Who is Tanguy Ndombele? The Lyon midfield sensation compared to Chelsea star N’Golo Kante

The role of a defensive midfielder player can be a thankless one. To be successful in the position, a delicate balance between energy, strategy, technique and discipline must be struck. And yet, all but the best at juggling these varying attributes pass under the radar.

N’Golo Kante represents a perfect example. Marseille turned down the chance to move for the then Caen player in the summer of 2015, believing him to be too expensive, yet first at Leicester and now at Chelsea he has developed into one of the finest players in the game, one of the most important members of a France squad that won the World Cup in the summer, no less.

The Blues have become acutely aware of the worth of one of football’s shiest and most understated stars. Paris Saint-Germain were rebuffed in the summer as they tried to move for the apparently tireless 27-year-old.

The Stamford Bridge side were, however, spooked enough by the approach of the Qatari-owned Parisiens to go looking for a replacement.

High up on their list was Lyon’s Tanguy Ndombele, a player largely unheralded outside of his native France, yet one with the heavy burden to bear of being tagged as the heir to the role that Kante now occupies.

Following a blockbuster performance against Manchester City as the Ligue 1 side stunned the English champions 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium a fortnight ago, he only succeeded in raising expectations for what he might achieve.

Aged 21, he has been at Parc OL for little over a year, having emerged first with Amiens, where he helped the minnows win promotion to the top flight. He spent last term at OL on loan but made the move to the Rhone Valley permanent in the summer as Bruno Genesio’s side hastily took advantage of a clause in the agreement that allowed them to sign him for a mere €8 million.

Barely a year on, they were reportedly knocking back offers of €50m from Manchester City. Memphis Depay, Mariano Diaz and Nabil Fekir might have grabbed the spotlight at the forefront of the attack, but those in the know had spotted and appreciated the industrious midfielder who had helped construct the platform from which the stars could shine.

Tanguy Ndombele GFX

“He’s thoughtful and intelligent,” Genesio said last season. “With the ball, to make the best use of it, he takes in information before anyone else to make the right choice. 

“Without the ball, he brings balance to the team. When Nabil Fekir is out of position, he’s there, providing balance, alongside our defensive midfielder Lucas Tousart.

“He’s interesting because he’s one of those players capable of solving tactical problems with his game intelligence.”

Philippe Lemaire, a former scout at Guingamp, who allowed the player to slip through their grasp, put it rather more succinctly. 

“He stinks of football,” he told Le Progres. “He is strong and precise. He feels the game. He is capable of creating lightning, to give rhythm to the game, to counterattack but also to press and regain possession.”

The understanding of the game had seen him used previously as a right-back or a right winger at Amiens, while “the position of his heart”, according to former youth team-mate Yoane Wissa, was as a No.10.

It is, however, as a box-to-box player where he has settled at Lyon, and as such, comparing Ndombele to Kante is not truly fair. 

Not only is he significantly taller and more obviously athletic, but he is also prepared to carry the ball forward from his own half or take the duty of making an attacking pass, as opposed to simply offloading the responsibility elsewhere. 

Indeed, it is to a former Chelsea favourite that Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas chose to compare him: “He reminds me of Michael Essien.”

Ndombele brings a bit of everything to his team. Or almost everything. 

“He’s progressed with regards to the volume of his play, taking the initiative and with his use of the ball,” the coach said prior to Tuesday’s clash with Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.

“He must, however, take a final step with his finishing, it’s the only element of the game that he’s lacking to become a very great player. He lacks a little focus in that final touch, but he has the technique to find it. He has to score six or eight goals a season.”

Tanguy Ndombele Lyon 2018-19

Currently, Ndombele sits on one Lyon goal, having played 56 matches for the club.

“I think a little too much in the moment before shooting,” the player, who has compensated with four assists in eight league matches this season, admitted to Courrier Picard. “I’m working on it and I’m going to improve myself.”

That issue, however, may not be enough to put off Didier Deschamps giving him a first international call on Thursday for France’s forthcoming games against Iceland in a friendly and Germany in a Nations League clash. 

He possesses similar versatility to Corentin Tolisso, whose serious knee injury has opened the door for his former club-mate to graduate to the senior international stage for the first time.

There, he will come into contact with Kante as a team-mate, and while their profiles on the field may not be truly similar, in terms of personality away from it, he certainly shares something in common with the notoriously publicity-shy Chelsea man.

