I remember the final days of the summer transfer market in 2020. PSV managed to sign Mario Götze and Ibrahim Sangare. While we don’t have to share Götze’s story, the majority of the Dutch Eredivisie fans, and in particular PSV fans, had absolutely no idea who they signed.
Now, I don’t pride myself in a lot — but seeing Sangare moving from a relegated Toulouse side to a title contender in the Netherlands, I was so excited. And with me, a lot of data nerds and football manager aficionados. The defensive midfielder was rumored to be great and even make the step to a bigger league, but he has done remarkably well in the Eredivisie.
In this scout report I will go into detail about his 2021/2022 Eredivisie season, concentrating on the following aspects:
- Seasonal stats
- Defensive qualities
- Ball progression
- Key passing
- Comparison with Eredivisie peers
- Final thoughts
- Name: Ibrahim Sangaré
- Date of birth: 02–12–1997
- Nationality: Ivory Coast
- Position: Defensive midfielder, central midfielder
- Contract expires: 30–6–2025
- Current club: PSV Eindhoven
- Previous clubs: AS Denguele, Toulouse
- Current international: Ivory Coast
Sangaré is a defensive midfielder who works incredibly hard and can be seen a machine in the defensive aspect of the game. He often plays in the defensive midfield paired with another central midfielder, as the double pivot.
He’s an impressive midfielder to come across with a physique to match that image. He’s a player that will demand presence and will easily gravitate toward the ball. But he’s more than just a strong physical presence, he does very well in progressing the ball from the defensive third into the middle third by carrying it.
His passing profile allows him to bring the ball into the final third to construct attacks in the final phase of attacking play. He is the best when he passes simple and straightforward, but does get himself into difficult situations when he tries complex passing.
While he is strong on the ball and progresses the play via passes, he does have difficulties in positioning himself well, when build-up starts from the back. He often seems lost or too conservative on the pitch, which leads to ineffective build-up. When the ball is higher up the pitch he links up well with passing triangles on either flank, as well as seeing runners from deep and reaching them with long balls.
In the images above you can see the absolute data of the midfielder profile of Ibrahim Sangaré. His data for a midfielder is compared to other defensive midfielders in the league or midfielders that have played in the defensive midfield during the 2021/2022 Eredivisie season.
As you can see Sangaré is an above-average defensive midfielder according to his data and only does under average in the metrics of PAdj sliding tackles per 90, xA per 90, and passes to the penalty area per 90.
But how does he fully compare to his peers in terms of data? You can see that in the graph below.
When we look at his season stats, we can see a few interesting things with Sangaré. In the graph above you can see a percentile radar of Sangaré based on a defensive midfielder template. It shows us how well Sangaré is doing in a certain data metric compared to his Eredivisie peers in the 2021/2022 season.
We will go into details for the specific stats later for the absolute data, but in this part, we will look at how well he is doing in certain metrics and what that tells us about his playing style.
He is an exceptional physical presence in the defensive midfield, what we can see in the data for defensive dues and aerial duels — scoring way above the 90th percentile in both metrics. While we look at the possession-adjusted metrics we can see that he scores very low on the tackles but very high on the interceptions. Now, this means that Sangaré can be characterised more as a proactive defensive midfielder than a reactive defensive midfielder.
In terms of passing, we see that he scores quite average on the expected assists metric and on the passes into the penalty area — but he he does very well in the passes to the final third metric, which tells us he wants to get the ball there. This is also backed up by the fact that his progression stats are very good, as he scores above the 80th percentile for this metric.
Looking for a player and we often want to see what position he or she plays. This is no different for Ibrahim Sangaré and in our minds, his physical profile along with his progression to the final third, he is a defensive midfielder.
But how has Roger Schmidt used him at PSV? What’s important for that, is to understand the formation the coach used at PSV and the idea of the role of Sangaré in that formation.
A commonly used formation in the Netherlands and across Europe is the 4–2–3–1 formation. In this formation, Sangaré would play in the double-pivot, usually on the left, with a more attacking player on the right (Veerman, Gutierrez, or Van Ginkel).
The same position was assumed for the 4–2–2–2 PSV employed. While the position is the same, the role for the progression of the ball changes. More responsibility is given to the double pivot for attacking actions as they need to participate more in the attacking play.
