ANALYSIS | Nabil Fekir: A Tactical Breakdown of the Frenchman’s La Liga Transition

Nabil’s Fekir’s summer move to Real Betis caught plenty of keen-eyed football fans off guard when it was announced. Maybe more so the small €20m fee which married Fekir to the Seville-based club was the real kick in the teeth for many Liverpool and Arsenal fans who had been expecting their clubs to push for the former Lyon playmaker.

Considering a €50m plus move to the Merseyside club had lingered across the two previous transfer windows, a substantial drop in the player’s value was puzzling. However, uncovering the facts of the reoccurring knee and muscular problems in tandem with the Frenchman entering the final year of his contract, you can start to piece together the mosaic behind such a drop in worth.

Speaking with GFFN’s Jeremy Smith regarding Fekir, he said: “His final season was one season too far. Probably a lot of disappointment at the Liverpool deal falling through.” That disappointment led to an element of being subdued during games for Lyon, however six months into his first year in Spain, Fekir has become an immediate favourite for Los Verdiblancos. La Liga Weekly’s Jon Driscoll said: “It shows his flexibility – different coach, a different league and he’s adjusted well.”

Positionally, Fekir played almost exclusively in a central role for Lyon. You can see from the heat map below, that whilst Fekir’s position in the line-up was either in the number 10 position or as a second striker, the Frenchman drifted into wide positions. More heavily favouring the right-hand side to then cut in with the ball to have a strike or work an inverted pass.

ANALYSIS | Nabil Fekir: A Tactical Breakdown of the Frenchman’s La Liga Transition 6 HM1819
Source – Wyscout: Nabil Fekir Heat Map 2018/19 (Ligue 1, Coupe de France, Coupe de la Ligue & UEFA Champions League)

Since moving to the Benito Villamarín, Betis coach Rubi has fielded Fekir in his natural central role but also started him in wider births with Sergio Canales tasked with the prime creative responsibilities. Shown in the heat map below, this has led to a higher concentration of right-sided play, leading to a more introverted style from Fekir.

ANALYSIS | Nabil Fekir: A Tactical Breakdown of the Frenchman’s La Liga Transition 8 HM1920
Source – Wyscout: Nabil Fekir Heat Map 2019/20 (La Liga & Copa del Rey)

This introverted nature has meant more dribbling, take-ons and offensive duels. In fact, Fekir is averaging nearly two more dribbles in each game and they’re more successful 5.9% of the time. This has been a key part of Rubi’s intention for Betis to become more proactive. Los Verdiblancos have been one of the most exciting teams in the Primera Division to watch but lacked a talismanic spark to their side. Fekir has ensured that this has been remedied in the six months since his arrival.

Playing in a less dominant team, Fekir has been unable to take the opportunity to shoot as often. Even with a more independent style, Fekir has had 1.19 fewer shots per game. Another reduction has been in the passing of the Frenchman. The protagonist role Fekir is playing in addition to Betis’ lower average possession has led to nearly 15 fewer passes per game.

Betis played out a dire 0-0 against Leganés without Fekir due to suspension. Whether or not that suspension was justified is not clear, what is entirely transparent however is that without the Frenchman’s dynamism and guile, Los Verdiblancos are a far tamer side. A testament that Nabil Fekir’s transition has been a rather successful one.

Tom Canton

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