A look at Monaco Prodigy and Liverpool Target Thomas Lemar

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When Monaco travelled to Caen for a league match at the start of March, the trip held additional significance for one of their players. For Thomas Lemar, it was a chance to revisit the stadium where he first made a name for himself, a chance to play against his former club and show them that he remains a player on the rise. The 20-year-old had to wait a little while in order to truly steal the headlines, but as the 56th minute rolled by, with the scores locked at 0-0, he got the opportunity he was seeking.

Monaco earned a free-kick around 30 yards from goal, and although Portuguese star Joao Moutinho hovered over the dead ball, he allowed his younger teammate to take it. The reason for this decision would soon become obvious. Lemar, sporting a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of black gloves, took a couple of steps to steady himself before whipping his left foot through the ball.

Struck with a blend of curve, dip and power, Lemar’s shot cannoned in off the right-hand upright, leaving opposition goalkeeper Remy Vercoutre completely stunned. In isolation, the strike was incredibly impressive, but when placed within the context of Caen defender Dennis Appiah’s post-match comments, it becomes even more so. “Our goalkeeper Rémy is used to Thomas’ free kicks and he anticipates a bit,” he said. “Usually he [Lemar] curls it over the wall. He hardly ever shoots across the goal like that. It shows that he’s improving – he put it right in the top corner.”

The vision highlights this clearly. As Lemar steps up to hit his freekick, Vercoutre makes a slight movement towards his right, in order to cover the side protected by the wall. Lemar then lashes the ball the other way, beating the veteran shot-stopper partly as a consequence of this thoughtful placement. The kid had added another string to his bow, one that Vercoutre didn’t anticipate on the day.

In fairness to Vercoutre, though, he’s not the only goalkeeper Lemar has managed to deceive in France. The slight attacking midfielder has hit five goals in Ligue 1 this season, and two of those have been direct free-kicks. In addition to his effort against Caen, he struck a set-piece goal against Lorient in Monaco’s sixth league match of the league season. This time he was truer to form, clipping a close-range effort over the wall and into the back of the net. It left Benjamin Lecomte rooted to the spot, and earlier in that match, too, Lemar delivered a corner that allowed Almamy Toure to score.

That match highlighted the fact that Lemar is exceptional at both teeing up others and scoring himself from dead ball scenarios, and given that two of his three league assists came from corners, the statistics back this up too. Yet for all of his set-piece precision, the Guadeloupe-born attacking midfielder offers far more than that alone.

Two of the other attributes that allow Lemar to thrive relate to control. One is his incredibly sticky first touch, the other is his dribbling. When deployed together, these interconnected skills enable Lemar to go to work in tight spaces. This is perhaps one of the reasons why he looks most comfortable in the No. 10 role, as he can duck and weave his way clear of oncoming traffic, shielding the ball as he does so, before picking his moment to release possession.

Throw in his low centre of gravity – Lemar stands at a decidedly diminutive 170cm tall – and he is not the easiest man to dispossess. Of particular note, on the dribble, is an idiosyncratic flicking motion, one which allows him to take the ball away from defenders while somehow maintaining a great degree of control. From the foundation of his somewhat hunched-over stance, he almost swipes at the ball to shift it and, as in the example below, where he scores from the edge of the area against Toulouse, the unusual action has a propensity to wrong-foot those who approach him.

Then there’s the fact that Lemar is a pretty intuitive mover. Comfortable playing across the entire attacking midfield band, whether that be through the centre or on either side, the France U21 international has no problem with roaming from position. He demonstrated this in Monaco’s last league match of the season, a 2-0 win over Montpellier, by constantly trading places with left-winger Ivan Cavaleiro.

This proved to be necessary on a number of occasions, as when Cavaleiro vacated the flank in order to make driving diagonal runs towards the area, he left a huge amount of room out wide. That forced Lemar to cover for him along the left, and due to his enviable work rate, the youngster managed to pick up the slack for his Portuguese teammate.

Speaking of work rate, it’s probably one of the key reasons for Liverpool’s interest in Lemar. The vast majority of observers associate terms such as “gegenpressing” with Jurgen Klopp, not to mention his desire for “heavy metal” football. Well, in order to implement that kind of style, you need attacking players who can press from the front. You also need attacking players who have the stamina to do so for an extended period of time, and Lemar certainly fits the bill. He may not offer much in the way of physicality, but his sheer energy is often enough to disrupt the opposition and force them into rushed clearances.

All of these characteristics, in combination, mean that Lemar is hot property, but it’s important to note that he’s not yet the finished article. After all, this is only his second season of top-flight football, and it’s often been interrupted by injury. In the league, he made 20 starts as well as six appearances from the bench, meaning that he missed out on 12 separate games entirely. Perhaps due to this lack of continuity, he found himself starting on the bench for three consecutive games prior to Monaco’s final-day win over Montpellier.

In that sense, the Caen youth product probably needs a little more time to acclimatise to senior football. But given that he is only 20 years of age and has a limited amount of experience at a truly professional level, dips and troughs are to be expected at this stage of his career. The important thing is that he has the talent to kick on and, after seeing the way in which Anthony Martial has performed after moving on from Monaco, he won’t be lacking the motivation to do so.

Both Monaco and Lemar must decide whether now is the right time for him to seek a transfer, but for the man whose former Caen teammate Alaeddine Yahia compared his left foot to a hand, such is its accuracy, his career appears to be headed one way: up.