Hugo Ekitike


Stade de Reims' Hugo Etikite
Peter Munnelly

JANUARY 24, 2022

Who is Hugo Ekitike?

Continuing the perennial trend of youthful breakouts in Ligue 1, Stade de Reims’ Hugo Ekitike has boasted a wonderful start to his first full campaign in the French topflight – directly contributing to 11 goals in almost as many 90s. 

This past window saw him turn down the chance to jump ship and head for Tyneside, as Newcastle United were in advanced talks on a £33 million move for the 19-year-old. Here’s why his rejection of that move is likely wise for more reasons than just distrust for the project.

Stade de Reims' Hugo Etikite

Hugo Ekitike's style of play



Reims’ coach Óscar García has been tentative in his use of the Ekitike, who has only lasted more than 80 minutes in 4 of his 18 appearances. The various cameos – which contribute to half of his 8-goal tally – have displayed intriguing differences between how the teenager handles himself when dealing with greater minutes.

Ekitike’s biggest strength is simply his movement. The closer he is to the opposition’s goal, the better. As the season has progressed, he’s increased the potency of his threat against defences through the increase in focus on runs in behind.

Besides being an unknown entity to even his teammates, he made a rod for his own back by not being a reliable threat in behind. So, it’s taken time for him to become a go-to option when players look for options in behind.

Part of this does come down to the alluded-to point of his minute-handling, since Ekitike has appeared very reserved in the aggression and frequency of his runs when starting matches, as he doesn’t want to burn himself out. When he comes off the bench, though, the weight of that burden not being present means he frees himself up to be a constant threat.

Over time, Ekitike has improved his positional sense by more consistently lurking in the shadows of his opponents. Previously, many of his sparing runs had seen him run too far across the face of his opponent, making it tougher for him to get ahead in time and to attack the appropriate lane. Now, he’s showing far better examples of channel exploitation by drastically shifting lanes and altering his body shape to match.

Once he puts on the afterburners, there’s really no stopping him… other than maybe himself. The tall but slender figure he possesses is excellent for taking long strides that enable him to accelerate past anyone over great distances. It’s just a matter of making sure it happens more and more because his control of balls on the run, especially when he has space as a cushion, is at its best in those scenarios.

The dynamism of his movement is even better displayed at crosses. Ekitike loves to engage and deceive his marker whenever possible. He is constantly changing directions and is so quick to shift gears, which has proved to be a very effective way of getting to the face of goal ahead of anyone else. What’s more, failed deliveries are sometimes, to him, seen as even more of an opportunity to exploit disorganisation.

Ekitike’s movement does, however, become a little more problematic deep of the last line – he shows for the ball to a fault. It can sometimes be his way of conserving energy whilst contributing, but it’s hurt by his lack of awareness, as well as how clunky he can from a technical standpoint.

Although he finds good times to drop into pockets in either halfspace, the teen always drops rigidly ball-facing and is too concerned with his marker. The latter essentially blurs his vision as he becomes so fixated on how his first two or three touches can ensure he’s not dispossessed, rather than using them to exploit open space through a first-time layoff or a control that turns him towards goal.

It’s why he’s best positioned as someone strictly on the shoulder, as his vision is less obscured and the attacking options are far more obvious to him before he’s even touched the ball.

Ekitike’s dribbling can be just as on edge. Although he can attack large, isolated spaces quite well on the cut-in, but immediately tightens up when the space does. In the box, the reliance on minor adjustments with both feet has let him down on too many occasions. There’ve been occasions where he’s gotten in behind but the execution of his cut-in touch has prevented him from getting off a clear shot past his opponent.

His measly 2.07 shots per 90 minutes speak to that. It adds crucial context to his impressive 0.19 non-penalty xG per shot, as it highlights the reason for it being the difference in quality between his play in and out of the box. It’s a shame because Ekitike has shown hints of being a great ball striker. His laced shots can carry amazing dip and are often arrow-like in their movement without being reckless.

Reims’ lack of crossing is also undoubtedly a contributor to Ekitike’s shot total. The 6ft2 striker has shown himself to be a solid contester but not a steady one, though. In both the approach and the outcome, he’s been too inconsistent, which raises some questions over how threatening he could be in front of goal

Forecasting Hugo Ekitike's future

The settled platform he’s been given at Reims has appeared integral to his current progress, which is why not throwing himself into the deep end of a Premier League relegation battle on transfer deadline day was a more than wise move.

 Not least because of what the exposure to his own flaws there could do to his development, plus also the links to a whole host of stronger clubs he could move to with a little bit of patience. 

Some of those linked include: Borussia Dortmund (as a possible Erling Haaland replacement), Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool, a host of whom reportedly had scouts in attendance to watch Ekitike in Reims’ win over Bordeaux on Sunday, February 6. His signature is certainly in demand.

Stylistically, it would be great to see him become a more dedicated off-ball striker. Someone always on the opposition’s shoulder, with a partner that can bear the weight of the ball-handling between the lines. Even in preparation for crosses, it would be better to see him remain a consistent presence in the box. 

Even with the technical faults weighing down plenty of his attacking game, there’s enough to work with in his off-ball play for him to have a great shot at moving up the football food chain in swift fashion.
Ekitike boasts fantastic box movement and has the potential to be a deadly threat in behind opposition lines, if he can prioritise off-ball movement more.
Ekitike currently lacks the experience to handle full nineties in a way that best plays to his own strengths, and so he finds himself tangled up in on-ball situations that expose his technical flaws.

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