Finding a New Defensive Midfielder for Lyon

Abdullah Abdullah uses TransferLab to suggest ways in which Sonia Bompastor could solve Lyon’s personnel crisis in defensive midfield.

Much has been made of Olympique Lyon’s downfall in recent months and an overhaul of sorts is expected in the summer. The first signs of this overhaul have appeared early; Sonia Bompastor replacing Jean-Luc Vasseur at the helm. The former Lyon player will be pleased to have the chance to work with the team over the summer and prepare them for a new season.

Last season, players such as Ada Hegerberg and Griedge Mbock were sorely missed, but it was in midfield where Lyon were stretched most thinly. On top of this, Dzsenifer Marozsán has announced that she is leaving on loan to sister club OL Reign until December 2021, while Saki Kumagai has announced her departure at the end of the season. 

The final straw came recently, when Damaris Egurrola sustained a long-term injury which should see her out of contention for 6-9 months along with Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, who is expecting her first child. This leaves Lyon with just two senior midfielders in Amandine Henry and Amel Majri heading into the 2021/22 season.

Bompastor’s task is simple: Lyon need to bring in a capable defensive midfielder to tide them over next season.

Finding the right balance and style of midfielders will be important given the rebuild and players returning later in the year. Using the Player Plot tool within TransferLab, we can take a closer look at attainable players who fit the profile required. 

What does it take to be a defensive midfielder at Lyon?

The role of the defensive midfielder in the Lyon team is to both protect the back four but also be the first point in build-up to allow the more attacking players to find space and thrive. There are times when this player will find space to break forward and create chances from deeper positions.

We shall use Damaris Egurrola as a reference point. She is skilful on the ball with an excellent range of passing, able to distribute the ball both long and short. Equally, she is adept at defending, where she displays intelligent positional understanding and presses well.


So what statistics do we need to focus on? Analytics FC’s Player Plot tool has a whole host of metrics that can be used to identify players across the spectrum. We will use two sets of metrics per phase of play: two defensive qualities and two passing qualities to give us thorough results. We will filter these results per age (under 27) and position (only considering defensive midfielders).  

We will also filter these results per league level. In TransferLab, leagues are divided into different tiers with the WSL, NWSL, Division 1 Feminine, and Frauen-Bundesliga as Tier 1 and W-League, Serie A Women, Primera División, Elitedivision, Damallsvenskan, Topserien, and Brasileiro Women in Tier 2. We will filter out any players below this level.

Kumagai adds more defensive steel while Damaris oozes Spanish excellence with her press resistance and quick passing abilities, but overall, the profiles in question will be someone who can carry out both qualities. The metrics chosen should enable us to find a blend of both profiles.

It should be noted at the outset that all of these metrics are qualitative metrics. Using TransferLab’s unique algorithm, we are able to analyse every event that takes place on a football pitch and ascribe a value to that event as to how it adds or substacts from the final goal difference of the game. An important block in front of goal will be worth more than a block high up the pitch, for example.

By aggregating these values over the course of a season, we are able to build a better picture of the impact of players upon their teams.

When it comes to the attacking side of the defensive midfield profile at Lyon, we will use One-Touch Passing and Progressive Short Passing to indicate the players’ ability in build-up, looking for quick exchanges playing out from the back. Secondly, we’ll look at Line-Breaking Passes and Carries. These highlight the midfielders’ ball-carrying ability and ability to progress the ball.

Defensively, we have chosen to look at Interceptions and 1 v 1 Defending, and Tackles and Counterpressing Recoveries. These two metrics provide a clear indication of how well a player is both in a purely defensive capacity and considering Lyon’s pressing strategy. This player is most likely to win back possession in midfield and initiate a counter-attack.

Passing & Progression

Our first set of results comes from looking at short progressive passes and one-touch passes. These metrics display a player’s ability in build-up and how well equipped they are to perform these movements at a high level.

From the 100 players in our scatter plot, we have five players who stood out in this regard. Ingrid Engen, Lena Oberdorf, Jackie Groenen, Patricia Guijarro, and Freja Sorensen Abilda all made the mark and produced the best results in the last 12 months.

Next, we come to the more creative metrics: line-breaking passes and carries.

At first glance, the results show a significant difference between the top performers and the rest of the pack where only a handful of profiles have performed at a high enough level. Guijarro, Bianc Galic, Manuela Guigliano, and Marisa Viggiano are the four standout profiles. Only Guijarro ranks highly in both metrics with the other three excelling in one more than the other.

