Newcastle United have reportedly agreed a deal with 19-year-old Reims striker, Hugo Ekitike. The fee is thought to be in the region of £26.5 million + seasonal add ons.
The Frenchman was strongly rumoured to make a move to Tyneside in January, however talks seemingly collapsed at the final stage.
Ekitike, who shares a similar play style to Thierry Henry, managed to register 10 goals and three assists in 24 appearances in Ligue 1, contributing to 23% of Reims' goals this season - despite missing 14 games due to a hamstring injury as well as serving a red card suspension.
Known to many as the self-styled 'league of talents', Ligue 1 has once again provided a French academy-developed player to the brink of Premier League football; continuing to boast it's rather incredible record for producing some of Europe's best young talent.
Here is a breakdown of the striker's scouting report this season:
Elaborating, as per 'FBREF', it can be highlighted that Ekitike is in the top 7% for 'Non-Penalty-Goals' this season, averaging 0.64 NPG Per 90. Even more impressively, the striker possesses an incredible goal conversion rate of 32% - the highest by an U21 player across Europe's Top 5 leagues. It is also a monumental achievement the Frenchman is the highest scoring teenager across Europe's Top 15 leagues.
Just to add context, if you look at this statistic holistically, Ekitike's shot conversion rate is better than every Premier League attacker other than Liverpool's Takumi Minamino - 40%. However, this can easily be criticised as an unfair accumulation of data as the player has played 11 matches this season producing a small data set of only 7 shots.
Here is where Ekitike stands against Europe's Top 5 goal-scorers in the 2021/2022 season (goal conversion rates):
- Robert Lewandowski - 22%
- Kylian Mbappé - 19%
- Ciro Immobile - 25%
- Karim Benzema - 23%
- Wissam Ben Yedder - 38%
Only Monaco's star striker, Wissam Ben Yedder, could manage a better goal conversion rate than the State De Reims youngster. Although Ekitike only played 24 games this season, thus likely his conversion rate would have perpetually dropped, this still shows how talented the youngster has been and the limitless potential he clearly has.
How will he fit into Eddie Howe's 4-3-3?
The State De Reims striker spent nearly all season in the CF role, making only 3 appearances on the left-wing. So although potentially versatile, one would expect to see the Frenchman leading Newcastle's attacking line.
At 6'3" the striker, at least on paper, has the potential to be an attacking arial threat - something Newcastle have arguably been missing the past few seasons.
However, the teenager did not score a single headed goal this past season, this may be due to the way in which Reims tactically operate in the final third usually producing a significant amount of low-driven crosses, but perhaps this is also an attribute he will evolve over time as he develops physically.
Uniquely, despite his height, it appears that Hugo Ekitike's dribbling is one of his strongest attributes. He stands in the top 3% for dribbles completed Per 90 (2.12) against forwards from Europe's Top 5 Leagues and further averages 4.38 ball carries which see's the youngster among the top 16% of European forwards.
Under Oscar Garcia at State De Reims, Ekitike was primarily used in a two-striker system (3-5-2), something we haven't yet seen employed from Eddie Howe since his departure from Bournemouth, yet when analysing his play style, it seems likely that Ekitike would mould into to United's starting 11 without too much difficulty.
Another ability that Ekitike possesses is his link-up play. The striker occasionally drops into a more False-9 position and can be seen regularly drifting out to the left-wing to pick up long passes progressed from the left-back position, or as the receiver to 'switching-the-play' passes played by either the right back or from one of the number 8 midfielders, a position that Bruno Guimaraes has played to perfection ever since he joined United in January.
As per 'Smarterscout', we can see that Ekitike completes the majority of his short passes from the left side of the final third, the side which also see's the youngster complete most his dribbles.
This showcases the potential partnership Ekitike could have with Newcastle's magician Allan Saint-Maximin, who tends to play on the left-wing creating chances by cutting inside, something the Reims striker also does well.
This graph also appears to highlight Ekitike's poacher instinct with the high-majority of his shots being fired from inside the 18-yard-box. A certain attribute in which Ekitike excels in is his one-touch finishing.
Although the forward at times can show great composure and slow the play down, he also has the ability to play in fast-paced attacking passages which include one touch passing and shooting - something Eddie Howe has drilled into his players, similar to the attacking style he adopted at Bournemouth.
Newcastle now also have the technical ability of Kieran Tripper in the right-back position who is capable of playing long accurate passes into the striker from either side of the defence.
According to 'SmarterScout', when we look at Newcastle's passing network, the player which receives the ball from another player more than five times Per 90 the least has been the striker - a role primarily filled by Chris Wood from January onwards.
As seen on the graph above, Newcastle have played 18 out of their 38 games this season in a 4-3-3 formation where the striker has been the least involved in their passing network (highlighted by the red dot in the final third).
Perhaps Hugo Ekitike can enhance Newcastle's central ball possession in the final third with his accurate link-up play in which he engages the use of his teams wingers the most; potentially playing in-between Allan Saint-Maximin and Ryan Fraser, creating a dynamic attacking trio.
The starlet has completed 71% of his passes this season and earns himself a place in the top 26% of attackers with his Shot-Creating-Actions at 2.69 Per 90. So, ticking off his offensive abilities it is also important to highlight how good Ekitike is off the ball.
Howe has transformed The Magpies to play more front-foot football which see's his team set up to win the ball in the middle of the park and produce fast-paced counter attacks with overlapping wing-backs.
The 19-year-old Frenchman possesses the statistical data that suggest he should help advance this system and add to Newcastle's pressing system.
