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What is the best instance of a club backing their manager? It is a question that is always asked among football fans. For example, looking at the 2022-23 season, we could point out Liverpool’s backing of Jurgen Klopp even after a disastrous season. Another great example is Graham Potter, who, even after disastrous results, is expected to be Chelsea’s manager come next season. However, this comes nothing close to what Ligue 1 side Reims are doing for their manager Will Still.
The 30–year-old doesn’t even have the qualifications to manage in the top leagues. So, Reims have to pay €25,000 every time they play a match. However, the improvements that they have made under Will Still far outweigh the sum of money they have to part with after every game.
While young managers are slowly becoming an integral part of the footballing set-up, Will Still’s rise shows that even the most inexperienced coaches can thrive at the top level with the right tactics and personnel for the job.
Will Still Reims’s stats
Will Still was appointed as the assistant manager before the start of the season. However, after manager Oscar Garcia, Still was appointed as the caretaker manager. However, after Reims went on an undefeated run of five games, he was given the job even without their managerial credentials.
And since his appointment, Reims are the only team across the top five leagues that have remained undefeated in league. This is an impressive achievement for a manager in his first season. On top of that, during this spell, they have only conceded seven goals, with only Barcelona and Newcastle United faring better during this period.
Reims have one of the best defences in the top five leagues with these performances. And Will Still’s deployment of the 4-2-3-1 formation has been a critical reason for it. However, one of the significant reasons for Reims’ turnaround has also been the rise of the impressive Folarin Balogun. The youngster on loan from Premier League leaders Arsenal is the current joint top scorer in Ligue 1, along with Kylian Mbappe and Jonathan David.
He has been so devastating that he keeps the opposition’s defence at bay, allowing Reims to have breathing space during specific game periods. Even when defending, Balogun always stands up with the last defender and quickly uses his pace during a counterattack to make well-timed attacking runs past the defence.
Reims’s incredible defence also allows them to win matches by a small margin. Data from Understat show that the team scored 15 goals when the game was tied. On top of that, the team has scored eight goals in the last 15 minutes, which has helped them rescue a lot of points.
Will Still tactical analysis
As mentioned earlier, Reims have played a 4-2-3-1 formation ever since Will Still took over. And there are certain responsibilities for a player under this system. For example, in the formation, the two central midfielders are always expected to stay in the middle and not venture out to the wings. It is because the team could easily find themselves outnumbered in the middle of the park, especially if the opposition is playing a three-person midfield.
The team also tries to play the majority of their game through the flanks by linking their full-backs and wingers to overload the wings. However, the team does not have the high quality to play this way for the entire match. It is here that the flexible tactics of Will Still help Reims a lot.
Under the Belgian, the team deployed multiple ways of starting their build-up play. This includes going long with the goalkeeper and target Balogun, who uses his physical stature to control the ball inside the opposition’s box. However, most of the time, they start their build-up play from centre-backs. The defenders then either go long and target strikers or pass the ball down the flanks.
Without the ball, the team quickly goes into the 4-4-2 formation. This allows them to force their rivals to go down the flanks. It is because any team which is heavy on defence don’t usually like the ball to be played through the centre. It is one of the reasons why Reims have the third-most successful tackles and fourth-most interceptions in the league.
Reims’ attackers have also followed a specific strategy to ensure they manage to get the goals the team needs. It is to take most of their shots from inside the penalty box. The reasoning is simple: if you tackle more shots from high xG areas, you have a better chance of scoring more. And none has had more success deploying this than Balogun, who has scored 15 goals, marginally better than his xG rating of 13.92.
Will Still Reims: Key Players
Folarin Balogun is the primary reason Reims have been so brilliant in Ligue 1. However, there have been others who have stepped up, especially in defence, that have been the bedrock of their impressive season under Will Still. Goalkeeper Yehvann Diouf is one of them who has kept nine clean sheets across 17 games. However, eight of these have come in 14 matches that he has played under Will Still, giving him a clean sheet accuracy of 57.14 per cent.
Others to step up in defence are centre-backs Yunis Abdelhamid and Emmanuel Agbadou, who have formed a solid partnership at the heart of the defence with Thibault De Smet and Thomas Foket acting as the two full-backs.
And while Balogun is scoring at an impressive rate, two of his teammates are creating the majority of chances which the Arsenal man is burying in the back of the net. The first is winger Alexis Flips, a product of Lille’s youth academy who has five assists and two goals to his name, the most by any player on the team.
The other player is Japanese Junya Ito, who has scored four goals and provided two assists. Ito is also the most lethal player on the team, as he ranks the best player in the team on the Expected Threat (xT) metric.
With such incredible performances, the club’s top hierarchy won’t mind paying the €25,000 fine until he earns his UEFA Pro coaching licence badge. And if the Belgian has managed to turn around the club’s fortunes quickly, he could make his team far more lethal with a pre-season and a summer transfer window under his belt.
While Reims may not be the fairytale story of this football season like the Bundesliga new powerhouses Union Berlin, they have put their name up for the same for next season.