Search for a RW: Summer 2022 Shortlist

United’s summer business for 2022 has been a case of a lot of noise, but no actual results. What was hailed and expected to be a quick and intense rebuilding of a team that was the subject of huge disappointment and embarrassment in 21/22, has resulted in a complete lack of movement in terms of sales and buys. Coupled with rival teams strengthening proactively, and attempting to build deeper squads as protection against a season that will include a winter World Cup in the middle of it, United’s lack of movement for key starter positions that have issues, is demotivating to say the least.

Defensive midfielder remains a priority position but that seems nowhere close to being addressed, with rumors of Frenkie De Jong and Eriksen doing the rounds, neither of whom fit the archetype. Our top targets based on the shortlist created this year contained Grillitsch, Kamara, Tchouameni and Doucoure, all of whom have moved or are set to move soon. While the midfield search seems focused on a chase behind Frenkie De Jong, today we turn our attention to another problem area of the squad – Right Winger.

Why is RW a problem area?

I’m going to lay out a statement that might cause some debate.

United have no viable right winger starter

Let me explain. Rashford, Elanga, Sancho, Garnacho all prefer playing from the left while Amad Diallo and Pellistri are too raw to command a starting RW position having played just a combined 15 senior team 90s in Europe in their career so far.

The most debated statement here will be Sancho’s. As much as fans would like to believe Sancho can be the permanent RW solution for United, his stats suggest he’s better at LW, while his playing profile also indicates much more comfort playing from the left and cutting in. Laurie Whitwell revealed on his podcast this year that Ole bought Sancho for the LW position, while the decisions of Ole and Rangnick to play Sancho predominantly on the left this season have confirmed these thoughts as well. There is a strong chance that Sancho continues playing off the left, and even if he does take the right side temporarily for a season, it might be in United’s best interest to acquire a permanent RW that fits Erik Ten Hag’s tactics.

What kind of RW should we target?

A tougher question to answer. But if we are going by Erik Ten Hag’s preferences, we have a few hints to go on. At Ajax, he used inverted wingers who were good at wide play. The wingers often held width to stretch play and then had the ability to cut in and create/score when presented with isolation situations (1-on-1s with fullbacks after overloading the opposite side). There are variations to this. Tadic was a more narrow support striker type LW when he played there (A role Sancho or Rashford could mirror), Antony was closer to the isolation winger archetype, holding width and using his dribbling to cut in while Ziyech was more creative attempting to roam inside and pick out passes for his other attackers and midfield runners. But largely speaking, they were all inverted and well-rounded enough to offer wide play and cut in, work with other attackers and provide output in terms of assists or goals when in dangerous areas. This is what I’ll be going on in terms of statistics that I’ll pick out to create a shortlist.

 

Creating a shortlist

I’ll keep this brief so that we can spend more time on the final targets. A summary of my actions:

  • I downloaded data from Fbref (You can find a drive here where I’ve uploaded all player stats and team logos)
  • I converted all stats to per 50 touches to better reflect what players do with the ball
  • I filtered out players with low 90s (>12 league 90s played) and all positions other than wingers
  • I converted all stats to percentiles within this group (Note: This will be very different from Fbref percentiles thanks to a more narrow dataset.)

I used the following 5 stats to create a weighted formula:

Dribbles attempted: 30% weightage

Progressive Carries: 20% weightage

NpxG: 10% weightage

Pressures: 20% weightage

xA: 20% weightage

50% of the weightage is purely towards the 2 carrying stats. The reason is simply because we want a strong dribbler, first and foremost. Pressing and expected assists carry the next most importance because we want a winger who can press (Rashford, Sancho, CR are all very poor pressers) and has a good final ball. The last weightage for NPxG is to ensure that our winger has some good movement to get into the box and generate scoring chances for himself, something that can be of value considering the creativity of Sancho and Bruno.

The final filter was age. We want someone under the age of 25 so that this position is sorted for a long time. The results were as follows:

Kulusevski and Vinicius Jr. topping our list gives us a good indication. Even by the eye test, Kulusevski is one RW who has the perfect mix of carrying, creation, scoring and pressing that would benefit a top team, as Spurs are finding out in recent times, while an inverted version of what Vinicius is doing this year would be a godsend.

So, we’re on the right track. The next step is to find out who can realistically work as a permanent RW for us. We need to filter out players who are better off the left (Ali Cho, Holtmann etc.) and players who would not move to United at this point (Salah, Kulusevski etc.). I also used some minimum filters (10%-20%) on each stat to avoid players who are really poor at 1 aspect (Eg. Someone who is very poor at pressing like Chukwueze).

After these filters, the results are as follows:

These are the top 6 by weighted score who can play RW permanently and are realistic to pursue. This becomes our shortlist. Yay!

Let’s get into the details of each attacker to further figure out their potential to be Manchester United’s right winger.

Note: The pizza charts from here on are based on the same percentiles I calculated on a per 50 touch basis in our narrow dataset of Europe’s wingers who have played >15 90s. They are not Fbref percentiles. These percentiles will seem a bit more extreme (highs and lows) due to the narrow dataset, and will serve to let us know how good/bad someone is for a given stat as compared to the others in the same set of players. 

Nico Williams

Club: Athletic Bilbao
Nation: Spain
Age: 19
Position: RW, LW
Foot: Right (74%)
Contract end: June, 2024
Market Value: £10.80m
Rumored transfer fee: £40m-£50m

The brother of club teammate Inaki Williams, Nico made it as a permanent RW candidate in our shortlist because he has played RW 44 times and LW 6 times in his senior career so far. As you can see, it’s not been a vast career. The Spaniard only had 2 sub appearances last season. This season has been his breakout one as he made 40 appearances across all competitions. Only 14 of these were starts. Bilbao have played a consistent 4-4-2 this season with Bereneguer starting the year as RM, but Nico has been pushing him hard for that spot, often rotating with him. By season end, Nico was featuring more often, ending 21/22 with 5 continuous league starts at RM, seemingly having made that spot his own. 

Pros: If you’ve been missing a throwback electric orthodox right winger, look no further. Nico’s best trait is his dribbling. Using his electric pace, tight ball control and quick direction shifts, Nico is a heavy take-on winger. He stays wide to receive smartly and then has a go at his fullback which will really suit the wide isolation winger Ten Hag enjoys. Additionally, Nico has the combination ability to play give-and-gos and carve out threatening openings with short passes and brisk movement. His off-the-ball workrate is also superb as he fits into Bilbao’s famous pressing ethic. He’s a dream in attacking transition situations, getting into good areas with and without the ball and is a very intense ball-chaser if he loses the ball or the team needs him to help out on the wings.

Cons: Most of Nico’s weaknesses stem from the simple fact that he’s too raw. This was his first season of note in which more than half his appearances were subs. He barely became a Bilbao starter by season end, so a jump to immediate starter at Manchester United might be too soon. If someone questioned how much of an immediate upgrade 19-year-old Nico offered over 19-year-old Amad Diallo or 20-year-old Pellistri, it would be a valid question. Nico’s end product is lacking, merely as a function of his rawness. As the pizza chart shows, he doesn’t boast great final third numbers or final pass threat and is yet to score a league goal (He has 3 in cups). Given his talent, these stats are bound to improve as he keeps developing, but a call for an immediate RW starter might be too early for him. Probably, a year or two down the line, if required.

Overall Score: 7/10

Takefusa Kubo

Club: Mallorca (on loan from Real Madrid)
Nation: Japan
Age: 21
Position: RW, AM
Foot: Left (86%)
Contract end: June, 2024
Market Value: £27m
Rumored transfer fee: £10m-£20m

Kubo came with a lot of fanfare to Real Madrid at the tender age of 18. What started out as 1-2 loans for development has now stretched to 4 loans at Mallorca, Villareal, Getafe, and Mallorca again this season. The Japanese international is now 22 and staring at the last 2 years of his Madrid contract, as Madrid block their 3 non-EU slots with established youngsters, Vinicius, Rodrygo and Militao. The chances of Kubo pushing for a permanent move are higher than ever and as per rumors, Madrid are willing to part with the wonderkid for as low as £15m.

