Reliable, durable and offering so much on both sides of the ball, Youssouf Fofana continues to demonstrate why he’s one of the elite midfielders in Ligue 1.
Having gone from strength to strength this season working under the expert tutelage of Niko Kovac, the Frenchman’s established himself as an integral component for Monaco alongside fellow young star Aurelien Tchouameni in midfield.
While he’s regularly been overshadowed by the exceptional Tchouameni, Fofana has outshone his colleague in recent weeks by putting in a host of classy showings. This was certainly the case during AS Monaco’s recent 1-0 win over Angers, where he excelled in the heart of midfield.
To start with his defensive output, and the youngster was active and full of energy when fulfilling his duties. Getting his positioning spot on for the most part, he did a fine job of blocking passing lanes and helping form a sound shield ahead of his backline so Angers struggled to penetrate centrally.
Knowing when to shift across, step out to press, drop back, cover for a teammate or apply an intervention, Fofana’s decision making and judgement ensured he took the right course of action. It was great to see him react smartly to pressing triggers like when his man dropped deep with their back to goal or in an open body posture, pushed towards the touchline, was about to inherit a sloppy pass or if they were about to receive on their non preferred foot.
Possessing great closing speed and reading the play proficiently, this enhanced his worth here, for he quickly got touchtight once he knew his marker was a viable target.
Not only did he time his harrying well, he was pretty sharp when executing his interventions, with him mostly chiming in accurately to regain possession for his team. Able to unbalance opponents with his imposing strength, this, in combination with his long legs, added to his success.
Covering so much ground and working tirelessly, the fact he won seven of his eight defensive duels, completed eight ball recoveries and made four interceptions punctuated his quality stopping output.
Switching the focus to his offensive exertions, and the 22-year-old’s contribution was equally impressive in this area.
Keeping things ticking over in midfield with his neat and tidy passing, he connected play smoothly as Monaco recycled possession while waiting for a weakness to arise in the Angers rearguard. Two footed and capable of finding teammates with fast lay offs, booming switches of play, tidy through balls or by hitting line breaking passes, his vision and range was evident frequently.
His masterful assist for Wissam Ben Yedder’s winner was unquestionably his standout piece of work, where he cleverly beat the pressure before obliging Ben Yedder’s run with a sublime through ball on his opposite foot.
Processing the situation so quickly and getting his execution perfect, this moment of magic was integral towards Monaco securing all three points against a defiant, tough to break down Angers.
Showing his tidy first touch, awareness and control, which helped him get his head up to assess his options, handy dribbling to manoeuvre out of tight spaces or surge forward at speed and ability to shield the ball using his ball handling and hulking frame, ensured he was a tough man to dispossess.
Showing how effectively he can remain balanced and composed despite being placed under heavy pressure was another highlight.
Meanwhile, in terms of his movement, Fofana underlined his intelligence and knowledge of Kovac’s system to frequently help his team. With the spaces typically more abundant in wide areas, Fofana was vital in helping a combination of the wingbacks, wide central defenders and dropping attacking midfielders form advantageous overloads to help beat the press. From here, the free man Fofana could switch the play and access dangerous central areas to progress his team up the pitch.
His occasional forward surges were a threat as well, with these runs generating overloads and catching out preoccupied or ball watching markers to offer a threat in the final third. In doing so, it was important to note how Tchouameni would stay deeper to ensure coverage was present in case of a turnover. Fofana would return the favour too when his partner charged upfield, which, along with their frequent switches of sides in midfield, demonstrated their excellent understanding.
The way he pinned and drew markers to open passing panes for teammates was also notable, with Kevin Volland and Ben Yedder beneficiaries of this.
In terms of his offensive numbers, his 43 completed passes, two accurate through balls and that he accurately found the target with 11 of 14 attempted passes into the final third indicated his offensive worth.
When speaking on his tremendous season so far, while happy with how things have gone, he still recognises he needs to improve. “It’s my most successful season yet I think, he explained. “We hope it will continue like this until the end. I can say it’s personally satisfying for the time being. It’s up to us to finish well.
“I still have work to do. I have to score, make assists and ensure I recover more balls. I have to be more decisive. I have to take more risks offensively. But that is a double-edged sword. I am not (Tanguy) Ndombele to try all my passes forward. If my pass fails in the area where I am, any turnover can give away a goal. I’m improving with this gradually.”
In the form of his life and thriving within Kovac’s meticulously coached Monaco, the former Strasbourg star will be a key driving force in the run home, where his presence will be pivotal towards Monaco’s hopes of securing Champions League qualification.
Even though he may not draw the plaudits like Tchouameni has, Fofana’s certainly just as valuable to the team – something he aptly demonstrated throughout Monaco’s hard fought win over Angers.