Olympique Lyonnais have a strong track record of marrying astute signings with a superb youth system, developing talent and then selling it on at a profit while still challenging in the French Ligue 1. Tanguy N’Dombele is the latest Lyon youngster to attract the attention of big clubs, linked with Spurs, Manchester United, AC Milan and, obviously, Arsenal.
N’Dombele is on loan from Amiens to Lyon with a reported option to buy or, crucially, a sell-on percentage to Lyon should another club come in for him. He has, perhaps lazily, been compared to Moussa Dembele for his ability to carry the ball and dominate the central midfield area either as part of a double pivot or a flanking player in a midfield three.
Lyon have played either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 this season, and N’Dombele has so far been involved in four fifths of Lyon’s games as a starter or substitute. He tends to line up with another two prospects, 20 year old defensive midfielder Lucas Tousart and 19 year old attacking midfielder Houssem Aouar.
He is especially impressive in the double pivot with Tousart, another player clubs in the Premier League should be looking at. Tousart is more naturally defensive, while N’Dombele’s instinct is to carry and attack; when Tousart does get forward, though, N’Dombele is adept at sitting and covering – the two have developed a strong partnership and understanding despite their age.
Between them, they like to switch the point of attack. Lyon’s preference is to attack down the left, where Memphis Depay is having a strong season, but Bertrand Traore is also a threat from the right. When Lyon push forwards, the midfield axis is always looking to open space with quick, horizontal passes that switch the focus of attack.
N’Dombele is unafraid to carry the ball forwards himself as well, using his strong dribbling skills to relieve pressure on Lyon’s back line or turn defence into attack. His success rate is impressive for a box to box midfielder of his style, as this season’s numbers for Lyon show.
More impressive, perhaps, is his ability to discern when to join the attack and when to sit back and provide an option. As he carries the ball forwards on the right hand side of midfield, the right sided wide players Bertrand Traore or right back Kenny Tete will look to provide an option in the wide space. N’Dombele shifts the ball out to them and then either carries on his run into the box, or tucks up inside in the half space to provide a return ball if there is no player filling in to do the same. He knows when to hit the box and when to sit as an option, which means that Lyon are often able to recycle possession down the right rather than lose out and get caught short.
N’Dombele will also often take up that wide position himself. At Amiens in Ligue 2 he sometimes played as a wide midfielder in a four man midfield, so he is confident in the wide spaces to take on defenders and deliver a cross.
N’Dombele has not yet added goals to his game, scoring once in the Europa League, a header against Villareal where he burst into the box and stayed near the back post to score, but he does have five assists in total, and gets forwards to shoot, especially from distance. His numbers for Lyon this season show a good all-round attacking contribution.
His defensive numbers for Lyon show a well-rounded midfielder who contributes around the park which is especially impressive given his central role in a young team while still a young player himself.
Perhaps the comparison with Moussa Dembele isn’t so lazy. There are also shades of Naby Keita and Mario Lemina in N’Dombele’s ability to break the game with his dribbling, recycle possession intelligently, and defend with energy and a strong positional sense. If he maintains his development, this young Frenchman has an excellent future ahead of him.