Kubo has played RW in Mallorca’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 this season, racking up 19 starts and 31 appearances. In his whole career, he has started 63 times at RW, followed by 23 times at AM, his second best position. The parallels with Mata in terms of profile are obvious.

Pros: Kubo is technically sound. His ball control, passing, playmaking and carrying are excellent as seen in the pizza chart. He’s a very good progressor and shot-creator, while his ability to dribble into dangerous areas is outstanding. He also takes a good number of shots thanks to his ability to carry into good areas and get in sight of goal. Overall, he’s a very Mata-ish profile or, from a Ten Hag perspective, a potential Ziyech type.

Cons: His output is lacking. For all his great underlying metrics, Kubo doesn’t trouble the goals and assists charts often enough. He has only 2 goals and 2 assists in all competitions this season and just 18 goal contributions in his 4 years in Europe so far. Some of it can be attributed to playing for teams that don’t dominate regularly and him not getting consistent runs in them, but he also lacks the aggression and mentality to take the game by the scruff of its neck and force the issue when the team needs it. This lack of output is a major reason why he gets dropped at times for someone who is a lot more direct and why Madrid are sending him out on loan repeatedly in hopes he can develop an end product. Additionally, Kubo is not the best presser in the world and his defensive intensity to win the ball back and help out in deeper areas is not that great either. His off-the-ball movement to receive in wide and dangerous areas is also average. With the ball, a gem, without it, not so much.

Overall Score: 7.5/10

Nicolo Zaniolo


Club: AS Roma
Nation: Italy
Age: 22
Position: RW, AM
Foot: Left (88%)
Contract end: June, 2024
Market Value: £49.50m
Rumored transfer fee: £40m-£50m

Zaniolo started his career as a midfielder, often playing in a box-to-box role or attacking midfielder role. He has played attacking midfielder 83 times and right winger 51 times in his career so far. But over time, he has been deployed more on the right wing. This season, he played 20 times as a right winger in a front 3 and 18 times as a right-sided support-striker in a front 2 and it seems like the right-wing spot is where he’ll make a permanent home at, whether it is at Roma or any other club. The recent switches to a back 5 have resulted in Zaniolo getting dropped more often, due to not getting his RW slot, which has apparently prompted an altercation with manager Mourinho.

As per the rumors, Zaniolo is expecting a system where he can play RW in a front 3 and a new contract that matches Tammy Abraham’s wages, failing which he would consider moving away. Roma want €50m for the Italian if such a situation comes to pass.

Pros: Zaniolo’s best traits are his carrying and shooting. He feels very comfortable with the ball, driving into half-spaces and fashioning shooting chances for himself. With 12 goal contributions in 30 90s this year, he is an output-based player and those numbers could improve further in a  settled system where he plays RW in a front 3. He has very good positioning IQ to receive between the lines or wide and is a good defender, not shy of getting into tackles and making recoveries in deeper areas. He has an imposing physique (190cm, 79 kg) that helps him in duels and dribbling ability. He is also a good shot-creator from open play, possessing a nice long ball. All of this suits Ten Hag’s winger requirements nicely.

Cons: One of the main reasons he has been moved away from central roles is that he isn’t super creative. His ability to break blocks via through balls and visionary passes is below average. He does have a nice final ball (cross or cutback) that can be developed further, making him better suited to a wide inverted role. His fitness is also one concern, but a large part of that was the ACL injury he suffered in 2020 that took him out for a full season. This year, he’s clocked 40 appearances, and the drops to the bench were largely tactical. His fitness issues could be behind him and his passing progression is a very small issue given United have Bruno and Sancho for that.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

Alexis Saelemaekers

Club: AC Milan
Nation: Belgium
Age: 22
Position: RW, LW
Foot: Right (80%)
Contract end: June, 2026
Market Value: £18m
Rumored transfer fee: £15m-£20m

Alexis moved from Anderlecht to Milan on loan when he was 20 and impressed enough for Milan to pay the  €3.5m fee to make his stay permanent. Over the last 2 seasons, the Belgian has been unable to lock a starting spot appearing 83 times, but starting only 59 times. His 12 goal contributions haven’t been enough for Milan’s ambitious setup to consider him unsellable. The Rossoneri are similarly dissatisfied with Castillejo and Rebic, with none able to hold their spots on the wing. They are looking at targets like Lang, Asensio, Zaniolo and Berardi and would be willing to part with Alexis for as low as £15m to fund a new-look attack alongside Rafeal Leao.

Pros: Alexis is a very direct and intense player. He loves to take on his opponent and has the ability to go out wide and cut inside as well. His consistent and passionate carrying ability profiles him like a classical right winger. He’s also a strong defender, boasting high pressures, dribblers tackled, interceptions and passes blocked. Pioli has also used him as right wing-back and right-back on occasions showing how useful the player is in such situations and where his strengths lie. Even as a right-winger, it’s Alexis’ workrate, wide play and defending that allows Milan to adopt a left-leaning formation which helps Leao and Theo Hernandez to shine in attack. This is similar to how Ole would use Daniel James to let Shaw and Rashford flourish. Considering United’s riches of left-leaning attackers, Alexis could provide a similar base for them to perform.

Cons: While Alexis is better as a wide high-workrate deep winger, he lacks the output, technique and creation metrics that come with an advanced attacker. He might be better as a RM in a 4-4-2 or RWB in a back 5 than a RW in a front 3. He lacks the final ball, creativity and goal threat to trouble defenses. He has never scored more than 2 goals in a season, while his assisting is largely thanks to crosses from deeper and wider areas, rather than creative penetration of the half-spaces. He doesn’t get into dangerous central areas to even give himself the chance to score or create. It’s not a question of opportunity, it’s just not in his skillset. If an inverted winger role with final third impact is the expectation, Saelemaekers falls a little short.

Overall Score: 6.5/10

Yeremi Pino

Club: Villarreal
Nation: Spain
Age: 19
Position: RW, LW, CF
Foot: Right (89%)
Contract end: June, 2027
Market Value: £36m
Rumored transfer fee: £26m (Release clause)

Yeremi rose from the youth ranks of Villarreal, breaking into the senior team at the age of 17 with 12 first-team starts in 20/21. This year he’s taken that to the next level with 28 starts and 40 appearances in all competitions. Still just 19, Pino has made the right wing slot his own, whether in a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, while also turning up as a striker on occasions. A host of top clubs are chasing Pino with the €30m release clause in his contract being a very reasonable price for his talents.

Pros: Even though he’s a right-footer playing on the right, often in a 4-4-2, Pino isn’t like an orthodox defensive winger at all. His best trait is his goal-scoring. He has among the best values in our dataset for NPxG and NPxG/Shot and his high progressive passes received stat indicates his amazing movement to receive in good areas. His xA also hints at a strong final ball in advanced positions closer to goal. A lot of this reads like the profile of a goal-scoring striker like Benzema or Nkunku this season. Pino is very efficient, rarely losing the ball by attempting audacious passes and dribbles, more inclined to using his intelligence, movement and awareness to find spaces in the final third and utilize his composure and maturity to finish. In that sense, he’s not a ball-hogger, preferring to be an outlet instead, which could really suit Ten Hag’s preferences of combination movements in the final third.

