When assessing the current top scorers table in the early stages of the Ligue 1 season, one name that stands out is Ignatius Ganago, the 21-year-old forward for RC Lens. Signed from OGC Nice for a fee of €6m in the summer, Ganago has performed impressively so far, scoring four goals in his first six games for the club. Despite the small sample size, there is evidence that the goalscoring form could continue.
After a season at Nice played predominantly on the wings, Ganago has immediately established himself as one of the forwards in the 3-4-1-2 formation utilised by Lens this season. Despite only playing a total of 309 minutes in his 1st six games for the club, Ganago is joint-top scorer along with Gaël Kakuta. However, it is important to note that all four Kakuta’s goals this season have come from the penalty spot, with Ganago winning two of these penalties.
Ganago has already improved upon his highest goalscoring tally for a Ligue 1 season. Last season at Nice he featured in 26 league games, starting in 12, and only managed a return of three goals and one assist. The majority of these games, however, were spent on the wings whereas only 274 of his 1231 league minutes involved him playing as a central striker. The shot map below from last season displays a variety of low xG shots, with nearly 50% of them coming from outside of the box. It also shows that his three league goals came from three of his highest xG shots in central areas which demonstrates that Ganago is a capable finisher when in the right positions.
This season however, Ganago’s new role in a front two has enabled him to maximise his finishing ability, scoring four goals from 13 shots. The shot map below for the current season displays clearly the difference in his position this season, with 92% of Ganago’s shots being taken inside the box and mostly from central positions. The underlying numbers provide more evidence that the quality of his shots have improved. Last season, Ganago achieved an xG of 2.9 from a total of 17 shots whereas he has already generated 3.8 xG from his 13 shots this season. This is a difference of 0.12 xG per shot which is a significant increase and can be owed in part to his change in position.
Both Ganago and RC Lens manager Franck Haise have also commented on his improved goalscoring return since his move to the club. Speaking to The Ligue 1 Show, Ganago said: “For me, it changes everything! I’m back in my preferred position. I’m delighted, I’m enjoying myself and I’ll continue enjoying myself, I hope I can score lots of goals this season!” His manager added: “He’s here on the back of a few season at Nice where he was playing out of position, or at least not the one we are playing him in. I think he’s happier as a central striker.”
When comparing against the other top scorers in the league this season, Ganago’s numbers look even more impressive. The chart below displays Number of Shots vs Non-Penalty xG per Shot for players with at least 4 goals in Ligue 1 this season. Of the 13 players in this list, the young Lens forward is top for npxG/Sh with a value of 0.29 from 13 shots. It’s worth noting that since his sample size is smaller than most players, with the second lowest number of shots in the list, this high xG value could be considered unsustainable and it is possible that it will decrease eventually once the sample size increases. Currently, Ganago is taking better quality shots on average than the likes of Kylian Mbappé and Karl Toko Ekambi, but it must be noted that these established forwards have taken almost twice as many shots.
Ganago’s low number of shots compared to the other players in the list can be attributed mostly to his lower number of minutes. The Lens striker was injured 15 minutes into a game at home to Saint-Etienne after receiving a bad tackle from centre back Timothée Kolodziejczak. Ganago won his side a penalty from the foul but was unable to continue and hasn’t played since due to a sprained ankle. He is expected to return to the side after the current international break and will be hoping to pick up where he left off.
Noticeable improvements in some other key metrics also deserve a mention, but should be taken with a pinch of salt, as Ganago has currently played just under a quarter of the minutes that he managed with Nice last season. Touches in Box per 90 is up from 3.34 last season to 8.26 in 20/21, a value that is in the 95th percentile of Top-5 League forwards. An increase in this value is expected due to his shift to a more central position, but a value of 8.26 puts him in the same bracket as other top strikers such as Erling Braut Haaland and Robert Lewandowski at this early stage. Ganago also finds himself in the 97th percentile for Successful Dribbles per 90 with a value of 4.13, an increase from 1.67 last season. This is one of the highest values for a central forward in the Top-5 Leagues and when considering strikers with at least three 90s played, only Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi are above him in the list.
Overall, despite his relatively low number of minutes, Ignatius Ganago has had a great start to the season and is thriving in his new central role at Lens. It is difficult to judge whether he can keep this form up after a return from injury but the underlying numbers suggest that his current goalscoring return is more than just a fluke and Lens fans will be expecting more of the same after the international break.