Miles Olusina writes a detailed scout report about the France and Borussia Mönchengladbach forward, Marcus Thuram.
Following in the footsteps of a legendary footballing father has proven a daunting task for many a player over the years. The weight of expectation of being the son of a legend from a previous era has proven too much to handle and often led to middling careers, far less memorable than their namesake. That said, there have been many who have gone on to match and exceed the legacy left by their fathers, going onto have careers of their own, names such as Paolo Maldini, Youri Djorkaeff, Kasper Schmeichel and more recently Dortmund sensation Erling Braut Haaland.
Another player who could be well on his way to making this list is Borussia Monchengladbach starlet Marcus Thuram, son of legendary French defender and World Cup winner Lillian. Unlike his father, Marcus plies his trade in attack, operating in the centre or on the left of the attack to devastating effect in his debut season in the Bundesliga. Signed from Guingamp for 12 million euros in the summer of 2019, he has taken to his new surroundings like a duck to water, forming a devastating partnership with Alasanne Plea as Gladbach achieved Champions League qualification for the first time since 2015.
Tactical Role and Strengths
One area in which he has excelled has been his tactical versatility. Playing in multiple systems under Gladbach manager Marco Rose, he has played 18 games wide on the left in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 and 14 when playing as a centre-forward with Plea in a 4-3-1-2/4-4-2 diamond or a 3-5-2.
He tends to contribute more to the shorter and more patient build up when playing on the left wing as he is comfortable dropping deeper into midfield to create overloads and allow his team to bypass pressure. He does so here in the image above, dropping deeper into the left half-space to break the lines of Frankfurt’s pressure. As he drops, his run is closely tracked by the opposition full-back, creating space for a potential penetrative run from Patrick Hermann in midfield.
Standing at 1.92m (6’3), he does not have the typical physical stature of a modern wide player, however, his size is a very effective tool not only when attacking set pieces but also when attempting to bypass opposition pressure in the build-up phase. His aerial presence allows for effective variation in their build-up when they are up against a well organised pressing scheme.
Here, he knocks the ball down after receiving a lofted pass from goalkeeper Yann Sommer. Having a significant height advantage over the opposition full back allows him to win the duel with ease, knocking the ball down for striker Embolo who makes a run into depth. This can be more effective than opting to play lofted balls through the centre, as facing the centre backs will have less opportunity to win duels, as many will be of similar height to him. Challenging for aerial duels against full backs, who tend to be much shorter, gives him a much greater chance of successfully winning the header. In addition, winning second balls in central areas is much more difficult due to the centre being the most crowded area on the pitch. In this scenario, he wins the duel and Embolo is able to latch on to the second ball fairly easily.
His aerial prowess is reflected in his statistics as he ranks second in the league for percentage of aerial duels won amongst attackers. He wins roughly 60% of his aerial duels in the Bundesliga, ranking him above Robert Lewandowski and Erling Braut Haaland.
He shows his ability once again to win aerial duels in this game against Bayern as he drops into the half-space to receive a long pass from keeper Sommer. He is able to outjump Bayern centre-half Jerome Boateng, who stands at 1.93m (6’4) and knock the ball down for midfielder Lars Stindl, who has a significant amount of space once receiving the second ball. He finished this game with 4 aerial duels won in total, the most of any player in that game.
Off the ball movement
Another area in which he excels greatly is his movement off the ball. He shows a great ability to find space within the final third to receive to feet and in behind the opposition’s defensive line. His timing is typically very intelligent and allows him to receive possession and create shooting opportunities with plenty of space. He shows a great ability to make penetrative runs from both the centre forward area and the wide-left position, operating more as an inside forward rather than the winger/no.10 hybrid that we see from many modern day wingers today.
