Eight months ago, when the Ligue 1 season paused for its winter break, Jonathan David was at the centre of several transfer rumours to some of the world’s biggest clubs.
David had scored 16 goals in Lille’s first 26 games across all competitions and guided Les Dogues to the round of 16 in the Champions League, which led to many in the Canadian soccer community expecting a marquee transfer in the summer.
Unfortunately for David, that did not occur. Lille finished 10th in Ligue 1 (after winning the title in 2020-21), exited the Champions League with a whimper against Chelsea, and the Canadian’s strong start was long forgotten with just three goals in his next 21 games.
There were many theories behind the slump, although this wasn’t the first time David experienced a decline in form. He didn’t score for Lille until November during his first season in 2020-21, picking up just two goals in 23 matches before finishing with 11 goals in 24 appearances after the winter break. That inconsistency, coupled with Lille’s reported asking price, could’ve scared off potential suitors.
Thankfully, new coach Paulo Fonseca has replaced Jocelyn Gourvennec and it’s breathed new life into the 22-year-old.
Fonseca, who prefers a 4-3-2-1 formation with two playmakers behind a striker during his coaching career, has tabbed David for one of those playmaking roles. He occupied that position at Gent where he attracted attention from several clubs, including Lille.
It’s clearly comforted David because, like his final season in Belgium, he’s started the year in a fury. He has two goals and two assists in two starts, and while it’s early days, there’s a lot to be excited about.
For starters, David is not a traditional No. 9. He is an intelligent runner, but prefers finding pockets of space around the box to manipulate, as seen for his two assists.
In both instances, David dropped into open space, his teammates played the ball quickly, and converted two beautiful goals.
This is a regular theme because when Lille has possession, David (No. 9) moves inside to play off the centre forward, Mohamed Bayo (No. 27), receives the ball in deeper areas and progresses it in the final third.
That enables David to execute his patented delayed, undetected runs into the box for a shot.
This results in Lille being a major threat on the counter when David spreads his wings.
Of course, there’s a major difference facing newly promoted Auxerre and, say, Nice or Monaco. In fact, French champions Paris Saint-Germain are up next this weekend. That will provide a better sense of how well David, and Lille as a whole, have progressed.
But there are promising signs. David playing in a role that’s more suited to his qualities can only have a positive knock-on effect for the rest of the season.
OTHER UPDATES AND ANALYSIS
• Alphonso Davies’ opening game of the Bundesliga season against Eintracht Frankfurt was relatively uneventful, mostly due to Bayern Munich’s resounding 6-1 win. The second match on Sunday vs. Wolfsburg might have provided a window into what we can expect from Davies for the rest of the season, though.
The 21-year-old was far more involved in the final third compared to the Frankfurt game, mainly due to Davies (No. 19) essentially owning the entire left flank.
But it was where Davies carried the ball that was intriguing. There were a significant number of touches in the left half-space.
Chalk it down to early season rust but Davies couldn’t penetrate Wolfsburg’s defence on the dribble in the opening 25 minutes.
However, Davies is so persistent, confident and so damn fast that he’ll eventually catch a defender napping. Eventually, Wolfsburg relented and the Canadian dynamo helped set up both of Bayern’s goals.
Bayern’s fluid front line should allow Davies to freely roam inside for the rest of the season and if so, that’s a dangerous prospect for opponents.
• Ike Ugbo re-debuted for Troyes on Sunday after permanently signing from Genk. He logged around 30 minutes, although he checked into the game with Troyes 2-0 down to Toulouse, eventually losing 3-0. Ugbo’s actions basically involved pressing off the ball and contesting aerial duels, so it’s difficult to judge based on the circumstances.
Keep in mind, though, that Ugbo didn’t have a pre-season as he was frozen out at Genk, so he’ll need a few weeks to regain his touch, anticipation and overall fitness.
• The Luca Koleosho hype train is picking up steam after the young dual national came off the bench for 20 minutes in Espanyol’s 2-1 loss to Celta Vigo in La Liga’s opening weekend. He wasn’t very impactful, mind you.
Koleosho (No. 30 in the clips), who is eligible for the U.S., Canada, Nigeria and Italy, was called up by Canada in June to play in the eventually-cancelled friendly in Vancouver. The September window could be an ideal time to make that up to the 17-year-old.
