How did Zambo Anguissa turn it around at Villarreal?

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Anguissa, Villarreal
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The Cameroon star has bounced back from relegation with Fulham to become one of La Liga’s leading midfielders, reportedly wanted by Real Madrid

Just last summer, Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa suffered the ignominy of relegation with Fulham after a bitterly disappointing Premier League campaign that promised so much, yet delivered little.

The Cottagers managed to go through a 38-game season with three managers as they desperately tried to avoid the inevitable. Slavisa Jokanovic, the coach who took them up, was sacked in November to be replaced by Claudio Ranieri who only lasted three months at the helm.

Scott Parker took charge in an interim capacity for the rest of the season and has since been appointed permanently. The West London outfit currently sit third in the Championship and could gain instant promotion to the big time automatically or via the playoffs if the campaign is completed after its expected resumption on June 20.

So where did it go all wrong for Zambo Anguissa at Fulham in 2018/19?

Interestingly, the west London club’s disastrous campaign could be traced to their heavy summer spending of 2018 in which the Cameroon midfielder moved to Craven Cottage from Olympique Marseille, alongside nine other permanent signings. Five more players joined the club temporarily, taking the club’s influx of new players to a staggering 15.

Before a ball was kicked, observers predicted an uphill task in getting so many new faces to harmonize on the pitch, and so it proved as the Cottagers struggled for cohesion and consistency all season.

Wahbi Khazri  Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa Rennes Marseille Coupe de la Ligue 13122017

An ankle injury suffered in late November disrupted an already chaotic campaign for the defensive midfielder, who returned in early February with the side still second-bottom.

Ranieri was soon sacked with Parker coming in, and the African midfielder started eight of the final 10 fixtures. However, the sinking ship couldn’t be rescued and they were relegated after a season in the top flight.

Javier Calleja rescued the former Marseille man from his Prem hell with the dynamic midfielder switching to Villarreal for the 19/20 season on loan. He’s featured in 69 percent of minutes for the Yellow Submarine and has played a part in their transformation from a side flirting with relegation last year to competing for a place in Europe this term.

Despite three losses pre-pandemic leaving them in eighth place, seven points behind Atletico Madrid, their marked change this season has been noteworthy.

Largely alongside Vicente Iborra in a midfield partnership, the Fulham loanee has thrived at El Madrigal, despite not posting incredible goals and assists stats (one each).

Zambo Anguissa, though, makes the most tackles per game (2.2), second behind Iborra for interceptions (1.2) and is one of the side’s top passers with about 33 passes per match at an accuracy of 86 percent, joint-second in the side.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa of Villarreal

Incredibly, he leads the way for successful dribbles per game (2.4) at a success rate of 83 percent, which stands as the highest for La Liga’s top 10 dribblers.

What’s particularly impressive about his passing and dribbling is the positive nature of both.

The criticism of players with high numbers in those metrics focuses on the direction of their passes or dribbles. Anguissa may not be directly involved in goals, but his ball-carrying nature often sees him beat the press in his defensive third, advance with the ball in motion before picking out a better-placed teammate.

When he’s unable to drive forwards with the ball, the former Marseille man showcases his impressive passing range by switching play with diagonals, leading to a one-vs-one for his wideman or the continuation of an attack for Calleja’s troops.

Interestingly, a dive into the midfielder’s numbers in last year’s collective disaster at Fulham shows he isn’t doing much differently this season. He led the way for tackles per game (2.2) and made 1.5 interceptions per match, third behind Callum Chambers and Maxime Le Marchand.

Zambo Anguissa was also the Cottagers’ top dribbler (1.9 per match with a 78 percent success rate) while he played the third-highest passes per game with 87 percent finding its intended target.

Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa - Fulham

Unfortunately, Fulham’s malaise meant the 2018 Europa League runner-up was underappreciated in an underperforming team. Curiously, however, doing the same things at Villarreal this term has led to transfer links to Real Madrid, which the midfielder denied in May .

Notwithstanding, the 24-year-old needs to sharpen his influence in the opposition half if his game is to go to the next level. His meagre return probably contributed to a lessened involvement before football’s suspension in March.

The Cameroon midfielder hadn’t started a game since January 19, with Calleja opting to go with the more creative pair of Santi Cazorla and Manu Trigueros flanking Iborra in his midfield three. Whenever the coach opted for two in midfield, the latter two were preferred with Santi playing further forward in the hole, meaning Anguissa had to make do with a bit-part role before the hiatus.

Still, it is to his credit that rumours of a switch to Los Blancos have been gathering pace in the last few weeks, even if a move may not materialise in the end.

A transfer to Zinedine Zidane’s Real seems far-fetched, however, Fulham’s potential promotion may yet give Zambo Anguissa another Premier League shot after a disastrous first try in 18/19.

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