The two images above highlight his excellent movement to score against Eintracht Frankfurt. Gladbach regain possession and progress play up field with a direct ball to Embolo in attacking transition. Upon his side regaining possession, he immediately attacks the space in the RB-CB channel, sprinting ahead of the defender with ease due to his excellent acceleration. He makes the right decision in making a diagonal run across the opposing full back as he is much less willing to run across with Thuram as the likelihood of committing a foul is greater and he could potentially create space for an onrushing full-back.
As the ball reaches the box, instead of running directly towards the ball, he maintains a rather static position at the back post, aware that the defenders’ first instinct is to rush towards the ball. Staying in the opposite direction to the defenders’ movement allows him far more space and time when receiving the ball as the defenders are far less capable of recovering their position and reacting to the ball reaching Thuram, due to the large shift in momentum required. In the end, he receives the ball in virtually an open net to slot home with ease.
Again, here against Bayern, he occupies a high and wide position out on the left wing, providing depth and penetration for his side to compensate for the deeper movements of strike partner Plea. His positioning here is effective as he can either make a blind side run behind right-back Kimmich in behind, or run across to drag him centrally and open up space for the full-back.
When playing centrally, his ability to create goalscoring opportunities for himself and his teammates through his movement is also exceptional. He often pins both centre backs by position himself between them and offering depth through playing on the shoulder of the last defender. This is also made easier by his large physical frame as he is able to hold off defenders.
In this image, he displays quality movement to create space for a penetrative run from midfielder Neuhaus. He moves laterally towards the left-hand side of the centre back, forcing him to vacate his position in anticipation of Thuram pulling off to receive in space. This movement drags the centre back slightly out of position to create a gap between both central defenders. He then holds off the defender and plays a quick one-two with Neuhaus who shoots and forces a great save from the keeper.
He has demonstrated competence when positioned out on the right also, showing he can create dangerous opportunities regardless of where he is positioned in a front three. In this scenario against Hoffenheim, he once again takes advantage of his explosiveness and excellent acceleration, timing his run well to latch onto a through ball from his full back and drives towards the edge of the six-yard box. He makes an intelligent decision here and delays his pass as he sees the blind-side run of the onrushing Plea. As soon as he is level with the defender and between the six-yard box and the penalty spot, he plays a low driven ball into Plea who finishes with ease.
Dribbling and 1v1s
It is this area where he likely excels the most as he possesses wonderful balance, agility and close control despite his 6’3 frame. Add to that his previously mentioned acceleration and blistering pace and you have a forward who can be a dangerous dribbler in almost any 1v1 situation.
His statistics in comparison to other players in the league reflect this as he ranks 5th in the league for number of players dribble past this season and 5th also for total number of successful dribbles, higher than Serge Gnabry, Kingsley Coman, Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard. His ability in 1v1 situations often proves a nightmare for defenders as it not only allows him to draw multiple opposition players out of position but leads to fouls in dangerous areas. He drew a total of 61 fouls in the league this season, 6th in Bundesliga and averages 0.53 goal creating actions per 90 (the two offensive actions directly leading to a goal, such as pass, dribbles and drawing fouls), a higher rate than Kai Havertz, Robert Lewandowski and Marco Reus.
His dribbling ability, particularly when playing out wide often creates dangerous opportunities for his side as not only is he excellent in 1v1 situations, possessing a great advantage in terms of qualitative superiority, he also creates space for his teammates in central areas as multiple defenders are often required to halt his progress.
Here, he receives possession in the wide area and looks to drive at the opposition defence. As soon as he receives the ball, multiple players including the opposition winger, no.8 and full-back vacate their position to apply pressure to him. As is evident in the image, a large area of space has opened up in the half-space due to the increased attention on Thuram. Should one of the Gladbach players positioned in the centre receive the ball, he will have ample time and space to play a pass or switch play as it will be difficult for the opposition players to re-orient their body positions to focus on the new ball carrier.
In this game against Bayern, he receives the ball in the half-space with room to accelerate as there is minimal pressure on him. He is being closely tracked by Bayern right-back Kimmich, as can be seen by his body position and field of view. With space to drive into, he makes a direct dribble towards the RB-CB channel, beating Kingsley Coman and Kimmich and creating space for his full back to put in a cross.
