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FEATURE | Flavien Tait to quietly shine for Rennes, as Europe miss out on a unique breed of winger

Recently signed by Stade Rennais, 26-year-old Flavien Tait will be keen to make an impact in the upcoming campaign and upon reflecting on his last 18 months, it is hard to argue against him not succeeding.

In the 2017/18 season, Angers relied upon the goals of star striker Karl Toko Ekambi to carry them through the season. However, it was Flavien Tait’s explosion onto the Ligue 1 scene that propelled them further. In his last 11 games operating on the left, the former Châteauroux man produced a goal or assist every 135 minutes, helping his side to confirm another top flight season.

During his time at the Western club, Tait was utilised mainly on the left in 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 formations and a little less so as an advanced #8 in a midfield three during the second 3rd of the 2018/19 season. Certainly, the position where he thrived was operating on the left flank in a 4-1-4-1. This gave him the ability to be more involved in build-up as well as supplying the final pass. There were occasions where Tait single-handedly carried the team through large portions of matches.

Tait embodies the physical qualities and work-rate that coach, Stéphane Moulin, demands from his players. His short stature and clever use of balance mean that he is more than capable of keeping hold of the ball. With an average of 2.4 tackles and interceptions per game, he also contributes well defensively. When needed he will drop back into shape and support the full-back to double up on the opposing wide players, in an attempt to nullify the opposition flanks.

Despite Angers averaging the lowest possession in the league last season (44.8%) they are not a heavy counter-attacking side as some may assume. WhoScored recorded only one counter-attacking goal in the past season from Le SCO. When they obtain possession, players such as Tait carry the ball forwards to, either, win a foul and relieve pressure on the defence, but more typically move to stretch the defence allowing space to open up for team-mates to move into.

It’s been a regular occurrence at the Stade Raymond Kopa to watch Tait pick up the ball on the left, put his head down and drive down the channel, accompanied by cheering support. He does not possess a high-end top speed but is able to maintain his pace on the ball and with his initial burst of speed, enough to cause trouble.

Once in the attacking third, Tait has a variety of methods with which to unravel defence. He can either hug the touchline, or work with the left-back and midfielder in an attempt to exploit the space behind the defensive line. When this option is not available he can drive towards goal, keeping the ball close to his feet, making him tricky to dispossess.

He demonstrated this strength perfectly in a 2-2 draw with Monaco. Dropping off into space in-line with the full-back to receive the ball, he moved forward and positioned his body feinting as if he would move right. When the opposition player stepped forward, Tait took his chance and burst leftward. He kept the ball close with light touches and adjustments, shrugging off a few pushes and pulled past two other players. Once in the box he attempted to move into a shooting position but lost possession only for the ball to drop kindly for him to finish through the legs of Subasic.

He demonstrates a high level of technique and progressive passing ability, and displays flashes of brilliance and tremendous ball control. However, it is his consistently clever decision-making that makes him stand out from the crowd –   whether he is producing an incisive pass for a striker or creating space for his teammates with his off-the-ball movement.

There are aspects to Tait’s game that require improvement. He can be quite predictable when trying to cut back and line up a shot from outside the box, a move that Ligue 1 defences have telegraphed, sometimes leading to him being crowded out and easily dispossessed. In the later stages of games when fatigued, he has a tendency to overplay instead of recycling possession when his team are leading.

At Rennes he will not be the sole star player. At Angers he was the star. This allowed him a certain level of freedom to attempt riskier passes that may have given possession. His new coach, Julien Stéphan, is less likely to allow him that freedom, but with his work ethic and defensive rigour, this won’t faze Tait.

Rennes have acquired the Frenchman’s services for around €9m. A seemingly fair price for a player at his peak. With Stéphan’s men embarking on a Europa League campaign, Tait will have his chance to shine on the continental stage.

T.W.

 

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