The conveyor belt of talent coming through the doors at OGC Nice has brought through yet another exciting youngster at the start of this season in Vincent Koziello. The young midfielder was seen sporadically last season but has been ever-present in the central three so far this campaign, and he is showing why Claude Puel has such faith in his ability.
The 20-year-old joined Nice’s youth setup in 2013 from AS Cannes, where he had been since the age of 11. He played a full season with the club’s B team, scoring two goals before he made his Ligue 1 debut against Lyon in November 2014 during the previous campaign as a 72nd minute replacement for Gregoire Puel.
He went on to make seven more appearances before the close of the season, predominantly as a substitute as Nice looked to have been fortunate enough that those below them had much less quality, preventing them from being dragged into any relegation scrap, rather than Les Aiglons being overly impressive in 2014/15 themselves.
However, since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, Koziello has become one of the first names on the teamsheet. Regularly operating on the right side of a midfield three, consisting of former Monaco man Nampalys Mendy as the holding midfielder and summer signing Jean Michel Seri as the other box-to-box minded player, who has recently been playing in the most advanced position of the midfield trifecta after Puel switched to a system involving three defenders.
The three have combined well since the start of the season, giving Nice fantastic balance in midfield. When Seri moves forward, Koziello is the one drifting into the attacking play slowly and vice-versa, when he decides to sprint and join attacking phases of play, Seri holds off a little more.
So far this year, the French Under-20 international has scored twice and assisted two goals in the league. The assists are a bit of a red herring, both his passes that led to goals were essentially created by excellent individual brilliance from Hatem Ben Arfa rather than a defence-splitting pass from the midfielder himself.
His real stand-out performance of the season, having played all 15 of Nice’s Ligue 1 fixtures, was his role in their 3-0 win at home to Lyon. He scored and played an integral part of catalysing their attacking play while also adding balance to the midfield.
The real positive with regards to Koziello is that he seems consistently aware of his positioning on the field. If you pick a random moment within a match to focus solely on the young Frenchman, you will find him to be always looking for space which he can put himself into and the whereabouts of everyone else on the field at any given time.
This means that he is usually well-positioned defensively, he knows when he should sit if Seri is a little more advanced and where the holes are to make himself available as a viable outlet for a teammate to pass to. When he does receive the ball, he does not waste possesion (highlighted by 89.4% pass completion) and always look to play forward.
He is willing to close down quickly too, whether that is the opposing defence or a midfielder in possession. He understands the need to put pressure on players but the only downside of this is that it can lead to others moving into the gap he leaves, which is in evidence for Lyon’s best chance of the game.
Koziello closes down a midfielder in his own half but the space that creates allows Claudio Beauvue to find a little freedom and from that, he flicks the ball into Alexandre Lacazette, who hits the post.
If he would use the same awareness that he uses elsewhere, or gets a little help from his defenders or takes the initiative on himself to ask others to fill in those areas, then he could really fill one of his only glaring issues as it happened a few times with Mathieu Valbuena too.
He can also be a little rash because of this, having picked up four yellow cards already this season and he needs to be careful when he rushes into challenges. If he can still limit the space but not get too close that he either overcommits or dives in, then he will produce better results in the future.
The 20-year-old is a competent dribbler but keeps it simple and to a minimum, and his boundless energy and positive play also lends to his potential counter-attacking capabilities. It is an area in which Puel’s side excels, especially when they have the lead, and Koziello’s role in this is highlighted again with his goal.
With the side already 2-0 up, Koziello began one particular move by playing a simple ball in his own half. Seri then moves forward with him on the counter and gives Koziello the ball around 35 yards out, with the midfielder playing it out wide to Jeremy Pied. The winger drives to the byline, cuts it back to Koziello, who has drifted into the box unmarked and then strokes the ball beyond Anthony Lopes.
It was a great goal and his strike against Saint-Étienne was not too disimilar, with his side in front he meets a Ricardo Pereira cross at the edge of the box and volleys first-time past Stephane Ruffier. It was another quality goal and he could have had another against Lyon on yet another counter if he could have been picked out properly.
The young Nice midfielder has received plenty of compliments already and what should be seen as a huge positive is that his bigger role in the side has not fazed him. Koziello has taken it all in his stride, he has also helped improve the players around him and overall Nice are better team with him in the side.
There are a few kinks and the entire Nice team need to show more application against the smaller teams in France as they do against the bigger sides, although that might be because of their desire to counter.
However, it was no surprise that Koziello has been called up to the French Under-21s squad back in November and it should only be a matter of time before he sees the field for his country in that category. Breaking into the senior squad is another question entirely but he is making the right kind of strides to make teams across Europe keep one eye on his progress.
A full year of football for Nice will give us a better look at how good he can become and at least another season at the Allianz Riviera, with maybe some more responsibility, will show whether he can be ready to make the next step in his career. All the signs are positive so far, he just needs to make sure he can make this kind of form consistent enough for people to take a chance on him.