“I like to speak on the pitch, I’m not very comfortable with microphones and cameras,” Ndombele admitted. “I know it’s part of the job, but I don’t really like to talk about myself.”

Kante has already shown him the route to success does not need a big media presence, which will suit Ndombele quite nicely in his understated yet vital role.

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‘Irresistible’ Renato Sanches finally shining again at Bayern after two years of football hell

Just a few short months ago Renato Sanches was widely considered to be damaged goods. The former teenage hotshot and hero of Portugal’s Euro 2016 win had seen his reputation sharply devalued, with the added black mark of a pitiful relegation campaign with Swansea against his name.

New Bayern Munich coach Niko Kovac had faith in the youngster, however. That faith is being repaid with glee by Sanches, who is taking a starring role in a Bayern team dreaming of regaining the Champions League title.

It was in the European competition that Sanches, still only 21, first laid down a marker under Kovac. He was a surprise inclusion from the start in the club’s first Group E Game against Benfica, but he ensured he made the most of that opportunity.

The Lisbon giants were put to the sword in a 2-0 win, with the former Benfica wonderkid himself grabbing the headlines after scoring a fantastic strike against his compatriots and earning the grudging applause of the Estadio da Luz. Sanches started the move with a powerful charge from deep and he just kept going, eventually finding himself on the end of James Rodriguez’s cross to finish with aplomb.

The goal was a vindication of the trust shown in him by Kovac, who made the decision upon assuming control to give each Bayern player a clean slate at the start of his tenure.

Just as Robert Lewandowski and Jerome Boateng were forgiven for making explicit their desire to leave the Allianz Arena over the summer, so too was Sanches handed a reprieve for his previous failings on the pitch. The dark memories of the last 24 months, floundering with Die Roten and steering Swansea down to the Championship with a string of mediocre showings, were suddenly banished.

It was as if the fresh-faced playmaker had been transported back through time to his first day at Bayern, nervously smiling with his European Championship medal safely stowed away and with everything to prove. And it is not just Kovac whom he has impressed; some of Bayern’s notoriously hard to please legends are coming round to his talents.

“The Bavarians now have the Sanches that they wanted,” enthused Lothar Matthaus to Bild. It represents a shift in opinion from the club idol and World Cup winner, who at the end of Sanches’ debut season wrote the player off as a flop who “didn’t deserve to play more.”

“He will get games this season, which will help to keep building his self-confidence. Of course, he will have to keep in shape to play that way. It was the same for me.

“The way Sanches began and then scored the goal, it was similar to how I played. The commitment, dynamism, speed, participation, steadiness, he could have fallen twice en route to goal. But he wanted to get the goal he needed – he prevailed and received his reward.

“In that sense, he really reminded me of myself. I am overjoyed for him.”

Renato GFX

Kovac in turn has drawn similar parallels after seeing his gamble pay off. “It’s true that people fly off him left and right – just like they used to do with Lothar Matthaus,” the coach gushed after Renato’s Benfica stunner.

“I’m delighted for Renato – I said yesterday that he was excellent in pre-season and it wouldn’t be long before he plays.”

None of which, of course, guarantees Sanches will be starting every game for the Bavarians. Competition is fierce in the Bayern midfield, even with Corentin Tolisso’s unfortunate long-term injury, with the likes of James, Javi Martinez, Thiago and young Germany pair Leon Goretzka and Serge Gnabry all fighting for precious few places in and around the engine room.

The player – and Bayern as a whole – also received a reminder at the weekend that nothing should be taken for granted in football. Hertha Berlin inflicted a painful 2-0 defeat on the Bundesliga champions, who currently trail leaders Dortmund by one point in what is shaping up to be the most competitive league season since Bayern embarked on their run of six consecutive titles back in 2012.

But after struggling so desperately to reproduce his scintillating early form for Benfica and Portugal after a huge move to the Allianz Arena, there is no doubt that Renato is on an upward path. A repeat of his Champions League heroics on Tuesday against Ajax would only cement that new-found confidence, and further remind the world that the teenage midfield dynamo that lit up Euro 2016 is back to his best.

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‘I’m not bad with my feet’ – Courtois responds to footwork criticism

Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois defended his footwork amid criticism early in the season.