Cons: Pino isn’t really creative with the ball. While smart cutbacks and quick dribbles add to his efficient nature, the flair for a visionary pass or mazey dribble is probably missing. He might not be able to unlock defenses on his own from deeper areas, rather preferring to be the one on the end of such passes. He’s also not a great presser or ball-winner without the ball, but that could be developed as he grows, since he’s just 19. As long as expectations of what he can do with the ball are tempered and a solution to the high press can be found, Pino could complement the likes of Bruno and Sancho well and offer United something they need badly – movement and goal-scoring.

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Michael Olise

Club: Crystal Palace
Nation: England
Age: 20
Position: RW, AM
Foot: Left (86%)
Contract end: June, 2026
Market Value: £19.8m
Rumored transfer fee: £35m-£50m

Crystal Palace have been nailing some Championship starlet signings recently and Olise is probably the best among their picks. For someone who came from Reading when he was just 19, Olise has forced his way into Vieira’s plans faster than some might have imagined, picking up 31 appearances and 16 starts in his maiden Premier League season. By the second half of the season, he was the go-to RW in the 4-3-3, starting 14 out of Palace’s last 19 games in the league. Given his recent move and the ambition of the Palace project under Vieira, it might be tough to prise Olise away, but there are rumors that if a top team came calling and offered a significant improvement on the £8.5m Palace paid for him, the Eagles would sell.

Pros: Olise is a dream on the ball. Possessing high ball control, natural flair and the directional change of a seasoned dribbler, he is great at receiving in tight areas, turning defenders with pace and driving into dangerous areas with purpose. His technical expertise also extends to his passing, with Olise possessing very good switches, through balls and game–advancing passes in his locker, that can help progress the game or unlock defenses. Everything Olise does on the ball is expert level, and in that sense he is probably closest to the Antony archetype that Ten Hag enjoyed recent success with. Additionally, he is also a good presser who is very willing to work hard when the team needs it, which is a pleasant departure from inverted winger wonderkids who don’t defend.

Cons: On the flipside, Olise is poor in attack without the ball. His movement is lacking, as can be seen by his progressive passes received stat. He doesn’t have the off-the-ball intelligence to read the game, get at the end of other’s passes in threatening areas and be a goal threat, which is reflected in his poor shooting metrics. He prefers to stay wide, receive simple passes on the wing and then use his technique to drive in, which could make him predictable. This is an aspect that usually improves with age though and under the right guidance, especially given Ten Hag’s structural plays that utilize movements in the final third, Olise could pick up this skill. 

Overall Score: 9/10

A final summary of our summer 2022 RW shortlist:

Rank Name Club Age Pros Cons Score
1 Nicolo Zaniolo Roma 22 Dribbling, Shooting, Physicals, Output Creativity, Positional clarity 9.5
2 Michael Olise Palace 20 Dribbling, passing, Flair, Antony-ish Movement, Shooting, Output 9
3 Yeremi Pino Villarreal 19 Goalscoring, Movement, IQ Creativity, Progression, Defense 8.5
4 Takefusa Kubo Mallorca 21 Creativity, Progression, Technique Defense, Output, Physicals 7.5
5 Nico Williams Bilbao 19 Dribbling, Flair, Workrate Output, passing, Maturity 7
6 Alexis Saelemakers Milan 22 Workrate, Defense, Dribbling, RWB/RB Creativity, Final 3rd impact, Output 6.5

And that’s that! Thanks for reading. If there’s anyone you think the stats have missed or is just a gut feeling from your side to be a United RW, do tag us on Twitter and mention so; we might do a scout report on him too (We did one for Raphinha recently. Here).

Scout Report: Raphinha

Leeds United in 21/22:

Most goals: Raphinha (11)
Most shots: Raphinha (85)
Most shots on target: Raphinha (21)
Highest xG: Raphinha (11.2)
Highest xA: Raphinha (6.8)
Most chances created: Raphinha (65)
Most passes into penalty area: Raphinha (48)
Most progressive passes: Raphinha (169)
Most shot-creating actions: Raphinha (119)
Most players dribbled past: Raphinha (70)
Most carries into penalty area: Raphinha (33)
Most passes received: Raphinha (1193)
Most progressive passes received: Raphinha (191)

It would be no understatement to say that Raphinha has carried Leeds United in 21/22. The Brazilian forward has dominated every relevant attacking stat this season. Not only is he bagging the Leeds’ player of the season award by a mile, his performances have been so huge, that top Champions League clubs like FC Barcelona and Bayern are now strongly linked to the 25-year-old, who is in the prime of his life.

In this article, we’ll analyze the one-army for Leeds this season – Raphael Dias Belloli.

Movement – A wide isolation right winger

Raphinha has started 31 times on the right wing in his 34 starts this season. He has been an ever-present for Leeds this year, boasting the 3rd highest minutes played after Meslier and Dallas. Whether it’s Bielsa’s 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 or Marsch’s 4-2-2-2, Raphinha has almost always started on the right wing.

Raphinha’s heat map conveys exactly what he is – a touchline wide winger. It’s actually a very in-demand profile and one of the reasons why Raphinha is being chased by top clubs. In general, good left-footed right wingers are rare compared to right-footed left wingers. On top of that, the nature of many left wingers being narrow creators and combining with central players means that managers prefer a right winger who can stay wide and stretch play to compensate. 

For example, Barcelona’s left half space is routinely dominated by the likes of Depay, De Jong, Pedri, Torres, Aubameyang, Fati and Gavi which makes play concentrated on the left side. This gives a wide winger like Dembele or Adama Traore the chance to hold width on the right hand side, receive in space when the play switches and run at opponents. This is exactly what Raphinha does and probably why Barcelona have identified him as a key target.

For Leeds, Raphinha does have to track back, as shown in the heat map, but largely speaking, he is the main outlet in attack. He receives the most passes and progressive passes, as seen in the stat attack at the start of this article. Raphinha’s clever movement out wide ensures he always gets the ball in good areas and then has the ball control and movement to cut into dangerous areas and score or assist in equal measure. Movement wise, it’s a very valuable profile and one of the reasons why he has found great success in the league.

Shooting – A great mover and reliable shooter

As mentioned before, Raphinha is Leeds’ top shot taker and goal scorer as well. For the right winger in the team, who starts from a wide position, Raphinha’s ability to move into good areas to score from both with the ball and without, is tremendous. Raphinha is in the top 20 percentile in the league for both shots taken and expected goals (xG), even after playing for a club that was in a relegation scrap till the last day. This, in itself, speaks of his skill when it comes to getting into good areas and shooting.

If we look at his shot map, his right-sided shot-taking is visible, especially the shots attempted from the edge of the box in the right half-space. But he also has many shots from central areas and inside the box as well, which makes him different from the wingers that just take shots from distance from their preferred angle. Raphinha actually has the movement to get into the box regularly like a striker and fashion himself high value shots from central areas.

Another aspect is the number of saves he forces from his shots. He often gets shots on target, showcasing his technique and ability to hit the target. Not only is he a good mover to get into good areas but he also has the technique to hit the target regularly. It’s a deadly combination that very few attackers can claim to have. 

Chance creation – Huge creator needing a finisher

If Raphinha’s wide movement and goal-scoring painted him as a dribble-and-shoot merchant like many wingers often are, it wouldn’t be further from the truth. Raphinha has excellent passing technique. It’s probably his stand-out trait. He is a strong creator in addition to being a good goal-scorer. Only 6 players in the Premier League have created more chances than Raphinha with 5 of them being the main creators of the top 5 teams and James Ward-Prowse jumping ahead thanks to a lot of set piece creation. It wouldn’t be wrong to call Raphinha the best open play creator outside the top 6 in the Premier League.

