Canadians Abroad: Making sense of Jonathan David's slow start at Lille

Lille's Jonathan David, centre, celebrates with his teammates. (Michel Spingler/AP)

There is inherit pressure that comes with any signing. It's even higher when the player in question is a record-breaking transfer.

That's the case for Jonathan David. Not only is he the most expensive Canadian ever, he garnered the highest fee ever paid by Lille when he arrived from Gent in August.

He was also filling a void left by Victor Osimhen, who joined Napoli for a fee north of $100 million, fresh off an 18-goal season in all competitions with Lille.

While Osimhen scored five goals in his first five appearances for Lille last season, David has struggled to hit the ground running. Despite starting the first six matches of the new Ligue 1 campaign, the Canadian has not been involved in a single goal.

Joining the squad late in pre-season didn't help, and it was apparent in David's first three games.

As explained when the signing was announced, Lille deployed an almost position-less system on the ball where players roamed across the pitch to drag defenders out of position. They played quickly through the lines with the two strikers latching onto passes and combining with each other.

This is why David was an ideal signing. He had a free-roaming role with Gent as part of a front two, usually next to a bigger forward. His current partner, Burak Yilmaz, is a target man, so it should've been a seamless transition.

But David wasn't initially afforded that freedom to roam in France. He was usually isolated up front.

Jonathan David's heat maps from last season with Gent (left) and this season with Lille. (via Wyscout)

In six games, David has registered 3.62 touches in the box per 90 minutes compared to 10.04 last season. He's also receiving approximately eight fewer passes per 90 minutes from 2019-20.

To the credit of coach Christophe Galtier, he's tinkered his tactics for the last couple of games to help David. Now the young forward drops deep more often to combine with teammates, which unlocks space for Lille.

In the clip below from Sept. 13, David dropping deep draws a FC Metz defender with him, which enables Jonathan Bamba to receive the give-and-go into that lane.

Then against Marseille on Sept. 20 we see David receiving a ball in space, which seldom occurred in previous games, as Lille swarms forward with Marseille's defence rushing to get back into position. If the pass had less weight on it, David would've had a clear shot on goal.

As seen in those two GIFs, when Lille's attackers are in-sync it leads to quality chances.

Once again versus FC Metz, David makes a run towards the box and receives a swift, early pass from Jonathan Ikone. The finish is lacking, but those clear shots have been rare for the Canadian.

The draw with Marseille saw more production on that front. Had the pass below been hit earlier and slightly ahead of David, he could've hit a first-time shot. Because the pass was underneath him, there wasn't enough power on the attempt and David was marked tightly.

Luckily for David and Lille, the attack is gelling by the game. In fact, the 20-year-old was heavily involved in the team's second goal in a 3-0 win over Strasbourg on Sunday. He also thought he had his first goal for the club in the win over Nantes on Sept. 25.

There's no doubt that David has to acclimatize to a higher-quality league, though. Ligue 1 defenders' anticipation, reading of the game and physicality are much stronger than he's used to.

Then again, if Sunday's game against Strasbourg is anything to go by, David is adjusting.

For starters, he's evading challenges faster.

He's also started to create his own shots on the dribble over the last couple of weeks.

All in all, David should have at least a goal and a couple of assists if not for poor finishing by him and teammates. If he remains heavily involved in this setup, it'll lead to more production.


• Canada coach John Herdman recently told OneSoccer that some dual nationals could represent Canada soon. Among those who are likely are Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Theo Corbeanu, attacking midfielder Dominik Yankov and Uruguayan-Canadian defender Martin Amuz.

• Corbeanu was promoted from Wolves' U-18 squad to the development side this season and has trained with the first team. The 18-year-old scored in the team's Premier League 2 season opener and was arguably Wolves' top performer in their loss to Oldham in the EFL Trophy on Sept. 22.