• Over at Club Brugge, Cyle Larin has appeared in every game, albeit as a substitute. Brugge plays in a 3-5-2, which means Larin can play as a withdrawn striker, but Noa Lang and Ferran Jutglà are the go-to starters. Lang was linked with a move away before he ultimately stayed at the club, so Larin might have to be patient until fixture congestion ramps up when the domestic cup and Champions League begin.
Larin usually replaces Jutglà, so the chemistry with Lang is improving by the game.
To Larin’s credit, he’s trying to get involved in the games. As a second striker, he often drops deep to receive in a pocket of space, then darts forward. He just doesn’t receive the ball every time.
All of it is very encouraging. Larin just needs to score in order to challenge the forward hierarchy.
• Cyle Larin’s countryman, Tajon Buchanan, hasn’t played this season due to an ongoing injury that he suffered mere minutes before the Super Cup. Thankfully, Buchanan is poised to return to training.
• Don’t look now, but Stephen Eustaquio is poised for a hefty minutes increase with Porto. Vitinha and Fabio Vieira’s departures, coupled with coach Sergio Conceicao switching to a 4-3-3, moved the Canadian midfielder ahead in the pecking order. Now he replaces one of Matheus Uribe or Marko Grujic and has received around 30 minutes per appearance so far.
Obviously Eustaquio (No. 46 in the clips below) has to capitalize and he’s done very well off the bench. He’s diligently covered the flank for his full-back…
… Been relentless with his off-the-ball duties…
… While maintaining his impeccable line-breaking distribution.
All in all, it’s a very encouraging start in Portugal for Eustaquio.
• Meanwhile, Steven Vitoria has started Chaves’ first two matches in the Primeira Liga – a 1-0 loss to Vitoria de Guimaraes and Monday’s 2-1 win over Maritimo. That’s a huge sigh of relief as Vitoria was at risk after his contract with relegated Moreirense expired in June, but he’s landed on his feet and, coincidentally, fits perfectly into Chaves’ system.
Chaves starts with a back four but it eventually morphs into a back three in possession. That’s a carbon copy of how he’s utilized with the Canadian men’s national team, so Vitoria can push up to engage in aerial duels and have adequate cover in behind, as seen below.
The only issue is Vitoria getting isolated in open space. It’s noticeable how slow he is to react against quicker, shiftier dribblers. But there’s seldom a problem with proper cover.
• The European season is also in full swing for the women, so here are a few names to track as the World Cup looms next year.
We’ll start with Jenna Hellstrom, who just moved to Dijon. She’s a late bloomer at 27 but could be a dark horse to make the World Cup squad if her Swedish form translates to France.
Then there’s Julia Grosso, who has been on fire with Juventus. She should be a starter for Canada if her form keeps up, and it’s easy to understand why.
Let’s close it out with Evelyne Viens. She didn’t make the W Championship roster but will surely be in contention for the World Cup squad if she keeps banging in goals for fun in Sweden. The 25-year-old has scored 10 goals in 19 games for Kristianstads, although she has nine tallies in her previous nine appearances.
• Junior Hoilett is still at Reading but has begun the Championship season at right wingback. In reality, Hoilett has played all over the pitch through the opening three games, including his usual No. 10 role over the weekend vs. Rotherham United.
Yeah, it’s very apparent that Hoilett (No. 23 in the video) is not a wingback.
• Theo Corbeanu joined Championship side Blackpool on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers late last month and has started back-to-back matches in the Carabao Cup in midweek, along with Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Swansea.
Corbeanu’s first proper appearance — a 78-minute stint off the bench — showcased some noteworthy qualities. He wasn’t holding onto the ball as long and got his teammates involved, which he seldom did while on loan at MK Dons in 2021-22.
Whether it was a case of facing so-called inferior opposition or otherwise, those individualistic tendencies returned for Corbeanu (No. 25 below) against fourth-tier Barrow in the cup, although it was mixed in with the occasional sublime pass.
Saturday’s loss to Swansea was worse. Corbeanu was hauled off at halftime after barely making an impact in the final third, the opening 10 minutes aside. Blackpool played quite deep which didn’t help but the 20-year-old winger just wasn’t involved enough to make an impact.
It’s still very early, so Corbeanu has a chance to adapt to a higher level in the Championship compared to his League One loans with Sheffield Wednesday and MK Dons. So far, though, it seems to be a case of a young player who needs to find consistency in his game.
• Daniel Jebbison wasn’t in Sheffield United’s matchday squad for the 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough on Sunday amid links to Everton. Jebbison did start the opening game of the season and came off the bench in the Aug. 6 victory over Millwall, too, both of which were eye-opening.
