Baghdad Bounedjah is a prolific striker, constantly exceeding his expectations playing in the Middle East with the high profile Qatari club, Al Sadd SC. He holds a commendable record in the AFC Champions League and with the national team of Algeria. Yet, Bounedjah is not a name that critics in Europe talk about. Despite having interests by clubs like Leeds United, Lille and Marseille, Bounedjah continued to play for Xavi Hernandez project at Al Sadd awaiting the opportunity to play for an even bigger club.
He scored the goal that won the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations for Algeria, but his journey into professional football hasn’t taken the traditional route. At the age of 20, when most players are looking to play top-flight football at home or in Europe, Baghdad Bounedjah was at an amateur side in the sixth-tier of Algerian football. Today, not only are his stats skyrocketing, but his intelligence to play in his position are worthy of a closer analysis. In this scout report, I shall analyse Baghdad Boundejah’s profile as a centre forward and his tactics and movements to create space for himself. This tactical analysis of the 28-year-old Desert Fox striker attempts to justify why he is overdue for a stint in European Football.
Bounedjah is a right-footed centre forward mostly used as a lone striker up top. He is deployed as a target man where he uses his 180cm frame to fend of defenders and hold the ball up. If we look at his heatmap, we can see that he spends most of the game lurking around the defensive line or poaching for goals inside the box.
He does like to drift wide on occasions to receive the ball or if he finds more space for himself in the wide areas. Centrally he does a brilliant job of hold up play and making good decisions even under situations of numerical inferiority. This makes his team-mates trust him well with playing the first ball to their targetman. He has an xGchain of 0.18 in counterattacks which is way ahead of the QNB Stars League average.
In this scenario, we see how the ball is played to Bounedjah, the highest player and he holds off the ball against the defender successfully. In this instance, in fact, he nutmegs the defender and draws a foul for his team.
If we look at the hard statistics, we see that he outperforms other players in his league in two departments fundamental for a striker — goals and assists. He averages 4.87 shots per 90 with an xG90 of 0.89.
Not only is Bounedjah a typical goal poacher, he can also engage in playmaking in front of the box to create opportunities for teammates that run into the penalty area. His assist stats are unusually good for what you’d expect from a selfish box predator. He averages 1.31 shot assists per 90 and 1.78 through passes per 90 with a xA90 of 0.23.
Bounedjah is also a pretty technical player for a centre forward, averaging 5.7 dribbles per 90, with 2.32 of them being successful dribbles. This shows that he has the confidence to take on defenders instead of playing the easy layoff back to his midfielders if he feels like it will create a bigger threat at the opponents’ goal. If we look at a map of his dribbles in the final third, we see that a lot of them closer to the goal were followed by a shot, converting five of those chances.
The quality of the QNB Stars League cannot be compared to the leagues in Europe, and that needs to be taken into consideration while looking at these percentiles, so I created a radar that takes into separate account his performances with the national side.
We can see that he is pretty consistent while playing as a centre forward. He stands out in terms of successful aerial duels, progressive runs and successful dribbles per 90. It wouldn’t be fair to compare his stats to other strikers in European leagues as the level of competition and chances are not the same. But the fact that his statistics are so skewed should be enough to draw our attention. In the next sections, I shall pick certain instances that reflect upon his intelligent movement.
Runs at the defence
Bounedjah is constantly looking to make opportunities for his teammates to find him with runs in behind the opposition defenders. He looks for gaps in the defensive line that gives him room to accelerate with a diagonal run that can be spotted by the midfielders. Like a typical centre forward, he pins back one of the defenders by staying on the blind side of his shoulder and waits for the defender in front to leave his position. This gives him the opportunity to accelerate into the space left behind.
First let’s look at a long ball that is played from the defence, in this scenario from the AFC Champions League fixture against Sepahan SC. Bounedjah is positioned between the right back and the centre back. The moment the right back is out of position and not holding the line, Bounedjah gets a couple of yards of space to accelerate behind the shoulder of the centre back where he cannot see the centre forward. This movement is read by the Al Sadd defender in possession and he plays the long ball into the space behind the defence which Bounedjah receives easily. It is a great place to receive the ball too as it is around 20 metres from the goal line.
Now let’s look at another scenario above, this time in the creation phase of buildup. The ball is on the right flank in possession of the winger, who was played the pass out wide by the attacking midfielder from the centre. The opposition centre back had left his position to press the attacking midfielder and the defensive line is disrupted. Bounedjah uses this opportunity to attack the space he has left behind by making an angled run, once again behind the shoulder of the defenders to receive the pass near the edge of the penalty box.