Positionally, Corbeanu suits the right wing where he can exploit open space on the dribble and play short combinations with teammates in a system that isn't reliant on possession. Regular minutes this year can help Corbeanu polish off his touch on the ball and overall composure.

• After impressing on loan for relegation-threatened Botev Vratsa in Bulgaria's top flight last season, Yankov returned to league powerhouse Ludogorets for 2020-21. The 20-year-old has been unstoppable in his last five starts, posting one goal and five assists. In that time, Yankov's developed a stronger first touch and close control. That's further enabled the youngster to manipulate space on the dribble and create chances under pressure.

With Ludogorets qualifying for the Europa League, there could be bigger clubs who'll identify the playmaker as a transfer target, especially if Yankov becomes a scoring threat and doesn't force as many passes.

Dominik Yankov's statistical radar with Ludogorets in all competitions this season. [/caption]

Amuz has all the qualities Canada needs in a centre-back. He's blessed with pace, he's comfortable in possession, breaks lines with his passing and is strong in the air. That provides tactical flexibility that the national team lacks in the position. He hasn't logged a single appearance for Danubio in the Uruguayan Primera Division since November 2019, although he recently started for the youth team in the third division.

At 23 years old, Amuz has to be playing regularly, otherwise his development will be stunted. Still, it's worth calling him up to assess his tactical fit and how he gels with the group.

• Speaking of centre-backs, Manjrekar James has started three consecutive league matches for Midtjylland. Playing in a system that utilizes ball-playing centre-halves who build from the back and operate in a high line, it was evident that James' comfort on the ball grew with each game. He was also making crucial interventions whenever the play was in front of him. Unfortunately, he had issues defending against players on the dribble.

With Midtjylland qualifying for the Champions League, James could earn more starts due to squad rotation, which should help him improve in that area.

• When he made his debut with Suwon Bluewings, it was evident that Doneil Henry thrived in the centre of a back three based on his strengths and weaknesses. The same was true in Suwon's K League season opener in May and it still stands today.

Henry still struggles in defensive transition and when he roams higher up the pitch, which has led to some preventable errors. However, he's more comfortable on the ball, even when pressed by an opponent. Henry attempts line-breaking passes on the regular, which will be vital when facing teams that sit deep against Canada.

Doneil Henry's statistical radar for Suwon Bluewings in all competitions this season.[/caption]

• A number of Canadian women are thriving abroad. Perfect timing with the Olympics less than a year away. Jordyn Huitema and Ashley Lawrence (Paris Saint-Germain) recently lost out to Kadeisha Buchanan's Lyon in the Champions League semifinals, with the latter lifting the title. Adriana Leon (West Ham) and Janine Beckie (Manchester City) are plying their trade with some of England's best clubs, too. They are joined by Jessie Fleming, who joined champions Chelsea in July after a stellar collegiate career at UCLA.

• Scott Arfield has been on a tear lately. He scored in Rangers' Europa League playoff victory over Galatasaray on Thursday, making it two goals and two assists in six starts. That win over the Turkish giants highlighted his intelligent off-the-ball movement, and showcased why he thrives when he executes those runs from deeper positions.

• Keep an eye on Harry Paton of Ross County in the Scottish Premiership this season. The 22-year-old has logged more than 600 minutes, which is already half of his total from the 2019-20 campaign. Paton is an energetic attacking midfielder with quick feet, solid vision and he covers a lot of ground. If he stops rushing his decision-making on the ball and works on his first touch, that'll lead to fewer turnovers and he'll become even more dangerous.

• Elsewhere in the Scottish Premiership, Charlie Trafford has made six appearances in Hamilton's midfield, albeit five as a substitute. Veteran David Wotherspoon is still a reliable starter with St. Johnstone and has been above average to begin the season.

• In Italy, there are a pair of young goalkeepers to watch. Axel Desjardins, 20, just joined Novara in Serie C on loan from Spezia and should compete for a starting spot. Sebastian Breza, 22, was signed permanently by Bologna in the summer and will stay with the first team for now.

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