ASM tactical analysis: profligate or creatively defunct?

The dust hadn’t even settled on Sunday’s disappointing goalless draw at Reims before the inquest into AS Monaco’s barren goal-drought began. Without a goal in three games, Benoît Badiashile had barely regathered his breath when he addressed the issue pitch-side at the Stade Auguste Delaune. 
“We aren’t too predictable, I think it’s just a lack of efficiency because we’ve had opportunities to score.” Volland’s glaring miss late-on against Reims was clearly still fresh in the memory of the France U-21 international defender, yet the late chance could mask a larger, systemic issue in Kovac’s side.
Kovac alluded to this post-match, stating that, “At the minute, we are having problems creating opportunities and converting them. We lacked a bit of determination, and we were a bit too predictable in the build-up.”
In investigating the cause of the goalless run, two diagnoses have therefore emerged. The first, posited by Badiashile, highlights ASM’s profligate form in front of goal, whilst the second, posited by Kovac, identifies their creative deficiency as the source of the problem.
Kovac’s theory of creative deficiency merits further attention and analysis given the abundance of data that highlights AS Monaco as a statistical outlier relative to their closest rivals. The use of the novel xG data metric, which analyses the quality of a goal-scoring opportunity and gives it a rating between 0-1 (1 being a certain goal and 0 being a statistically impossible chance), illustrates this disparity.
Based on the chances created over the course of the season thus far, ASM would have been expected to score 16.4 goals. Given that Kovac’s men have found the net 17 times this season, it indicates that they are scoring about as many goals as would be expected of them considering the quality of chances that they are creating.
This xG figure is, however, low compared to their most direct rivals. Lyon and PSG have xGs of 22.9 and 22.8 respectively, although PSG have significantly outperformed their xG, netting 29 times this season. Local rivals OGC Nice also have a far superior xG of 26.2, they are however, currently underperforming in front of goal this season having only netted 23 times.
Statistically, ASM’s current chance-creation is more closely comparable to a mid-table side, for example Clermont Foot, whose current xG is just below ASM’s at 16.2, or Nantes, who lie just above Kovac’s side, with 15.9. The xG metric therefore emphasises ASM’s weakness in creating high quality goal-scoring opportunities, and, if not for a robust defence, their Ligue 1 ranking would be considerably worse.
ASM’s xG metric results are therefore suggestive of an inability to work the ball into dangerous, goal-scoring areas, and this being the case, it is in the build-up play that issues lie. Specifically, a visual inspection, as well as an analysis of data highlights a lack of variation in the attacking build-up and an over-reliance on one player for creative threat.
Kovac’s attacking tactics revolve around the use of overlapping wingbacks. The wingbacks, able to bomb forward thanks to a defensive back 3, work in combination with the two narrow-sitting wingers, often Diop and Martins, allowing the wingbacks to get to the byline and cut the ball back into the centre of the goal. Over 50% of ASM’s goals in Ligue 1 have come from within the 18-yard box, and many of them have been orchestrated in this way.
Although a perfectly reliable tactic for creating chances, and one masterfully utilised by Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel in his sides Champions League winning campaign, it is the predictability that is the problem. Kovac himself has realised and subsequently addressed this in the wake of the draw at Reims.
Specifically, it is left wing-back Caio Henrique who provides the vast majority of ASM’s attacking thrust, and it is his left-wing that is the channel for the majority of their attacks. The Brazilian wing-back has an xA (expected assist) rating of 2.6, meaning that, if the chances had been taken, he should have created over 2 goals in Ligue 1 this season. This is an impressive figure, and one that isn’t close to being matched by any teammate; Wissam Ben Yedder has the next best rating on 1.5.
In contrast, ASM’s direct rivals have multiple sources of threat. 5 Lyon players have an xA of over 1.5, Nice have 2 players with an xA of over 2.5, and PSG have 4 players with an xA of over 2. It is this abundance of attacking sources, which brings a level of unpredictability to their play, which subsequently leads to a higher xG, as well as a higher goal tally.
With too few sources of creativity, ASM risks becoming one-dimensional, or, in Kovac’s own words, ‘predictable’. Threat from the central midfield area would be a useful way of offsetting ASM’s reliance on the wide areas; however, the current options in this area are either not suited to playing such a role, or are playing too deep.
Fofana and, in particular, Tchouaméni are elite-level midfielders, yet their attributes aren’t tailored towards providing that elusive killer-ball in the final third to split through the defence. Rather, their strengths lie in shielding the defence, dispossessing, pressing and instigating counter attacks by offloading the ball to the more dynamic wingers and wingbacks. Tchouaméni is also an efficient, line-breaking dribbler; however, most of these runs come from deep and are suited to a counter-attacking game rather than against a team playing a low-block, as is often the case in Ligue 1.
Golovin, in his return from injury, is an obvious candidate to play in a more advanced midfield role. As a more traditional playmaker, he is a serial provider of key passes in the final third and his return could alleviate some of the reliance on Caio Henrique. Another option in the role is Jean Lucas, the summer signing from Lyon has had bright moments thus far, but has not yet found a level of consistency. Currently, he is playing in a deeper midfield role, but his technical ability, which allows him to excel in tight spaces, means that he could be utilised higher up the pitch, especially when playing against a tightly-packed low-block.
The deployment of a more incisive attacking option in the midfield could therefore be a way to ensure variation in ASM’s attacking build-up, and distribute the burden of chance-creation amongst more players in different attacking positions.
In spite of the creative deficiencies that the various data expose, Monaco’s profligacy in recent weeks has similarly contributed to their goal-drought. Profligacy; however, is borne out of circumstance and is itself fostered by a lack of creativity.
The last-gasp Volland miss against Reims is case-in-point; the chance constituted 0.66 of ASM’s entire 0.97 xG in this game, and was therefore the only considerable chance of the entire match. The psychological pressure of having to convert such a chance, in the context of having received so few opportunities, coupled with the fact that the recipient of the chance may not be razor sharp due having so few touches, can unsurprisingly contribute to suboptimal attacking outcomes. Creative deficiency and profligacy therefore go hand-in-hand.
Kovac will undoubtedly be working hard over the course of the international break to remedy ASM’s current creative deficiencies, and he will hope that, should that work bear fruit, his side will quickly find themselves back in European contention.
Photo by AS Monaco