Once again, most of his chance creation comes from that right wing and half-space area. What is very clearly noticeable is the amount of short cutbacks from the right side into dangerous central areas. Raphinha is very adept at picking out those smart short passes that find a teammate. It has been Leeds’ misfortune that there was no consistent central threat this season to finish off those chances. With Bamford’s injury, winger  James’ poor attempts to play as a striker and Gelhardt being too raw for a starter role, there was no finisher to capitalize on Raphinha’s creativity. The result sees Raphinha end the league season with just 3 assists. Raphinha’s expected assists tally alone merited 7 assists (6.8 xA). It’s a good argument that alongside a better finisher, Raphinha will be troubling the assist charts. This is precisely what his suitors are banking on.

Progression – Elite and versatile progressor

Raphinha’s skills still have some space for progression as well. He boasts an immense 97 percentile on progressive passes among attackers in the league. Only 10 players have more progressive passes than him this year in the league and the only attacker among those 10 is Bruno Fernandes. 

His high technique levels ensure he is able to find players in a very wide range. Again, it would be easy to assume that, as a right winger who likes to cut in, he might be favoring just a few areas on the right and certain angles to progress. But Raphinha is a lot more talented than that. Whether it’s a pass down the line, an angular ball across the pitch or a diagonal into the box, he has a wide array of passes that can progress the game from different positions on the pitch. The whole pitch is his playground and it shows in his progressive pass map. You can’t ask for more variety and numbers from a winger.

Final thoughts

 

Raphinha’s pizza chart is a good summary of all that we have discussed so far. An elite passer, adept goal scorer and intense dribbler. The stats that look weak in this chart are his shot quality, dribble success, carries into dangerous areas and pressing. The former 4 are bound to improve in a better team, if he gets the opportunity to play further ahead and closer to goal. His below average pressing might be a slight issue for a team that is reliant on a high press. At Leeds, both Bielsa and Marsch stress on a strong pressing ethic which is carried out by most of the outfield players, barring Raphinha. His managers have often let him be the only attacker with comparatively lesser pressing duties, since he makes up for it in all the ways that we have seen so far. In short, he was the one hero player they gave a free pass to. This might not be true for a top team Raphinha moves to. The hero player might be someone more experienced and talented than him or he might join a top team that doesn’t believe in such a concept and wants a coherent high press from all its attackers. It remains to be seen if this proves to be a stumbling block for Raphinha in a top team.

Raphinha has been Leeds’ go-to man this season, whether it’s scoring, progression or chance creation. He has done everything an attacker could have, for a troubled side. The main reason why top clubs are pining for him is because his right winger movement is very desirable and he has the movement and technique to dribble, shoot, create and progress in almost equal measure. A well-rounded consistent attacker, Raphinha finished this season with 14 goal contributions. For a top side, that number increasing to 25 while ensuring consistency, creativity and teamwork, is a good bet to make. Leeds would be very lucky to hold onto him for another year. They should consider themselves lucky they enjoyed his brilliance for 2 years in the first place. Whichever team gets Raphinha next, is going to enjoy a top-class well-rounded right winger.

Search for a CM: Cheick Doucoure

While rivals Manchester City and Liverpool are locked in a close battle to decide who takes home the major trophies in the last few remaining games of the season, Manchester United’s season has seem finished for a while now. With Champions League qualification mathematically out of reach, the team playing in complete disharmony and disinterest (as evidenced by the recent 4-0 loss to Brighton) and multiple players having already announced their departure with a few others considering the same, it’s safe to say that both fans and players have mentally moved on from this season. 

The midfield search has also been affected by the poor performances of the season. The Devil’s DNA curse of midfielders covered in this series being picked up by top clubs soon after (Locatelli, Guimaraes) seems to have worked its magic again, with Aurélien Tchouaméni being strongly linked to a move to Liverpool last week. Regardless of whether he moves to Liverpool or Real Madrid, it’s safe to say that his heightened reputation and United’s absence from the Champions League have probably put Tchouameni out of reach for the summer. With Matic and Pogba leaving, the need for a midfield progressor is higher than ever, and with multiple positions to cover within a limited budget and no Champions League to offer, a smart and cost-effective buy who fits the tactical requirements is the need of the hour. Enter Cheick Doucoure, our latest recommendation for the player who can solve United’s DM issues.

Career History

Born in his home country Mali in January, 2000, Doucoure consistently played for the academy AS Real Bamako in Mali until the 16/17 season. The famed academy is responsible for kickstarting the careers of many top footballers like Gervinho, Kolo Touré, Salomon Kalou and Jason Denayer. RC Lens, who were then in Ligue 2, scouted him and picked up in 2018, soon after which he became a mainstay in the side at the age of 19. He played a total of 34 games in his debut 18/19 campaign which is extraordinary for a youngster. 

125 appearances over 4 seasons for RC Lens have seen Doucoure make the journey from Ligue 2 to Ligue 1. With Lens finishing 7th last season and sitting at 7th again this season, it has been nothing short of a magical rise for the club, just as it has been for Doucoure. At the tender age of 22, he already seems like the calm and composed leader for the club who dictates play from a deeper midfield position. His consistent and well-rounded displays have started getting attention in Europe and he has been constantly linked with many clubs, especially Premier League ones, in the last 2 windows. With his contract expiring in 2024 and Doucoure seeming ready to take the next step, this summer presents a great opportunity for a club to bolster their midfield with one of Europe’s rising stars without spending a bomb.

 

Profile Details

Name: Cheick Doucouré
Position: CM, DM
Age: 22 (DOB: Jan 8, 2000)
Foot: Right (94% usage)
Height: 180 cm
Nationality: Mali

Strengths & Weaknesses

In our CM shortlist article for the January window, Doucoure came out looking strongest for Pass completion %, Progressive passes, Interceptions, Progressive carry distance and Progressive carries. He ranks in the top 25% among Europe’s midfielders for these metrics making him a great passer and carrier with a good knack of positioning. This is close to what we want for our DM. 

Let’s dive into more detail for his key stats. I created a pizza chart to expand the above stats to 16 key stats we need to check for a DM. Here’s the result:

The more we expand on Doucoure’s passing, the better it looks. He ranks comfortably in the top 25% for all passing metrics and looks especially impressive for progressive passes. And this is  a player playing for RC Lens. There’s a good chance his passing stats (Esp Pass %) go up if he plays in a more structured top team. These passing stats for a 22-year-old show no issues at all.

His carrying looks even more impressive now. While he doesn’t carry too frequently, when he does it often seems to be progressive or entering into the final third. This also fits in exactly with what we want. We don’t want a very dribble-happy DM, just one who knows how to pick his moment to progress via carrying. Doucoure seems exactly like that.

Lastly, his defending deserves a detailed look. His tackles and interceptions look good. It shows he’s not shy to win the ball back but very high percentiles for these would imply a mobile ball-winning type like Fred and McTominay which we don’t want. Similar logic for pressing. We don’t want a presser who leaves his position constantly to press ahead, but someone who archives high success when he presses so as to not let opponents bypass him. Doucoure looks good on that front, pressing very less but boasting a high pressure success %. That fits in with what we want. His dribbled past seems a little low for our criteria. Ideally we would want someone who is rarely dribbled past. This needs further introspection. His aerial win % also doesn’t really turn heads. His physique and height aren’t really that great, so it would be wise to not assume Doucoure will be an aerial monster.

All in all, Doucoure ticks many boxes for the kind of DM we want. His passing and carrying are highly progressive without being a dribble merchant while his defending is measured without being a press-happy midfielder, although his dribbled past stat needs further analysis and his aerial presence isn’t great.

Technical Fitment: 8/10

Tactical Analysis

Let’s dive into how these stats translate to actions on the pitch. We need to understand how RC Lens plays and Doucoure’s role for them this season. Lens have mostly lined up in a 5-2-3 or 5-2-1-2 this season with Doucoure forming the pivot with Fofana on most of those occasions. The duo have started together in a pivot 34 times this season, showcasing their unreal consistency and Lens’ reliance on them. The pair are the 2 of the 3 most played squad members for Lens. In a possible 39 90s (at the time of writing) Fofana has accumulated 38.1 90s and Doucoure has played 33.7. 

