We’re continuing our 2020 report cards with Nashville’s first-ever designated player, Hany Mukhtar.
Position: Attacking midfielder
Matches played: 18
Minutes played: 1,468
Goals added: -0.94 (28th among MLS attacking midfielders)
xG+xA: 4.69 (9th among MLS attacking midfielders)
Average Speedway Soccer rating: 7.7
Average WhoScored rating: 7.1
What went right in 2020?
Nashville spent nearly $3 million to acquire Mukhtar as their first-ever designated player with the expectation of consistent production. Mukhtar repaid that in large part; his five goals were tied with Daniel Ríos for the team lead, and his nine total goal contributions lead the team.
On the ball, Mukhtar is electric.
A hallmark of his game is his ability to beat defenders one-on-one and get out of tight spaces. This made him a constant threat around the box, and opened space for the rest of the attack by drawing defenders to him.
Operating in a free role behind the striker in Gary Smith’s preferred 4-4-1-1 formation, Mukhtar tended to drop into pockets of space between the lines to pick up the ball in a deeper position before turning and driving at the defense.
As the season went on, he developed a better understanding with his teammates, combining well with Alex Muyl and Randall Leal, using quick passing exchanges to get around the defense. By the time playoffs rolled around, he had found his rhythm. Mukhtar ran Nashville’s attack and was at the heart of every move. He demanded the ball and moved it quickly, showing the type of form he hadn’t yet displayed in MLS.
Defensively, Mukhtar was crucial to Nashville’s press. He tended to play in a free role behind the striker in Gary Smith’s preferred 4-4-1-1, but out of possession, he played next to the striker in a flat 4-4-2.
Mukhtar’s workrate and positional awareness embodied Nashville’s philosophy of defending from the front, and his pressing was often a proceeding factor to Dax McCarty and Aníbal Godoy’s ability to intercept the ball in midfield.
What went wrong in 2020?
Mukhtar’s season started really slowly. In the first several matches of the year, passing moves regularly broke down before they got to the final third. There was clearly an adaptation period for Mukhtar to adapt to MLS and get on the same page with his teammates, and over the first few months, a lot of passes were just marginally off.
Mukhtar also struggled with injury, missing eight matches in total. Five of these came down the stretch, as Nashville looked to solidify their place in the postseason. Fortunately, Randall Leal covered for his absence to an extent, but Nashville were noticeably a worse side without him.
What needs to improve in 2021?
For one thing, Mukhtar has to stay healthy. It’s hard to fault any player for injuries, especially in a condensed and unprecedented season. But Nashville need Mukhtar in the lineup to be anywhere close to their best.
Mukhtar’s slow start to the season hopefully won’t be a recurring thing, as players from Europe can tend to take a while to adapt.
Down the stretch, Mukhtar was nearly unplayable. Nashville’s attack ran through him, and his quick interplay around the box was a defender’s nightmare. Hitting that form off the bat in 2021 will be paramount to Nashville’s success.