Not only has Jebbison (No. 36 in the video) bulked up, he’s a bit more aggressive when engaging in duels with defenders thanks to that improved strength, plus he’s composed in possession and still relentlessly presses opponents off the ball.
Jebbison isn’t the finished product, as evidenced by some clips in the video where he either hesitates to leap for a ball or gets shoved off by a defender. He also hasn’t been involved in the box, so there’s a lot to work on.
But Jebbison wouldn’t have earned that opening-day start vs. Watford if not for Burton Albion coach, and former Chelsea striker, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The 19-year-old spent five months on loan at Burton in League One last year before he was recalled by Sheffield United in January.
“Before going to Burton, I was still in my shell a bit,” Jebbison told the Sheffield Star. “But playing regularly for them and working with Jimmy, it made me understand what type of footballer I am. I discovered that I had a nasty side that I didn’t really know was in me and that’s really helped me come on.
“That, together with the help from Jimmy, was probably the biggest thing I took away from Burton. I had to get used to the nasty side of the game. There’s loads of improvement still to come from me but I’ll get there, definitely.”
All the more reason to give Jebbison the regular minutes he needs to keep growing as a player.
• Atiba Hutchinson is nursing an injury, so he has missed out on Besiktas’ first two matches of the season, but it’s supposedly not a long-term knock.
• There’s a Canadian in Turkey who is playing, though. Sam Adekugbe finished the full 90 in Hatayspor’s 1-0 loss to Super Lig champions Trabzonspor on Friday in a relatively uneventful match for the full-back. Hatayspor only registered seven shots, while the majority of Trabzonspor’s attacks were generated down the right flank, so Adekugbe had little to do.
• It’s mid-August, yet Liam Millar has already played more than 600 minutes this season. He registered an assist for Basel in midweek against Brondby as they reached the Europa Conference League playoff before coming off the bench for half an hour in Sunday’s loss to Lugano in the Swiss Super League.
The win over Brondby was a terrific night for Millar (No. 7 below). He set up several scoring chances and had a glorious opportunity to score himself.
Millar is significantly stronger when he’s allowed to drift inside as an inverted winger. He’s done so regularly since joining Basel last summer, which is tremendous for his confidence.
• Milan Borjan started Red Star Belgrade’s 4-0 win over Vozdovac on Saturday, while also leading the team into the Champions League playoff against Maccabi Haifa. The first leg kicks off on Wednesday afternoon.
• Borjan’s new teammate, Stefan Mitrovic, has been integral to Red Star since he moved from Radnicki Nis. The 20-year-old, who is eligible for Serbia and Canada, has two goals and an assist in seven appearances in all competitions this season.
It’s not just the goal involvements that are captivating. It’s Mitrovic’s impact in all facets. Whether he’s taking on defenders and cutting inside as a winger, executing striker-like runs to score or progressing the ball, there’s nothing Mitrovic (No. 80) can’t do.
With Serbia and Canada monitoring his progress, Mitrovic will be a hot commodity over the next few months if this form continues.
• Scott Kennedy has lost his starting spot at Jahn Regensburg, which led to speculation about his future. A source close to Kennedy revealed that he’s in talks with a major agency who sees potential in the 25-year-old defender, which could lead to a transfer before the end of the summer window.
• Belal Halbouni is a newcomer to the 2. Bundesliga, having joined Magdeburg from Werder Bremen’s reserve squad. He’s yet to debut but has a really intriguing profile for a centre-back.
• Over in Scotland, Victor Loturi has started well at Ross County after joining from the CPL’s Cavalry FC. Loturi was one of seven CPL youngsters I earmarked for a potential transfer away from the league and the 21-year-old has exceeded expectations in the Premiership.
The Aug. 6 defeat to Celtic highlighted Loturi’s defensive work rate and positional awareness. It’s a mental challenge to be locked in against either Old Firm club, so a young midfielder rising to the occasion deserves plaudits.
• Loturi’s teammate and countryman, Ben Paton, has come off the bench in Ross County’s previous two matches in the midfield. That’s a relief for Paton, who spent the majority of last season at left-back. He’s traditionally a No. 10 or winger, so getting an opportunity to play centrally should do wonders for the 21-year-old.
