Assessing Amadou Haidara's first full Bundesliga season
When Amadou Haidara plays, he plays well. Nathan Evans looks back at his first full season in the Bundesliga and picks through his skillset.
Taking the well-trodden pathway from Salzburg to Leipzig in the January of 2019, Amadou Haidara has impressed in his first full, injury-free season in the Bundesliga – when he could get on the pitch, at least.
With 27 appearances across all competitions during the unprecedented 2019/20 season, the 22-year-old began to impose himself on Julian Nagelsmann's RB Leipzig team sheet more frequently. Despite only playing a full 90 minutes on four occasions – and only managing eight starts across those 27 matches – one would like to believe that the Malian’s minutes have largely been limited by Leipzig's big squad, rather than his own deficiencies.
Last season was the highest point of a fledgling career to date. Born in Bamako, Mali's capital, Haidara began playing football from an early age with his close family. His talent was recognised by JMG Academy where he impressed for the system’s various youth sides before he was acquired in 2016 by Red Bull Salzburg. He spent his first season in Europe out on loan at FC Liefering, Red Bull's entry-level club in the Austria's second division, before going on to make 83 appearances for the first-team. His excellent performances in Austria meant Red Bull ushered him up the ladder to their showpiece club, RB Leipzig, with great interest.
ASSESSING HIS SKILLSET
Capable of playing as either a defensive-minded midfielder or in an attacking role, Amadou Haidara has an extraordinary natural stamina and the drive and ability to change games. If he continues his development with the ball at his feet, he could very soon become one of Europe’s finest central midfielders.
Standing at 5’9” with a slight frame, Haidara isn't ostensibly a huge presence in midfield – but looks can be deceiving. He describes himself as ‘a combative player who works hard in defence’, and that’s certainly evident watching him play. He doesn’t shy away from hard-hitting tackles in midfield, making on average 3.6 per 90 minutes of action but his tally of only four yellow cards this term highlights his natural control in the challenge. Unlike many others who play in the centre of the park across Europe, the RB Leipzig youngster has a level of discipline well beyond his tender age.
But Haidara is more than just a defensive-minded midfielder. His drive and natural fitness set him apart and mean he's constantly moving, covering ground both in attack and defence. Haidara is one of those players who might prompt onlookers to comment “he’s everywhere, that guy”. With 6.2 successful pressures and 1.1 interceptions per 90, he plays a significant role in helping Leipzig to break up play in midfield before quickly shifting into a counter-attacking motion.
His transition play is advanced for a 22-year-old midfielder. As mentioned before in reference to his defensive work rate, Haidara helps to stall opposition attacks – but also has the ability to recover and use the ball effectively to push his team forward. With a pass completion rate of 86.7% this season and averaging 5.5 passes into the final third per 90, the Haidara is progressive in possession. With 440 yards of progressive distance per match, Haidara is predominantly a box-to-box midfielder but could focus his skillset in a more defined role.
In an attacking sense, Haidara stood out. Granted, his raw statistics – no goals this season, and only two assists across all competitions – may seem poor, but Julian Nagelsmann’s current system means Haidara doesn’t spend much time directly behind the striker compared to a player like Marcel Sabitzer. Instead it’s in the secondary phase of attack that he performs best, during the passage of play that facilitates chances. As mentioned, Haidara's influence on the attack is evident in his progressive yards statistics and high pass completion rate, but upon closer inspection his impact becomes even more significant: Per 90 this season Haidara has contributed 4.3 shot-creating actions for the players around him. That’s a higher figure than both Sabitzer and Konrad Laimer, his usual central midfield partners at Leipzig.
Those statisitical points are of course impacted significantly by the fact that he only played 8.2 nineties across the entire league season, a sample nowhere near large enough to come to any definitive conclusions using data alone. But watching Haidara does support the data: what you see on the spreadsheets is, more or less, what you see on the pitch too.
His assist for Timo Werner during Leipzig’s final-day Bundesliga win away at FC Augsburg demonstrated exactly what he’s about. Picking up the ball in the centre circle, Haidara pushed forwards, calmly side-stepped an opposing midfielder before sliding a perfect through ball to Werner, who rounded the goalkeeper and finished.
Considering it was his first Bundesliga start in 15 games, his strong overall performance and attacking contribution could give boss Nagelsmann a nudge to give him more match time next campaign. Scouted Football covered that performance briefly, here.
It wasn't the perfect season for Haidara, though, who does have areas of weakness. His tally of 744 league minutes suggests that there are elements to his game that Nagelsmann remains unsure of. One such weakness is his small stature can often be dominated in the air by opposing players, and as such offers little help when defending set-pieces. On the face of it his aerial win percentage of 47.5 doesn’t seem too bad, but Haidara often stands off the aerial challenge and instead decides to pressure the opposition after the ball has been brought down. That isn’t a bad strategy in isolation but as Leipzig don’t have much height in central midfield it could become a long-term problem for the club.
Haidara went missing during matches on occasion. Because of the way Leipzig patiently build up the play from the back, their central midfielders are instrumental in finding and engineering space. Haidara is currently too prone to being suffocated by the opposing midfield to be a constantly reliable passing option.
His best play comes when he operates as the deep-lying midfielder with vacant space ahead of him. With the intelligence to dictate the pace of a match, Haidara is at his best when he comes short to receive a pass before spinning into space and aggressively pushing forwards. In this role, the 22-year-old has both the defensive and offensive awareness to thrive; with his impressive range of passing, he can unlock the opposition from deep. When on form and with space in front of him, Haidara is a dangerous prospect for any opponent.
ASSESSING COMPARABLE PLAYERS
Due to his Red Bull background – starting in Salzburg, then making the leap to Leipzig – and west African heritage, Haidara has been compared with Liverpool's Naby Keïta. Separated by a border at birth, both have navigated a similar route to the upper-echelons of European football, and both share many technical similarities on the pitch. Ralf Rangnick, Leizpig's former sporting director, alluded to the parallels between the two when Haidara joined the German club, saying: “There aren't many players his age with so much potential. He has all the requirements to follow in Naby Keïta's footsteps.” Wearing the same squad number as Keïta did at Leipzig, number eight, it's true that Haidara is beginning to show striking similarities to the man who moved to Merseyside for £54million in the summer of 2018.
When studying the numbers in depth, this season Haidara has performed at a similar level to Keïta. With both midfielders only playing around 800 league minutes, their numbers are remarkably similar. Granted, Keïta is three years older and has already made his big career move but, considering his lesser age, Haidara could very well fill his boots at Leipzig.