Clinton N’Jie has massive potential, but there is still plenty for him to work on.
The pronunciation of his name – En Zeee – might sound like the noise that opponents hear as he whistles past them, but there is far more to Clinton N’Jie than searing pace. The new arrival from Lyon has bags of potential, but also a few weaknesses that need to be ironed out of he is to succeed in the Premier League.
Clinton N’Jie is fast, few will catch him in the open field, but it also helps that he is a very direct runner. When his team are in possession, he is instantly looking for the ball to be moved forward so that he can run on to it or get it at his feet. His movement is purposeful and direct to get going before a defence can get set.
Take a couple of games from his time with Lyon last season. Very few passes are played sideways to him, everything is vertical and either through the inside channels or up the line. He floats across the formation as he looks to latch on to these vertical passes, with both of his shooting opportunities coming from direct through passes, one short, one long. His goal comes from getting in the box to sweep home a cutback pass.
Against Lorient we can see a lot of the same things happening. Again the ball is moved vertically forward for him with purpose so that he can execute his trademark direct runs. He once more gets opportunities from vertical through passes played to him, including a goal.
Mauricio Pochettino wants to play the ball forwards up the pitch. Its something he did with Southampton and we looked at this when he arrived at Spurs.
At Southampton he used Rickie Lambert to drop off to come short to receive the ball. Lambert would then look for the runs of Jay Rodriguez flying past him. We saw a similar tactic with Harry Kane in Spurs 2-2 Stoke at the weekend; Kane just didn’t have the speedsters to work with. Clinton N’Jie, and potentially Saido Berahino coming in, these would be the players to exploit this tactic.
Clinton N’Jie is a real threat to run in-behind, but he can also go past opponents. His direct style sees him want to beat people in order to get in to good shooting and passing locations.
We can see that here against Lorient as all of his dribbles are going in to or towards the opposition goal.
He still has a lot to learn though. He has speed but that does give him control issues that he is yet to harness. Due to this, he is just as likely to go round his opponent, as he is to lose the ball. Travelling at pace can often see him lose control of it and turn possession over.
Not just a run in-behind wide forward, Clinton N’Jie is also a chance creator. He has just turned 22, but has a mature ability to be able to take a split second to lift his head and assess the positions of his teammates.
This goal by Alexandre Lacazette was a perfect example of the two-phases of N’Jie’s play. Taking the ball from a corner, his direct running style saw him race the length of the field, leaving defenders trailing. Rather than take the shot on, he saw Lacazette square of him, setting him up for the easy finish.
Clinton N’Jie is this type of layoff passer. He is able to find his teammates through short cutbacks, pullbacks, layoffs or simple squared balls. He is not the most measured crosser, highlighted by his completion of just 4 of 21 balls in to the box for Lyon last season.
Harry Kane and Nacer Chadli will appreciate his layoff passing style, as they are stealthy movers in the penalty area. However, Kane also relies on a crossing service, so N’Jie’s delivery will have to improve.
You get a lot going forward with Clinton N’Jie, but the defensive side of his game needs work. Tracking opposition players is not a great strength of his, which is something he’ll have to do if deployed out wide.
Last season with Lyon he made just 1 tackle per 90 minutes but 2 fouls, highlighting his limitations without the ball.
With his explosive speed you would expect that he would be able to get in the opposition passing lanes. However, with only 0.2 interceptions per 90 minutes, he is yet to get to grips with this pick-pocketing side of the game.
At 175 cms he is not the tallest either and not strong aerially. This limits his ability to be a hold-up player or to challenge in aerial duels, winning just 33% of these last season.
Mauricio Pochettino will need to work with Clinton N’Jie on the defensive side of his game. With our coach deploying more of his pressing system this season, N’Jie could be turned in to a good weapon. His speed could be used to close down opponents quicker, forcing them in to having to make faster decisions with the ball, increasing their chances of mistakes and turnovers.
What Clinton N’Jie brings to Spurs
When I watch Clinton N’Jie I’m reminded a lot of Southampton’s Sadio Mane, a player Paul Mitchell scouted for the Saints. Both have blazing speed, are direct forward runners and good dribblers with the ball. Each of them is much happier when working off a centre forward that they can run past and take the knockdowns and passes from. Once in to the final third, they both have an eye for goal and a pass for a teammate in a better position. However, there is an element of frustration here as the pass can come off just as often as it doesn’t.
Without the ball, both have defensive liabilities, but Mane has been coached in to being a better pressing player and he can often catch opponents off guard with his speed to close down. Hopefully Mauricio Pochettino can do the same with Clinton N’Jie and turn the raw 22-year old in to the more dangerous type of player that Sadio Mane is becoming.