Understanding Victor Osimhen's ineffectiveness away from home

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Victor Osimhen Lille 2019-20
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The Nigeria international has been unable to export his home form for Lille, and consequently Les Dogues have struggled for results on the road

By the week, Victor Osimhen's reputation as a marksman of some distinction continues to grow.

Before the international break, he netted for the first time ever in the Uefa Champions League, rising highest inside the penalty box between France and England internationals and planting a fine header past the world's most expensive goalkeeper. Not only was it his first in the competition, it was also his first of the kind in Lille colours; generally, his aerial work has been a bit of a weakness.

It is not the only one in his game (and the nature of his playing style has previously been scrutinized), but there is an inevitability to the fact that, the more he scores, the more his shortcomings will come under consideration.

Why, for instance, does he only seem to score at Stade Pierre Mauroy?

All of Osimhen's eight goals in all competitions for Les Dogues have come on home turf. On the road, his tally of contributions stands at a comparatively pitiful one assist: a strong pressing action which was followed by an unselfish ball across the box for Jonathan Ikone to tuck home against Rennes.

Besides the statistical edge that home advantage offers, and how that would naturally weigh on the performance of a 20-year-old playing his first season in a top five European league, what can the numbers reveal, and how quickly can Lille expect their top goalscorer to come to the party away from home?

Lille

Last season, Lille averaged 1.68 points per game on the road, the second best record in the league behind champions Paris Saint-Germain.

This season, over the first four games, that average has plummeted to 0.5, and only three teams are worse on their travels. Small sample size notwithstanding, clearly, there is a correlation here: Osimhen's inability to export his home form is adversely affecting their chances.

Les Dogues are winless on the road, drawing two and losing two. However, both losses came in extenuating circumstances: against Amiens and Stade de Reims, Christoph Galtier's side went down to 10 men before the hour mark.

Amiens away was only Osimhen's second game in Ligue 1, and he struggled to get involved as Lille were unable to sustain pressure while a man light. He only mustered one shot, and that was off target.

Reims, however, was a lot more encouraging. Despite the sending-off of Yusuf Yazici, Osimhen was livelier: two shots (one on target, one blocked), one key pass, one big chance (spurned, but that's a lot better than having nothing fall to you at all), and he won a penalty that was missed by Jonathan Bamba.

Victor Osimhen

With the full complement of 11 however, Lille have come up short against Nice and Rennes, both matches finishing 1-1.

Rennes required a superb (and occasionally eccentric) performance from Senegal international Edouard Mendy in goal to get a point – they were out-shot 15-11, and 6-3 on target, with shots from close range i.e. inside the box standing at 7-4.

On his part though, Osimhen struggled to get involved aside his predatory assist, and even though most of the game was played in the Rennes half, his movement was poor.

Against Nice, the Nigeria international endured a frustrating game, missing a great chance and failing to test Walter Benitez in the Nice goal all game long. On the whole, Nice slightly edged proceedings: Kasper Solberg converting their big chance, and Patrick Vieira's side fashioning the clearer looks at goal.

Where a pattern for this dichotomy of output becomes clear is in the average position of the Lille full-backs. 

Galtier focuses his attack through the flanks, and so the full-backs Zeki Celik, Domagoj Bradaric and Reinildo assume important roles in terms of progressing the team forward, combining with the narrow wingers ahead of them, and creating chances for the centre-forward.

Christophe Galtier Lille Chelsea UEFA Champions League 02102019

Whereas at home, their average positions will often be in advance of the halfway line, away, the full-backs are a little more circumspect, and this has an adverse effect on Lille's attacking combinations, thereby limiting shooting opportunities for Osimhen.

The challenge for the striker in this situation is to improve his overall associative play, and be less reliant on the ball coming into his zones in order to have an influence. Whether Osimhen can do this remains to be seen.

Alternatively, playing him alongside a striker partner, as Lille did against Strasbourg a couple of weeks ago, might help.

He seemed to relish the link-up with Loic Remy, scoring one and assisting the other, and while that game was at home, it offers a different method of creating shots: by having the two forwards combine, the option of playing through the middle affords Osimhen more space in the final third, while reducing the onus on the full-backs, who are less cavalier anyway.

Beyond the use of the full-backs, there is no reason to believe Osimhen's away form will not improve naturally, perhaps beginning with Toulouse away on Saturday evening. However, if Lille are to challenge as they did last season, it is becoming clearer that they will have to find a way to lean into the strength of their Nigeria striker even more.

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