La Nouvelle Vague: Mounir Chouiar & Hichem Boudaoui
In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents playing in Ligue 1. First up are Dijon’s 21-year-old winger Mounir Chouiar and Nice’s box-to-box midfielder Hichem Boudaoui.
Mounir Chouiar, Dijon – U23 France, 1999
By Federico Aqué
At the end of last season, Lens lost to Dijon in the decisive game to be promoted to Ligue 1. Chouiar was on the pitch with Lens in the lost match but he still managed to play in the top division the next season by signing with Dijon itself on the very last day of last summer’s transfer window. Chouiar mainly plays as a left-winger but he can also be played on the other wing or in the centre. He’s playing his first season in Ligue 1 but he’s already one of Dijon’s most important players, as the team fights not to get relegated.
In the team coached by Stéphane Jobard, he’s the go-to guy when they have to move forward on the pitch, creating spaces in the opponent’s midfield thanks to his dribbles. Dijon hasn’t a refined playing style, they often use long passes and, in Ligue 1, is one of the teams with less completed passes in the opponent half: with 46.33 average attempted passes per game, it has the fifth-lowest data in the league. Most times the offensive players are the ones charged to carry the ball in the other half. For attempted dribbles (26.79 per 90 mins), Dijon is eighth in the league and most of the credit goes to Chouiar, the tenth most frequent dribbler in Ligue 1 (7.85 attempts per game) and the youngest player in this top 10.
Chouiar is able to dribble in open spaces but also in static situations and tight spaces. He has great ball control and it’s important for Dijon both as a go-to player when playing from the back and after winning the ball back, when he can run the ball down the pitch, regardless of him receiving the ball in a static situation or facing the opponent. On those occasions, he can either carry the ball towards the centre or run down the wing, and it’s very difficult for the opponents to understand his next move. Dijon’s playing style gives him lots of chances to run with the ball in open spaces but Chouiar is also capable of slowing down and use his dribbles to open the defence during better thought out attacks. So, he doesn’t only dribble thanks to his speed, but he can also think and he has a wide repertoire of fakes and tricks to beat his opponent.
It’s true that sometimes he has a tendency to persist with dribbles and that his choices after beating the opponent aren’t always effective, but these are aspects that he can improve by making experience. He also recognizes it himself: “The hardest thing, especially for offensive players, is to be consistent. We always look at stats and you need to be consistent. I tell myself that I must be decisive in every match.”
Recently, he really seemed capable of deciding every game played by Dijon. First, he scored a beautiful and yet futile goal in the league cup, a 6-1 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain. He intercepted a pass from Ander Herrera in the midfield and, after running through the PSG midfield with the ball, he shot gently from outside the box, directing the ball in the far post with his right foot. Three days later, he scored a brace in a league game against Bordeaux, getting the ball twice in the left channel behind the opponent full-back. The first time, he was able to run in the open space towards the goal, easily beating the goalkeeper by aiming to the far post with the right foot. The second time, he faced the full-back, confused him with a fake and avoiding the double-team by shooting on the far post, where the keeper wasn’t even able to move.
In the next match against Monaco, he injured his left ankle after three minutes, compromising the final part of the season. For what we have seen so far, Chouiar is one of the best rookies from this season of Ligue 1.
Hichem Boudaoui, Nice – Algeria, 1999
By Daniele Manusia
Hichem Boudaoui arrived in Nice just before turning twenty after a whole season spent as a regular starter at Paradou, a team that finished third in the last Algerian championship, and after winning the Africa Cup of Nations together with Mahrez, Feghouli, Bennacer, and Atal – his new teammate in Ligue 1.
He didn’t play much in that tournament, only playing as a starter in the third group game against Tanzania, some sort of reward that Belmadi gave him, as the team had already qualified.
Then, he played 10 minutes in the round of 16 against Guinea (coming on when the team was already winning 3-0). But sometimes, in such an important international competition, it only takes one play to steal the show. You can find that play in the second half against Tanzania when Boudaoui controlled a difficult ball in the midfield with a stunning move and then, with the opponents’ pressure on him, he protected the ball instead of getting rid of it, leaving the opponent behind him and then dribbling towards another one.
When presenting him to the press, the new manager Patrick Vieira described him as ‘box-to-box’, highlighting his main qualities: the energy with which he can cover long distances on the pitch and his great technique.
One of his former coaches defined him as an ‘omnipresent player’ and to better understand his technical ability just think that, at Paradou’s training centre, during the first years the kids play barefoot to increase the sensitivity of the feet and all the workouts are focused on sharpness and ability to keep the ball.
Boudaoui is not a funambulist with the ball, but rather an inside-forward or a very technical central midfielder. He’s great both at winning the ball back and carrying it, mainly thanks to his extraordinary ability to manage the opponents’ pressure.
Boudaoui played his best game against Lyon in early February (a 2-1 win), playing as a right-winger in a 4-4-2 formation. On the wing, Boudaoui can take advantage of his dynamism and technique when carrying the ball.
At the 20 minute mark, he caused the ejection of the right-back Marçal, then he assisted Dolberg with a nice pass. Playing in that position, he confirmed his ability to play one-touches most times, losing very few balls. Vieira said he was surprised by his tactical sharpness and in the following games he always played him as a winger, up to the game against Nimes, in which a tough (but not nasty) tackle earned him a red card and a four-game suspension.
It’s too soon to understand if Boudaoui will permanently adapt to play on the wing or if Vieira will play him constantly in the last month. In the future, it would be interesting to watch him again as a central midfielder, playing with other footballers capable of playing with first-touches and carrying the ball in open spaces. At just 20, and in his first year in Europe, he is showing interesting things that make us think of a brilliant future for him.
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