What Boubakary Soumare would bring to Leicester City
Boubakary Soumare has been a regular fixture of the Premier League transfer rumour mill for some time now.
Over the past few seasons, clubs ranging from Liverpool and Manchester United to Newcastle and Tottenham have all been linked with the Lille midfielder. At last, he seems destined to finally get his move to England this summer, with Leicester City set to beat a host of top clubs to his signature any day now.
The fee is believed to be around the £21.5m mark, in what could represent another terrific piece of business for the Foxes. Wondering what all the hype is about? Here is exactly what Soumare is likely to bring to the King Power Stadium.
One of the first things you notice when watching Soumare play is that he is always positive on the ball. However, that is not to say that he will be the player making that final, defence-beating pass to Jamie Vardy or Kelechi Iheanacho next season.
More likely, he will be the one playing the pass before the assist. Soumare principally operates in the middle third and only has one Ligue 1 assist for Lille this season. His creativity insteads manifests as line-breaking passes from deep.
All in all, he has averaged a progressive passing distance of 311.3 yards this season. That is comfortably more than any Leicester midfielder has managed, even the much-loved Youri Tielemans.
This will be music to the ears of both James Maddison and Iheanacho. Both players like to float around in the number ten position, looking to take the ball on the half-turn. Tielemans has often been their provider this season but next campaign Soumare seems set to take up this role - and it is one that he should thrive in.
Being 'press-resistant' is a vital skill for any modern Premier League midfielder. To do this, one must have excellent close control, intelligence and the ability to drive forward when space presents itself.
Soumare has all three of these skills in abundance. The many YouTube compilations of his highlights in France all contain plentiful evidence of him evading a pressing opponent in close quarters. After doing so he normally bursts into space. Watching Soumare bound at full flight is extremely impressive and invites comparisons with his compatriot and fellow Ligue 1 alumnus, Tanguy Ndombele.
He has racked up an average of more than 150 progressive yards per 90 minutes this term. Again, this is easily more than any of his future Leicester teammates. He is extremely comfortable in possession as well, losing control of the ball while dribbling less than once every two games this season.
An underrated defensive presence
Leicester would largely be purchasing Soumare for his ability in possession, but he is also capable of his fair share of defensive work.
Although he is not on Wilfred Ndidi's level - not many players are - his reading of the game and positioning are extremely strong. This season he has managed more than four combined tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes, more than Tielemans, Dennis Praet and Nampalys Mendy.
Leicester recognise that keeping hold of Ndidi may prove a challenge in years to come. Although not a like-for-like swap, early signs suggest that Soumare has the legs and defensive intelligence to step into the Nigerian's shoes should he depart.
He could free up Youri Tielemans
This season Brendan Rodgers has shown himself to be a far more versatile manager than many gave him credit for at the start of his career.
The arrival of Soumare, who will be expecting to play a significant amount of games, provides his latest tactical challenge. A midfield three of Ndidi, Soumare and Tielemans looks exciting on paper but it raises questions about where to fit Maddison and also how to accommodate the red-hot strike duo of Vardy and Iheanacho. All of that is before he even begins to consider the returning Harvey Barnes.
These are good problems to have and one possible solution could see Tielemans play in a more advanced role next season. The Belgian had a brief stint at number ten when Maddison was injured earlier this campaign and struggled.
It could be worth persisting, though, as he seems to have all the required attributes to play the role. His vision is wondrous as is his close control, while he has also shown an increasing eye for goal this season.