After weeks of speculation, Jonathan David is officially moving to France.
The 20-year-old joined Lille Tuesday on a five-year contract from Gent in a record sale for a Belgian club that makes David the most expensive Canadian player in history.
While this move may not be as exciting as Alphonso Davies’ transfer to Bayern Munich to the casual fan, this could be the perfect destination for David, where he could blossom into one of Europe’s most in-demand forwards within the next couple of years.
Here is a deep-dive on how David could fit in at Lille.
Behind the Numbers
Before delving further, let’s take a look at David’s statistics (per 90 minutes) from the 2019-20 season with Gent.
As seen in the radar above, David showed exemplary finishing based on his expected goals (xG) and xG per shot. Coupled with his playmaking abilities (passing, successful box cross, open-play xG assisted), he was an all-around performer.
Despite playing as a second striker or as a No. 10, David still posted 23 goals and nine assists in 40 appearances, even with the 2019-20 Belgian season cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond the goals and assists, the 20-year-old proved that he is a complete forward who can provide a team with several different attributes in multiple positions.
Analyzing Lille’s style of play
Based on Lille’s offensive statistics from the StatsBomb data, the team’s attack is effective on the counter and produces a substantial number of clear shots (attempts from open play shots where the attacker faces only the goalkeeper).
However, Lille’s style has become more intricate since the 2018-19 campaign.
“The word was out on Lille’s counterattack last season and forced [manager Christophe] Galtier to adjust his style to a more possession-based offence,” said Ligue 1 analyst and writer K.T. Stockwell. “In 2019-20, the task really became breaking down staunch defences. It was crucial that Galtier had a versatile and technical front four that could engage in a lot of positional interchange. [Jonathan] Ikoné and [Renato] Sanches traditionally acted as the offensive pivots in midfield. This is still a side that can transition quickly but the chances are fewer and farther between in a very defensive Ligue 1.”
Lille often lined up in a 4-4-2 with Ikone and Victor Osimhen up front.
In possession, Lille operated in a 3-2-5 formation. One of the full-backs stayed next to the centre-backs while the other pushed forward. The winger on the same side as the attacking full-back drifted inside closer to Ikone, with the opposite winger providing width. That created the five-man attack.
Galtier liked utilizing long balls and through balls to the strikers. Whether it was the full-backs or midfielders in possession, getting the ball to Osimhen and Ikone created immediate danger. Their prowess in the air was a huge advantage as well.
Osimhen also moved out wide a lot, which usually dragged defenders out of position, thus creating space around the box for Ikone or another teammate.
All of these off-the-ball movements were a staple of Lille’s attack last season, but it’s clear that utilizing two strikers was also key to the team’s success.
Assessing David’s fit at Lille
This is where David comes in. He’s already used to playing with a strike partner, so whether it’s Ikone or a potential new signing, David will be comfortable in a 4-4-2.
At the moment, David is replacing Osimhen, who joined Napoli on July 31. The Canadian is comfortable playing as a No. 9, but considering his proficiency as a second striker, it’s just as probable that Lille will sign a like-for-like replacement for Osimhen and use David in a deeper position.
That being said, David would be a decent option as a No. 9 in front of Ikone, provided he stays at the club.
Like Osimhen, David is comfortable roaming to the flanks.
David is also blessed with creativity and vision. Those are two attributes that Osimhen lacks. The Nigerian is a direct striker who can execute those incisive runs and finish chances. Although as witnessed in several games for Gent, David’s off-the-ball movement and composure in the box are excellent, too.
Pinpoint accuracy, clinical finish. pic.twitter.com/FXGGySlzHI
— DAZN Canada (@DAZN_CA) February 27, 2020
The major difference between Osimhen and David is aerially. The latter won 22 per cent of his aerial duels with Gent last season, albeit from a very small sample. His predecessor triumphed in 40 per cent of his battles.
That’s why Galtier may have to alter how Lille attacks. Without a striker who’s dominant in the air, perhaps he’ll attempt to keep the ball on the ground to benefit David’s all-around game.
There may not be a lot of necessary tactical tweaking to accommodate the Canadian youngster. Most importantly for David, he might not require as much time to adapt to Galtier’s system, which is imperative to him hitting the ground running.
“David really does feel like the ideal player for this system and I suspect that’s why [sporting director] Luis Campos made the Canadian his primary transfer target,” Stockwell continued. “He is such an intelligent forward, and as a by-product, can more-or-less play anywhere across the front four. On paper the fit looks nearly perfect. This will undoubtedly be the most gifted XI he’s played in.
“I believe he’s capable of special things in that setup.”
Can Lille be the “bridge” for David’s development?
Given that he was one of the most prolific young forwards in Europe, it’s understandable why so many clubs would be monitoring David. However, moving to the Premier League or La Liga – especially to teams of that grandeur – would’ve been premature.
That’s why Ligue 1 is a perfect next step for David’s career. He knows the language, he’ll be familiar with the system at Lille and it’s a league that’s been a breeding ground for young players.
Lille has been a shining example in this regard. Osimhen, Nicolas Pepe, Rafael Leao and Thiago Mendes were signed by Lille at a young age and were sold for a significant profit.
Thanks to Campos, Lille has generated hundreds of millions in player sales. Considering the state of LOSC’s finances – they posted an operating loss of €142 million ($223 million) from the 2017-18 season – generating that cash flow has done wonders for the club. It’s also enabled Lille to sign players like Osimhen and David to replace key players.
“The financial issues that precipitated the quick turnaround of Pepe and Osimhen could be rectified as early as next season, meaning they’ll feel less financial pressure to part with David,” said Stockwell. “With that in mind, if they make the Champions League, which is a distinct possibility, I could see him remaining at the club for two years rather than one. That said, if he is successful at Lille he’ll almost certainly move for big money in short order.”
With David in the fold, Lille will like its chances of reaching the Champions League. Plus, there will be even more eyeballs on his games to see if he can adjust to a top-five European league.
If David picks up where he left off in Belgium with Lille, then the Canadian could be Lille’s next big sale.