90 and they are both good passers of the ball. Da Silva is some way off in terms of the accuracy of his passes which could be attributed to the fact that Voldendam are struggling in the attacking phase this season.
This reason is also why Da Silva has participated in a higher amount of defensive duels per 90, but, overall, a box-to-box type of role could see Da Silva thrive and allow him to play a role in this Lyon team going forwards. Finally, if we compare Da Silva to the soon-to-depart midfielder Houssem Aouar, we can see that there is a significant difference in their attacking contributions. Aouar is far more adept at dribbling and providing an attacking outlet via the number of shots he takes per 90.
Da Silva’s passing ability is on display in Figure 4.1 where he has won the ball back in midfield and is able to see the run of the wingback. He plays an inch-perfect pass into the path of his teammate and the Volendam attack can continue.
Figures 4.2 and 4.3 show us Da Silva’s off-the-ball movement which led to him scoring his first goal of the season. He is able to time his run perfectly to ensure he is in the right place to find the back of the net.
There are question marks over whether he would be able to cement a place in the Lyon first team as his performances at Volendam on the whole have been a tad underwhelming. Perhaps there is an argument to say that Da Silva should have been given more opportunities at Lyon over the last few seasons. It is possible his talent may go to waste and he will be moved on for a relatively small fee in the future.
The next player we are going to look at is 21-year-old centre-back Abdoulaye N’Diaye. The Senegalese defender was a product of the famed Dakar Sacré-Cœur before joining Lyon in 2020. Interestingly, N’Diaye is older than Castello Lukeba who has already nailed down a place in the Lyon starting eleven. It is always important to consider that every player is different and therefore they all mature at different ages.
The defender has impressed this season on loan at Bastia and is staking a claim for a place in Laurent Blanc’s squad next season. Whilst the modern centre-back is expected to be a ball player, N’Diaye’s role at the Ligue 2 side sees him act more as an ‘old school’ defender, as we can see from the pizza chart, N’Diaye’s focus is his defensive responsibilities. He has averaged 16.22 duels per 90 and 5.66 aerial duels per 90 so far this season. Additionally, he makes 5.48 interceptions per 90, hence why he has been such a defensive rock for Bastia this season.
If we use the radar charts to compare N’Diaye to the central defenders in the Lyon squad we can see that he performs more defensive actions than all of them. Whilst this is primarily due to Bastia’s style of play, we can assume that should he be given a chance in Laurent Blanc’s side that he would be reliable defensively and able to cope with the step up to Ligue 1.
He is not as progressive as Lukeba in possession but he is fairly accurate with his passing which means he is reliable which is always a good trait for a centre-back when they are in possession. Defensively, N’Diaye is similar to both Dejan Lovren and Sinaly Diomande who is another academy graduate, therefore, there is no reason to think that N’Diaye cannot play a role in this Lyon squad.
In Figure 5.1, we can see N’Diaye’s physical strength as he is able to muscle his way in front of the Amiens attacker and position himself so that he is able to regain possession for Bastia. This also demonstrates good positioning and anticipation as he understands where he needs to be in relation to the attacker in order to execute this effectively.
Here, we can see how well N’Diaye reads the play. He realises that the attacker is going to make a run and is quickly able to cover the space which prevents the attacker from cutting inside and instead, forces him down the line. He is then able to execute a perfectly timed slide tackle which prevents the attack from going any further.
How well N’Diaye would cope in a more ball-playing defensive role is questionable but it’s fair to say that he has enough talent to warrant a place in this Lyon squad. It would make sense for him to be used as a rotation option next season so Laurent Blanc can make an assessment on whether N’Diaye fits the profile of the type of defender he is looking for.
The final player we are going to look at in this section is midfielder Habib Keïta who is currently on loan at Belgian side KV Kortrijk. The 20-year-old has primarily been used as a central midfielder although he has occasionally lined up as a defensive midfielder.
We can see from the pizza chart that Keïta doesn’t really excel in any metric. However, he appears to be reasonably well-rounded in most. His win percentage of defensive duels looks as though it warrants investigation. Upon looking at his statistics on Wyscout, Keïta wins 55.9% of the 8.09 defensive duels he participates in per 90. Much like Da Silva, it appears that Keïta has the potential to be a decent box-to-box midfielder. He is reasonably reliable in possession and is equally as adequate in his ball carrying compared to his peers in the Belgian Pro League.
