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Scouting Europe: Lois Openda

Purchased by RB Leipzig for €43million in the summer, Lois Openda has thrived in the Bundesliga and announced himself on the Champions League stage with a brace against Manchester City.

Openda’s progression in the last 18 months has been astronomical.

Having flourished in a two-year loan spell with Eredivisie outfit Vitesse Arnhem from Club Brugge, the forward was courted by RC Lens.

Helping Les Sang et Or to a second-place finish with 21 goals in his debut Ligue 1 campaign, Openda was the subject of interest from across Europe but it was RB Leipzig that stumped up the cash; a club record fee.

Dealt the unenviable task of filling the void left by Christopher Nkunku’s departure to Chelsea, Openda has slotted seamlessly into Marco Rose’s blueprint.

Were it not for the exceptional returns of Harry Kane and Serhou Guirassy then Openda’s extraordinary start to life in Saxony would be hitting far more headlines than just the Leipziger Volkszeitung.

The forward has returned nine goals and three assists in 12 Bundesliga appearances and has chalked up another four goals in the Champions League, including a clinical brace against Pep Guardiola's reigning European champions.

We analyse Openda's development into one of the continent's hottest prospects in the first of our 'Scouting Europe' series.

RB Leipzig

Overcoming setbacks

The fact Openda is even able to play football - let alone become a professional footballer - is a miracle in itself.

Diagnosed with bronchiolitis, Openda spent the first year of his life in hospital and underwent surgery in an attempt to resolve his respiratory difficulties. Doctors informed his mother that her son's condition would prevent him from being able to run.

Running is now one of his greatest attributes.

Whatever challenge life has thrown at Openda, he's hurdled. Signed by Standard Liege at 13, he was set to be released by the club before making the bold decision to move city and join Club Brugge's academy.

Having found first-team opportunities limited as he progressed in Bruges, Openda was lured to Vitesse by their former sporting director Johannes Spors. Vitesse had done their homework, having analysed and assessed his progress with Club Brugge. Spors' vision involved altering his role from winger to central forward and Openda was quickly sold on the concept.

The rewards were enriching. Scoring 37 goals and laying on 11 assists across a two-year loan spell, Openda speared Vitesse's run to the KNVB Cup final, narrowly missing out on silverware following a 2-1 defeat to Ajax.

Such form warranted the interest of top-flight clubs around Europe and Lens swooped in, acquiring him for a €9.8m fee from Club Brugge.

I put a lot of emphasis on his work off the ball and he took that on board. It's thanks to that he improved the speed of his play in transition. He has constantly improved. He's gone from being a talented player to a very good player.

Thomas Letsch, Vitesse Arnhem manager (2020-2022)

The Belgian Jamie Vardy

Possessing blistering pace and a cunning ability to deceive defenders with his movement, Openda is a forward that loves to run in behind the opposition.

His attributes prompted former Belgium national team manager Roberto Martinez to compare him to Jamie Vardy, the Leicester City forward renowned for his electrifying speed and clinical finishing.

Openda's remit under Franck Haise was to stretch defences, creating the spaces behind the midfield from which the team could exploit.

Avoiding the intricate build-up, Openda ranked in the bottom 10 percent of Ligue 1 forwards for touches per 90 and yet it was of no detriment to his effectiveness in the final third.

His tally of 21 goals was only bettered by Kylian Mbappe, Alexandre Lacazette and Jonathan David in Ligue 1 last term, and only Mbappe had a higher rate of non-penalty goals per match.

Ligue 1 2022/23: Non-Penalty Goals per 90

Kylian Mbappe (PSG)0.83
Lois Openda (Lens)0.72
Alexandre Lacazette (Lyon)0.65
Elye Wahi (Montpellier)0.64
Neymar (PSG)0.64

Openda's goal return was a reward for his persistence and endeavour. He was one of only five players to register more than 100 shots in the division, averaging a lively 3.7 shots per 90.

What was most impressive was the variety of Openda's goals.

At 5ft 10in his frame is not imposing and yet his aerial ability should not be underestimated, chalking up six headed goals. What further complements his talent is that the remainder of his goal tally was delivered with both feet; eight from his right, seven from his left.

The Liege-born sensation became the first Lens player to reach 20 goals in a single top-flight season since Georges Lech in 1966/67. Openda joined the elite company of Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens and Romelu Lukaku in becoming only the fourth Belgian player to reach the 20-goal barrier in one of Europe's top five leagues this century.

His stock soared even higher in March 2023 after scoring three goals inside four minutes and 30 seconds against Clermont Foot; the fastest hat-trick in France's top division for over 56 years.

On top of the personal accolades, Openda's goals propelled Lens into the Champions League for the first time since 2002 as Haise's outfit finished the season just one point shy of champions PSG.

Living up to expectations

The departure of the talismanic Nkunku prompted RB Leipzig to delve into the transfer market and Openda was at the top of their wishlist.

With the resource of Red Bull's sporting empire, Leipzig have established an impressive recruitment programme. Josko Gvardiol and Dominik Szoboszlai are just two examples in a substantial catalogue of players that arrived at the club as unknown quantities, have developed and are then sold for a significant profit.

Leipzig needed to deliver a club-record fee to satisfy Lens’ expectations and acquire the services of the Belgian. With big investment comes great expectation but Openda’s experiences had prepared him for the pressure of performing at one of Germany’s elite clubs.

The 23-year-old wasted little time in settling in. Making his debut in the DFL-Supercup triumph over Bayern Munich, Openda scored on his first Bundesliga appearance against Bayer Leverkusen and was on the scoresheet again a week later in a 5-1 win against VFB Stuttgart.

