Versatile midfielders are one of the hottest properties in European football. Someone who can effectively contribute to phases of play in both boxes and carry a team forward in midfield is essential for all top clubs. The ability to offer balance in different phases of play as well as moments of brilliance in the final third is invaluable. Since Laurent Blanc arrived at Lyon midway through the season, he has found all of this in Maxence Caqueret.
The former PSG coach had initially lamented he wanted a natural number six to bring defensive security into midfield. Ultimately, this is something that Bruno Cheyrou should have provided in the January transfer window, but failed to do so. Combined with a lack of creative influence from midfield, this has given Blanc the difficult task of finding these influences from within the ranks at OL – and Maxence Caqueret appears to be his solution.
For context, Caqueret has always been an accomplished midfielder. The Frenchman has been known for covering the pitch effectively, breaking up play with impressive defensive numbers and launching Lyon into attacks with efficient progressive passing. These three traits are all very promising for a young midfielder and hold a massive influence on the way Lyon play. However, the OL academy graduate has often seen criticism for his technical skillset and influence in the final third.
In recent performances, Caqueret has made his critics eat their words. Under Blanc’s tutelage, Caqueret has developed his game to obtain an increasing influence in the final third and take some of the creative strain away from Rayan Cherki. Cherki currently leads Lyon in the creative department, with 3.88 key passes and 3.06 passes into the penalty per 90. Despite the heavy reliance on Cherki to create chances in the final third, Caqueret, in recent matches, has more than shown his worth in the final third.
The French youth international also leads the team in assists, with five at the time of writing, and is only second to Cherki in key passing metrics within the Lyon squad. Three of these assists occurred in his last six appearances as Blanc propels Caqueret into more dangerous areas with great effect. In addition to his noticeable increase in output from an attacking sense, there is more expression in the attacking runs and passing types initiated by Caqueret.
With a lack of wide options at Lyon and Cherki excelling in his new-found number ten position, Blanc has been flexible in the choice of his tactical set-ups at Lyon. With formations varying from a narrow diamond formation in midfield, to three at the back and Lyon’s usual 4-3-3, Caqueret is asked to carry out multiple roles within the midfield. The new attacking role asked of Caqueret in the midfield three, with his midfield counterparts obtaining a preference to play deeper, has seen him excel.
The 23-year-old often finds himself as the spare man in the final third, or winning the ball back in the most advanced areas to launch the team onto the front foot and make opposing defences pay for their mistakes. His assists against Lens for Cherki’s goal and against Troyes for Barcola were a testament to this, and his combative skillset. Against Lens, the 23-year-old pounced on some delayed decision-making to press and win the ball back before bursting into space and teeing up Cherki to smash the ball beyond Samba. Similarly, against Troyes, Caqueret intelligently identified an under-hit goal kick before everyone else to then burst into the space made available to him in the wide areas and tee up Barcola for a tap-in. Caqueret’s willingness to get forward and pressing intelligence are key to Lyon winning the ball back more often than any other team in Ligue 1, and yielding output from this impressive feat.
The Vénissieux-born midfielder has also showcased more passing intent in recent matches by increasing his chance-creation output, as well as the quality and choice of his passing. Seamlessly transitioning into a new role with attacking freedom, Caqueret has been able to showcase his impressive range of passing by picking out teammates in dangerous areas when winning the ball in advanced positions when teams are disorganised from a breakdown in transition. This increase in chance creation adds a new element to Caqueret’s, game as he evolves into a more complete midfielder.
This new attacking role has also seen him feature in the number-ten space in the absence of Cherki – an interesting choice from Blanc considering his side’s reliance on Cherki to create and Caqueret to be a security in midfield, playing a deeper role. Tactically, Caqueret is likely to best serve in a more balanced position for Blanc’s system to allow Cherki to excel, but his ability to contribute in the final third and build attacks certainly adds another facet to the Frenchman’s already impressive game.
GFFN | Liam Wraith