Assessing how Keïta compares to the current Lyon crop of midfielders we can see that he is not as attacking as Houssem Aouar which is something we already expected based on the pizza chart. It appears that Keïta would perhaps be able to provide cover for Corentin Tolisso as there are similarities between the two players. Whilst, of course, he is somewhat off the level of the former Bayern Munich man, using him as a squad player for a season would allow Laurent Blanc to make an assessment of his abilities.
Moreover, we can see that Keïta wins significantly fewer defensive duels than both Lepenant and Caqueret, the latter being one of the most versatile midfielders in this Lyon squad. As mentioned previously, a box-to-box role would suit Keïta’s capabilities but there are some question marks over whether he is capable of stepping into this squad as Da Silva is probably slightly ahead of him in terms of current ability.
Figures 6.1 and 6.2 depict Keïta scoring his only goal this season, we can see that he uses his pace to make a charge into the opposition penalty area. He is able to get into a good position that allows him to ensure he gets on the end of the cross before his opponent.
Here, we can see Keïta’s passing and positioning on display. He occupies the attacking midfield area nicely, where he can either make a run into the penalty area or turn and track back if required. He is able to play a wonderful pass into the path of his teammate who scores a curling shot beyond the opposition goalkeeper.
Even though he has enjoyed a good season out on loan, given his age, it may be unlikely that Keïta will be given a chance in the Lyon first team. Central midfield is an area where there are a number of players vying for a place in the starting lineup and, unfortunately, in terms of ability, Habib Keïta just falls short.
One to watch in the youth academy
In the final section of this scout report, we will take a look at a player in the Lyon youth academy that is one to watch out for in the future.
Mohamed El Arouch
Mohamed El Arouch is a 19-year-old midfielder who is widely regarded as one of the best talents that the Lyon academy has ever produced, much like Rayan Cherki. El Arouch was reportedly scouted by many clubs as a youngster including PSG, Monaco and Manchester City however, he opted to sign with Lyon.
El Arouch has played in some cup games for Lyon and recently made his Ligue 1 debut against Angers back in February. He is incredibly quick to cover the ground in front of him and is able to close down opponents or cover the passing lanes to prevent them from building an attack. For example in Figure 7.1, Lyon have lost possession and El Arouch rapidly moves to press the opposition defender in an attempt to regain possession.
Additionally, when Lyon are on the attack, El Arouch shows good off-the-ball movement as shown in Figures 7.2 and 7.3. He quickly moves to join the attack and runs into the space ahead of him. As the opposition defenders come over to cover the space, El Arouch recognises the best option is for him to peel off and make a run towards the far post as he will have acres of space so should a cross or pass reach him, there is a higher chance of him hitting the target.
El Arouch is incredibly comfortable when carrying the ball up the pitch. At 166cm tall, he has a low centre of gravity which means it is incredibly difficult to hurry him off the ball. Here, in Figures 7.4 and 7.5, he wins the ball back in the Lyon half and is able to carry the ball at speed up the pitch and then lay it off to his teammate. Furthermore, his pace and dribbling ability mean that he is an ideal player for the Lyon players to seek out as they look to transition from defence to attack.
The young midfielder shows so much promise. He arguably possesses a higher amount of potential than Da Silva so it wouldn’t be surprising if he is allowed more first-team opportunities next season.
Lyon have been in footballing no man’s land for a while now. However, they have once again realised that, whilst they cannot compete with PSG in the transfer market, they have fantastic assets in their youth system. Their renewed focus on youth has the potential to pay dividends for the club as they will bring through a generation of players with the ‘Lyon DNA’ that former owner Jean-Michel Aulas wanted to achieve during his tenure whilst there is always the potential of being able to attract big money transfer offers from other clubs.
Overall, Lyon adopting a more youth-based approach to their team will prove to be a great choice as they look to rebuild and challenge at the top of Ligue 1 after years of mediocrity.
Football writer, history student & Arsenal fan.