While underwhelming in La Liga, Sevilla have once again reached a Europa League final, sweeping away Manchester United and Juventus to face Roma in Budapest. At the forefront of their success has been the timely goal-scoring of 25-year-old Moroccan striker Youssef En-Nesyri.
Under Julen Lopeteugi, the coach who had the longest tenure and most profound impact on the team tactically during En-Nesyri’s Sevilla career, the team’s attack was largely predicated on crosses. As a lone striker, En-Nesyri was the perfect player for this offensive approach.
The ex-Leganés man shows smart movement in the box, often loitering slightly behind the opposition backline before darting in the space between defenders at the last moment to attack a cross. He rarely stands still, always shuffling his feet to ensure he can shift his momentum and time his movements to appear ahead of defenders at precisely the right moment.
He has arguably one of the best leaps in football. His sheer athleticism in this respect can often be enough to get the better of defenders, as with a minimal running start he can ascend far higher than most defenders are capable of, as he showed to devastating effect in Morocco’s victory over Portugal in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. This allows En-Nesyri to be a varied aerial threat in the box, as he can both attack the space between defenders or pin one and trust his athleticism to get the better of them.
En-Nesyri is also a significant threat in transition. He has the necessary pace to be able to run onto through-balls and push back opposition backlines, creating space for Sevilla’s other forwards and midfielders even if he doesn’t receive the ball himself. When taking a shot in transition, he’s good at sorting his feet out quickly and adjusting his body angle to get a shot off.
He rarely looks like he can’t get a solid shot off from a transitional chance, meaning he can maximize these opportunities. En-Nesyri also shows good composure in front of goal, usually making the right decision about when to round a keeper, when to square the ball to a teammate, or when it’s better to take a shot himself.
All of these strengths have made En-Nesyri a reliable, effective striker for club and country. However, he has limitations that have kept him a tier or two below the truly elite strikers in Europe. He offers next to nothing in possession. It’s not that he’s not a good link player or isn’t particularly incisive with his passing or dribbling — he just doesn’t involve himself in the play. His touches per 90 rank him in the 2nd percentile of strikers in Europe’s top five leagues, and his progressive passing and carrying numbers are similarly dire.
In some ways, this is more of a reflection of the Moroccan’s style than his technical ability. He prefers to play on the last line as much as possible, and at Sevilla especially, this means the opposition backline is always pinned back to an extent and provides more space for creative players in other areas. However, to play for a club side that consistently competes for league titles and in the latter stages of the Champions League, En-Nesyri would need to show more value in possession and be able to both link play and pin opposition defenses.
En-Nesyri is also somewhat of a limited finisher. There are a few instances where he’s shown inventiveness or especially impressive goal-scoring: his delicate long-range effort to catch out David de Gea in the Europa League and his outside-of-the-boot finish against Osasuna come to mind. Yet in general, he seems to have a fairly limited range of finishes he can consistently replicate.
Unlike truly elite strikers, or even exciting young prospects like Gonçalo Ramos, Gianluca Scamacca, and Rasmus Højlund, he can’t pose much of a goal-scoring threat from tight angles or under significant pressure. He’s not the greatest ball striker either, meaning he poses little threat from distance. En-Nesyri is also quite one-footed in his finishing, limiting the angles from which he can shoot effectively.
These limitations are by no means debilitating to En-Nesyri’s game. He is still an effective striker, and while he may never become an elite striker who can score more than 20 league goals consistently and lead the line for a league-winning outfit, his skillset is still useful.
It’s also worth noting that La Liga has become an increasingly low-scoring league in recent years, with several teams opting for deep, compact defensive blocks that make it hard for relatively stronger sides like Sevilla to score. All teams want to be able to break down such defenses, and En-Nesyri’s goal-scoring record while playing against such defenses consistently could make him a valuable squad option to unlock low blocks with his movement and ability to attack crosses.
Should he move on from Sevilla this summer, he’d likely suit a team that’s fairly reliant on crosses from deep and uses a direct approach in possession. He’s been linked to West Ham in the past, and with Scamacca seeming a misfit for David Moyes and with two 30+-year-old options in Michail Antonio and Danny Ings, En-Nesyri could be a good fit.
En-Nesyri is mobile enough to be a threat on the counter, and his box movement and aerial presence would be put to good use in Scot’s system. Having a presence like him could also get the most out of the likes of Tomáš Souček and other midfielders in the squad, as the Moroccan can create space for them to target in the box.
He could also be an intriguing alternative to Ivan Toney for Brentford if his ban is upheld. He wouldn’t be the same talismanic presence, and he’s not quite the same as the Englishman stylistically. However, Thomas Frank has shown himself to be an adaptive manager, and could feasibly work En-Nesyri into an attacking system that is already quite direct and cross-heavy.
It could also be fun to see how the 25-year-old’s aerial threat is used in Brentford’s intelligent set-piece routines. It’s also easy to imagine him as a squad player at clubs like Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, or other top teams who could use a reliable box presence within their frontline.
Youssef En-Nesyri has limitations, but his box movement, pace, and physicality make him an effective goal-scorer and a valuable weapon against low-block defenses. After leading the line for Morocco in their sensational World Cup run, he could be on his way to helping Sevilla secure yet another Europa League trophy.
By: Vishnu Anandraj / @vishnua711
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Stefano Guidi / Getty Images