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FEATURE | Moise Kean’s Metamorphosis Explored

There was an interesting reaction from Premier League fans last week, when Moise Kean scored for PSG against Barcelona at the Nou Camp. Last season, Kean had just six starts, two goals and two assists for Everton in the Premier League. He was a consistently nervous striker, who looked miles off the expectations that were designated after his €27.5m move from Juventus.

Of course, to any Ligue 1 viewers, Kean’s confident display against one of the most imposing teams in world football was hardly surprising. Moise Kean has received universal praise for his performances in France, and has looked far more mature than most other proposed wonderkids.

At 6ft tall, Kean already looks like a complete forward, and that has been reflected in his goal tally. 10 goals in 15 starts is fantastic form for any striker let alone a youngster.

Rather than focusing on his highlights though, today we take a deeper look into the numbers behind Moise Kean’s performances. There are some interesting statistical shifts from last season to now, which outline Moise Kean’s hard-work on and off the pitch.

The improvement in finishing

Looking at traditional underlying numbers, Moise Kean actually looks to have dropped off in Ligue 1. He is managing less shots per game, (2.72 vs 3.45 per 90). This can however be explained by the fact that in recent weeks, Kean has been played as a right-winger, with Mauro Icardi central and Kylian Mbappé on the left wing.

Stats via Understat. (Before penalty spot: shots taken before reaching the penalty spot, and outside the lines of the six-yard box).

Kean is certainly playing with more confidence and is finishing the chances he may have missed before. As seen with the above statistics, Moise Kean was taking 30% of his shots at Everton outside of the box, and 60% before the penalty spot. These stats fall to 8% and 42% at PSG.

This is not simply down to confidence, but more of a reflection of coaching work done for Moise Kean. The Italian has made better runs this season and got himself into more dangerous positions before taking shots. 

His expected goals tally was far greater than he was actually given credit for at Everton, but he was least dogged in following shots up, whereas at PSG, he is far more lethal. This was even seen recently, when he pummelled in a tap-in against OGC Nice after Mauro Icardi’s assist, after getting into a fantastic poaching position.

A changing environment

Some critics may point out the obvious: PSG are a more attacking, ball dominant side than Everton. They are going to able to create more chances for Kean to finish. Therefore, the goal improvement is perhaps not completely down to his finishing, but simply a reflection of the better supply line. In fact, Kean hit the target more often for Everton than for PSG, with his 2019/20 43.3% shots on target statistic marginally outweighing this season’s 41.7%.

A graph showing key passes (from open play) and dribbles per 90 minutes for each team in the Premier League and Ligue 1. Prem stats are from 19/20, Ligue 1 from 20/21 season. (WhoScored).

The graphic above shows too that Moise Kean is now apart of one of the more elite teams in Europe for creating chances. These statistics taken from WhoScored show which teams are completing the most dribbles and creating the most chances from open play. Everton’s statistics from last season are firmly in the middle of the pack, while the blend of Thomas Tuchel & Mauricio Pochettino has PSG as one of the top teams. 

Kean would not be the only youngster looking better than his talent from just being in a dominant side. When Mason Greenwood broke through at Manchester United last season, he thrived in the post-lockdown form where United were creating a behemoth of chances. Greenwood was able to thrive off this, scoring 10 league goals. However, he did not actually add much more than finishing off good chances.

The Invaluable Importance of Moise Kean

The difference here though, as many keen PSG fans will point out, is that Moise Kean is a big reason why PSG are an elite attacking unit. Time and time again, whether it is against Lyon’s Jason Denayer or Lille’s Sven Botman, Moise Kean has shown tremendous ability to hold up play, and play a big part in PSG’s attacking framework.

Stats from FBREF (Mispossessed p90: How often Kean fails to control a ball and loses possession per 90 minutes)

This is reflected in the statistics above too. Moise Kean is winning far more of his headers and keeping hold of the ball a lot better, demonstrating how invaluable Moise Kean is even without his goalscoring qualities.

This is made even more impressive considering the physicality of Ligue 1. In France, a player has far less time on the ball than they do in leagues like La Liga or Serie A. Also, defenders from even the mid-table sides like Brest, will hound opposition strikers. French football’s physicality is what caught Lille signing Jonathan David off guard upon his arrival to France, leading to the Canadian international, contrary to Kean, having a very poor initial 5 months in France’s first division.

Moise Kean though has clearly been working extremely hard on his fitness and on the training ground. In 2019/20, he lost the ball 52.6% of the time it was passed to him. For PSG, that stat falls to 46.5%. Kean is not only a great finisher, but an integral player in the way PSG have played under Tuchel and Pochettino in 2020/21.

Whatever happens in his career, Moise Kean will forever remember his first year in Paris as the one that let him transform into a fantastic, deadly striker.

A.B.

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