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Ligue 1 has become a favorite shopping market for the European elite with players like Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir, Thomas Lemar, Anthony Martial and Tanguy Ndombele making big moves from the French league. The new generation is ready to carry on with Eduardo Camavinga, Jeremy Doku and Houssem Aouar, all wooed by the best clubs on the continent.
One name that is destined to be a breakthrough this season, that the casual viewer may not have heard of, is Rayan Cherki. Cherki, a fickle attacking player, has been touted as one of France’s most precarious talents and among the best to come out of the Lyon academy.
Recently turned 18, the young Lyon has already caught the attention of anyone who watches the French league on a regular basis. Following the departure of Memphis Depay, he will become Lyon’s main man this season and seems ready to put his boots on with ease.
THE PLAYING RACE UNTIL NOW
Cherki had long been designated as a prodigy at the Lyons academy. His promotion to the first team was a question of when and not if. His full debut came in a 0-0 draw against Dijon in Ligue 1, coming off the bench to replace Maxwel Cornet.
However, his big game was made known to the world in the French Cup against Nantes. At just 16 years old, Cherki was involved in all four of Lyon’s goals, scoring two and helping two. You couldn’t play that night, a sign of things to come.
Olympique Lyonnais scored four goals against FC Nantes in the Coupe de France; Rayan Cherki, 16, contributed to all of them:
⚽ Scored in second and ninth minutes
🅰️ Assisted in minutes 37 and 69
Another exceptional product from the OL academy. pic.twitter.com/4YqIVf6n81
– Scouted Soccer (@ScoutedFtbl) January 18, 2020
In the 2020/21 season, Cherki was part of the first team setup throughout, making 30 appearances, though his role was largely off the bench. His versatility of playing anywhere down the line behind the striker helped Lyon a lot, giving coach Rudi Garcia more flexibility. He has also been part of the French U16 and U19 configurations and perhaps would have already been called up for the senior team if it weren’t for the incredible depth of the French squad in attacking positions.
Rayan Cherki scored four goals and four assists for Lyon in his 30 appearances last season, which doesn’t sound impressive, but his actual playing time was just 11.1 90, which is a decent impact in a supporting role.
However, its true strength lies in the underlying creative numbers. 11.1 90 is not a large sample size, but Cherki has shown in limited playtime what he can do. He had 4.38 goal-creating actions for 90 last season and 0.83 goal-creating actions for 90.
He also had 13.7 progressive carries for 90 last season, he completed 5 dribbles for 90 along with 3.72 carries in the final third and 1.28 in the final area for 90. These stats are well above the 95th percentile (except for creation actions of goals which is 89th percentile) for all attacking and wingers midfielders in the five best leagues in Europe.
Cherki may benefit from a small sample, but he has shown that he can link attacks and play the final ball with great efficiency.
WHAT THE STATISTICS DO NOT TELL YOU
The numbers in the section above are exceptional, but they don’t encapsulate what Cherki is really about – getting fans out of their seats. He’s only 5 feet tall. 9 inches tall, giving it a low center of gravity that allows you to change direction quickly. It can turn sharply and beat defenders with ease.
– Olympique Lyonnais @ (@OL_English) May 10, 2021
Cherki can play on either wing, but his best position may be as the second striker with the freedom to move and create. He is predominantly left-handed and likes to play in the right-side channel often, which allows him to cut off his favorite foot to some degree.
The Frenchman has exceptional spatial awareness, both in dribbling and off-the-ball movements. His decision-making is very refined for his age and his knowledge of the game allows him to make things seem simple.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL
Often the case with young attackers is that their incomplete physical development hampers their game as they are harassed by physical defenders at the top level. Cherki, despite her short stature, does not face this problem. He’s stocky and he’s already filled up. He has signs of considerable strength while maintaining his agility in an increasingly physical Ligue 1.
Cherki’s obvious strength is his ability to carry the ball and this is made possible by a multitude of factors including his build, playing IQ, and quick turns, as discussed. He’s effectively a left-handed Memphis Depay rain with an added twist. Cherki also showed signs of being deadly in front of goal for Lyon’s reserve and youth teams and should soon develop that aspect in his game at the highest level.
Peter Bosz has a very exciting young Lyon on his hands at the moment. In addition to Cherki, there are Bruno Guimares, Houssem Aouar, Maxence Cauqeret and Lucas Paqueta in their ranks. They have added some experience in the form of The signing of Xherdan Shaqiri from Liverpool and the return of Moussa Dembélé from Atlético de Madrid. Despite his talent, 18-year-old Cherki should be a first-team starter this season for the French side.
Lyon underperformed last season under Rudi Garcia, as he finished fourth in a Ligue 1 that was there for the taking. They have to show that they are among the European elite if they want to keep Cherki for a decent time. At 18, he should stay with the club for a couple more seasons to tap into his talent with some serious playing time at the top.
Rayan Cherki is the youngest player to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League in the history of the competition.
– Squawka Soccer (@Squawka) August 19, 2020
It won’t be long before the big clubs come to call the French but for now there are no links with any club. His style of play is perhaps more suited to the Spanish league than the Premier League, but with his skill set, there are very few limiting factors. It won’t be surprising to see the big clubs line up soon if Cherki gets the playing time he deserves and Lyon could have a battle on their hands next summer.