What will Jean-Kevin Augustin bring to Leeds United’s promotion push?

Leeds United began 2020 with two members of their first-team squad — Eddie Nketiah and Jack Clarke — being recalled to their parent clubs. This meant that the club’s primary transfer targets in the window would have to be like-for-like replacements. If they couldn’t pull it off, then something would clearly have been rotten in the state of Beeston.

But with the confirmed signings of Jean-Kevin Augustin and Ian Poveda coming in, it may well turn out to be that the club have managed to finish the January window in a stronger position than when they started it at least in terms of attacking options.

We’ll touch on Poveda at some point soon: he is very highly rated but doesn’t have enough minutes in first-team football to do a full statistical profile of him. We will try to delve into video to analyse him.

The marquee signing is Augustin, though. Only a few seasons ago he was being spoken of in the same breath as Kylian Mbappe. Of course, Mbappe has become one of the top players in world football, whilst Augustin has ended up in the Championship, but there can be no doubting that the new Leeds’ signing’s talent and potential are huge.

You may have seen that we joined forces with the YEP’s Graham Smyth last week to produce an article about the type of player Leeds would need if they wanted to find a player similar in style to Patrick Bamford, but with increased finishing ability.

Leeds’ latest signing didn’t show up on our long-list of players that we narrowed down for the article, due to a lack of minutes played this season (he’d likely have also been culled due to being seen as out of Leeds’ price range). If we’d gone back and looked at his 17/18 season, playing for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, we would have seen that he compares very favourably to Marcelo Bielsa’s favoured number 9.

As we highlighted in the YEP article: in Bielsa’s system, a lone frontman with a well-rounded game is vital. Eddie Nketiah struggled, as although he clearly possessed great skill in finding space in the penalty area and finishing chances, he lacked the other attributes. This meant that despite his struggles in front of goal this season, Bamford was the clear first choice.

On the above radar, we can see that Augustin shares many of the same attributes as the former Middlesbrough man, outperforming him for shots on target %, passing %, xA (expected assists), Key Passes, dribbling % and crucially ‘non-penalty xG performance’, meaning that he scored more than his xG. Unfortunately for Bamford though, out-performing him in this metric isn’t that difficult, due to Bamford’s chronic under-performance. However, Augustin’s 9 goals from 7.51 xG in 17/18 was a very impressive return.

The one clear weakness in this profile is his aerial win % which is a mere 14.5%. For now, though, we’ll focus on the positives.

Getting on the end of and finishing chances

As above, anon-penalty xG per 90 of 0.51 shows that Augustin is a player who is able to find space in the penalty area and get on the end of good chances. However, Leeds need him to not only get on the end of those chances but to finish them.

Looking below at Bamford’s shot map from this season, there is a horrible amount of shots missing the target completely and nowhere near enough goals compared to the total amount of shots.

Augustin has a far greater percentage of his shots finding the target and more importantly, the back of the net. The shot map below is taken from all of his games in first-team football, rather than one season, in order to gain the most comparable sample.

A couple of things jump out from these two maps — Augustin is very strong just right of centre, which is an area that we know Bamford is not. Bamford is clearly weak on his right foot, but seems to get a lot of chances falling on that side. He either fails to work the goalkeeper from those or misses the target.

It is also notable that Bamford has many efforts close to or inside the six-yard box this season, where Augustin seems to take a lot of shots from closer to the edge of the penalty box. This is likely to be to do with play-styles of Augustin’s previous teams; watching video of him he seems to thrive on through balls and then taking shots on early in one-on-one situations with the goalkeeper. One would expect that he would get many more efforts from close range in this Leeds team, due to Leeds often facing sides that defend deep against them. However, should he find space in behind, he is likely to be deadly.

Many of you will have already watched YouTube videos of him featuring a couple of goals where he received the ball with back to goal and managed to control and turn in one movement before finishing past the goalkeeper. This goal below was one of my favourites of his that I’ve watched thus far.

Importantly, it demonstrates his ability to come short for the ball and link with the midfield, which Bamford does exceptionally well in his role for Leeds. After playing a first time pass into the midfield, Augustin immediately thinks ahead to the next phase of the move and makes a run to the back post, away from the defender. Whilst the ball might just bounce gently over the line, to finish on the volley with his weaker foot with the goalkeeper on top of him demonstrates that he can finish extremely well under pressure.