Doucoure is the one who holds among the pair as right-sided CM while Fofana is more aggressive as a left-sided box-to-box midfielder. The two have a great understanding of when to move ahead and when to drop back. With a back 5 behind and attacking 3 ahead, one would think that Fofana and Doucoure might find coverage tough, but such is their mobility, awareness and intensity that they dominate midfield against most teams all on their own. Both are highly progressive, see the ball a lot and have impeccable sideways and vertical movement to support play in all 3 phases.

Looking at Doucoure’s pass reception map, it is clear that he acts in a dual role as DM and RCM as well. It is clear that he drops into the DM area to receive passes from his defenders, which is a good sign of what we want from United’s new DM and what the likes of McTominay lack immensely. But other than being heavily involved in the first phase, Doucoure is also able to push up the pitch especially into right-sided areas to help in the second phase of build up and ensure his team enters into the final third. The only player who has more middle third touches and passes received than Doucoure is – you guessed it – Fofana. As the designated advanced playmaker Fofana ends up topping those stats, but Doucoure is a close second. Defender Medina is another one who enjoys a lot of touches and is a target of passes in build up, being key to get Lens out of their third.

But what does Doucoure do after he receives the ball in the positions above. This is what he does:

He progresses. Mind you, this is just a map of his progressive passes. As seen in his pizza chart, his progressive carries are also among Europe’s best. In terms of passes alone, Doucoure has immense variation and ability to spread play on both flanks, find runners wide, thread short grounded central balls and play dangerous balls into the final third as well. He can do it all. He obviously ranks first in his team for progressive passes highlighting Lens’ reliance on him for progression. He also boasts great ranks for long pass completion and passes under pressure showcasing his ability to switch and press resistance.

His pass completion % is bested only by the 3 center-backs who play safe and Fofana. Even from his pizza percentile, his pass completion % was at 72 percentile in Europe. This is probably due to the system Lens play. Doucoure doesn’t have enough players in close proximity to aim at, due to playing a pivot. This probably gets fixed when he plays in a 3 man midfield or has closer options like an inverted wingback or progressive CB. At Lens, he carries all the load himself, leading to his pass % dropping ever so slightly. Overall, it’s not a real concern.

The movement is good, the passing is good, but what about the D in DM? Can he defend?

Yes, he can. As we saw in his pizza chart, Doucoure is great at winning his tackles and pressures. He comes out successful whenever he attempts a tackle or pressure and his dribbled past is decent on a team level too. His recoveries also show good defensive awareness. The reason Doucoure’s dribbled past stat compared to Europe seems a little weak is because Lens as a team are prone to transitions. The open 5-2-3 formation with 4 wide players often leaves the center unguarded. As great as Doucoure is, it leads to him being dribbled past in terms of stats, but his tackles won and pressure success highlight a player who definitely knows when to commit and come out winning. 

Again, logic dictates that with extra support like a 3 man midfield or inverted wingback, Doucoure could really take those numbers higher and become a solid DM. The comparison would be with someone like Rodri, who was a progressive gem at Atletico Madrid at a similar age of 22, but took around a year to adjust to the Premier League especially in terms of defensive transitions. But once that fine art of positioning (and fouling) was perfected, Rodri has looked like a world-class DM in the last 2 seasons. Doucoure can have a similar path in a new system that is structured like Ten Hag’s could be (hopefully) for United next season.

Let’s take a look at 2 examples that showcase all these traits in match situations.

In the first example, Doucoure receives the ball from his center-back while under pressure from the opponent striker. He has the strength to shield and awareness to turn and pick a smooth pass to his right wingback. Doucoure takes a few steps forward to offer support, but sees his wingback unable to progress and smartly holds back to give himself an option for the return ball. He positions himself between the 2 opponents so his wingback can see the pass and return it back to start the move again. Doucoure now has the vision and awareness to spot the gap on the left wing due to the opponent moving across the right to defend. He quickly pings the diagonal with perfect technique before the opponent backline can reorganize. His left winger takes it down perfectly. With the left wingback overlapping, Lens have carved open an attack, all thanks to Doucoure.

The above example was classic progressive DM play who starts the build up, is available for recycling and dictates play by switching and picking out wide players. The next incident is more of an example for when he helps in the advanced phase as a RCM.

Doucoure receives the ball in a tight area on the right side where opponents are crowding on him. He has the awareness to pick a quick short pass to his right wingback and the energy to power past his marker and receive the ball back. The touch from the receive alone takes him past 2 more players, giving him ample space to wait for the overlapping run and thread a through ball on the flank. The wingback is now in a dangerous crossing position. With 2 strong give-and-gos, Doucoure was able to bypass the 4 opponents players on the right flank, which showcases how good a support he can be in advanced and wide areas of the pitch as well.

In summary, Doucoure is adept at playing a nice mix of DM & CM and possesses the awareness and ability for build up, progression and defending. There is a slight improvement needed in reducing his dribbled past stat, which should be very doable in a good system as he develops with age.

Not much to nitpick here. It’s almost as good as it gets.


Tactical Fitment: 9/10

Transfer chances

Contract Start: Dec, 2019
Contract End: Jun, 2024
Weekly Wage: £3,000
Quoted Transfer Fee: £12m
Expected Transfer Fee: £12m-£17m

What’s even more exceptional about Doucoure’s current status is that for a player who boasts such impressive stats and consistency, his wages, transfer fee and media hype are criminally low. His £3,000 weekly wage is £17,000 less than United’s lowest earner, Tahith Chong. His rumored transfer fee is less than what United paid for a 19-year-old Dalot. This is genuinely a case of picking up a hidden gem, who will undoubtedly cost a lot more once he gets picked up by a mid-table club and proves himself for 1-2 years. 

And that’s exactly what is happening. Aston Villa were strongly linked with a £14m move in January and are returning for the Lens midfielder this summer, but they are facing competition from Crystal Palace who are willing to increase the bid to £17m to convince Lens. Let’s be honest – these are peanut fees for the likes of Manchester United. United can easily bid £20m and offer a 10x wage increase and still get a top footballer who is a tactical fit for a profile they desperately need and call it a steal. 

These are the kind of players who United later get linked with for heavy prices at their peak. One example is Michael Olise, whom Palace picked up last year from the Championship for just £8m, but is now being rumoured to cost upwards of £50m for a potential move. Doucoure will most likely have such an effect if he joins a mid-table EPL team this summer. If United have learnt anything from their transfer gaffes over the last decade and want to prove that the new transfer committee (after multiple sackings of the old guard in the last month) is truly a football-focused strategic one, they should be all over gems like Doucoure, before such players get too big for United.

The deal is an easy one. United can easily swoop in and offer a fee and terms better than Villa and Palace at any moment. It would take less than a day for Doucoure and Lens to accept the offer and United to get their man early for Ten Hag to start pre-season work on time. It all depends on intention though. Are United even looking for such a player? Is the scouting team even aware? Either way, it would be a huge miss if they don’t make a move this summer.

Thanks to the ease of a potential transfer, I’m rating the chances highly. This one should be a shut-and-closed case if United show intent.

Transfer Chances: 10/10

Final thoughts

In summary, Doucoure has none of the hype, wages and fee of a potential top DM, but he has the progression, consistency, defensive strength and intelligence of one. This is a classic case of ‘hidden gem’. A low-cost transfer and 1-2 years of settling into a system, can iron out the few gaps and make Doucoure a very top DM at his peak.

