Profiling the Atalanta's recently-signed French right-back
Who is Brandon Soppy?
After a season spent treading the waters of first team football at Udinese, Brandon Soppy was taken under Gian Piero Gasperini’s wing this summer, with his move to Atalanta already appearing to be very fruitful.
Born and bred in urban Paris, Soppy started his senior career at Stade Rennais, where he came through their exceptional academy for the last few years of his formative development.
Sporadic minutes in the 2020/21 season there was enough to attract interest from around Europe, but it was Udinese that picked him up for a €2 million fee in the summer of 2021.
Limited to mostly substitute appearances last season, playing 760 minutes across 28 league games in all, Soppy has already racked up a career-best four assists in Bergamo. He even seems to be on an even keel with fellow wing-backs, and more established first-team members, Joakim Mæhle and Hans Hateboer.
Brandon Soppy's style of play
What makes Soppy such a modern defender is his intuition in possession. He’s built for the middle-third; the fluidity of his rotations into the middle and service of the ball come like second nature to him. With his acute awareness in these situations, he consistently executes clever double movements that create small separations, and uses said awareness to inform the types of controls he uses.
Adding to this is how comfortable Soppy is setting with either foot, consistently opening up his body. He knows it’s a necessity in order to facilitate combinations down the line, and he’s very comfortable applying himself in this way off either wing. In fact, on the left as an inverted player, he has a greater habit of making inward controls that move against the grain, manipulating the inside space.
Whilst Soppy is great at using his physicality to engage opposition pressure, as he can roll them, he shies away from engaging this way too often, especially from the inside. Consequently, it gives his marker a slight edge in momentum, allowing them to knock him off the ball.
What’s more is that, if he knows the return ball or lay-off ahead isn’t available, he stops himself from opening up his body in the same way. Although this is good acknowledgement of his environment, it dismisses what opening his body provides in terms of stretching the inside space for him to cut and pass into, since the closed-body touch can then be easier to trap and pressure.
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Soppy’s positivity when given time to think is impressive; he’s immediately on the look for the best forward pass, but sometimes to a fault. One of the weak points of his awareness – particularly in more open-space scenarios where he has to improvise – is that he narrows his vision too much towards the space ahead, to the point where he loses sight of his periphery. By the time he’s stopped searching for a forward ball, he doesn’t have a route to escape with pressure closing in.
It’s in stretched phases where Soppy shows his best control of the ball on the run and is willing to attack the space. In the congested wide areas, despite his close control and spectacular burst, the Frenchman doesn’t look to engage opponents head-on often enough, unless he’s required to. When he does risk trying to navigate through a tight space, his ball path adjustments crumble under secondary pressure.
In terms of passing, the aforementioned positivity of his scanning is what makes Soppy such an asset in the middle third. The right-back is willing to thread passes through narrow gaps and possesses an impeccable speed of release, which makes capitalising on small openings natural for him. This also applies itself to the copious pass-and-move exchanges he looks to spark from his relatively flat, horizontal positions out wide.
What works against him is his weight of pass, be it under or overcooked, especially when he has time to think about how he must weight the ball – sometimes even more so when presented with a simple lay-off in front of him.
The final third is where there’s a surprising drop-off in threat from the Frenchman, particularly given that Gasperini’s wing-backs usually carry a pronounced threat. Although there are the basics to work with, on and off the ball, Soppy is far from an instinctive attacking force.
His positioning and movement when given opportunities to attack pinned spaces remain quite stunted. He’s always wanting to receive to feet without directly pushing to instantly engage an opponent directly and/or the space ahead.
In spite of Soppy’a pace, his supporting runs are few and far between – and he isn’t a constant deliverer of the ball to make up for what he lacks in goalward movement. That said, much like in other phases of play, the weight of ball is typically what lets down the otherwise impressive awareness aspect of his crosses.
What fails to help neither his offensive or defensive output is his intensity. Possibly due to a lack of trust in his own durability, Soppy is quick to go from 0 to 100 and vice versa.
In attacking phases, he tends to detach from the attack entirely in ways that leaves him too far out of position to counter-press, which is often what it feels like his overly-conservative positioning are supposed to be geared towards. On the other hand, if he’s committed to making a box-to-box run in support of an attack, the odds of him recovering back the other way with close to the same energy are slim.
Combined with fleeting levels of blindside awareness in the defensive third, it makes for a dangerous combination that has seen opponents directly profit at crosses to convert big chances.
In Gasperini’s strict man-to-man pressing schemes, Soppy applies himself with greater consistency – he understands the need to be aggressive but also to angle his trigger presses and to confidently hold positions that stay true to the scheme, rather than what might be instinctual as to cover deeper.
The aforementioned awareness issues quickly creep in here, though, since he’s dealing with one-v-one movements and can often lead to reckless challenges from behind.
What doesn’t help, be it here or even in defence of more direct dribbles, is his technical approach. Soppy is too often rushing out with a narrow body shape, especially when he feels he has too much ground to make up. Therefore, in isolated situations, he’s easy to step around. He makes it hard for himself to change direction.
When being attacked on the retreat, he limits himself to a narrow body shape that aims to cover the outside push irrespective of his opponent’s stronger foot, which affords them the ease of cutting in with little resistance.
Forecasting Brandon Soppy's future
At just 20 years of age, Brandon Soppy already has the makings of a top-tier ball-handler, as seen through his understanding of patterns alongside his composure and technical ability with the ball.
Given that parts of his game that have the potential to elevate him to a level where he could be much more of a difference-maker in his own right, this summer’s move feels like one where the defender hit the jackpot.
Gasperini is a master of wringing out every last ounce of a player’s quality, and should he train Soppy to play in ways that are more commonly-associated with his usual wing-backs, then he’ll be helping to smooth out rough edges that need smoothing out in order for him to set himself apart.
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Brandon Soppy is a fantastically agile and forward-thinking cog in the Atalanta team, whose raw traits offer exciting attacking potential atop a base that is built for middle-third play.
Brandon Soppy is a heavily fluctuating live wire, whose lacking goal-based instincts and technical deficiencies are holding him back from being more than just a squad player.