Christopher Nkunku quietly developing into one of Europe’s most talented midfielders

Christopher Nkunku

“Christopher Nkunku is keeping Leipzig in with an opportunity of a surprise result here!”

Traditionally, any player wildly celebrates a hat trick playing in the stadium of one of the world’s best teams. Nkunku acted reserved in his celebrations. Despite scoring his third goal of the game, Red Bull Leipzig still trailed Manchester City. Rather, he jogs toward center-half trying to single-handedly will his German-based club to an improbable victory.

RB Leipzig did not come close to nabbing all three points at the Etihad Stadium. In fact, Nkunku’s club conceded twice more after his 73rd-minute goal. In the end, Manchester City walked out 6-3 winners.

Still, the Frenchman performed remarkably. Christopher Nkunku is a one-of-a-kind player, as fans of French soccer attest.

The 23-year-old came out of the same area as Paul Pogba, Lagny-sur-Marne. He earned his moniker as a special talent joining a French academy. Now, he garners international attention and recognition. Additionally, Nkunku still awaits a call-up to the France squad. That is certainly no easy task with the depth of French players across the world.

The attacking midfielder possesses the foundations of a great player. But, in order to analyze his outlook, we first must look at his past.

Christopher Nkunku emerges as a talent

Nkunku started his soccer journey by spending six years at tiny regional side AS Marolles. After a year with ninth-tier side Fontainebleau, he signed with French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain. Signing for a club as big as PSG cemented Nkunku as one of France’s most-intriguing prospects.

There, he proved himself in the UEFA Youth League, a breeding ground for the best European prospects. The versatile winger scored nine goals and assisted six times in a total of 1287 minutes.

His efforts provided a spot on PSG’s first team. Under Unai Emery and Thomas Tuchel, Nkunku played stale, albeit consistent, appearances as a substitute. He scored once eight times and assisted twice in 50 games in Ligue 1 from 2016-19. He made even fewer contributions in the Champions League and Coupe de France in that span.

Unsurprisingly, Nkunku did not want to waste his developmental and younger years on the bench in Paris.

First major move

With immediate success headlining PSG’s output on the pitch, Nkunku was not alone in his frustration. PSG suffered a mass exodus of academy players like Moussa Diaby and Timothy Weah. Nkunku left his home country for Germany.

RB Leipzig coughed up around fourteen million dollars for the attacker. Leipzig served as a breeder and development team for the likes of Marcel Sabitzer and Timo Werner who secured big-money moves to major sides. Also, Nkunku’s compatriots Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konaté now feature heavily for some of Europe’s elite teams.

In his first season in Germany, Christopher Nkunku dazzled. He earned his long-awaited starring role. A solid stat-line of five goals and a whopping fifteen assists in 32 Bundesliga fixtures gave him the recognition that Nkunku needed. A handful of clubs now knock on Leipzig’s door interested in the Frenchman. But, so far, the midfielder remains loyal.

With Die Roten Bullen, Nkunku’s solid stat lines put him comfortable in the limelight of Germany’s top flight.

Moreover, Nkunku can only get better. The French saying “Impossible n’est pas francais,” there is no such thing as can’t, perfectly applies to the underrated attacking midfielder.

Potential for Breakout Season

This could be a breakout season similar to his season in 2019 and 2020. His four goals and four assists in 10 Bundesliga appearances puts him at sixth in goal contributions in the league this season. Sure, he first caught attention this season with his monster game against Manchester City in the Champions League season opener for both teams.

However, he’s been remarkably consistent throughout the current season, scoring in a steady stream for his side. Christopher Nkunku is one of the primary reasons Leipzig pulled out of their early-season slump that saw one win in their opening four Bundesliga appearances. Currently, RB Leipzig sits at eighth, with 11 points in their last five games.

With his incredible performances, he’s attracted attention from Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, Real Madrid and more.

Somehow, he still awaits his first cap with France. With consistent performances against tough opposition, it’s a mystery that Didier Deschamps has the answer to.

Playstyle

The following statistics are all based on Nkunku’s 10 Bundesliga appearances. He also has five goals and an assits in five appearances in the Champions League and DFB-Pokal this season.