Technical Fitment: 8/10
Tactical Fitment: 9/10
Transfer Chances: 10/10
Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 9/10

Whom would you like to see covered next from our shortlist?

Bruno Guimarães – 8/10
Maxime Lopez
Ismaël Bennacer
Florian Grillitsch
Aurélien Tchouaméni – 8/10
Cheick Doucouré – 9/10
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa

(Notes:
1. All playing stats are from Fbref.com
2. All contract information is from Transfermarkt.com
3. All viz are made using Opta data
4. All images are from Getty Images
5. All mentioned data is accurate till May 10th, 2022)

Loan Report: James Garner 21/22

A 4-0 thrashing at the hands of rivals Liverpool, Matic announcing his departure, Pogba getting injured and out for the reason, the sacking of 2 leaders in the scouting system, Erik Ten Hag’s announcement as new manager, Maguire’s family getting a bomb threat – just another week for everyone’s favourite club in red, Manchester United.

Amidst all the chaos, sticking to matters on the pitch, it wasn’t hard to notice that the absence of Fred and McTominay (a pair often slandered on social media for not being good enough) has led United to field midfield combinations that have featured Pogba, Matic, Lingard, Bruno and even Mata, in a midfield 3 in the last 3 games. 4 of those players could be leaving in a month and Bruno is hardly a midfielder strictly speaking. Such is the dire need for midfielders in this United squad.

But where there is management chaos and squad planning failure, there is opportunity. The monumental midfield gap, coupled with requirements in other positions, means that transfers won’t be enough to plug all the holes. How fortunate it is then that United have a 21-year-old midfielder on loan, who has been developing consistently and is now ready to play a part in the senior team.

James Garner has been impressive for Nottingham Forest this season and there are many rumors flying around about Nottingham wanting to keep him and Leeds United wanting to buy him. In this article, I explain why the Red Devils should integrate Garner into Erik Ten Hag’s plans this summer. I analyze Garner’s movement, passing, defending and his fitment into Ten Hag’s system.



Garner’s movement: An engine-like B2B

There has been some debate about Garner’s best role in recent years. He played for a few years at the U23 level for Manchester United as the deepest player in midfield – a classic deep-lying playmaker who dictates the game and shields the defence. This prompted many Manchester United fans to hail him as the second coming of Michael Carrick. 

While he was okay in that role for a while, it was the shift to a more aggressive box-to-box role in 2019 that really saw him come to life. He combined with Greenwood, Elanga and Shoretire to devastating effect for the U23s that season and proved that he had more to offer in an attacking midfield role.

Since then, on his loan spells at Watford and Nottingham Forest, he has retained a similar role often playing as a linker midfield player or a box-to-box locomotive with license to run, roam, create and press, instead of playing a holding role in midfield. His 21/22 season with Forest has confirmed the same movement. Here’s a viz of this season.

Forest have lined up in a 5-2-3 for most part this season with Garner and Yates forming the midfield pivot when fit. Garner usually takes the left-sided CM role with more license to move up and connect with the front 3, while Yates takes up the more defensive RCM role often holding to provide cover when Garner and the wingbacks are caught up. 

Garner’s all actions heat map confirms how active he is all over the pitch. He barely has a red hot zone on the pitch but a lot of blue all over it, showcasing the freedom he gets to roam around the pitch, whether it’s to create in the final 3rd, put pressure in the middle 3rd or defend in his own 3rd. This is a midfielder who isn’t bound to any zones on the pitch and loves to constantly run up and down and also go wide for support.

His pass reception map gives us a stronger clue to the areas he likes to get into when he has to receive the ball from his teammates. There is a clearer insight of his left-leaning role with almost an even split of the red hot zone between receptions in his half during the build up phase and receptions in the opponent half when the team is attacking. The latter zone especially being spread out and including wide areas on the left shows how ready Garner is to go to the wings to provide support during the attack. During attack, he loves drifting into the left half-space area and receiving from his wingback or winger to then turn his body towards goal and obtain the angle to pass or shoot almost like a creative no.10 player.

In summary, Garner’s movement indicates how he doesn’t sit or hold in midfield, but loves to run all over the pitch. This includes build up receptions in his half and almost AM-style wide and high receptions during attack. If we had to assign a name to this role, it would be: box-to-box midfielder.

Garner’s passing: A set-piece demon

Even if his role did change, the fact that Garner is inherently creative hasn’t. What has caught the eye of social media followers are Garner’s videos of an assist or goal which often includes a set piece. It’s unsurprising that both his assists and 3 of his goals this season have all come from set pieces. He is a real threat when it comes to dead-ball situations.


Let’s take a look at his pass maps.

Other than the 2 assists, Garner has created many chances, most of them coming from set pieces. The dozen corners are visible in the viz while some of the balls into the box are also from free kicks.

Other than dead-ball situations, his chances created from open play often originate from the left side of the pitch where he angles in a diagonal ball into the box or towards the right wing, once again confirming his preference to create from the left or central zones like a left-leaning AM during attack.

Moving to the map of his progressive passes, it’s clear to see the variation Garner has. His passing range is good. He is able to provide switches to the opposite wing, through balls to the wide players and long balls to the attackers, when he has time and space. Garner’s progression isn’t the metronome deep-playmaking kind containing short passing and central penetration, but is more like the spreading-the-play kind, where a team moves forward or gets into empty spaces thanks to his game-progressing balls into good advanced areas.

This once again ties in well with our theme of Garner being a box-to-box midfielder who prefers to open up the game and help his team advance, rather than progress from deep and help build up. His set piece threat and creativity in the final third from a left-leaning angle are his main chance creation weapons.

Garner’s defending: Intense and willing participant

From his movement and passing if you expected Garner to be defensively shy, you couldn’t have been more wrong.

The best word to describe Garner’s defending is intense. His constant running isn’t limited to when his team has the ball. He puts in a hard shift when his team doesn’t. What’s particularly impressive is the number of recoveries and the spread of them. Garner is constantly picking up second balls across the pitch. He has a host of clearances in his box and many aerial wins outside the box as well showing one area of his game that has improved massively – his physicality. He’s not shy to get into an aerial duel anymore. 

His tackles, interceptions and challenges especially in the middle third are also impressive, once again showing how far ahead he is willing to go to win the ball back. Garner is a constant presser and is prepared to hunt high and wide for the ball.

If there was some doubt about which type of box-to-box player Garner was – the attacking kind like Pogba or Gundogan or the defensive kind like Fred or Kante – though Garner is capable of playing both roles well, it might be safer to assume given his intensity and ball-winning focus, that he’s closer to the second kind. His days as a DM in the academy have given him a good sense of defensive awareness. While his positioning might not be enough for a holding role, it helps him note the flow of the attack, get stuck in and win the ball back for his team consistently. 

In summary of this section, Garner is a constant presser, runner, tackler and ball-winner in defence, boasting a wide area of operation and various means to win the ball back – something which would fit really well with Erik Ten hag’s pressing ethos and midfield demands.

One aspect that hasn’t been covered so far is his goal-scoring. Most of Garner’s goals are either long-range shots from a left-sided AM position or direct free kicks from distance. He has managed to score 8 goals for Nottingham over the past 1.5 years. 

Fitment for Erik Ten Hag tactics

We have already written a detailed article on Erik Ten Hag’s tactics here. To summarize his formation, he enjoys a sweeper keeper, progressive defenders with 2 fullbacks who invert, holding DM who shields the aggressive defence, 2 intense CMs who offer support to the attack, 2 inverted wingers who provide width and one CF capable of linking play with the front 5. Assuming Ten Hag recreates much of the current Ajax tactic to United next season, the main candidates for the B2B CM role (Gravenberch currently) and AM role (Berghuis currently) are probably Fred and Bruno respectively. The anchor man DM role (Alvarez currently) is a real head-scratcher and probably needs a new signing instead of risking McTominay there.

