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Is Andre Zambo Anguissa an under-the-radar superstar?

Rightly or wrongly, Fulham's summer 2018 spending spree has become another example of "what not to do" for clubs promoted to the Premier League. They shelled out close to £100m for domestic and international talent that never quite gelled and went right back to the Championship. But their young Cameroonian international Andre Zambo Anguissa didn't go with them – there was a market for his services at a higher level, and he went to Villarreal on loan in La Liga. Now 25 years old, Anguissa is back in the Premier League and quietly having a season for the ages.

Anguissa is that rare midfielder who can play box-to-box with a combination of defensive disruption and storming forward in attack, without losing possession too often. If we compare his smartermaps from 2018-19 and 2020-21, we can see that he's becoming more adventurous, dribbling more in the attacking half, and attempting more long passes from the central channel:

Despite this increase in direct play, which has helped Fulham to rack up seven points in their second six-match run after netting just one in their first six, Anguissa has kept his ball retention above average for the Premier League. And the rest of his overall ratings look fantastic:

It's a smallish sample, but Anguissa is showing excellent attacking output and outstanding defending so far this season, as well as above average ratings in the key duels for a DM. In fact, there aren't many players who can match these numbers. Here's a complete list from our database going back to 2016-17:

It's a who's-who of aggressive midfielders in Europe, and only Thiago Alcantara, Tiemoue Bakayoko, and Paul Pogba have managed to keep these numbers up for as long as Anguissa during a single season. So it's no surprise that Anguissa has been at the heart of much of what's been good at Fulham this term. Here are his involvement stats:

Anguissa has been involved in more than half of the total expected goals generated while he's been on the pitch for Fulham, and 85% of the goals. It's also interesting to see that only 42% of his own contributions to expected goals in our ball progression model have come from passing and receiving. That's because Anguissa does so much himself – a one-man battering ram through midfield.

Anguissa's playing style has been increasingly in demand for top teams in Europe. Here are the players with the most similar styles in the continent's top five leagues:

The closest match is Atalanta's Remo Freuler, one of the keys to the high-scoring attack that has lifted the Bergamo club into the highest reaches of the Champions League. But also in the mix are Juventus's American star Weston McKennie when he was still at Schalke, Mahmoud Dahoud at Gladbach, and Valencia's Geoffrey Kondogbia, who has been a prime example of the role for several seasons. Here's a head-to-head comparison with Freuler and McKennie:

All are aggressive two-way players, but Anguissa is the best tackler of the three and also has the highest overall defending quality. This is fine company for a player on a promoted team.

Indeed, by now it wouldn't be surprising if Anguissa were attracting the attention of some bigger clubs, and there's one where he might fin in a most interesting way. Consider how the duo of Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan played for Manchester City in 2018-19, when the Brazilian was still at the heart of City's midfield:

With Fernandinho's contract about to run out at age 35, and Gundogan already 30, the Cityzens may well be looking for someone to partner Rodri in a midfield two. Here's how Anguissa would look alongside the Spaniard:

In terms of playing styles, it's not a bad facsimile. Rodri and Anguissa hang back a bit more than Fernandinho and Gundogan, respectively, but that would make more room for the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden to operate further forward. Anguissa would also offer a new spark in midfield to what has sometimes felt like a staid attack this season. Pep, are you reading this?

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[Photo: Дмитрий Садовник]

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