Scout Report: Corentin Tolisso
He may have been eclipsed by Alexandre Lacazette as Lyon’s headline player last season, but Corentin Tolisso was arguably the best of the Rhone side. Playing in a more advanced role than he is used to – even occasionally as a false nine – Tolisso enjoyed the best season of his career to date and earned a €41 million move to Bayern Munich earlier this summer.
He broke through initially in Lyon’s starting XI as a right-back during an injury crisis during the 2013-14 campaign and has since proven himself a veritable Swiss army knife of a footballer, a figure who has shown himself capable of filling a myriad of roles all over the field.
Often, players of that type struggle to establish themselves as their skills, while of a high level, are too vague and incoherent to earn them recognition in any particular area. Not so with Tolisso, who is a central midfield player by trade but who is versatile enough to play the role in a defensive, box-to-box or even attacking style.
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Clearly, he is still settling into life at Bayern. That much was evident as he struggled to impose himself in the 4-0 friendly defeat against AC Milan on Saturday, but there is a good deal to come from a player who has incredibly just one cap for France.
During last weekend’s match, the 22-year-old looked off the pace, though he was certainly not alone as Carlo Ancelotti’s side were swept away by the Italians, who are clearly eager to regain their status as one of Europe’s best.
Tolisso was initially asked to play a largely restrained role alongside Javi Martinez in the heart of the midfield as much of the attacking was left to Kingsley Coman and Franck Ribery down the flanks. After the break, he got forward more but missed a big second-half chance when he planted an effort wide of the target after being set up by Robert Lewandowski.
A better Xabi Alonso?
When the Frenchman signed for the club, Ancelotti had said, “I think that Tolisso also has a good profile to replace a player like Xabi Alonso.”
If the former Chelsea boss was looking for an Alonso-type figure in the heart of his midfield, he certainly got it in the 3-2 victory over his former side. Tolisso sat deep and made himself available to link between the defence and midfield - a role he performed with few errors, even gaining an assist for Thomas Muller as the attacker ran unchecked half the length of the field to score.
The young gun may have a long-term future in a deep midfield position due to his technical qualities, but he remains a more dynamic player than the retired Spaniard; one better suited to covering ground and being involved at every turn.
Indeed, it was in these more advanced areas of the field that he caught the eye in Ligue 1 and in Europe last term. He scored 14 goals in all competitions for OL, nearly doubling his entire senior tally, and was notably on target against Dinamo Zagreb and Juventus in the Champions League before giving a further demonstration of his new-found shooting power when he scored spectacularly against Roma in a 4-2 Europa League victory.
His successful campaign came off the back of a strong 2015-16. Early in the season, he had to face accusations of having grown a big head and not working hard enough, yet he finished strongly and attracted an offer from Napoli – a move he turned down as he felt he still had progress to make in France.
Over the course of the last 12 months, that has been accomplished, suggesting he will have the mental fortitude to shine in Germany, though there is still some dispute as to exactly where he is most effective.
“He scored a lot of goals so the coach tried to push him higher, but his best position remains as a No.8,” argued club legend Juninho last season. “It’s there where he can best impose his quality of pass and his vision of play.”
Former France Under-21 boss Pierre Mankowski disagrees, having played him as a 10.
“I put him there because he’s very dangerous in front of goal,” he said. “He’s got an excellent shot, he’s very good with his head and knows how to position himself in the box. He’s at ease pressing opponents. He knows the moment when to go and when to drop off – it sets the tone for everything behind him.”
What is likeliest, however, is that he will settle into a box-to-box role with FCB, at least initially. Certainly, that is where former youth team coach Stephane Roche sees him as being most effective.
“He’s best in the thick of the action, sometimes closest to the defence and at other moments near the attacker,” he told L’Equipe. “He’s such a complete player.”
These thoughts have been echoed by Bayern ambassador Hasan Salihamidzic, who said: “He's a really good midfielder, a good box-to-box player. He can do everything, score goals and is also a presence in midfield, I think we'll have some fun with him.”
With a five-year deal at the Allianz Arena, he has time to find his feet and specialise in one role, while remaining versatile enough to fulfil others.
He is still working to find his niche under Ancelotti, but once he integrates, the fee that Bayern splashed for him will look a bargain.