Regular followers of this infrequently updated blog will know the script with Celtic signings of late. With latest signing Kouassi Eboue, all the boxes are ticked: young (only 19), plucked from an unfashionable location, and already scratching surface of higher levels (International and Europa league).
Brendan Rodgers’ record-breaking Celtic team are in a luxury position of having no pressing need to buy, what with the league sewn up for the year. But as “moneyball” (I know, here he goes again..) would have it, one never stops scouting.
Eboue is of course an unknown quantity to a mainstream saturated by English and Champions League football. But what kind of midfielder is he? Tictactic has watched 3 full matches to get a rounded view of the Ivorian in action. Nice 2:1 Krasnodar. Schalke 2:0 Krasnodar and Krasnodar 5:2 Nice.
The Rodgers context
Prior to Rodgers joining, this piece looked at how he envisages his centre-midfielders.
While especially earlier in the season, 4-2-3-1 was more common, lately (and in bigger matches) the 4-1-2-3 has been more default. The controller is of immense importance (Scott Brown) not only dictating play, but defensively savvy enough to break up attacks and slot between centre-backs. Brains and brawn, a Pirlo and Wanyama rolled into one.
The two midfielders further ahead tend to require more vertical thrust. Stuart Armstrong has had a breakthrough season in this role, and Tom Rogic (who prefers playing behind the striker) has been surprisingly disciplined, if, seemingly unable to cope with a full 90 minutes. The former is interesting considering it was almost universal among fans the feeling that Armstrong didn’t suit left-wing, yet Ronny Deila persisted. It didn’t require Brendan Rodgers to see he was more suited centrally, as I even attested before his move in 2013.
Kouassi for Krasnodar
In each of these matches, rather aptly Krasnodar played in a 4-1-2-3, then 4-2-3-1 twice. In the first image you can see Eboue in what Rodgers would call the “controller” role, in subsequent matches he was the right centre-mid in 4-2-3-1.
Data from the excellent @11tegen11 illustrates this first “controller” role.
Parallels can quickly be made with Scott Brown. The larger circle indicates more passes received, and while it’s difficult to immediately make out, the outgoing passes show a good range. Here he (and Ahmedov further ahead) are the hub of the team, and you can see the thick passing connection between them.
Nominal positions are fine, but watching Eboue tells far more about him. Rodgers’ says you can tell his talent within ten seconds of watching, and the first thing that stands out is his mobility and tactical aggression. There was no better evidence than for the opener against Nice, where Eboue (despite nominally playing as the deepest midfielder) pressed into the French side’s third, and in one action won the ball and provided the assist.
It’s this quality as an energetic battler that makes the case for playing Eboue further ahead (e.g. in the “Armstrong” role) as opposed to a more reserved controller. He’s quick, tall and powerful, taking players by surprise with his pace, and going full-blooded into every confrontation.
This is where he appears to have featured more regularly for Krasnodar, at least going by other highlights and heatmaps available online, and was seen against Schalke and the home game against Nice.
But throughout these matches it was the defensive aspect of his game that stood out, which goes slightly against Rodgers’ requirement in his box-to-box midfielders for an attacking guile. Rodgers said: “he plays with intensity, he’s aggressive, he presses the game well, has a good tactical understanding for a young player and he’s technically very strong”
Rodgers purchased Eboue to come straight into the team, and the most logical way to use him would be in a 4-2-3-1 as opposed to 4-1-2-3. Playing alongside Brown in a 2 would make for an ideal springboard for the likes of less defensively sound players like Rogic to attack from. He would also be an ideal fit as a deep midfielder in a 3-5-2, having the mobility to track-back and cover the runs of an attacking full-back.
It is hard to find a comparable player with the same intensity. Perhaps a less mature and quicker Scott Brown, but he also has the confidence and strength while under pressure on the ball in the mould of Paul Pogba.