This is taken from the GFFN 100, our leading 150-page FREE publication ranking the best 100 players in France, see the full list and read every profile right here.
Nicolás Tagliafico suffered through a difficult couple of years at his previous club, Ajax. As he approached the last year of his contract and the Amsterdammers looked to move on from their 2019 Champions League semi-final team, there was a feeling, on both sides, that it was time for the Argentine to get the move he had been after for some time. However, after a tumultuous couple of years of failed transfers, notably to Chelsea, and his place as a starter no longer guaranteed, Tagliafico’s previous list of suitors had weakened. In search of a dependable option at left-back, after loans and failed acquisitions, this presented a sizeable opportunity for Ligue 1 club, Lyon.
A signing which has gone somewhat under the radar, Lyon were able to acquire the services of the Argentine international for just under £4m. As the World Cup approached, life in Lyon couldn’t have been better for Tagliafico. He’s nailed down the starting spot at OL and has dramatically impacted the defensive security down Lyon’s left flank. Alongside providing some much-needed defensive relief, he’s also making an impact in forward areas, the former Banfield and Independiente man providing three goal contributions in his first 13 appearances.
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Questioned were raised by many when the defender arrived in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region over whether he still possessed the same quality which saw the now 30-year-old labelled as one of the best full-backs in Europe, Tagliafico has proved his doubters wrong as one of the signings of the season in France.
Tagliafico has arguably been the best defensive full-back in Europe this season. No full-back in world football beats him for tackles won per 90 minutes this campaign, with an impressive 2.52 by the start of November. He’s also difficult to beat one-on-one, with almost two dribblers tackled per 90, while also only being dribbled past less than once every two games. He also ranks in the top three per cent of all full-backs in Europe for tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes.
Beyond boasting impressive defensive numbers, his overall impact on the OL defence speaks volumes. Featuring predominantly on the left side alongside teenage centre-back Castello Lukeba, who, despite displaying tremendous talent for his age, can be naïve at times, Tagliafico has brought calmness to the Frenchman’s game. As a result, Lyon’s number four looks more comfortable than ever at the heart of the defence and the left side of the back line has become an area of strength rather than a weakness for OL.
During Lionel Scaloni’s tenure as Argentina coach, La Albiceleste have often been criticised for being rather top-heavy and fragile in the defence. Considering their immense quality in midfield and attack, before the World Cup their defence was often blamed for their downfall. Tagliafico, however, can be relied upon to match the world’s best forwards while bringing a sense of resolve.
The roles of a team’s full-backs have changed in the modern game and, if top teams are to have any success, attacking prowess from their full-backs is likely to play a part. In his successful, but brief, time at Lyon, Tagliafico has had a decisive impact in the attacking phases of play.
Tagliafico’s full-back counterpart on the right at OL, Malo Gusto, has garnered plaudits for the number of chances he creates with his crossing ability but this is something that Lyon have been able to benefit from on both flanks thus far since the Argentinian’s arrival and the 30-year-old ranks in the top nine per cent of full-backs for assists so far this season with 0.21 per 90 minutes. Alongside his assists, he is also creating lots of chances with 2.58 shot-creating actions per 90per cent2 passes into the penalty area. This overall support play in attacking phases of play has ultimately seen Tagliafico be lauded as OL’s standout performer in what has, so far been an underwhelming season for Les Gones.
This combined with his aforementioned defensive quality makes him a man for the big moments. Much of the focus will be on Lyon’s attacking options under new coach Laurent Blanc as Ligue 1 resumes from the World Cup break, but, if his early season form is anything to go by, Tagliafico could yet be a difference-maker too.