In the same fixture, his acceleration proves effective here during a Gladbach attacking transition. As they regain possession, he demonstrates how dangerous of an outlet he can be as he takes a heavy touch to accelerate onto the loose ball. He is able to beat Jerome Boateng fairly easily, who shows apprehension in making a challenge as he is likely to commit a foul due to the speed at which Thuram is running. His speed as well as his balance and close control make him a viable ball carrier on the counter attack as he is able to travel large distances with the ball at a high speed and still maintain possession.
Shooting & Finishing
His composure, positioning and great shot selection give him an excellent ability to finish a variety of chances as he has shown time and time again in the league this season. It is very rare to see him miss the target when given an opportunity, which is reflected in his statistics. He leads the league for percentage of shots on target with 66.1%, well ahead of second-placed Sebastien Andersson of Union Berlin with 57.4%.
As can be seen by the table (via fbref.com), he ranks well ahead of some of the leading scorers in the league in terms of shots on target percentage, showing he has the potential to be a world class finisher in the coming seasons. That said, a goals per shot ratio of 0.17 (17% conversion rate) suggests that work still needs to be done. However, it can be argued that it has more to do with his shot location than the quality of his actual finishing.
When analysing his shots from open play in the league season, it is clear to see that majority have come a wide left area. This is fairly self-explanatory as he has spent much of the season playing out wide on the left. When delving deeper into the quality of his shots from that area, most of them (blue circles) have an xG of less than 0.3, possibly because the angle is not optimal and more than likely there are multiple defenders in the box who can block the shot. The majority of his goals (green circles) have come from central areas and have a much higher xG as the angle is more favourable and the distance the ball must travel is smaller, meaning the keeper has less time to react and judge the flight of the ball.
It is a testament to his immense potential that he does not appear to show any glaring weaknesses, despite being far from the finished article at just 22 years of age. One area, which he could improve on is his consistency in terms of output and goal contributions. Having gone on two 5 and 6 game streaks without a goal or an assist this season, it is clear that he does have some way to go if he wants to be considered one of the most dangerous attackers in Europe. That said, with this being his first season in the Bundesliga he has done exceptionally well and already shown himself to be one of the more productive players in the Bundesliga despite his somewhat patchy form. With 18 goal contributions in total in the league this season, he ranks 9th in all, a very respectable showing for a young player in debuting in a new league.
8 assists in total ranks him 6th in the Bundesliga, ahead of Timo Werner, Phillipe Coutinho, Kai Havertz and Marco Reus, showing he can be a very productive creator. His underlying numbers, although promising, are still slightly below the level of the elite attackers in the league.
His non-penalty goal contribution of 0.74 per 90 and non-penalty xG of 0.72 is excellent, suggesting that he is directly involved in a goal almost every 90 minutes he plays. When compared to the leading stars in the league it is clear that he is not quite at their level. Sancho, who also plays out wide, leads the league with a staggering 1.3 non-penalty goal contributions per 90 but interestingly has a similar non-penalty xG+xA per 90 to Thuram with 0.73 and 0.72 respectively. This is quite telling and suggests perhaps he could reach similar numbers to Sancho when playing with high quality players around him also.
After a breakout season in one of Europe’s major leagues, Marcus Thuram has certainly caught the eye of the wider European football consciousness with many of Europe’s top clubs rumoured to be sniffing around the French star after a solitary season at Borussia Park. Having shone in games against the bigger sides in the Bundesliga, it is quite clear that he has the potential to make the step up in the future. In addition, his aforementioned qualities and goal & assist output suggest he is more than capable of becoming a leading star at a top club within the next couple seasons or so.
Next season will be a defining one for him, with Marco Rose’s side playing Champions League football and more and more attention being placed on their star man. Another impressive season will more than likely see him depart for a super club next summer and also book a spot for France at next summer’s European Championships.
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