Jonathan David is as good as he is versatile
As though the excitement surrounding Alphonso Davies weren't enough, now Canada may have another young superstar to watch in Europe's top five leagues if the much heralded Jonathan David moves to Lille. David is a forward of enormous talent – and a smarterscout young prospect – who has thousands of senior minutes under his belt in league and European competitions at age 20. The question for Lille will be where to play him, since he excels at different positions in different ways.
David spent most of his time at Gent playing as a second striker. Here are his stats at that position using a Ligue 1 standard:
In the Belgian First Division A, David had excellent attacking output, great defending, and average ball retention. His attacking output wasn't as high in the Europa League, though, where he wasn't able to create as many shots despite receiving plenty of balls in the box. In style, David was similar to many of the most dynamic second strikers in Europe's top five leagues, but especially to one other player who stormed onto the scene at the same age:
Here's a side-by-side comparison of David to Dele Alli across the two seasons flagged above:
The parallels with Alli's second season at Tottenham are pretty striking, and David may be an even better finisher than Alli. In Alli's next season, his passing started to become more aggressive. That's an area where David could improve as well – and probably would given the style that Christophe Galtier employs at Lille.
But David has also played quite a few matches as a central striker for Gent, and in that position he takes on some different qualities. Here are his overall numbers, again at a Ligue 1 standard:
It's fascinating that his attacking output is actually higher on the scale for CF/ST than for CAM/SS, whereas most players would have the reverse. More in line with expectations, his ball retention as a central striker is outstanding. Here are the players with the closest styles at CF/ST:
There are quite a few top names on this list, but although they're the closest matches to David, they're not really that close – hence the variety! But at the top of the list is Luis Suarez from a couple of seasons ago, and here's how the comparison looks:
Suarez got into the box more than David, but otherwise they were quite similar. And while Suarez has declined slightly since 2018-19, David already has higher attacking output by a Ligue 1 standard and is on his way up – as well as being a better finisher. With Suarez in the final year of his contract, perhaps the Catalans should have been looking at David as well.
In comparing how David plays at the two positions, the standout differences are in his dribbling and passing. He moves with the ball far more as a central striker and links up less, which is what most clubs would probably want from their focal point. Yet many other players might change their physical positioning without adjusting their game. Here's how David's positioning changes:
As a second striker, David takes more touches on the left and tries longer passes from behind midfield. But as a central striker, he takes fewer touches in his own half, engages more on the right, and tends to make shorter passes except when he's past the final third.
David can shoot with both feet and enters the box from both sides, so defenders need to prepare for at least four different profiles when he attacks. His unpredictable actions on the GK's left, just on the corner of the box, make him especially dangerous. You can see some of the results on this shot map for David at CF/ST:
David scored several times from positions near the goal mouth, but he also grabbed two goals from wider angles on the GK's left. Given his ability to score from different areas, the comparison of David with players like Timo Werner and Mohamed Salah makes a bit more sense.
Of course, plenty can change for a player who's just 20 years old – and at Lille, they probably would. The fact that David found the Europa League relatively tougher may have given the biggest clubs pause, so Ligue 1 could be a good level for him. We wouldn't be surprised, though, if he only lasted a year or two before his next move.
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