FEATURE | Alassane Pléa – the most complete forward in the Bundesliga

Born in the northern French city of Lille, Alassane Pléa has enjoyed a successful career to date since making his debut for Lyon back in 2010. Capable of being deployed both as a winger or lone striker, Pléa enjoyed a four-year spell with Ligue 1 side OGC Nice before joining Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach in the summer of 2018. Since then, the French international has become an integral part of coach Marco Rose’s first team squad in western Germany leading to a wave of big interest from some top European clubs prior to this upcoming transfer window.

Growing up in the city of Lille to parents of Malian descent, Alassane Pléa enjoyed a quick rise to prominence as a young footballer in France. Despite never playing for Lille, situated only a few miles from his home, Pléa was instead picked up by Lyon’s prestigious scouting network in 2009 at the age of 16 after running out for local sides US Ascq and ES Wasquehal. The French forward would go on to have a prolific career for Lyon B scoring 23 goals in 67 games but would only ever make seven first team appearances for Les Gones.

His lack of first team appearances looks surprising and a little alarming on paper at Lyon given his huge potential but it was not down to his skill or level of commitment as to why his presence in the first team was never really felt. With his transition into one of Europe’s elite sporting academies at Lyon, Pléa had become part of the club’s most recent golden generation which included fellow forwards Alexandre Lacazette, Anthony Martial and Nabil Fekir to name but a few meaning first team opportunities were very limited.

With first-team opportunities limited, Lyon sent Pléa out on loan to Ligue 2 outfit Auxerre during the second half of the 2013-14 campaign. The second division side would go on to finish 18th, narrowly avoiding relegation that season with the forward only managing three goals in 15 appearances. On his return to Lyon, the writing was on the wall and Pléa packed his bags for a move to France’s south coast with OGC Nice signing him for only £450,000, a transfer that would prove to be a bargain for Le Gym.

This is where the French striker’s career really began to take off. His first season wouldn’t bring about too many goals, only three in 33 appearances for Nice but with nine assists his contributions on the pitch were important for keeping Les Aiglons safely in mid-table. From then the French forward kicked on massively, scoring 44 times in 135 appearances for Nice across all competitions over four seasons, his best return coming during the 2017/18 season with 16 goals.

His adaptability was key for the French sides formation and system, previously playing on the right-wing 15 times and left-wing 17 times, first Claude Puel and then Lucien Favre decided to move him centrally to play alongside Mario Balotelli. The result would influence a third-place finish for Le Gym, Pléa becoming the club’s focal point up top.

Pléa had become an extremely influential figure for Nice with fellow striker Alexy Bosetti perhaps summing his contributions up best: “I don’t think people understood how lucky we were to have a player like him. Mario stole most of the limelight, but as far as I was concerned, Alassane was our best attacking player, no question about it.”

In July 2018 and on the back of a lot of interest from clubs across Europe, Borussia Mönchengladbach made a £25 million move for Pléa with the soon-to-be France international making the switch across the border to Borussia Park. His impact was instant scoring 12 goals during his first season with The Foals in the league. This year he was on track to overtake that record prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. With eight goals and seven assists in his 22 Bundesliga appearances this term, interest has already grown and intensified in the French striker from major European clubs and it’s not difficult to see why when you study Pléa in depth.

Alassane Pléa - Radar

Playing as a main striker in 40 matches for Gladbach to date, Pléa has 17 goals and eight assists to his name. Confident playing behind the defence or with holding the ball up, Pléa is an all-round striker who has the experience to bully defenders on his day. Lacking in pace to some extent, the French international is incredibly intelligent, finding gaps in the opposing defence to devastating effect more often than not.

Simply put, Pléa’s finishing is world class. Able to score any type of goal whether it be fox-in-the-box tap ins, long range finesses or powerful headers, Pléa has constantly demonstrated this season that he is dangerous in any situation pushing forward for Mönchengladbach. Coach Marco Rose highlighted that to press earlier in the season: “I’ve never seen such a degree of quality so often. If he gets a shot off in or around the penalty area, you can almost get ready to celebrate.”

When given a chance at goal by the opposition, Pléa has consistently proven this season that he is more than likely to strike the ball. A sharpshooter, the French forward stands at sixth on the list of average shots per game in the Bundesliga this season with 2.8. His play-making ability is extremely strong as well. He has the ninth most assists, with 7, in the Bundesliga during the 2019/20 season to date and tries to play 1.5 key passes per game which is a higher average than Leipzig forward Timo Werner and Dortmund’s Marco Reus to name just a few examples.

The marksman has often featured on the left-wing for Mönchengladbach since joining the club in 2018 too. Playing 19 times out wide on the left, Pléa has a record of six goals and two assists so far, offering useful flexibility for boss Marco Rose. Again, the French forward isn’t blessed with as much pace as some Bundesliga wingers but his intelligence to manoeuvre his body shape to gain space on defenders this season has been impressive.

The only overall major flaw in Pléa’s playing style comes in the form of the Frenchman’s aerial ability. Standing at 5 foot 11, Gladbach’s main striker does tend to struggle against the taller and more physical central defenders in the Bundesliga. Winning only 27% of his aerial duels this season, Pléa has previously eluded to the competitive nature of the German top-flight in recent months: “The Bundesliga’s extremely competitive…I think the Bundesliga’s on a higher level than Ligue 1, above all in terms of intensity. It’s all very serious and professional even in the training sessions and nothing is left down to chance. I was a bit taken aback by this mentality and everybody’s drive and determination in the first few weeks, but I’m really happy here.”

With reported interest from Barcelona and Manchester United among others heading towards the end of the season, whenever that may be, Gladbach have a real conundrum on their hands with Alassane Pléa. Adept with playing at the highest levels in Europe now in his career, proven with his impressive spell and track record in Germany to date, the big clubs could make a move for Pléa this summer but Borussia Mönchengladbach will not easily lay down and are certain to demand big-money for their star player.

Nathan Evans.

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