Among these 3 midfield options from all that we have discussed so far, Garner would fit best in the B2B role. He has the pressing intensity, ability to link play from defence to attack and movement to connect with the front 3, to pull off that role to perfection. The AM role could be a nice second option since Garner additionally has the creativity and shooting threat to contribute there as well. The DM role needing high levels of positioning, transition defence and physicality, makes that a far 3rd choice option in case of an emergency need. 

So, in summary a rotation option for Fred and Bruno would probably suit him the most. In an ideal world, McTominay and Mejbri also should be competing for the same 2 roles as backup as well. This leads to the major ask for the window to be the DM United have been crying out for for 2+ years now. If United can buy a consistent DM and integrate Garner for the advanced midfield roles, the current paper-thin midfield could start looking strong really quick.

What happens next

A lot still depends on whether Manchester United include Garner in the squad next year. Garner still has a contract until 2024, with the option of an extension, so there is no danger of losing him for free or cheap anytime soon. A few weeks ago, Phil Hay of the Athletic mentioned the possibility of Leeds signing Manchester United’s James Garner, despite the rivalry between the clubs.


“It’ll be interesting to see who Leeds target. James Garner, the Manchester United midfielder who’s on loan at Nottingham Forest in the Championship and having a very good year, is someone I’ve heard mentioned recently,” Hay told The Athletic.

This is the latest rumor in a line of many over the past few months with outlets like Telegraph and DailyMail carrying stories of strong interest from Leeds United to bolster their midfield in the coming summer with James Garner.

In an interview with Footballleagueworld, transfer guru Dean Jones reflected that the Englishman would intend to continue as starter wherever he goes next. “Garner’s having a great time this season, and he doesn’t want to be on the fringes anywhere else at the moment. He’s shown his value, and he wants to kick on next season and be a big part of a team, wherever that is.”

If United are unable to convince one of their brightest academy midfield prospects of the last decade to be a part of the senior team setup, especially when their midfield badly needs some bodies and he fits really well in Ten Hag’s philosophy, it would be a real shame.

Search for a CM: Aurelien Tchouameni

United’s insistence of passing up window after window without buying a specialist DM has now gone from a tale of incompetence to one of utter indifference to the team’s needs. So far, as a part of this series, we have written a summer 2021 shortlist, a winter 2022 shortlist and scout reports on Locatelli and Guimaraes. The result has seen none of the shortlisted CMs even be linked to United while the 2 scouted ones have been picked up right after we released the articles. So far, only pain.

But, enterprising and hopeful as ever, today we bring you another edition of this series. Our focus is on Aurelien Tchouameni, the latest midfielder from France’s talent factory. We discuss his playing style, tactical fitment for Manchester United & summer transfer chances below. 


Career History

Born in Bordeaux in January 2000, Tchouameni spent 9 years in the Bordeaux academy racking up appearances at every level, before finally getting his senior team debut in July 2018 as a then 18-year-old. He turned up 19 times that season for the side and followed it up with another 18 appearances in just half a season, which was enough for Monaco to shell out €18m for him in the January 2020 window. After taking some time to settle in that season, Tchouameni emerged as a key starter for the club from the following summer. He made 42 appearances (36 in the league alone out of 38 possible games) in the 20/21 season at the heart of midfield and was a big reason for Monaco finishing 3rd. He has racked up 34 apps (22 out of 24 in league) in the ongoing 21/22 season signifying his importance and growth.

Having made 52 appearances for France at youth levels, he also got his senior team call up in August 2021 and has been ever-present since then, appearing 7 times in every available game. His monumental rise and obvious quality, even after having just turned 22 last month, have been turning heads this season, as many top clubs circle him for the upcoming summer window.

Profile Details

Name: Aurélien Tchouaméni
Position: CM, DM
Age: 22 (DOB: Jan 27, 2000)
Foot: Right (88% usage)
Height: 185 cm
Nationality: France

Strengths & Weaknesses

In our winter shortlist article, Bruno Guimaraes took the top spot since we weighted the score towards passing metrics and considered only 7 key stats. Interestingly, if I include a few more metrics like Progressive Pass distance, Dribbled Past, Dribble Success % and Miscontrols and then take an equal weight average of all the stats, this is the result:

Tchouameni looks really nice here. This is a good place to start to explain his strengths. Tchouameni’s biggest strength is that he’s very well-rounded. He’s the only one in the shortlist who clocks 60+ percentile on all 11 metrics. This is a midfielder who can do everything well, which is also why multiple reports of him assign different roles to his profile – deep playmaker, destroyer, anchorman etc. The truth is that he’s capable of pulling off most of these roles thanks to his well-roundedness and any team acquiring him at the age of 22 this summer can develop him into what they need at his peak. 

Let’s go further into his stats by looking at his Fbref pizza percentile chart for the 21/22 season:

It’s hard not to immediately notice Tchouameni’s defensive traits. He’s in the 90+ percentile range for most of them, showing him to be an adept ball-winner. As explained earlier, United probably don’t want a high-pressing ball-winner given Fred and Scott already offer that. Tchouameni’s profile suits the need. His pressures aren’t that high, but his interceptions, Pressure Success % and Dribbled past percentiles are excellent. That’s exactly what we want. It shows his great positioning and ability to sense danger without committing in a gung-ho manner. Tchouameni wins the ball a lot, but does so while prioritizing success and retention. His main weapon to that end is his immense physique. He bulldozes attackers into coughing up possession and isn’t shy to tackle them, but is so imposing and accurate with it, that he comes out with the ball most of the time. His reach is also excellent, often stretching or sprinting back to catch a dribbler and nab the ball off them in time, rarely getting beaten in midfield.

His massive aerial strength (thanks to height and agility) is another defensive pro. He often wins his aerial duels in both boxes. In possession too, Tchouameni is no joke, averaging 70+ percentiles on everything relevant. He is able to pass and carry under pressure and put his head up and pick some really good switches, through balls and diagonals. If Tchouameni does come to United he would take the deepest role that Scott McTominay currently occupies for us in Rangnick’s 4-3-3. Let’s compare them for this season to get an idea:

It’s pretty clear that in terms of passing & defending, Tchouameni offers a huge upgrade on Scott. It’s only carrying & shooting where Scott does better. Those are largely unimportant traits for the DM role and actually confirm how Scott’s strengths are also better utilized further ahead on the pitch. Tchouameni’s signing would probably allow Scott to compete with Fred for the B2B CM role once Pogba leaves.

On weaknesses, as ridiculous as it sounds, Tchouameni has none. At the very least, none for his role as a deep-lying defensive midfielder. He probably lacks the carrying, final 3rd creation and shooting to justify an advanced CM or B2B role. The only other “weakness” one can probably pick out is that he isn’t at 90+ percentiles on passing to be called an elite playmaker. In our CM shortlist, the reason players like Bruno Guimaraes and Maxime Lopez jumped ahead of him were due to their high metrics for progressive passing and pass % which Tchouameni couldn’t match. But that’s not to say Tchouameni doesn’t have room to improve on that. He’s already made a big jump from a season ago, when his passing metrics were only as good as McTominay and he seemed more like a ball winner (earning ‘next Kante’ shouts in France) but he’s really developed his passing and build up traits to be considered as a top team DM since then.

In summary, Tchouameni is probably the best U25 DM available in Europe if you want a balanced DM who is strong at defending and good at build up and progression. From the POV of what United want, it can’t get better than this. I’m cutting 1 mark just for the fact that he isn’t an elite level playmaker yet, but he can probably bridge that gap soon at the rate at which he’s going.