In the 4–3–3 occasionally used by PSV, the position and the role of Sangaré was different than the two examples above. In this role, Sangaré played a central midfielder on the left side and was more tasked with passing the ball into dangerous areas, rather than the defensive actions. It’s worth mentioning that he also played as a sole defensive midfielder, but his passing ability saw him used more progressive on the pitch.
Sangaré is famous for his defensive actions as we have seen in the radars. The high percentage of successful duels both on the ground as in the air, make him one of the best — if not the best of the Eredivisie in his respective position.
So where does he conduct these defensive actions?
You can see that he recovers most of the balls on the left side between the middle third and the defensive third. The same area is roughly the area where he does intercept the ball, indicating his proactive thinking leads to recoveries of the ball. His tackling does happen all over the pitch and is mainly targeting at the last attempt to get the ball. The high volume of tackles in the opposition’s half indicates that these are attempts to break counter-attacks.
So how high does he score when looking at the defensive midfielders in the league? You can see that in the scatterplot below.
In the scatterplot above you can see how well he performs in terms of the PAdj metrics of sliding tackles and interceptions.
He doesn’t commit a lot to sliding tackles per 90 minutes, as you can see he scores below average with his 0,2 sliding tackles per 90 minutes. In terms of interceptions, he does score very high and above average. His 9,14 sliding tackles per 90 minutes are only bested by Edson Alvarez (Ajax).
In the video above you see a compilation of his defensive actions with PSV in several games. They light his ball recovering ability, his strength in defensive duels and in the defensive awareness of Sangare.
The modern defensive midfielder isn’t only concerned with defending and producing defensive actions — but he/she also needs to be comfortable on the ball and progress play from it.
In the scatterplot above you can see the progressive metrics of progressive passes per 90 and progressive runs per 90. Sangare does really well here as he scores above average in both metrics. He is a complete player and finds himself surrounded by a player like Kökcü, who is another great prospect in the Eredivisie.
Ball progression can have via different aspects of the game, but I wanted to look at his abilities on the long ball. He can use it to connect with the attacking third or to get out the press of the opposition.
In doing so, Sangare not only proves his defensive worth — but also manages to show the worth he has in terms of the progression of the attack and connecting the defensive lines to the attacking third.
Every player makes passes in a game, but which passes actively contribute to the progression and construction of an attack? You can see some of these metrics in the beeswarmplot below.
As you can see in the graph above, Sangaré scores quite average in the most metrics, but there are outliers. He doesn’t do as well in the xA and assists metrics but does very well in the passes to the final third metrics.
What’s interesting is how he makes through passes. He scores in the high average, but the intent of his through passes does tell a lot about how he can help in an attack.
When Sangaré comes higher up the pitch, he can be the player with the through pass that is a pre-assist/second assist. He opens up the play with his through passes. Yes, he does need the passing to be simple, but he is capable of complex passes and helping the attack.
Sangaré does come in the position to shoot, but how does he do in the quality of shooting?
In the scatterplot below you can see the shots per 90 and the expected goals with those shots. This shows us the volume and the quality of the shots — it shows the likelihood of a shot being converted into a goal.
Sangaré does score above average on the volume of shots as well as in the quality of the shots. He has 1,31 shots per 90 and an xG of 0,15 per 90.
In the shot map above you can see from where Sangaré has conducted his shots in the 2021/2022 Eredivisie season. He had 38 shots of which 3 went in goal. 34,2% of his shots were on target and he generated a total xG of 4,22 — the latter meaning that he is slightly underperforming with -1,22.
Apart from shooting in the box, he loves to shoot from zone 14 — as that is the zone where comes frequently and tries to shoot from distance. He has scored twice from there and in the video below we will show some of his shots. I’ve also included games with Ivory Coast to give a more complete idea.
Comparison with peers
Now we have looked at the individual qualities of Sangaré, I would like to compare him to three defensive midfielders from rivals.
Compared to Alvarez from Ajax, you can see that in the defensive side of the game, Sangaré is superior. Only the PAdj sliding tackles and interceptions metrics is where Alvarez is better — but it’s impressive what the data says about this comparison.
The comparison with Kökcü is a bit off, as the Feyenoord midfielder plays higher up the pitch and his role is more attacking — but again, in the duels and PAdj metrics — Sangaré is better and provides a better defensive backing than his peer from Rotterdam.