Bruun's Lyon emergence - Can she replace the talismanic Hegerberg?
Ada Hegerberg's long term injury opens the door for Signe Bruun, can she fill in for the injured striker?
Of all the injuries to hit Lyon, it’s the loss of Ada Hegerberg and Catarina Macario that's been felt the most by the club. The Norwegian talismanic striker was arguably Lyon’s most influential player both on and off the pitch last season, leading them to a UEFA Women’s Champions League and D1 title. A recurring leg injury has kept Hegerberg out and while she made a brief comeback, another shin injury during one of the early international breaks has now kept her out indefinitely. The American Macario was their top goal-scorer and a menace running riot from midfield who unfortunately suffered an ACL injury after the UWCL final.
For Sonia Bompastor, this meant she had to rethink her tactics though further injuries to the squad have hampered the situation. With Lyon short on personnel all across the board, it was an opportunity for the fringe players to step up, namely Signe Bruun. The Danish centre-forward has had limited opportunities since her move from Paris Saint-Germain and spent the second half of last season on loan at Manchester United. She’s shown her potential in flashes and though wasn’t exactly given a run of games for both PSG and Lyon, she now has an opportunity to realise the potential she so clearly has. Yet there are still a couple of questions that remain to be asked.
Thanks for reading Pressing Matters! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
How does Bruun replace Hegerberg in the lineup, and does it alter Sonia Bompastor’s style of play?
Bruun’s profile is a unique variant of the current types available. Her hold-up play is what stands out the most and given her stature and size, she’d arguably be a practical aerial option. Indeed, it’s part of her repertoire where she’s competent in dealing with aerial balls and duels with defenders. She’s a mobile target striker who enjoys dropping deep in between the lines to link up with the midfield and provide space for inside forwards to create inverted runs into the box. Bruun’s interchanging playstyle gives teams the option to play short, passing exchanges in and around the lines. She’s done this countless times for Denmark and adds a very different dynamic to the more ‘orthodox’ striker option in Caroline Moller. She isn’t a typical poacher yet she can finish like one. Bruun can mesomorph between target-man and deep-lying striker at will. How this works at Lyon is intriguing.
The advantage you have with such a striker is her ability to be both a penalty box focal point but also as a creative link player with a decent turn of pace; the way Lyon want to play is through a combination of midfield link-up and channel runs. Both of these core principles are theoretically a part of Bruun’s arsenal which means she should slot into the striker role without an issue. Normally, the 4-3-3 sees them use a lone centre-forward but one of the central midfielders plays closer to the striker as a No. 10. Daniëlle van de Donk and Lindsey Horan particularly enjoy playing further forward but will start deeper, giving the team an extra midfield presence in deeper possession scenarios, thus replicating a front four in final-third possession sequences.
The biggest issue facing Lyon this year has been the inconsistency between the starting line-ups because of injuries, hence the constant shift in trying to replicate the output of certain players. Take Ellie Carpenter’s injury – trying to replace her skillset at right-back becomes a near-impossible task given that neither Cayman nor Ines Jaurena have Carpenter’s combination of pace, power, or positional intelligence. Each player may bring certain isolated qualities, but not all of them at the required level in one player, therefore Bompastor has to adjust the system to suit the players at her disposal. Using Cayman comes with Lyon pairing her with Perle Morroni at left-back where the Belgian is given license to push forward a bit more.
Similarly, we have Bruun in Hegerberg’s place and while replacing her is certainly a monumental task, the Dane doesn’t necessarily need to replicate all of her qualities, but what really poses the biggest challenge against her chances is Catarina Macario’s injury. Some aspects of Lyon’s game like goal-scoring can come from other players like the goal-scoring attacking No. 8s and inside-forwards, but when your primary midfield source of goals is out for a considerable amount of time, then it means the goals have to come from elsewhere, and in this case, it’s from Bruun.
Last season, Lyon spread their goals around with three players scoring double-figure goals with another 16 further goal-scorers. The pressure to be the main goal-scorer fell to Catarina Macario playing as the main attacking central midfielder, scoring a sublime tally of 22 goals followed by Melvine Malard and Hegerberg with 16 goals each. This meant Lyon were unpredictable from where their goals originated, and teams needed to be wary of everyone. The problem Lyon face now is that two of the three aforementioned players are out injured for the foreseeable future and finding replacements for those goals becomes difficult. Bruun only scored seven goals last season and if she wants to have a similar effect, she needs to become much more of a presence.
