Throughout the past five years, Eintracht Frankfurt have been partially responsible for the conveyor belt production of quality strikers like Sebastien Haller, André Silva, Luka Jović and Rafael Borré. The next heir to the throne is completely different to the goal-scoring poacher-like ‘Target Men’ previously deployed. In many ways, a departure was needed. Filip Kostic has left the scene to start pastures new at Juventus, and the team no longer have an out-and-out dynamic wing crossing threat delivering peaches into the box for the strikers to ripen. They have a new man leading their attack now, and that man happens to be more of a ‘Creative Link’ than a scorer of great goals. Here is our analysis of the wonderful Randal Kolo Muani in 2022-23 at Eintracht Frankfurt.
POSITIONING & ROLE
After winning the Europa League in stunning fashion, Eintracht Frankfurt still needed more to reclaim their best form in league play – the type of form seen in the days of Adi Hütter, with free-flowing football and two strikers banging goals into the back of the net for fun. Die Adler lacked another physical presence who could play alongside the running power of Rafael Borré, and offer a different perspective to their 3-4-2-1.
They found their man in the form of Randal Kolo Muani, who had a fabulous 2021-22 campaign at Nantes, where he scored 12 goals with 4 assists in 36 Ligue 1 appearances. But on opening day, Glasner stuck with Borré up top on his own, and without making things overly simplistic, Die Adler faltered to a 6-1 defeat. The only bright spot on the night came in the 64th minute, where Muani announced his arrival with a goal.Embed from Getty Images
Since then, he’s started every single match in the team’s 3-4-2-1 formation, but as a dynamic, linking player rather than an out-and-out number nine. When watching him, you just get the feeling that he played on the wings throughout his youth days, and likely swapped around to different positions during his development. He’s incredibly dynamic, pacey and intelligent in 1v1 situations, and that allows him to play to equal effect up top or out wide. But as a player who innately sees the picture unfolding ahead of him, Muani could even play as a ’10’ and plays the ‘9’ role like that half-baked 9/10 ‘Creative Link’.
When we say creative, we mean it. He’s no Kevin de Bruyne, splitting defenses and opening up holes for fun. In fact, he rarely even passes the ball. But his passes are always intelligent ones, and often into space behind the opposition defense as his wingers race in behind. He’s unselfish in front of goal, and will actively pass the ball across the eighteen rather than finishing off a chance himself, seemingly on some kind of path to break Frankfurt’s assist record.
From a personal perspective, he’s already broken his own career high for assists, notching 5 in his first 8 appearances. In total, Muani’s start to life at Frankfurt has taken an unusual path, and perhaps one that the recruitment team themselves didn’t even see coming. But he’s flourished in being the provider, and has only continued his rapid development in newfound ways.
ATTACKING PRINCIPLESEmbed from Getty Images
As an unselfish player that links the attack, you can already guess what we’re going to say next! Randal Kolo Muani frequently drops deep during any phase of play, but particularly in seeking space away from a high-line during the build-up to progression. He can then dynamically spray passes forward in behind to advancing runners like Daichi Kamada or Jesper Lindstrøm, or wiggle his way out of trouble all on his own.
Likely a member of The Wiggles in his former life, Kolo Muani excels in tight spaces and masterfully understands how to pause on the ball to draw his opposition in, before bursting away. With his imposing frame, strength to get his body in the way, and fanciful footwork wrapped up in one, the French forward often forces his opposition into frustration. This means he’s often drawing fouls, or creating diversions away from other influential attackers.