One area of his game Openda conceded he needed to improve was the consistency of his goalscoring. Enduring a goal drought that lasted 10 matches with Lens, the forward is finding the net with improved frequency so far, scoring in seven of his 12 Bundesliga matches.

Four of his nine league goals this term came from braces against Darmstadt and FC Koln, while a goal and an assist in a Man of the Match performance against Bayern Munich earned Die Roten Bullen a valuable point.

RB Leipzig fans

His presence at the forefront of Leipzig’s attack has been a match made in heaven for Rose’s tactical style.

Implementing a proactive, counter-pressing system, Rose asks his side to attack with speed and precision. While capable of playing through the thirds, they’re at their most effective when transitioning at pace and it’s an environment that’s helped Openda to flourish.

It was there for the whole world to see in RB Leipzig’s visit to the Etihad against Manchester City. Fending off the presence of Manuel Akanji, Openda lured the Swiss international into an error before racing through and slotting beyond Stefan Ortega.

Akanji was not his only victim that night. Arching his run perfectly to entice Ruben Dias into attempting an interception, the forward held off the defender to breach Man City’s line. As Guardiola watched on with dismay, Openda sprinted through, evaded Gvardiol’s presence before finishing at the near post.

He’s physically strong, that’s what we saw today against strong defenders. He won one-on-ones. He’s fast, he’s able to score... We like him.

Marco Rose, RB Leipzig manager

Ranking in the top seven percent of forwards, Openda receives 8.23 progressive passes per game in the league, which is of evidence of Leipzig’s intent to provide the forward with opportunities to breach the high defensive lines that Bundesliga clubs frequently deploy.

Similarly to his time with Lens, it's rare to see Openda drop deep and contribute to Leizpig’s build-up.

Averaging 25.66 touches per match, two thirds of his time on the ball have been registered in the attacking third. His average pass tally is even more striking at 14.69, which puts him in the bottom two percent of Bundesliga forwards.

Many players can find it difficult to maintain concentration when they see so little of the ball and yet Openda, like many world-class operators, is able to keep focus and his robust style means he's capable of creating danger from nothing.

Bundesliga 2023/24: Live goal-creating actions by forwards per 90 (minimum 10 matches)

Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich)0.70
Leroy Sane (Bayern Munich)0.60
Lois Openda (RB Leipzig)0.49
Victor Boniface (Bayer Leverkusen)0.44
Harry Kane (Bayern Munich)0.43

*Statistics sourced via FBref.com and Opta

He’s averaging more shots per game than he did in France, although his impressive figures have been dwarfed by the fact Victor Boniface has recorded a ridiculous 60 shots in 12 appearances. Even with the glut of chances Harry Kane is in reception of, the England forward has tallied 48 shots, eight more than that of Openda.

In this year’s Champions League, only Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia has completed more successful take-ons that leads to a shot attempt.

But it’s not just taking shots and finishing chances that Openda has prided himself on. Under the tutelage of Rose, he’s added another ribbon to his bow by providing an improved service to his team-mates.

With three assists so far this campaign, the Belgian has often drifted wide in a bid to stretch defences, which has enabled him to create chances with crosses from the flanks. He ranks in the top two percent of Bundesliga forwards for crosses into the penalty area.

And Openda's forged a fruitful partnership with the immensely talented Xavi Simons. The Dutch sensation weaves his magic between the lines and Openda, with his explosive pace, creates the angles from which Simons can slide in a pass or even take the shot on himself.

They combine with calculated patterns of play or through great improvisation, the pair confident in the knowledge that they're on each others wavelength.

The results have been rewarding, with only Bayern Munich's Kane and Sane combining for more goals in the Bundesliga this term.

Lois Openda - Player Total Goals Odds

Bundesliga 2023/24:

20 or More Goals - 1/2
25 or More Goals - 3/1
30 or More Goals - 7/1
35 or More Goals - 18/1

A new generation

Awash with individual talent, Belgium have failed to live up to expectations in recent major tournaments.

Many predicted the glamorous assortment of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Kompany would inspire the country to their first major trophy and yet their best performance was a World Cup semi-final in 2018.

Now bidding 'tot ziens' to their 'Golden Generation', the Belgians are experiencing a changing of the guard and igniting their new chapter is a collection of young and exciting talents.

The exhilarating Jeremy Doku, who's setting the Premier League alight with his direct and exuberant dribbling for Manchester City, is the poster boy of Belgium's new generation but Openda won't be too far behind in terms of his importance.

Scoring on his international debut in a 6-1 win over Poland, Openda's form for Lens earned him a place in Martinez's 2022 World Cup squad. He may have only featured in 10 minutes of Belgium's disappointing group stage exit and yet his experience in Qatar was invaluable.

I’ve got plenty to take home from this World Cup – advice from people older than me and from the coach. You don’t get to play a bunch of World Cups, and this might be my only one, or maybe I’ll get a second chance. If I do get to play another, I’ll give it my all and we’ll see what happens.

Openda following Belgium's World Cup exit

With Domenico Tedesco at the helm, the likes of Charles De Ketelaere, Johan Bakayoko and Amadou Onana are expected to come to prominence.

Openda has Romelu Lukaku ahead of him in the pecking order. Their contrasting styles do offer Tedesco greater tactical flexibility but the former RB Leipzig manager has preferred to utilise Openda as a winger when introducing him from the bench.

There is an expectation that Openda will eventually inherit the role as Belgium's leading forward.

And should he continue his sparkling form in Germany, he will be one to keep an eye on at Euro 2024.

Belgium

Belgium Odds

To Win Euro 2024 Outright - 16/1

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