He averages 18.03 pressures Per 90 (top 23%),1.20 tackles Per 90 (top 14%) and 1.06 interceptions which put's Ekitike in the top 1% of forwards across Europe's Top 5 Leagues.
It appears that the player possesses great tenacity and aggression when off the ball, pressing the opponents defensive line, something that perhaps Chris Wood did not do to great effect.
Ekitike's off the ball movement in offensive situations is also worth analysing. The attacker has a substantial amount of pace which he uses to great effect. Despite the Frenchman's low one-on-one take ons, he intelligently carries the ball forward into space, ultimately making it more difficult for the oppositions defensive line and granting his teams wingers and central midfielders unmarked space to receive the ball.
Here in Figure 1 we see Ekitike pick the ball up, just over the halfway line on the left side of the pitch which has been progressed from teammate Yunis Abdelhamid from the LCB position. As highlighted, when Hugo Ekitike receives the ball he quickly turns forward and accelerates diagonally into the space shown. This is something that Callum Wilson also does well, receiving the ball and actually opening his body out to face the oppositions goal, this way, possession can be progressed up the pitch, rather than passing sideways or knocking the ball back which gives time for the opposition to regain positional shape. When Ekitike has the ball at his feet he could easily play a through ball to his strike partner Ilan Kebbal who is highlighted making a run between the two Lyon defenders. By holding onto the ball, Ekitike also draws in the Lyon RB which opens a channel down the left-wing for Abdelhamid to sprint into (just below Ekitike).
Here Figure 2 shows Ekitike, who has now progressed the ball further forward using his extremely quick acceleration into the centre of the field dribbling past two of Lyon's central midfielders. Denayer, who is in the middle of the trio of defenders highlighted, now has a problem whether to press Ekitike or to drop back and follow the run of Ilan Kebbal. The fast-pace that Ekitike has when carrying the ball causes distortion in the Lyon defence who now have to react sharpish in order to nullify Reims' counter-attack. Lyon's midfielder (to the right of Ekitike) is now also drawn towards the ball which grants space for Alexis Flips to sprint into offering another passing opportunity. Since Joelinton's renaissance and the addition of Bruno Guimaraes, The Magpies also attack in a very similar way, in regard to fast counter-attacks from the middle of the park thanks to the Brazilian duo's incredible interceptions Per 90. Ekitike could perhaps follow United's number 9, Callum Wilson, footsteps in the way he amalgamates the attack from receiving the ball in-between the lines from the central midfielders. The Frenchman would have to work on his strength and overall physicality, but definitely offers to be a lot more of a tricky customer for defenders in terms of his intricate, skilful dribbling that he uses to time his explosive acceleration when taking on the opposition.
Here in Figure 3 the State de Reims striker has played the ball to teammate Alexis Flips who strikes the ball from range, something that Reims have done frequently under manager, Oscar Garcia. Ekitike who is highlighted, now has three of Lyon's defenders closely around him, however, due to his intelligence and understanding of his teams attacking tactics, he knows his teammate is likely to shoot from range. Therefore, Ekitike positions himself into a channel that allows him to follow the ball in and press the goalkeeper to sweep up any potential rebounds.
This figure magnifies the teenager's off-the-ball alertness as he positions himself a yard to the left of Denayer, opening a clear patch to Lyon's goalkeeper. This frame also highlights Ekitike's reaction speed. As shown, he has two defenders either side of him, however he does not enter a state of complacency; the striker anticipates the shot and remains light on his feet ready to strike. According to FBREF, last season Newcastle averaged 0.09 goals per shot, with their most clinical striker being Callum Wilson who averaged 0.19. The French star, rather impressively, averages 0.31 goals per shot which highlights his natural instinct for goals and his habitual positioning of being in the right place at the right time. With the strong likelihood that Callum Wilson will not stay fit for the entirety of the season, Newcastle could really do with someone like Ekitike who clearly possesses more mobility than their current options up top and a goal conversion rate that is unheard of at Tyneside. The correlation between Newcastle's finishing league table position and having a striker who scores a heavy percentage of the teams overall goals is extremely strong. Picking out two marquee examples would firstly be in the 16/17 season where Dwight Gayle led United to the EFL Championship with 23 goals. Then additionally in the 11/12 season where Demba Ba scored 16 goals leading them to a Europa League spot. So, although we are seeing the game evolve where goal involvement from some of Europe's top teams are not always solely reliant on a sole striker - contributions from attacking midfielders and inside forwards are beginning to also play a major role - Newcastle's need for a clinical talisman is clear.
What comes with every attacking talisman?
Composure... and that's just what Hugo Ekitike shows here in Figure 5. After beating Denayer to the rebounded ball with his quicker reactions, the Frenchman has the option to hit the ball in what seemingly appears to be an open goal. However the sheer serenity the striker possesses allows him to slow the game gifting him time to see the Lyon centre-back throw his body in the way of the ball, and send him to the corner flag after deceiving him with a delightful fake-shot.
The end product. There's not really a huge deal to analyse here other than the overt coolness the 19-year-old possesses. A perfectly timed fake-shot see's the Belgium international, Denayer, duly dispatched leaving the Reims striker with an open net to win the game for Le rouges et blancs in injury-time.
So, the striker that has one of the best goal conversions in Europe, and is that good, his name is a palindrome, is on the brink of a potential breakthrough season in the world’s best league with Newcastle United.
Whether the Frenchman will be symbolic of a typical needs a season to settle case is yet to be seen, but what isn't in doubt is the raw talent the teenager already possesses, and the potential he has to become an icon at Newcastle United.