Moussa Dembele – Martial’s Replacement or Partner?

Moussa Dembele

Recently, it has been widely reported that Manchester United have agreed a deal with French club Lyon, where Anthony Martial (in depth look at his season here) started his career at 16, for the transfer of their 23 year old striker Moussa Dembele, for a reported fee of around £62 million. With us already having Martial and Greenwood at the club as relatively young strikers, some fans have seen it as odd we are chasing the signature of a player like Dembele, instead wanting us to go for a more experienced player like Ighalo who we have on loan at the moment. We have another group of fans who welcome the pursuit of such a player, as they deem Anthony Martial to not be up to United quality and would like to see him replaced. So in this article we will have a look at how good Dembele is, if he would suit our team and how he even compares to our current number 9, Martial.

Basic League Stats 19/20MartialDembele
Appearances2327
Goals (per 90)11 (0.52)16 (0.66)
Assists32
Pass Accuracy80.2%74.0%
Shot Creating Actions per 903.172.02
Goal Creating Actions per 900.480.29
All statistics courtesy of FBRef.com and understat

Firstly, we will take a look at some of the more basic numbers that we will often look at when comparing strikers. This season in the league, Dembele has scored 16 goals in 27 matches (24.3 90’s played), this total places him 3rd in the division, behind only Mbappe and Ben Yedder, who both sit atop the rankings with 18 goals a piece. He is an excellent finisher, shown by the fact he has scored this number of goals with a total xG of 11.40, so is outperforming his xG by 4.60! Further to this, for players to have at least 10 goals this season, he is 3rd in the top 5 leagues in Europe for conversion rate at 31.4%, behind Vardy and Icardi. This all speaks to his biggest strength, putting the ball in the back of the net. For comparison, Martial has scored 11 goals this season in 23 games (20.8 90’s played), which puts him 12th in the Premier League (keeping in mind his 2 month injury early in the season). At first look, it seems Dembele is a more proficient goalscorer, with his 0.66 goals per 90 to Martial’s 0.53 per 90 in the league. However, one aspect we have to consider is penalty duties. At Lyon this season, Dembele has taken 5 penalties in the league, scoring 4 of those. If he was to join United, one would assume Bruno and Rashford would continue taking the penalties for the side. So when they are taken out of the equation to look at open play goals, his scoring rate comes down to 0.50 per 90, just slightly below what Martial’s sits at (0.53). The percentage of their shots on target isn’t wildly different between the two, with Martial hitting the target with 47.5% of his shots, and Dembele striking the target at a rate of 41.2%. Despite this, Dembele has been the more efficient goalscorer comfortably this season.

Radar graphs comparing Martial (Blue) and Dembele (Green) courtesy of understat, 19/20 league stats only

When it comes to creativity and build up play, Martial is generally clear in most of the statistics, which could be very important as Ole looks to play with a striker that involves himself in the build up play more often than not in the majority of the matches. Dembele averages less assists and expected assists per 90, plus his xGBuildup and XGChain90 are both significantly less than Martial’s. Anthony is much more involved in the play leading up to the teams goals. Martial also averages over double the through balls per 90 (0.19) and progresses the ball by his passing per 90 nearly double to what Dembele does (60.1 yards to 30.2 yards). This isn’t necessarily something that all strikers have to do as some, like Dembele look to play as more of a poacher and be on the end of balls, but with Ole looking for his centre forward to drop almost into the attacking midfield and help create, Martial suits this style more. This can be seen again when looking at goal (GCA) and shot creating actions (SCA). They are defined as “The two offensive actions directly leading to a goal/shot, such as passes, dribbles and drawing fouls. Note: A single player can receive credit for multiple actions and the shot-taker can also receive credit.” Using this statistic, we can see when players are directly involved in a goal whether they played a pass or made a dribble, whereas assist numbers look only at the final passer. With this in mind, Martial averaged 3.17 SCA per 90 and 0.48 GCA per 90. Dembele on the other hand, averages 2.02 SCA per 90 and 0.29 GCA per 90. This difference is one which can be considered significant. Over the entirety of the season, Anthony will be involved in more shots and goals than his counterpart.

Moussa Dembele

Next we will briefly look at some dribbling and defensive numbers before looking at Dembele’s style of play and where Moussa likes to make his mark on the field. Per 90 minutes of football, Dembele attempts 2.06 dribbles at a success rate of 46.0%, whereas Martial attempts 3.61 dribbles and completes 62.7% of these, he is a better and more willing carrier of the ball. This further emphasised when looking at the progressive distance travelled per 90, where Martial carries the ball towards goal a total of 115 yards per 90, with Dembele doing it for 75.9 yards per 90. This is advantageous as Martial is more adept at taking the ball past opponents and bringing the ball forward up the field when receiving it, again key to our style of play. When it comes to pressing the opposition, both players are quite good in this regard. Contrary to popular belief, the numbers portray Martial as a forward who is more than willing to put in a shift and press the opposition. Dembele attempts 12.0 presses per 90, whereas Martial presses 14.8 times per 90. To put this into context, Marcus Rashford attempts 14.4 pressures per 90. In addition, Dembele wins 26.4% of these pressures, a respectable figure sandwiched just above Rashford and below Martial’s rate of success.

As shown by these heat maps, both players like to operate in similar areas. Dembele spends more time in the opposition box but will often drift into the left half space (between the wing and centre of the field), as he looks to try and get on the ball more. He possesses very good off ball movement, and is adept at using this to fool defenders and lose his marker, but despite his willingness to make these runs, he has only been caught offside 0.45 times per 90, showing good awareness constantly of his position on the field. This different and more traditional approach to the striker role would provide a different dimension to our attack should Dembele join, as he looks to stay more central and advanced. One way we could utilise him would be in an asymmetric front 2 alongside Martial, with Anthony pulling deeper and slightly wide with Dembele holding the line and having Martial to play off. This could work well, but with the rumoured pursuit of Sancho, it seems unlikely we would utilise a front 2 much. Whether the reports of Dembele joining are true or not are unknown to us as of yet, but were he to sign, he would be an efficient goalscorer who would provide a different type of threat to our attack.

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