The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at Chelsea-linked Maxence Lacroix and how he can fit into the scheme of things at Stamford Bridge next season.
Since the arrival of Thomas Tuchel, and his subsequent success at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea have appeared to be quite ambitious in the transfer market once again, especially with Roman Abramovich delighted with the progressed the club has made under the German.
The Bundesliga, in particular, has been one of the most favoured targets for the west London giants, having been linked with moves for players like Jonas Hofmann, Jadon Sancho, Kingsley Coman, Niklas Sule and Erling Haaland throughout the course of the year.
This week, Wolfsburg defender Maxence Lacroix has emerged as the latest for Chelsea, as they eye defensive reinforcements in the upcoming summer transfer window.
The Blues, in fact, have already initiated discussions with the player’s representatives over a potential move to Stamford Bridge, if reports from reliable Sky Deutschland reporter Max Bielefeld is to be believed.
Although Wolfsburg are not willing to let go of Lacroix, they might be forced to cash in on their prized defender, who is expected to cost around €30 million this summer.
Here, at the Hard Tackle, we will take a deep dive towards Lacroix’s prospects at Stamford Bridge and what he can bring to the table for Thomas Tuchel next season, other than the obvious depth in quality.
Profiling Lacroix’s rise to prominence at Wolfsburg
In a turbulent Bundesliga campaign marred by the absence of fans inside the stadium, the re-emergence of VfL Wolfsburg have been one of the highlights of the season, with Die Wolfe recently securing Champions League football for the first time after six years.
One of the shining lights behind Wolfsburg’s renaissance has been the reliance on emerging young footballers and a defensive-oriented tactical philosophy from Oliver Glasner. And at the forefront, Maxence Lacroix has been the rising star, having built a formidable defensive partnership alongside John Anthony Brooks.
A product of the FC Sochaux youth academy, much like another top Bundesliga defensive talent in Ibrahima Konate, Lacroix arrived at the club for a fee of just €5 million last summer.
Part of what makes Lacroix such a special talent is that he is already suited to Glasner’s defensive module that has certain pressing triggers that allows the Frenchman to play his natural role by coming out of his line to press the opposing ball-carrier.
Wolfsburg, as a team, have put more pressures than any other Bundesliga side this season. And although it’s either the midfielders or the attackers that are mostly responsible for this feat, Lacroix’s systemic pressures have been a massive boon In Wolfsburg’s second line of press.
In fact, almost 40% of the defender’s pressures have come in the middle third of the pitch. It indicates Lacroix’s aggression when it comes to his positioning, but when he does miss out on the press, the Wolfsburg centre-back has the pace to recover the ground – much like Manuel Akanji of Borussia Dortmund.
In addition to great positional sense, Lacroix, standing at 6ft 3 inches, is a well-built defender who often gets a considerable advantage when it comes to physical duels.
Yet, the former Sochaux whizkid has much to improve on his aerial abilities, as he averages just 2.48 duels won per 90 with a success rate of just over 50% – putting him below average in Bundesliga standards.
The 20-year-old, though, is also a technically adept centre-back who has exhibited excellent skill in regards to his ball circulation from the back.
While the defender does tend to rely heavily on short passes with his strong right-foot, he does have an excellent technique when it comes to receiving a pass – thus negating the chances of a poor touch leading to a defensive error.
Lacroix ranks 22nd in the Bundesliga among carries, which is quite impressive as well as given the fact that Glasner as a coach professes a risk-averse approach when it comes to building up from the back.
Indeed, the focus often remains on using the fullbacks the transition the ball forward rather than relying on diagonal or laser passes in between the lines. The defender, though, is more than capable of being more ambitious with his passes, although he would require a new coach to be able to hone his skillset in that department.
Overall, Lacroix’s impressive positional solidity and technical prowess have merged wonderfully well with the robust, conservative and physically challenging John Anthony Brooks, with the duo emerging as the protagonists of one of the most disciplined defensive teams in the Bundesliga this season.
A long-term replacement for Thiago Silva?
Chelsea’s interest in Maxence Lacroix is hardly surprising, as the club is keen on finding a long-term replacement for Thiago Silva.
The veteran centre-back’s current contract at Stamford Bridge expires at the end of the season and even if he does end up signing an extension, the Brazilian, set to turn 37 by the start of next season, is not a long-term option.
Whether or not Lacroix is an ideal replacement for Silva, though, is a bit difficult to say. Even though the Frenchman has been a rising star in the Bundesliga, his 2020/21 campaign is a very small sample size compared to his Brazilian counterpart, who has been playing consistently in Europe since 2005.
From a tactical perspective, though, Silva has a much better passing awareness and is more far more capable of spreading the ball in between the lines or directly to midfielders. He is also far more mobile thanks to his relatively smaller frame.
Lacroix, though, has time on his side and has room to improve, particularly when it comes to his aerial abilities and passing variations.
Given Tuchel’s success in developing young defensive talents, it is fair to assume that the Frenchman could emerge as a real defensive asset for Chelsea in the years to come, if not an ideal replacement for Silva himself.
How does he stack up at Chelsea?
Chelsea, at the moment, are bracing themselves for a major overhaul in the defensive unit next season.
While Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen may have prolonged their spell at Stamford Bridge by stepping under Thomas Tuchel, Kurt Zouma’s future is still up in the air while both Cesar Azpilicueta and Thiago Silva are in the final phase of their respective careers.
Other than these players, Chelsea have three viable options who are all spending their respective loan spells elsewhere this season – Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan), Malang Sarr (FC Porto) and Ethan Ampadu (Sheffield United).
Milan, though, are already keen on securing the services of Tomori on a permanent basis while Sarr has endured a dismal campaign with Porto – falling behind the veteran Pepe and being demoted to the second team.
Ampadu could be an option for Tuchel next season, but the addition of someone like Lacroix should add some healthy competition in the defensive unit for the Blues.
The Wolfsburg centre-back certainly won’t be guaranteed a place in the first-team at Stamford Bridge. However, considering Tuchel’s struggles in finding a proper right sided centre-back and the resultant overdependency on Azpilicueta, the Frenchman could be an ideal inclusion in the back three.
Lacroix’s ability to spread the ball to wide players bodes well with Chelsea’s wing-back system, although the youngster certainly needs to get more used to passing the ball to the number six or number eight as they are indeed a vital part of the club’s build-up.
Nevertheless, for a fee of just €30 million, and coming on the back of a highly successful campaign in the Bundesliga, Maxence Lacroix could be a potential bargain for Chelsea in the summer, especially if Tuchel can identify his qualities and nurture him well over the coming years.