Heading into AS Monaco’s clash with Nantes, it’s fair to say this season hadn’t exactly gone to plan for the exceptional Wissam Ben Yedder.
Having only scored one goal in Ligue 1, often left on the bench, struggling to find his rhythm and being left out of Didier Deschamps’ latest France squad, many thought this could be the beginning of the little genius’ demise. But the 32-year-old emphatically tore up that script by bagging a sensational hat-trick against Nantes, in what was a marvellous man of the match display by Monaco’s captain.
Making a real statement and underlining his undoubted quality, which has ensured he’s established himself as one of the elite marksmen in Europe, Nantes were no match for him.
Moreover, his wonderful treble also propelled him to joint fifth in the club’s all-time scoring charts, plus saw him surpass Radamel Falacao to become Les Monegasques’ leading league scorer in the 21st century (66).
“It is a pride, an honour, a great joy to be in this place today. Whether for me personally or for the club. To be alongside a player like Radamel Falcao in particular, who is a legend here, is very good. But I hope I’m not going to stop there,” a delighted Ben Yedder gleamed.
Getting off to the perfect start and sending an early warning to the Nantes backline, his early shot served as the catalyst for Breel Embolo to open the scoring, for all Alban Lafont could do was parry it into the path of the Swiss international, who happily tapped home the rebound within two minutes.
Ben Yedder then got in on the act just four minutes later by finding the back of the net with a majestic chipped finish from the angle after being teed up by Embolo to double his team’s advantage.
The former Toulouse and Sevilla man then bulged the net again in the 28th minute when he capped off a sweeping move with an instinctive, first time effort from the edge of the box on his right foot. In the right place at the right time to latch onto Aleksandr Golovin’s deft pass, it was a pleasure to watch how he adapted his body posture to open himself up to expertly place his shot to score despite being under enormous pressure.
Completing his hat-trick from the penalty spot in the second half, where he coolly outfoxed the outstanding Lafont in goal for Nantes, this capped off his magnificent day at the office in front of goal.
His display was more than just about his clinical output in front of goal, however, for he impacted proceedings in many other ways too.
To start with, his movement to connect play, inject life into offensive passages and interact soundly with his teammates was a major aspect towards his success.
Expertly timing when to drop deep to link play with his back to goal, the constantly probing forward offered his midfielders, fullbacks and central defenders a viable option to progress the ball.
Evading his markers smoothly when they were preoccupied or ball watching, this allowed him to receive in the strategically advantageous areas between the lines and in the half spaces, where he could turn instantly or lay the ball off shrewdly to a forward facing colleague.
Moreover, his crafty runs not only into the box, but also in behind and down the channels warrant praise too, for he waited for exactly the right conditions to pounce. Upon seeing a defender dragged out of shape, out of position, poorly oriented or ball watching, he’d duly exploit any gaps.
Even though his surges weren’t always spotted, these runs further indicated his intelligence and reading of the play.
His burgeoning partnership with Embolo was another highlight from this match, with the pair coalescing wonderfully to create space for one another and frequently ask questions of their adversaries on who to mark in what zone.
As can be see in the examples below, how Embolo occupies one or more opponents effectively makes room for Ben Yedder to wreak havoc both in front of and in behind the Nantes backline. It’s worth mentioning that Ben Yedder returned the favour too with his buzzing in threatening areas to manipulate opponents. Not only did they pin markers efficiently, but they way they lured foes out of position to open passing lanes, subtlety rotated and persistently varied their positioning was vital too.
Seeing as they were typically within close proximity to each other, many positives could be extracted from their interplay with one another. In such cases, one could then receive in an ideal forward facing body shape to immediately carry momentum into attacks and place Nantes under duress.
Ben Yedder’s impact didn’t end there, for he facilitated some crisp third man combinations and posed as a quality target for his team to use in transition.
So well balanced and able to withstand pressure, the man with immense strength and a low centre of gravity made some great contributions on the ball as well. Whether combining intricately in close quarters with flicks and layoffs, weaving away from danger on the dribble or playing some smart through balls, this amplified his worth.
By the numbers, his four shots, three touches inside the box, two progressive runs, 26 accurate passes from 29 attempted passes, one shot assist, one dribble and the fact he scored his three goals from an XG of just 1.27 punctuated his terrific output.
When speaking after the match, it was obvious how delighted he was not only about his own display, but the team’s as a whole. “It was a very good match, which we were able to start well in by pressing and recovering high balls, which allowed us to be in a position to finish and to be effective in front of goal. Our start to the game gave us confidence, and we felt better and better. Overall, we had a very good game,” he explained.
He then added this on his World Cup ambitions that have taken a hit due to his challenging start to the campaign: “I try not to give up, to continue to work hard. I work a lot, because everyone dreams of competing in a World Cup. It was the case when I was a child and it still is today.
“There are sometimes more complicated periods in a career, and in those moments you have to work twice or three times as hard. I’m not giving up, I’m happy for tonight, but I want to continue. Effort always pays off, I must constantly demonstrate resilience.”
Making a real statement that he’s not in decline to both Philippe Clement and Deschamps, it’ll be fascinating seeing if this latest masterclass can be the catalyst for him to go on the purple patch he needs to make the World Cup.
Experienced, determined, able to change a game in an instant with a moment of magic and a leader on the pitch, expect Ben Yedder to do everything in his power to put himself in contention for World Cup selection, for he won’t relinquish his place without a fight.