Creativity & dribbling

An area that Bamford has been strong in this season is creating chances for others to score. For instance, he assisted Jack Harrison with a wonderful touch out of the sky, followed by a weighted ball into his path to score and put one on a plate for Ezgjan Alioski in the 3–0 win away at Stoke City.

He also has a more than respectable 0.09 for xA and has a dribbling success rate of 47%. His tight ball control and dribbling allow him to win penalties (Bamford has won 3 penalties for Leeds this season, the most in the team) which he did in the 1–1 draw at home to Derby County: Mateusz Klich unfortunately missing.

Those figures above are all impressive. However, Augustin’s 17/18 at Leipzig featured him bettering all of those numbers. He created five goals for his team-mates, had a dribbling success rate of 50% and an xA of 0.11. He also made 0.6 key passes per 90. All this adds up to make him a proper modern centre-forward who can create for themselves and others as much as he can finish.

On his dribbling ability: the gif below will be no stranger to anybody on Twitter since the signing of the Frenchman was first rumoured.

However, it’s this clip above that really excites me as it is a great example of his ability to contribute to attacking moves.

As Leipzig had just won the ball back, he received the ball just inside the Hannover half, taking the ball inside his marker with his first touch, before playing a slide-rule pass forwards to his team-mate to assist the opening goal of the game. Whilst there are several aspects to this goal, his touch inside the defender was the pivotal moment in creating space to break the Hannover defensive line.

Hold-Up Play

Something that was notable when Nketiah played was that Leeds often struggled to hold the ball in the same way that they did with Bamford on the field.

With Augustin’s low aerial win % some might presume that means he will be weak at hold up. However, he is strong in ground duels and as shown in one of the clips above, he favours coming short away from defenders and releasing the ball quickly to a supporting player.

In fact, SmarterScout, the model-based scouting platform rated Augustin extremely highly for ball retention based on Championship benchmark ratings. For information about how they come to their ratings, click here.

The right column ‘ball retention’ shows him to be excellent in that regard. The 17/18 season is best used to get a good idea of ability here as it is the only one featuring over 1000 minutes of match-time.

Therefore, although Augustin might want to run in behind defenders, similar to Nketiah’s preferred move, it would be wrong to say that he’s uncomfortable to hold up play. Leeds would just be best off playing it into his feet and not in the air.

Pressing

As we’ve mentioned many times, Marcelo Bielsa’s system is built on Leeds pressing from the front, something Patrick Bamford does remarkably well and something that the Argentine didn’t feel Nketiah did enough of.

As pressing is a big part of German football and Leipzig are a particularly high pressing team, this is something Augustin should be comfortable with. In fact, in first-team football he averages 1.8 interceptions and 2.95 recoveries (either winning the ball for himself or creating a loose ball than a team-mate controls) per 90 minutes.

Bamford has only 1.3 interceptions and1.1 recoveries per 90 so far this season, though it should be noted that a lot of Bamford’s work is around putting pressure on defenders so that they are forced to clear the ball, which is subsequently won by the midfield or defence.

So what’s the catch?

When everything we’ve seen thus far looks so positive we have to ask the question — ‘what’s the catch?’ If he’s so good, what on earth is he doing coming to the Championship?

The first thing to say is that it’s highly unlikely that he would be coming to the Championship if it wasn’t for the fact that Leeds are managed by Marcelo Bielsa, who is greatly respected in France for how he managed to improve so many players at Marseille and got them playing some wonderful football.

However, it must be said that his development has stalled in the last couple of seasons. His breakthrough season at Leipzig was followed by one where he didn’t get as many minutes, due to the form or Timo Werner and Yusuff Poulsen. This is hardly the mark of a poor player, as those are excellent strikers in a side competing at the top of one of the best leagues in world football.

Augustin will certainly have been disappointed with how his loan to Monaco worked out as he spent the vast majority of his time on the bench and didn’t manage to score a league goal.

However, all this might work in Leeds United’s favour. He now arrives in the Championship with a point to prove. There have been questions about his attitude in France and whether he can fulfill his undoubted potential.

One would think that Bielsa’s reputation for helping players improve is a key aspect behind this signing as he will want to show the world that he is not a prospect to be forgotten about, but one with his whole career still ahead of him. If it all works out as planned, next season he can show that he belongs in the Premier League and not the Championship.

You can follow Josh Hobbs on Twitter @JoshAHobbs.

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A Leeds United blog which focuses on the tactical and statistical aspects of the game