Courtois, 26, produced his best performance for Madrid in a 0-0 derby draw with Atletico in LaLiga on Saturday.

But the former Chelsea shot-stopper has been questioned early in the campaign, with his footwork criticised.

However, Courtois dismissed those critics, telling Belgofut: “I’m not bad with my feet.

“I may not be among the best, but I’m certainly not bad either. Sometimes I miss a long ball but I dare to play with my feet.

“The last ball on which [Nikola] Kalinic put pressure was given to [Raphael] Varane with my right. Many goalkeepers would have cleared that ball.

“Sometimes I give a bad ball, yes, but I know more goalkeepers who are, so to speak, phenomenal with their feet making more mistakes than me.

“I’m just doing what I have to do, and that’s the most important thing.”

Courtois made three saves in the draw with Atletico, while Jan Oblak finished with six as the goalkeepers starred.

Former Atletico goalkeeper Courtois, whose team face CSKA Moscow in the Champions League on Tuesday, enjoyed the reception from Madrid fans, saying: “You stop that ball and hear the whole stadium cheer.

“And then they chanted my name. I liked it. I have to try to take my place little by little.

“I have to show myself, especially if you have two good goalkeepers, as is our case. Helping the team is always the most important thing.”

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Ronaldo will find Serie A difficult compared to La Liga – Cafu

Cristiano Ronaldo will ‘suffer a little’ in his first Serie A campaign after making the big-money transfer to Juventus from Real Madrid, according to legendary Brazilian defender Cafu.

The Portuguese superstar failed to find the net in the Bianconeri’s opening three league matches before securing a double against Sassuolo on September 16 to get off the mark.

Ronaldo has caught fire since his debut Juve goal, scoring three goals and setting up four in his last three league games – including a hat-trick of assists in the 3-1 win over Napoli on Saturday.

Cafu, who played 11 years in the Serie A with giants Roma and AC Milan, believes Ronaldo will find Italy difficult because of the league’s strength compared to Spain’s La Liga.

“He will suffer a little in the Serie A because Serie A is a lot more difficult than La Liga in terms of the contrast in teams and in terms of the physical contact,” Cafu told ESPN .

“But Ronaldo is always Cristiano Ronaldo. [He is the] best player in the world and will give a little more star power to Serie A.”

The 33-year-old striker will be suspended from Juventus’ Champions League match against Young Boys on Tuesday after receiving a one-game ban for pulling on the hair of Valencia defender Jeison Murillo.

Ronaldo will however be available for an emotional return to former club Manchester United when Juventus travel to Old Trafford in Europe’s premier club competition on October 24.

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Alisson expecting tough test against Napoli

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson believes a “big challenge” awaits his team against Napoli in the Champions League.

Jurgen Klopp’s men make the trip to the Stadio San Paolo on Wednesday, looking to make it two wins from as many games in Group C.

Alisson’s last visit to Napoli was a successful one, the goalkeeper helping Roma to a 4-2 win in Serie A in March.

The Brazil international remembers that encounter and said Liverpool would face a huge test against Carlo Ancelotti’s side.

“They had 24 attempts on goal, 13 on target. I made 11 saves and conceded two goals,” Alisson told the club’s website.

“It’s always tough playing away against a great club. In Napoli, we’ll definitely find really passionate fans, and a team that comes onto the pitch with a huge desire to win.

“The last and only time I played there, we happily got a win, but it was one of the games I had to work hardest in during the season.

“It was one of the toughest games of the season for us in Serie A, so it’s definitely going to be a tough game. They’ve had the same basis of the team for three to four years.

“I hope we have a great game and achieve the victory, but it’ll definitely be a big challenge for us.”

Liverpool opened their Champions League campaign with a thrilling 3-2 win over Paris Saint-Germain last month.

Alisson said that victory had boosted his team, but warned they needed to deliver again.

“We’re confident in our potential,” he said. “To beat a great team like PSG fills you with confidence, but it’ll be a different game so we have to look at it differently as well, bringing our desire onto the pitch, doing everything that we’ve been doing up until now at the start of the season.

“On the pitch, we play as a team. Playing as a team not as individuals, that’s our main quality.

“Our strength isn’t in one player – it’s in all the players running together and being dedicated together on the pitch to always represent and lift up the name of Liverpool.”

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