FEATURE | The deadliest duo in Ligue 1 – Habib Diallo & Ludovic Ajorque

If the statistics can tend to be misleading, those concerning the Strasbourg duo Habib Diallo and Ludovic Ajorque tell a clear story. In the league games they started together, Thierry Laurey’s team scored 23 goals and conceded 11. In the others, Strasbourg scored 7 goals and conceded 23.

Diallo only joined the team in October, after controversially leaving rivals FC Metz. At the time of its accession, Strasbourg was in great difficulty. After 10 matches, they ranked 18th in Ligue 1. They only had 6 points.

Since November, they have won 17 more. Ajorque and Diallo were crucial, with 23 goal contributions combined (9 goals and 4 assists for Ajorque, 7 goals and 3 assists for Diallo.

The form of Diallo and Ajorque appealed to many Ligue 1 fans as both forwards were a joy to watch last season. The pair are now starting to enter their prime and the two still have the potential to become household names across Europe.

Who is Habib Diallo?

Habib Diallo was born and raised in Senegal, West Africa. As a young boy, he left his family to join the prestigious Generation Foot academy, the school from which Sadio Mané graduated. In 2014, he moved to France to join the FC Metz reserve. Interestingly, it’s a well-marked path; Metz has a 10-year partnership with the academy.

His decisive season was loaned to Stade Brestois in 2018. At 23, he scored 26 times and assisted 6 more goals in Ligue 2. He was the key force behind Brest being promoted to Ligue 1.

Habib Diallo compared to Marcus Thuram of Gladbach. Both players played a similar role for their teams. (FBRef)

Diallo was accelerated in the Metz first team for the 2019/20 campaign. In his first season in French football’s top flight, Diallo scored 12 times and assisted three more in 26 league games. Diallo’s profile is similar to that of his Senegalese and Ligue 1 teammate Boulaye Dia de Reims. He’s also somewhat reminiscent of Marcus Thuram’s sights, although a little slower than both, despite being a well-balanced second striker.

At 6ft 1, Diallo is awesome in the air. He also has deceptive talent on the ball, and that’s something Strasbourg have used well. Diallo is also a solid finisher, getting 44% of his shots on target since August 2020.

Despite Receive French football news Reporting that Sheffield United were ready to sign Diallo for € 15million in October 2020, Diallo moved to Strasbourg before the end of the summer transfer window. There was a player from Ludovic Ajorque, ready to perfectly compliment Diallo.

Ajorque as the focal point of Strasbourg

Ludovic Ajorque requires much less introduction, but just as much appreciation. At 6ft 6in, the French forward is simply one of the funniest players to watch across Europe. He’s been at Strasbourg since 2018, and in his first season he scored in the quarter-finals and semi-finals in the unlikely League Cup title victory in Strasbourg.

At 26, Ajorque is a pure target man, counting on good movement, good positioning and a deadly finish inside the box. Of his 26 goals in 70 Ligue 1 matches, only one came from outside the area.

The top scorers in Ligue 1 since August 2018.

The tactics of Strasbourg manager Thierry Laurey were built around Ajorque’s skills. His size and strength make him excellent for passing long balls and crosses to his teammates. Only Montpellier managed to complete more crosses per game in the 2019/20 campaign than Strasbourg. No team completed more long balls last season. It also allowed Strasbourg full-backs Anthony Caci and Kenny Lala to shine. In the 2018/19 campaign, Lala provided 9 assists and 5 goals from the right-back.

However, at the start of the season, it looked like Strasbourg had been discovered. The team was completely lacking in creativity in the opening games. Everyone in Ligue 1 knew that it was necessary to mark Ajorque and simply stop the crosses. Before Diallo’s arrival, Ajorque had only managed seven shots in six matches.

The antidote to the challenges of Strasbourg

The arrival of Diallo changed everything. Strasbourg suffered because they lacked a solid striker apart from Ajorque. However, Diallo is a fantastic player both in the box and in full possession. The opposition teams now have two dangerous attackers to face. That means they can’t push the full backs so much. Before Diallo’s arrival, neither Lala nor Caci had scored or assisted. Since then, the full-backs have totaled seven goals or assists.

What Diallo does is fall deep and play well at Ajorque. It has allowed Strasbourg to progress both in the center and behind the scenes, a relatively new experience for this team. Diallo is already halfway to breaking his 12-goal tally from last season, having scored in his first two games. Ajorque has already beaten their 2019/20 goal, which was eight.

There have been some notable goals and highlights from the pair. In his second game for the club, Diallo scored a fantastic diving header against Brest. He finished the night in depth, playing Ajorque to end a 3-0 victory. It was early in the partnership, but the pair showed excellent instant chemistry, with Ajorque timing his run for Diallo’s deep ball perfectly.

Europe’s deadliest strike partnerships

Both players also scored against Montpellier in November. Diallo won a penalty in the first half for Kenny Lala to score, before converting himself a second penalty 4 minutes later. Ajorque grabbed third place from Strasbourg in an unfortunate 4-3 loss.

The pair bonded perfectly against Nantes in December as well, in a big 4-0 victory that brought Strasbourg out of the relegation zone. Diallo scored a big rebound, reacting quickly to his header hitting the crossbar. Throughout the match, Ajorque and Diallo divided the Nantes defense into deadly counterattacks, creating a huge space for the Strasbourg midfielders. Ajorque ended the evening with a penalty, his 3rd goal from the spot in 2020/21.

Note our words, Strasbourg will be the best surprise of the rest by the end of the Ligue 1 season, and this dynamic duo will be why.