How Corentin Tolisso can help Bayern Munich

Bayern Munich’s fourth incoming transfer of the summer window is French midfielder Corentin Tolisso. The 22-year old joins the Bavarians from Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyon. He will plug the hole opened up by the exits of Xabi Alonso and Philipp Lahm. Who is he and what can he bring to the table for Carlo Ancelotti?

Large transfer fee for another midfielder

While fans of big money spending were disappointed following Serge Gnabry’s 8 million € fee, they will be happier following the deal including Corentin Tolisso. According to media reports, the German champions will pay around 40 million € for the Frenchman straightaway. Another 10 to 15 million € could be added on top in the future, depending on usage and success in Munich. The midfielder has been signed on a 5-year-deal until 2022.
Such a big transfer sum for a central midfielder? Wasn’t there something similar last season? Yes, there was. However, Renato Sanches’ transfer is hardly comparable to the one of 1-time French international Tolisso. For one, the 22-year old has played professionally since 2013. He is a youth product from Olympique Lyon that he joined aged 13. This distinguishes him from second-year professional Sanches. No international tournament such as the Euros pushed Tolisso in the spotlight early on in his career either. In addition, his playing style is quite different and will be explained in detail below.
In total, the midfielder played 160 professional games for Lyon. Added on top can be many more youth internationals for France in the several age groups and his first team debut this March. He started against Spain in a 0:2 loss. Other big clubs such as Milan, Napoli or Chelsea were also interested in the player, only to see him enter through the door at Säbener Straße.

Who is Corentin Tolisso?

In general, Tolisso is a highly flexible midfielder, showing his qualities in offensive and defensive situations. Lyon coach Bruno Génésio used him in five different positions during the past season, while he played even further back on the pitch in the past. By now, he is predominantly a central midfielder (35 appearances). He also featured in offensive midfield (5), defensive midfield (3), hanging striker (2) and right midfielder (1). This résumé in itself might remind Bayern fans a little of Joshua Kimmich, who will move out of central midfield to take over at right-back.
His flexibility is highly regarded by Carlo Ancelotti and his coaching staff, giving him a plethora of additional options to play around with in the future. Not only does Tolisso possess a well-developed understanding of multiple positions, but got on the scoresheet alarmingly often as well. During his 47 appearances in league, cup, Supercup, Champions League and Europa League, the midfielder found the back of the net a whopping 14 times. He added another seven assists in the process. Danger from deeper areas was all-too-often a non-existent feature of Bayern’s gameplan, which is why he brings a valuable asset to the table.
Despite his young age, he even led Olympique Lyon to the field on five occasions the past year.

Which player type is Tolisso?

In various interviews, Tolisso himself confirmed that his favourite position on the field is defensive or central midfielder. His strategic abilities underline his own assessment. Aside from being a strong build-up player that likes to go back deep to pick up the balls and distribute them, he does well at initiating counter attacks. When thinking about strategic skills, the idea of Xabi Alonso is not far-fetched, but Tolisso plays a different style. He is – not only due to his young age – faster and able to run a lot more than the Spaniard. Considering the counterattack issues Bayern faced for years against top competition now, this is certainly good news.
Tolisso does well at closing down passing lanes and intercepting opponents before they know it. In addition, he possesses excellent patience and technique on the ball, which lets him convince in intricate situations. He will win the ball and have the solution for the counter (or safe pass if it must be) in the back of his mind already. One of his biggest strengths in Ligue 1 football were his through-balls into the run of Lyon’s strikers such as Alexandre Lacazette. According to WhoScored, he produced an average of 0.4 through-balls per game along with his 1.4 key passes per game. It is no surprise that OL ranked first in the league in shots on goal.
For Bayern, these skills have been absent aside from wingers Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben. It might just add another weapon into the arsenal that players such as Robert Lewandowski will be happy about. Thanks to his own runs forward and strong finishing showcased by those 14 goals, die Roten add danger from midfield and therefore further options in and around the penalty area.

Weaknesses of the French midfielder

If you think about him as a careless player now, it is also not the truth. Tolisso does not give the ball away very often and is resistent against the opponent’s pressing attempts. This could be a nice reminder of what Javi Martínez brought to the table during the treble season. This transfer looks like it will make Javi forever disappear at centre-back.
However, one thing that remains to be seen is how his playing style translates over to the Bundesliga. While Ligue 1 has certainly improved over the past few years, highlighted by PSG’s pretty consistent appearances in the Champions League quarterfinals and Monaco’s magical run this year, the league remains poor after the first couple of spots. Tolisso received a lot more time and space against weaker opponents which he simply will not in Germany. Can you imagine Dortmund and Mainz sitting back waiting for him to play his passes?
Tolisso’s passes might be strong, but he will need to improve upon his 83.8% passing completion. Another detail that is nowhere near top class are his dribbling skills. The Frenchman is not the creative guy that will copy Thiago Alcántara’s trademark runs through three defenders. Instead, he needs to make up for it by finding the open rooms early and positioning himself well. A deeper position seems very suited for him. This is supported by the fact that he liked to drop deep, even when theoretically playing further up the field. Tolisso needs the ball in his feet and a lot of it. You do not want to open up holes up front, because one player is constantly out of position.

What does it mean for the others?

Corentin Tolisso is coming in as the new man, as does Sebastian Rudy. They are both very flexible players, able to play multiple positions, but both at their best in central midfield. This means they will be direct opponents of one another and Renato Sanches on top. The bright thing is that both players can look back on a broader sample size, making their respective transfers a lot less dangerous than the one of Sanches. Whether Tolisso can get used to Germany faster depends on himself, but there is no doubt that countrymen Franck Ribéry and international teammate Kingsley Coman will do what they can to make him feel at home.
With another player coming in, these things become obvious:

  1. It is now or never for Renato Sanches. If he does not manage to win the duel against Tolisso and/or Rudy, he will be out the next summer.
  2. A midfield three seems relatively certain when looking at the profiles of midfielders and continued search for strong wingers.
  3. Javi stays at centre-back, Kimmich moves to right-back.
  4. Early replacement for Vidal? If the Chilean departs to China next summer, we might already have the replacement on the team, well-integrated on top.
  5. Additional skills always help. Whether it is through-balls or strategic skills, Bayern needed a younger man in a central midfield role after years of Alonso and got him now.
  6. Build on youth: At just 22 years old, Tolisso is a sign of what is ahead for the Bavarians with the departures of Robben and Ribéry imminent as well. Hopefully he turns out as expected.