Noa Lang: Is he worth the risk?

The season has only just finished and the transfer window isn’t open but Leeds United have been linked with what feels like half of Europe. After finishing 9th in the league and the club being in a strong position, Leeds United will be of interest to a lot of agents when trying to get their players a move this summer. One of those players is Noa Lang, the Dutch under 21 international was hoping to play a major part in the Netherlands aim to win the Under 21 European Championships this summer after an impressive season at Club Brugge but will miss out due to injury. He is currently on loan to the Belgium side from Ajax but a deal is already in place for him to sign permanently for around 6 million. Club Brugge are reportedly looking for a fee around 18 million if they are to sell despite only just signing him. Lang, who will turn 22 next month has provided 17 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this year, but is the fee for a player coming out of the Belgium top division worth it? I’ve taken a look using data from Wyscout and fbref.com as well as watching full matches and individual clips to try and answer that question.

Defending 

When looking at wingers most clubs won’t have defending and off the ball work as a main priority however those who have watched Bielsa’s Leeds United side over the past three years will know how much work is required from every player on the pitch. Defensively is where I have my main concerns when it comes to Noa Lang. His basic defending numbers are not great other than tackling, however, there are a couple of reasons for this. Club Brugge, who won the league were the most dominate side, averaging the most possession with 55.3 on average per game so the defensive responsibility that Lang had was very minimal. Unfortunately, Wyscout don’t provide pressing data which is a shame because that would have given us more of an indication as to how well Lang presses. Fbref do have a small sample size of his time playing in the Champions League  this season for Brugge and last season for Ajax. In the 1.4 90s he played for Ajax, he averaged 20 pressures per 90 and in the 3.3 90’s for Club Brugge he averaged 11.8 pressures per 90. From the eye test his numbers don’t paint the real picture. He is of a slight build so isn’t going to be able to stop the more explosive, physical full backs. He does however position himself to track his runner which is important if he was going to play in a man marking system like Leeds. As you can see from the examples below, he shows willing to sprint back and get into a defensive position despite being one of the furthest players forward. 

Having come through the Ajax academy where players are taught from an early age to press and win the ball back as soon as it is turned over, pressing wouldn’t be something he’s alien too. Below is a good example of this while playing for Ajax, the player is goal side and is looking to drive away from Lang but he sticks with him before putting in a well timed tackle.  

For me personally I’ve seen enough that he can do the out of possession work that is required under Bielsa. At times he does switch off which allows players to run in behind him but even the good defensive wingers like Jack Harrison switch off from time to time. 

Passing 

With Noa Lang being right footed but mainly playing from the left, he more often than not cuts inside and that is where he comes alive. He very rarely looks to go on the outside of defenders and cross the ball on his weaker foot. Lang is always on the move, picking up the ball in the half spaces and “zone 14” and this is where he does the most damage. He’s brilliant at playing one twos with teams mates or playing lobbed through passes to forward runners. This has been very effective for Club Brugge this season, as the pass below shows. He picks the ball up a bit deeper in the half space before playing a dinked ball to assist one of his team mates. 

Whilst he doesn’t look to cross the ball all that much, a fair few of his assists and chances created have come from him playing driven balls across the goal and cut backs from the touch line. For assists against Genk he popped up on the right and made a run in behind the defence before finding a team mate in the box. 

In this Club Brugge side, Lang is given a lot of freedom to express himself which allows him to almost have a free roam. At Leeds he would be expected to take up more drilled positions but he offers something different to Jack Harrison. Jack likes to stay wide and shift the ball onto his stronger left foot whereas Lang is the opposite. Lang would offer similar types of passes to Raphina due to them both coming in on their stronger foot. With Leeds United having midfield runners and excellent movement by Bamford and Rodrigo, Lang’s ability to play killer passes would fit right in. 

Attacking

Along with the creativity that he’s provided this season for Club Brugge, his goals have been massive for the club’s success. He finished the normal season with 15 goals from an expected 10.85 xG, something I was interested to explore given the over-performance. Out of the 15 goals he’s scored, 14 of those were inside the penalty area, with just one from the edge of the box. As you can see from the goal map below, 10 of his goals came from within the width of the penalty area.

Arriving in space and unmarked to finish is something Noa Lang is extremely good at. He is very composed when through on goal, normally finishing high into the roof of the net. A good example of this was the goal he scored late in the match against Waasl-Beveren. He ran into the space on the right, carried the ball before waiting for the goalkeeper to commit before firing it into the near post top corner. 

There is a real composure about Lang when in front of goal, something that makes me think that although you would naturally see a drop off in terms of goals and xG over-performance, I still think he would score a good amount of goals because of his positioning in the box and the way he calmly takes the ball away. He’s very good at shooting early before the keeper has chance to set, for example, his goal against K.V. Mechelen, where he made a very intelligent out to in run of the back of the defender before sliding it low past the keeper as he rushed out. 

The standard of the Belgium top division is of course not equal to that of a top 5 league and the step up is massive in terms of being able to score so many goals from a left wing position. However, as mentioned, I do think Lang is a good enough finisher and intelligent player to score the high xG chances so there is no real concern from me that his over-performance of his xG this season is down to luck. 

Lang is most effective when central and in tight areas, using his quick feet and low centre of gravity to wriggle out of challenges. He is clever in the use of skills, using body feints and little touches to off balance defenders. Once he has created separation from the opposition, his acceleration is good enough to get away. When he receives the ball, he is excellent at slowing down play before bursting past defenders when they’re flat-footed. The change in speed means the opposition struggle to pin him down. It’s hard to really show examples of this with freeze frame screenshots but below are a few where he’s managed to beat his man. 

Conclusion 

To answer the question posed at the start, I think the Noa Lang would be worth the risk. When buying any player there is a risk, even more so when buying a player who has only played in the Eredivisie and Belgium pro league but both leagues have provide good pathways for bright young talent. There is a lot to like about his game and his output this season has been brilliant. He’s soon to be 22, has good youth experience with both Ajax and the Netherlands. I can’t speak for his attitude off the pitch but if any deal were to happen, I’m safe in the knowledge that the club will have done so with due diligence.

Written by Thomas Wilson

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