Can Watford’s Serie A Imports Push Them Up the Table? – Part 2: M’Baye Niang

Can Watford’s Serie A Imports Push Them Up the Table? – Part 2: M’Baye Niang

In Part 1 of this two-part analysis we looked at one of Watford’s two acquisitions from Serie A in the January window – Mauro Zarate. In this part, we will look at the other – M’Baye Niang. The Hornets have got him on loan for an alleged loan fee of €750 Thousand for the rest of the season, with an option to buy. The player’s contract at his parent club AC Milan is coming to an end in this summer, so there is a possibility that Walter Mazzarri will execute that option, if he gets the performances he is seeking from his new strikers.

In Part 1, we saw that Zarate is not really a good plan A, even if you are trying to replace a striker who has scored just one goal in half a season (Ighalo) and now has moved on to China. So, will M’Baye Niang give Mazzarri that option, or will he at least in his loan spell, do enough to push them up the table?

If initial impressions are anything to go by, I would say yes, he might be able to play some role in Watford not only staying up but also getting a few unexpected points – like he did at the Emirates on Tuesday. A Premier League debut against title chasing Arsenal could have been a difficult one for the 22-year old but I a he fulfilled Mazzarri’s expectations by keeping the Arsenal fullback pinned (he played on the left wing), ensuring that Arsenal were not able to build attacks from his side of the pitch and there was little overlap on his wing, especially in the first half. He was nowhere near spectacular, but he was quite efficient.

But, I do not think that Mazzarri has brought him to Vicarage Road for a wing role. His job is going to play up front and score goals or set them up. Let us see if his past stats suggest whether he will be able to do it in the Premier League.

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The player came up in the junior teams at SM Caen in France and made his move to AC Milan in the summer of 2012. He made 24 appearances for the team scoring one and assisting one in all competitions in 2012-13, playing just 42 minutes per appearance. In 2013-14, he could not get the goals in the very few opportunities given by Milan who loaned him to French side Montepellier in January 2014. In Ligue 1 and Coupe de France he did better, scoring 5 and assisting 2 in 22 appearances.

Back at Milan in 2014-15, he played only 84 minutes in the first half of the season despite not having any injury. So, Milan again loaned him out, this time to Genoa, where he scored 5 and assisted 3 goals in 14 appearances. He began 2015-16 with a metatarsal fracture but Milan under Mihajlovic were ready to give him his chances. Due to a shoulder injury he incurred in the second half of the season and a car accident in March 2016, he was available only between October 2015 and February 2016, but in those months he managed to score 8 and assist 5 goals across 21 appearances in all competitions.  This was his best goal scoring and creation form in senior club football.

However, this season he has scored 3 and assisted three goals for AC Milan, that puts his scoring rate at one goal every fifth game (374 minutes) and his goal contribution rate at one goal every third game (187 minutes).  This is not as good as his form was in 2015-16 and Milan thought it was best for the player to go for another loan move.

Since summer of 2016, a large variety of Premier League clubs have been linked with the French player, including Manchester United, Arsenal and champions Leicester. However, it is Mazzarri’s Watford who have stolen the march on everyone else and landed him.

Overall, Niang looks very similar to or even worse than Zarate in terms of goal scoring and contribution rate. But he has a couple of things in his favor – his age, he is 7 years younger than the Argentine and his ability to stay at a club. Perhaps it is a function of the age, but successive Milan managers did seem to give him a chance and when it did not work very well, he was sent out on loan. This tells me that several managers believe that Niang has talent but he has not been able to channel that into an output consistently.

The problems with Niang are more related to his injuries. He cannot be called injury prone but he has missed 38 games in his six-year career. He also has had more than a fair share of off-the field problems including Balotellisque stunts, driving incidents. In February 2014, he injured 11 people on the road in one of his many accidents and got a suspended 18-month jail term in Italy.

If Mazzarri can ensure that Niang channels his energies into football instead of getting involved in pranks and accidents off-the field, he should be able to get a few goals from the player. If he plans to execute the £12 million option of buying the player, he will need to bring all his player development skills to the fore. Mazzarri is well-known for transforming little-known players’ careers. In M’Baye Niang he is getting a good package of skills, albeit with some behavioral problems. But if he is able to transform the player into a consistent goal scorer, Watford will benefit tremendously. If not, we should be ready for news of car accidents in vicinity of Vicarage Road.