Findings – Defending

When it comes to defending, we looked at the results for tackles and counter-pressing recoveries:

The players that make the shortlist are Gry Boe Thrysoe, Ainoa Campo Franco, Maria Nielsen, and Emilie Joramo.

Lastly, we examine interceptions and 1 v 1 defending to determine the players’ game awareness, defending, and agility.

We start to see a few names repeat themselves here with Thrysoe, Franco, and Joramo coming up again with the only addition being Luana of Paris Saint-Germain. She will not be considered given the intense rivalry between Lyon and PSG.

Final Shortlist

Given that we have narrowed it down to a handful of options, we can now further narrow down the list to find the best players of the ones found in our initial results.

What we’ll do now is pick the three best-suited players from each category and compare them to Damaris given that she will be the main reference point in that position moving forward. We’ve picked out Ingrid Engen, Patricia Guijarro, and Manuela Giugliano from the passing and progression section. 

From the defending section, we’ve picked Boe Thrysoe, Ainoa Campo Franco, and Emilie Joramo. These profiles have been selected based on their availability, quality, and statistical outcome in each category.

Using TransferLab’s comparison tool, we are able to compare how each of the players fare in specific metrics within the Defensive Midfielder: All Round profile:

Each of the players’ profile scores for the All Round category can be seen under their names in the graphic. This number represents the average of the percentiles for the metrics within this profile. 

You can see that Damaris picks up the highest score of 96 while the other players range from 78 to 95. Given the quality of both Guijarro and Engen, it is no surprise that they rank quite high overall. 

In Guijarro’s case, most of her percentiles are in the 80s and 90s except for her defensive metrics. The profile predictor graph also shows that along with Damaris, Guijarro would be expected to sustain this quality throughout her career. 

Engen and Giugliano are also both very highly ranked amongst other defensive midfielders when it comes to their passing abilities. Giugliano surpasses Engen in the defensive department, and though her passing and progression results aren’t as high, they are still in the high 70 percentiles.

Thrysoe, Franco, and Joramo are better defensively with their numbers putting them within the 80th to 90th percentiles in the defensive metrics. Where they seem to be lacking is in passing and ball progression which is not ideal. However, they pose an alternative option if Lyon needed a midfielder destroyer. Lyon require a more technical player than a functional one so the onus is on having excellent ball skills first.

Pick 1: Patricia Guijarro

Defensive Midfielder: All Round – 95

Based purely on the data, Patricia Guijarro represents the best possible addition to the squad. In a few years, she will be regarded as one of the best playmaking defensive midfielders as predicted by the TransferLab tool. You can see that, with age, her overall profile will not dip very much.

Given Lyon’s possession-based style, Guijarro should fit in quite easily. Her profile represents high individual numbers against other midfielders in Primera División with the important metrics already high up.

Pick 2: Ingrid Engen

Defensive Midfielder: All Round – 93

Another prodigious talent, Ingrid Engen is a player who is considered one of the best creative, playmaking defensive midfielders in European football. Engen’s all-round profile highlights her strongest attributes where she ranks in the 91st percentile for short progressive passes and 84th for through balls. 

The need to dictate play from a deep and contribute to ball progression is an important factor when it comes to playing as a defensive midfielder for Lyon. The Norwegian also excels in her one-touch passing quality, ranking in the 89th percentile. This also indicates that Engen is a very good option to pass into when building out from the back. Not a very good defensive option, but given that she’s a free agent, it’s a great move for both parties.

Outsider Pick: Manuela Giugliano

Defensive Midfielder: All Round – 91

An outside pick, Giugliano makes a compelling case to be looked at closer. She could potentially be a very shrewd and interesting signing for Lyon and, considering how they picked up Damaris from Everton, it’s not out of the question.  

Although she signed a two-year extension with AS Roma till 2023, the call from Jean-Michel Aulas could persuade her otherwise. She’s an excellent carrier of the ball, and although she doesn’t register the best passing statistics, the footage suggests she is very press resistant and capable of playing quick one-touch passes.

Analytics FC provides software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking. We provide cutting-edge software solutions such as TransferLab, which helps improve and simplify recruitment decisions. To find out more about TransferLab and our other data services, or to find out more about us, visit our website.

At Analytics FC, we provide software and data services to entities within football looking to realise the gains possible from analytical thinking.

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