In Lyon’s hybrid 4-3-3, I’ve mentioned the use of a more attack-minded No. 8 that plays closer to a No. 10, but they lack a player of this ilk with Macario out injured. When Hegerberg played, she was able to control the vertical space between the penalty box and just outside (zone 14) with movement and receiving passes from midfield. Hegerberg could effortlessly drop deep and immediately find intelligent attacking spaces to allow Macario the runs in behind without sacrificing quality. This isn’t to say Bruun isn’t of that quality, far from it, but it’s about being consistent whilst being able to match the goal output simultaneously.
Bruun’s biggest strength is her dialogue with the midfield and creating attacking spaces but she’s lacked a goalscoring touch so far this season. This comes down to her role and usage on the pitch. Bruun’s heatmap says a lot about her position and role this season, and while there’s nothing uncharacteristic or different in her activity, it’s how she’s being used as a creator and goalscorer that is interesting. The way she’s been used this season is very much as a creator when the ball comes centrally before Bruun moves into the box to become an aerially dominant presence when the ball originates from the wide areas.
We can look at this example, the eighth goal against Dijon where Ines Benyahia scored. The build-up to the goal was very much a series of interchangeable passes with Bruun using her back intelligently, attracting two defenders towards her space to allow Benyahia the space to drive forward. While there is an element of poor defending from the opposition, the presence of a ‘big’ forward means they now have to pay special attention. The flick across was accurate but what’s striking is Bruun’s scanning to determine the players’ positions as the move began. Knowing where her closest marker was gave her the intel she needed to make her next move and in this case, it was to allow the ball onto her feet and play it around.
So far, Bruun has played 9 D1 matches and all 3 UEFA Women’s Champions League games. Until her hat-trick against Dijon, she hadn’t scored in the league prior but that game reminded us of her qualities. The three goals were three different striker finishes, but they each had in common the intelligence and, more importantly, the instinct to be in the right positions at the right time. Bruun’s second goal was possibly a key example of this, where she took advantage of a rebound to finish it expertly while her third goal was an excellent deft header off the first player.
With the Danish youngster in the line-up, Lyon can compete in the box without fear of missing out on the presence Hegerberg gave them. This means Lyon can use their strengths in the wide areas to create crossing chances if the central spaces are blocked off. The way Lyon are set up allow them to create from both sides. Both Cascarino and Carpenter are key wide players and adept at sending balls into the box.
This in turn puts immense stress on opposition defences, who not only have to worry about stopping deliveries and combinations but now find a way to restrict Bruun’s ability to compete as well. In pressurised attacking situations like the clip above, Lyon start a passing combination on the right before a cross from Daniëlle van de Donk finds its way onto Bruun’s head. Though the centre-forward is behind the Le Havre centre-back, she’s able to climb over and get a shot away.
You may think her movement to reach this ball was lazy, but she doesn’t need much space to win most headers. Her size and height make it extremely difficult for some defenders to battle her in the air which means she’s afforded more time in the box.
Right now, Lyon are using Van de Donk, Horan, and Amandine Henry/Damaris Egurrola as their main midfield trio, but neither of those players is an attacking runner. Each of them much prefers being on the ball and creating which means Bruun lacks someone to make runs in behind after her hold-up play. The two heat maps above are Van de Donk’s and Horan’s current activity on the pitch and you notice that both players play around the box, not venturing into it. So theoretically, it’s only Malard that makes diagonal runs from the left wing to get in the box. Bompastor has attempted to play with Bruun as a sole striker through the increased crosses and balls into her, but so far the plan hasn’t worked out. So far, Bruun and Eugenie Le Sommer share the striking responsibilities and both players have struggled to nail down a spot.
In my mind, Bompastor needs to play to Bruun’s strength and find a midfield option to play closer to and beyond Bruun. Though not an obvious choice, I believe converting Ines Benyahia into a more attacking off-the-ball runner could provide solace and a way of creating more chances. The young French midfielder has been on the cusp of the first team and showing glimpses of promise and by using her athleticism and decent spatial intelligence, Benyahia could become the key to unlocking Bruun and, in turn, Lyon.
Photo by Christian Kaspar-Bartke/Getty Images
Thanks for reading Pressing Matters! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.