• OK, it was a 4-0 loss to Rangers, but Theo Bair had some bright moments for St. Johnstone as the No. 9 on Saturday. Bair’s size was a challenge for the Rangers defence and it nearly resulted in a goal for the Canadian.
Bair has started St. Johnstone’s opening three games, so regular minutes in a solid league could help the 23-year-old. If he cleans up his touch, which often leads to needless turnovers, he can transform into a decent target man.
• Speaking of former Vancouver Whitecaps, Amir Batyrev has landed in the Russian Premier League with Sochi. The 20-year-old forward joined the Whitecaps academy in 2018 from the Toronto FC academy before moving to Russia last year in the lower leagues.
But Batyrev joined the first team recently and has made two substitute appearances on the left flank, including Sunday’s 3-0 loss to Spartak Moscow. The former Whitecap (No. 28) definitely proved to be capable enough in that setting.
Keep an eye on Batyrev from here on out.
• Charles-Andreas Brym made his Eredivisie debut on Sunday for Sparta Rotterdam, who lost in a 3-2 thriller to AZ. Brym joined from FC Eindhoven in the Eerste Divisie, the Dutch second division, so this is a giant step up.
Due to the uptick in quality and pace of play, Brym was clearly taken aback by it all. Notice how he’s immediately pressed when receiving the ball in the clips below. That alone highlights how much quicker the games are compared to the Eerste Divisie.
It was a 13-minute cameo in his first appearance, but Brym will have to adapt quickly in order to earn more playing time at this level.
• He was MVP of the MLS All-Star Game and helped Minnesota United beat Nashville SC 2-1 a few days later. All in a week’s work for Dayne St. Clair.
But this was a beneficial confidence boost for the Canadian goalkeeper. He committed a few howlers in a 4-3 loss to the Colorado Rapids and 4-4 draw with the Portland Timbers. The last time St. Clair struggled, he was dropped by coach Adrian Heath in 2021 and rode the bench the rest of the season. Letting the 25-year-old deal with the “yips” is the only way he was going to recover and he’s done so.
• Maxime Crepeau started in LAFC’s resounding 5-0 victory over Charlotte on Saturday. Despite the lopsided score, Crepeau still had to make a couple of tricky saves to preserve the clean sheet.
• Maybe it was amplified by facing a Canadian club but Raheem Edwards delivered one of his best performances of the season in the L.A. Galaxy’s 5-2 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. Edwards gliding into the final third and progressing the ball was a joy to watch.
• Diyaeddine Abzi was one of several CPL players to move abroad, landing at Pau FC in Ligue 2. He was thrown right into the starting lineup for the season opener but struggled with the increase in physicality and pace.
Abzi has rebounded well in the last two games against Dijon and Le Havre, though. Interestingly, he’s played more as a winger in those matches whereas he started at left-back for the season opener. It makes sense because the 23-year-old’s (No. 2 below) best attributes are his dribbling and pace.
Considering Abzi wasn’t the best defensive full-back in the CPL, it makes sense to push him further up the pitch in Ligue 2. The only area of improvement now would be cleaning up his touch. Abzi could get away with a heavier touch in Canada but in Ligue 2, where it’s faster paced and more technical, that’ll be snuffed out.
• Another Canadian defender moved to Ligue 2 as well. Fresh off an impressive Concacaf U-20 Championship, Justin Smith moved to Quevilly on loan from Nice. He’s only made the matchday squad once — on Aug. 6 vs. Paris FC — but hasn’t debuted yet. Hopefully that changes soon because he desperately needs minutes.
• Of all the outgoing CPL players this summer, Aribim Pepple secured the marquee transfer in moving to Luton Town in the English Championship. He was immediately loaned to Grimsby Town in League Two, the fourth tier in the English pyramid, where he’s made two appearances already. Here are some snippets from those (he’s No. 23).
• Malcolm Simmons could be worth watching. The 19-year-old moved to Benfica in early August and has already debuted for the U-23s in midfield. Having last played in the Portuguese fifth division, it’s quite the leap but Simmons has great potential. He’s predominantly a deep-lying midfielder with excellent dribbling abilities, composure and defensive acumen. Hopefully we see more of him in the coming months.
About the author: Peter Galindo is one of Canada’s leading soccer journalists, having covered the sport for several outlets, including Sportsnet, MLS and Bleacher Report. He also co-hosts the Northern Fútbol Podcast, which focuses on all things Canadian soccer. You can subscribe to the show on Apple, Spotify or anywhere else you get your podcasts.