At heart, Nkunku is an attacking midfielder. He sets teammates up for goals while also being a threat in the final third. He has 42 shot-creating actions (top of the league), has received 105 progressive passes (second in the Bundesliga), and has carried the ball into the penalty area a whopping 17 times (the most in Germany).

His enterprising attacking style has earned him comparisons to another special talent, Manchester City’s Phil Foden.

Nkunku, who can play for the DR Congo national team and the French squad, is a pinpoint passer. Per FBREF, Nkunku has a 76.4% pass success rate. That, in itself, is nothing special. Yet, his season-high is an eye-popping 90%, achieved back with PSG. The 76.4% we see now may be a season-low for the midfielder, but it is average for the position in the Bundesliga.

Nkunku is also a strong crosser. His 66.7% long pass success rate means he’s very dependable as a crosser.

Midfield talisman

Christopher Nkunku defending agaisnt Mainz.

However, the Frenchman is more than just a dependable passer. Nkunku consistently draws fouls. He drew 20 fouls in the first ten games, good for seventh out of all Bundesliga players.

His commitment to offense surely takes away from his defensive capabilities. He’s only tackled and won possession six times with just three interceptions. Even then, his numbers are above average for attackers. His 30.3% successful pressures rate means he’s still a bright spot on defense, especially compared to out-and-out attackers.

Also, Christopher Nkunku does not reserve himself to one or two positions on the pitch. He can double up as a regular midfielder or move upwards as a forward. Additionally, he features frequently on the right and the left flanks as a midfielder or winger.

Christopher Nkunku to break into the France squad?

Nkunku does have experience playing for France, just not in the senior squad. The midfielder appeared in youth friendlies for Les Bleus at the U16 and U19 levels.

He played in the 2017 U-20 World Cup, where France crashed out of the competition in the Round of 16. He did not contribute any goals or assists.

His mediocre performance and his meager minutes at Paris seem to have affected his international stock. He participated in U-21 Euro qualifiers, but he was not one of the star players. His last match representing France came against Bulgaria, where he came off in the 71st without any goals or assists.

Leipzig manager Jesse Marsch, Leipzig keeper Peter Gulacsi, and French journalist Julien Laurens have all said that Nkunku deserves a cap. However, his countrymate contemporaries could be the reason he does not earn a spot.

Competition for call-up

It’s possible that Didier Deschamps, the French national soccer team’s manager, doesn’t like Nkunku. Aurelien Tchouaméni and Moussa Diaby both play for Bundesliga sides. Both of those players earned a spot on the French squad.

Additionally, midfielders are not the most important thing to Deschamps. Only five midfield players made the squad for the Nations League semifinal and final. Comparatively, he called up nine defenders and six forwards. Then, Nkunku must compete with the likes of Paul Pogba, Adrien Rabiot, Matteo Guendouzi and the aforementioned Tchouaméni. There is a wealth of talent in midfield under a manager that does not opt for many in the position.

Even then, it is silly to exclude Nkunku. The Frenchman is one of the most in-form players in Europe, and his potential is wasted during the international break.

He is an intriguing prospect that can be molded into any kind of player to fir different managers’ schemes. He’s still young and his prime is a long way away, so there’s still time for him to learn new tactics.

Chances to prove himself

PSG v. Leipzig (November 3rd)

A revenge fixture for Nkunku looms ahead. The team that benched and dumped Nkunku will need to contain the explosive winger in the Red Bull Arena.

Also, RB Leipzig is desperate for a result in the competition. Zero points through three games sets the club well behind the pace. If there is any hope for European competition in the second-half of the season, Jesse Marsch’s squad need a result.

Leipzig v. Dortmund (November 6th)

After a highly significant game against PSG, Christopher Nkunku travels back to Leipzig to face German rivals Dortmund.

Dortmund, which is second in the Bundesliga, will play Die Roten Bullen to see if a dismantled Leipzig team is a contender or a poseur.

France v. Kazakhstan

There is legitimate reason to see this as a game for Nkunku to make his first appearance for the national side.

His performances in games leading up the the November international break should provide a good chance for a call-up.

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