He doesn’t occupy defenders like the big burly ‘Target Men’ before him, but he still attracts the right amount of attention to allow others to succeed. There are several goals this season in which Muani remains completely uninvolved, other than by disallowing defenders to make their move toward the ball, out of fear of what the Frenchman might accomplish.Embed from Getty Images
Unfortunately for Bundesliga defenders, even when they get touch-tight on Muani, they find themselves destined for trouble. He’s won 62.5% of his dribbles this season, displaying a natural knack for bursting past opponents at the right moment. He’s incredibly one-footed and one-directional in these moments, so eventually defenders will start to sort out which way he wants to turn, and how to angle him away from where he wants to go. Muani’s actually made the fewest left-footed passes per 90 of any player in Europe’s top five leagues across the last 365 days (0.94). It’s not just an over-reliance on his right, but a real problem worth addressing. If he can add greater dynamism on both feet, he will naturally create more options for himself in those 1v1 moments, without needing to rely on his physicality.Embed from Getty Images
Beyond the evident incisiveness that clearly comes to life when you watch him, it’s also slightly debatable how long he can continue his impressive assist-making. His xA is significantly lower than his actual assist tally (0.76 per 90 to an xA of just 0.27). But he’s boasting 3.17 shot-creating-actions in the league so far, which points to encouraging signs for his future as a playmaking forward. Again, he’s working magic in the final third and accumulating assists even despite not accumulating that many passes (9 accurate per game). That’s in large part because he’s not one to force the issue on a pass that’s not on. He’s hungry to take players on and engage in 1v1 duels, and he’s hoping to pass the ball late on in moves or play that instant killer pass, rather than forcing the issue.
When he receives, he’s smart about when to play forwards or backwards, and possesses excellent vision and awareness of the right pass to make in the moment. The difficulty of his passes has manifested in a 65% success rate, which is relatively woeful. But when you’re contributing 5 assists in 7 matches, you can be forgiven for a low passing percentage.
His playmaking persona also comes down to the fact that he’s most often used in transitional moments, where he’s likely to drift wide to receive, and then drive forward in possession.
He needs to be careful not to ball-watch when making breaking movements of his own, ensuring he moves into open space rather than running into brick walls. But when you give him the ball, he will run, and this inherently and immediately advances the team up the pitch. It means he’s rarely the one finishing off these transitional phases of play, instead used as the first outlet. But this only aids in that creative role he plays for the team, to which Frankfurt have reaped the rewards from despite it being a departure from the days of Hütter.
In order to operate as the front-line hitman for Frankfurt, you must be an intelligent presser. In many ways, that’s why Rafael Borré had so much success making the position his own in his first season from River Plate. Few forwards in Europe’s top five leagues excelled in their pressing and tackling as much as Borré, and Muani needed to keep up that reputation.Embed from Getty Images
Without being the overzealous type to throw himself into tackles, Muani has carried on where his predecessor left off. He’s intelligent in his pressing and angling, and always backed up by an excellent supporting cast and crew to limit forward penetration. Frankfurt are genuinely one of the best at defending, and that’s due to the compact shapes they quickly form in limiting the opposition at vital moments.
Muani leads that process from the front, with a triangle forming in behind that makes him the top of the diamond. As he presses out wide, other players will front the opposition players nearest to them, ensuring forward passes become difficult to make. This is where Muani can pounce, and use that physicality he brings to the table in the attack.
Not only is he intelligent with his pressing, but he’s also incredibly energetic. Always positive in his approach to win the ball, Muani is excellent at forcing play backwards, where he will only continue his intensity all the way back. He’s quick to react to loose balls and poor touches, and he makes players panic under his pressure.
With the added intelligence of slowing down before he reaches that crucial moment, and keeping his body momentum low to win the ball, Muani will only grow in his percentages. For now, while he’s not making a high percentage of tackles or interceptions, he’s also not finding himself dribbled past. Cleaning up his defensive approach will only allow for a greater likelihood of his team winning the ball, as Frankfurt challenge for a place in next season’s Champions League.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
After arriving in the summer, Randal Kolo Muani has completely taken off like a rocket-ship at Eintracht Frankfurt so far. Contributing 7 goals in your first 8 league appearances is a mean-feat for any player, let alone one still only 23 years of age. Muani will only grow his game as he works on his left-foot passing and dribbling, and his defensive approach to winning the ball and timing those tackles to perfection. But let’s not focus on the negative. Muani is an incredibly gifted footballer, who has already topped his best season for assists through his incisive passing in the final third, and the dynamic dribbling that sets him up to be that provider. Whether he can lead Eintracht Frankfurt to better times in a post-Filip Kostic world remains to be seen, but Oliver Glasner’s team are certainly on the right track with the Frenchman in full force.
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So there it is! A tactical analysis of Frankfurt’s new-boy Randal Kolo Muani. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, Bundesliga pieces, and don’t forget to follow on social media @mastermindsite and @desmondrhys. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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