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STATS VIEW: Sofiane Boufal: Lille’s next Eden Hazard?

Heading into the 2015-2016 Ligue 1 season, there wasn’t arguably too much to be excited about for Lille OSC. Their best box-to-box midfielder Idrissa Gueye was sold to Aston Villa. Simon Kjaer, a reliable CB for Lille, was sold to Fenerbahce of the Turkish Super League. Loan spells for Divock Origi and Rony Lopes expired and Lille’s most reliable striker Nolan Roux is now playing for Saint Etienne. Lille last season were not a good team and the mass exodus of last season’s squad combined with relative inactivity in the summer transfer window did not hold much promise for a more fruitful upcoming season.

However one thing that most, if not all Lille fans are excited about is watching a full season from attacking midfielder Sofiane Boufal. Lille bought him from Angers during the January transfer window for around €3m and instantly got a huge return on their investment. Boufal produced 3 goals, 6 assists and 28 chances created (passes that lead up to shots according to Opta data). Boufal only played 1016 total minutes last season for Lille so this kind of production in that small a time span is fantastic.

There’s another way of illustrating what Boufal did with Lille last season. The heralded website StatsBomb wrote a wonderful primer article two years ago on using per ninety minutes as a metric to further analyze players’ production. Just like that Statsbomb piece, let’s do a comparison between the amount of minutes Sofiane Boufal and Bernardo Silva played as attacking midfielders last season.

 

Players

Minutes

Goals per Ninety Minutes

Assists Per Ninety Minutes

Chances Created per ninety minutes

Shots per Ninety Minutes

Silva

1978

0.4

0.1

1.6

1.3

Boufal

958

0.3

0.6

2.6

1.8

 

As we can see here, Boufal outperformed Silva in three of the four categories last season. As is with any metric in football there is no perfect measure and using “per ninety minutes” has its drawbacks, but it is still a better representation of a player’s production than just using raw total numbers or even per game data. When Boufal got on the pitch, he had a clear impact on Lille offensively and was a real coup for Rene Girard & Co, who had massive problems creating good goal scoring opportunities otherwise.

When you watch Sofiane Boufal play, especially when he is at the top of his game, you cannot help but make comparisons to Eden Hazard when he was at the same stage of Boufal’s development. Lille fans remember just how good Eden Hazard was when he played in France so the comparisons are a credit to the type of prospect that Boufal projects to be. They are both of a similar size, played in Lille at around the same age and have a similar skill set.

Boufal is a wonderfully creative player who has maybe the best dribbling ability you will see in France. His ability to take on defenders is very advanced for his age and he has the skill to pick out a deadly pass onto his teammates. Perhaps the defining trait that makes Lille fans envision potentially the next Eden Hazard with Boufal is his talent to change pace instantly. It’s a definite sight to behold:

 

If we compare Boufal and Hazard statistically, the comparison has even more credence. Sadly Opta data only goes back to the 2009-2010 season so this comparison is Boufal’s first season to Hazard’s second season with Lille.

 

Players

Minutes

Goals per ninety minutes

Assists per ninety minutes

Shots per ninety minutes

Chances Created Per ninety minutes

Dribbles per ninety minutes

Boufal

958

0.3

0.6

1.8

2.6

4.2

Hazard

2141

0.2

0.3

1.8

2

2.4

 

Unlike Hazard, Boufal is coming to a Lille side that does not have the same calibre of attacking talent and is going through a transition period. Hazard during his time with Lille got to play with the likes of Gervinho, Dimitri Payet, Yohan Cabaye and Nolan Roux. Boufal has to contend with a plethora of unproven talent at the striker position in Junior Tallo, Baptiste Guillaume and Sehrou Guirassy. Perhaps one of those players will become a household name in Ligue 1 but until then, growing pains can be expected for both Boufal and Lille.

Lille as currently constructed do not have much dynamism on their squad outside of Boufal, which could lead to many moments this season where Boufal and his attacking partners are not in sync. Boufal will also need to prove that last season was not just a flash in the pan but one that he could sustain for the full length of this campaign. His performance versus PSG in the opener was erratic but there were a couple of moments where he displayed the genuine class he possesses.

This could be a banner season for Sofiane Boufal and if he fulfills the enormous potential he has, European teams this summer will come knocking on Lille OSC’s door inquiring about the Moroccan’s services. 

Mohamed Mohamed

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