Game of Numbers #9 – Moukoko Madness

In our latest analysis series: Game of Numbers, we break down the various tactical undertones of the modern game, most notably the individual roles that players fulfill to help their teams achieve success. This is Issue No. 9, featuring the following:

  1. Youssoufa Moukoko’s record-breaking madness against VFL Bochum
  2. Christopher Nkunku as a ‘Goal-Scoring Ten’ for RB Leipzig vs. Hoffenheim

Let’s jump into Game of Numbers Issue No. 9!


Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Youssoufa Moukoko had a monstrous match against VFL Bochum on Saturday, scoring a brace and putting up a valiant effort to lead the Dortmund attack from start to finish. As a proactive presser and energetic workhorse, Moukoko has always excelled with his off-the-ball efforts. But he’s becoming more refined and intelligent with his movement about the pitch, and immediately making a name for himself now as one of the deadliest scorers in the division.

On Saturday, the 17-year-old German forward became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score 10+ goals in the league. But it wasn’t just the nature by which he scored his goals, but the way he took his finishes. Moukoko scored two of his three shots in the match, the last of which was probably the easiest to finish off in truth. But the difficult finishes were still remarkably impressive, and demonstrates quite the promising future for the German forward. Many of his goals so far throughout his career have been scored inside the penalty area, and a good bulk of them have been tap-ins. This was nothing of the sort, as the German scored two fabulous goals – one from outside the box, and the other from a difficult angle with the goalkeeper bearing down on his run. The first came after wiggling his way out of pressure, breaking free of the shackles of several defenders, and then striking from range despite being surrounded by Bochum defenders.

The second came shortly thereafter, as Moukoko exploded on the break and then coolly chipped Manuel Riemann from range.

What’s been perhaps most impressive about Moukoko’s efforts so far this season has been his growing tactical understanding of the game. As Reyna shifted inside, Moukoko drifted out wide to receive away from congested areas.

He’s frequently shifted wide left throughout his time with the Black & Yellows, where he can play on his stronger foot and combine in all of Dortmund’s wonderful left-sided play between the likes of Malen and Guerreiro. He’s even played off the left this season for Terzic’s team, particularly when Modeste is given the nod instead. But Moukoko had a habit of picking the pocket of Bochum’s left-sided defenders instead, largely due to Reyna’s tendency to drift into central channels.

The 17-year-old would then explode on the break into these right-sided-spaces where he eventually made himself clinical in front of goal on two occasions, finishing off two chances from the right side with his right foot.

For a 17-year-old to already have hit 10+ goals in the Bundesliga is absolutely incredible. He might not attain the same levels of an Erling Haaland or even a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. But Youssoufa Moukoko is truly setting himself up for future success.


(Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

In our recent ‘Creative Ten’ breakdown, we discussed how the vast majority of ‘creative players’ operating in the ’10’ slot are turning more into goal-scorers, and less into playmakers. This has been a shift happening throughout the past five to ten years in the game, along with the ever-growing role of the centre-forward as one that combines more skills across the phases of the game, and now becomes more about setting up their teammates. This has become true of not only your ‘False 9’ types like Roberto Firmino, but even your typical ‘Target Men’.

Strikers are dropping deeper, holding up the ball longer, and becoming more creative and incisive with their passing in the final third. This allows ’10’s’ to be the ones to drift into the penalty area unnoticed, and score crucial goals. At the moment, there is perhaps no one in the world better at this art than Christopher Nkunku. The French forward has made himself an utter nuisance for Bundesliga defenses the past two seasons, and has flourished in the ’10’ slot since Marco Rose took over. Nkunku’s dynamism through the thirds has been utterly immaculate, and he perfectly fits into Rose’s desire to overload central attacking areas, allowing for ease of access to one-two-touch combinations before incisive passing into the penalty area at vital moments.

Nkunku’s combinations with Dani Olmo from Leipzig’s left-channel were particularly impressive, with the two front-men showboating their understanding of one another throughout the ninety.

Not only did Nkunku score a formidable free kick inside the first half, but he also banged the ball into the back of the net off a brilliant combination play with Olmo in the second half.

It’s Nkunku’s movement into the penalty area that allows him to score such great goals with pace and precision, but his composure in front of goal has been a wonderful boost to his scoring endeavours the past two seasons. He constantly endeavours to position himself on top of the six-yard box, where rebounds are likely to fall into his feet.

For any club keeping their eye on the 24-year-old, this is an incredibly encouraging sign. Nkunku is clearly able to perform to great effect in a variety of positions, and in fact, has played in each of the front four positions this season. In this match, he played both as a ’10’ in behind Silva, ghosting into the penalty area to finish off moves; and as a striker in the team’s 5-2-3 shape, as even Silva himself had to shift out wide to accommodate the pace and power of the Frenchman up top.

A special shoutout should also go to Abdou Diallo (yes, the one who played for PSG and BVB). Diallo was immaculate as a ‘Tempo Setting’ central midfielder, and actually more dynamic in the role than one might have thought from a centre-back. He proactively scanned for moments to play progressive passes and break lines, but also nicely assessed when to play simple passes, recycle play or combine with his teammates in close proximity.

Diallo would also drop into the defensive line to bring the ball out from the back in between the two centre-backs, allowing the role to suit prior predispositions to his playing style. With 4 passes into the final third and 4 long passes completed from 6 attempted, Diallo was pivotal to Leipzig’s 2-4-2-2 build from that position.

With about twenty-five minutes to go, the Senegalese defender then went touch-tight on Hoffenheim’s danger man – Georginio Rutter, as part of a back-five. This pushed Dominik Szoboszlai into central midfield alongside Schlager, in an adaptable 5-2-3 shape. Crucially, this then allowed the Hungarian to push and probe in central channels, including driving through the centre in transition, as Hoffenehim pushed more numbers forward. But as for Diallo, the Frenchman has clearly established Marco Rose’s trust, and if he can continue to fulfill multiple roles in the same match than he will be of massive importance to Leipzig this season.

So there it is! Game of Numbers Issue No. 9, featuring two of the Bundesliga’s top prospects – 17-year-old record breaking Youssoufa Moukoko, and one of the best in the business – Christopher Nkunku. Be sure to check out more in this series below, and follow on social media @mastermindsite to never miss an update. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

-> Game of Numbers – #8 – Alex Loera’s Midfield Shift
-> Game of Numbers #7 – Ben White’s Right-Back Revolution
-> Game of Numbers #6 – Lucy Bronze as a Floating 8
-> Game of Numbers #5 – Changing Shapes Mid-Game

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