Movement to create space in the final third
It is necessary for a striker to use intelligent positioning and movement to create space for himself in the final third, where the defenders give you no time and press as soon as they see the pass played to you. Bounedjah demonstrates great acuity and sharp instincts to find space to receive the ball. I’ll take a look at three scenarios below.
In the first example, Bounedjah finds space to receive the pass in front of the defence, between the lines. We see the play building up from the left, with the ball in possession of the central midfielder. Boundejah first positions himself on the blind shoulder of the centre back moving towards the goal. This forces the defender to drop back with him. Both the defenders are focused on the ball, while the space is in front of them.
In the next moment, Bounedjah quickly changes direction and accelerates towards the ball carrier into that space and is able to receive the pass without any pressure. The defender who was supposed to be marking him is caught by surprise because of Bounedjah’s positioning behind his shoulder out of his line of sight.
In another scenario, the play is building up on the right side as the opposition defenders are transitioning back. Boundejah positions himself on the far left, out of everyone’s sight and away from the immediate action. In this position, he can always attack a cross played in.
In the next moment, when the ball is cut back, Bounedejah checks his run and drifts inside behind the shoulder of the defenders where he is completely unmarked and in good position to take a shot at goal, even if he takes a touch to control the ball first.
Finally, let’s look at a similar scenario against Al Duhail in the Stars Cup. This time the ball is with the winger on the left who is dribbling at the centre back after having taken out the right back. Bounedjah makes a run into the box dragging the two defenders with him.
In the next frame, the winger cuts inside onto his right foot, and Bounedjah simply stops his run anticipating his teammates movement. The two defenders who were supposed to be marking Bounedjah have pulled away because of their momentum and this creates the space Boundejah needs to ask for the square pass to take a shot at goal.
Manipulating the position of defenders to create space for himself
I’d like to highlight a unique skill that Boundejah has that makes him different from other strikers. He is able to manipulate defenders with constant movement to create space for himself even when it doesn’t exist. This makes him extremely dangerous to mark.
Let’s take this specific case with the play developing in the midfield. As the ball is played into the attacking midfielder, Akram Afif, Boundejah starts moving wide first. Above, you can see that the centre back has spotted Boundejah’s movement and is drawn to him.
In the next frame, Bounedjah makes a movement inside on the blind side of the defender while he is distracted with the ball. He still senses Bounedjah’s movement and follows him in the same direction.
In the final moment, Bounedjah quickly changes direction and moves outside again leaving the centre back drawn out of position and caught by surprise. He manages to find space for himself behind the trailing left back and in a great position to pull the trigger after taking a touch in the box.
A good centre forward makes two runs, one for his defender, and one for himself. This movement is a great example how Boundejah manipulates the centre back using deception to first sell him a run inside and then quickly move outside to make space for himself. This instinctive ability to make these runs makes the Algerian striker a menace in the box for defenders to track.
Creating plays for teammates
In the final part of this report, I’d like to give an example how Bounedjah makes plays for his teammates that contributes to his high number of key passes and assists during games.
We see in this scenario against Al Duhail with Al Sadd in possession of the ball out wide on the right. Bounedjah signals to his winger, but Akram Afif, the attacking midfielder is free to receive the pass in space. If the ball is played directly to Afif, he will be pressed by the centre back.
Instead, Bounedjah drops closer to the ball carrier asking for the pass while Afif makes a run at the defence. As the pass is played to Bounedjah, he is able to set up Afif with a one touch pass that leaves him through in on goal. Bounedjah’s superior reading of the game helps find his teammates in lucrative positions.
Boundejah is a centre forward with many tricks up his sleeve that sets him apart from other strikers. His intelligence and movement to create space in the final third are skills that cannot be taught to a player. At 28, in his late twenties, Bounedjah is at a ripe age for a striker entering his peak years with a lot of goals to score.
The Desert Fox has been consistent with his club in the Middle East, the AFC Champions League and the Algerian National team. Although Xavi has a good project with Al Sadd and the arrival of Santi Cazorla has only made things better for the striker with many more chances created, any club in Europe would want to get their hands on him as soon as possible to see how he copes with the level of football in bigger clubs. Boundejah is a top-class centre forward that can further groom himself with a bigger challenge under the right coach in the right environment. The question is which club would best suit his style of play?
(This scout report was published on Total Football Analysis on 2 October 2020)