Technical Fitment: 9/10


Tactical Analysis

Let’s see how all of this translates to the pitch. This season, AS Monaco got off to a very troubled start with manager Niko Kovac employing a number of formations at the start of the season (3-4-2-1, 4–2-3-1, 4-4-2 and 4-3-3) to no good effect as the team struggled to find any rhythm or consistency. In all these formations, Tchouameni would be a regular and often start as the deepest midfielder. Kovac was eventually sacked after managing only 24 points and 6 wins in 17 league games. Since the arrival of Phillipe Clement in January, things have been more stable. The team has consistently played a 4-3-3 and managed 15 points and 4 wins in his 9 games at charge. Tchouameni has continued to be a regular feature at the base of the mid 3 with 2 of Volland, Jean Lucas and Fofana rotating in the CM slots ahead of him.

One thing our stats did not cover and is usually a big need for a DM, is the ability to show oneself during build up and progression. The DM needs to make himself available to the back line during the first phase and also constantly be in good positions to support wide players and midfielders in the next phase, so that the team can progress smoothly. This is something United have badly lacked. Scott is a very poor shower of himself often getting covered in the shadows of opponents and rarely being in good positions to demand the ball during build up. While Fred is better at making himself available, he lacks the ball control & strength to play out of pressure when facing his goal in DM areas.

Tchouameni is a master at this art as shown below:

We can immediately see his major pass reception is in the DM area or Zone 14 slot where he smartly moves to always be an outlet through the center during buildup. His rankings for the relevant metrics also show how important he is in receiving the ball for his team. The 2nd best zone of reception being further up the pitch on either side is a clear indicator of how he moves up with the team and offers himself on either side during second phase build up on the flanks as well. That is exactly what we need our DM to do. His involvement in the 3rd phase or attacking third progression is negligible, showcasing how he prefers to stay as a guard dog in the center to protect the team against transitions when they are up high – another attribute we sorely need.

We touched upon Tchouameni being a good passer and probably not an elite level playmaker. But with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Fred and Bruno Fernandes in the team, United already have enough chance creation and final ball material and just need a midfielder from deep to constantly find them in the attacking 3rd – and that’s exactly what Tchouameni does!

Tchouameni’s progressive map helps us understand 2 things:
1. The typical progressive pass he makes is exactly what we need – the mid 3rd to final 3rd ones. We have Maguire and Lindelof who are good at progressive passes from the defensive 3rd while Dalot, Telles and Shaw are adept at progression from deep wide areas. The only missing clog is completed with this kind of progressive map, from the center of the pitch to the wings, half-spaces and AM areas in the final 3rd.
2. His range of passing and uniformity across the pitch is perfectly balanced. He doesn’t have a favorite pass like a cross-ball diagonal to one side or a certain area of the pitch where the angle suits him. This is a player who can progress anywhere from the areas he operates in and that’s a very huge pro for a central DM in a mid 3 for a possession based team.

Defensively, Aurelian is an ever-present imposing figure in the middle of the park. His recoveries and interceptions highlight his amazing positioning. On the very few occasions he is far away from the ball, he makes it up with a display of acceleration and reach to get in a successful tackle. He rarely gets dribbled past thanks to a combination of awareness and physical dominance. Imagine Matic’s positioning combined with Fred’s ball-winning energy – that’s how Tchouameni feels like in defence.

Another noticeable trait is his aerial presence. Whether it’s clearances in his box or chances in the opposition box, he usually wins his aerial duels with strength and jumping ability. Among his 5 goals & 6 assists in the last 2 seasons, 3 goals and 2 assists have come from headers in set piece situations alone. This is another aspect United will benefit from.

Let’s look at some examples on the pitch to confirm what we have discussed so far:

In the 1st example, I highlight Tchouameni’s ability to receive when back to goal, turning to beat his man, giving himself a chance to look up and picking a great through ball that releases his winger behind the defence.

The example below is one where Aurelien is given a pass in a very bad situation. We have seen such incidents many times at United recently where a defender under pressure puts in a poor pass to the CM who is dropping deep, leading to a blame game on whose fault it really was. With DMs like Tchouameni, even poor passes are dealt with well. He receives this one on the edge of his D and is able to body-block the oncoming tackle, turn into the space behind, spot his teammate and release them on the break. 

In the 3rd example, Aurelien closes in on the man he’s marking, putting good pressure on his back as he is receiving. Again, the main highlight here is how Tchouameni doesn’t need to tackle or slide in (another bad habit of United players) and instead stays up and pressures the opponent with his physicality. Upon getting the ball, he has the awareness to turn into space and pick out his teammate to kickstart a move.
The final example is a simple one as Aurelien picks out the striker run with an inch-perfect through ball. The move led to the striker squaring it to his LW for a tap in.

Rounding off our tactical segment, it’s hard to pick any fault here. Tchouameni is what United exactly lack on the pitch – a DM in a mid 3 who helps in 1st and 2nd phase but stays back in 3rd phase to defend transitions, strong defensively without lunging into tackles, able to receive well in tight DM areas with good positioning & ball control, progressive enough to pick out anyone in the final 3rd with uniformity and a strong aerial presence in both boxes. This segment is a clean sweep.

Tactical Fitment: 10/10


Transfer Chances

Contract Start: Jan 29, 2020
Contract End: Jun 30, 2024
Weekly Wage: £19,000
Quoted Transfer Fee: £83m
Expected Transfer Fee: £60m-£70m

By now you must have realized that Aurelian is a wanted man. Last year, it could have been argued that he was still a wonderkid with a few gaps, but this season he has emerged as a well-rounded DM showing off his skills with excellence. His strong and consistent displays for Monaco and France have elevated his demand. Most top clubs know they are getting a guaranteed starter for many years, if they move for him this summer.

Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona have all been strongly linked to the Frenchman. Barcelona’s financial issues and Arsenal and United’s doubtful Champions League status have apparently put Chelsea and Madrid in the lead, with Chelsea especially seemingly desperate to acquire either Aurelien or Declan Rice, given the age and fitness issues of Kante (30) and Jorginho (30).

In terms of transfer fee, Tchouameni’s contract runs out in 2024, which has made Monaco slap a £83m price tag on him for the coming summer. Even assuming that’s just a negotiation tactic, it seems hard for anyone to prize away the wanted man for anything less than £60m.

This segment is where United face the biggest issues. The recent draw to Watford has put a huge dent on our top 4 chances. Coupled with intense transfer competition, especially from Chelsea who have the need and the means, this might not be an easy deal for the Red Devils, further complicated by a new manager arrival.


Transfer Chances: 6/10


So, that rounds it up! Tchouameni is probably the most well-rounded DM in the U25 category that any top club can hope for. With the right mix of role and traits, he ranks very highly for technical and tactical fitment for Manchester United’s needs, but the intense transfer competition is a big roadblock for a team that has often struggled to beat top clubs to signings.

Technical Fitment: 9/10
Tactical Fitment: 10/10
Transfer Chances: 6/10
Overall Devil’s DNA Score: 8/10

Whom would you like to see covered next from our shortlist?

Bruno Guimarães – 8/10
Maxime Lopez
Ismaël Bennacer
Florian Grillitsch
Aurélien Tchouaméni – 8/10
Cheick Doucouré
Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa

(Notes:
1. All playing stats are from Fbref.com
2. All contract information is from Transfermarkt.com
3. All viz are made using Opta data
4. All images are from Getty Images
5. All screenshots from video footage of Ligue 1 and Monaco’s YouTube uploads
6. All mentioned data is accurate for the Feb 28th, 2022 to Mar 2nd, 2022 duration)

Scout Report: Karim Adeyemi

After an extraordinary summer transfer window which saw many big names switch their allegiance it’s time for the wonderkids to realise their dream of playing for a big club. The winter window will be quiet but the upcoming summer window will see a lot of clubs bidding for a host of young talents. Among the popular names, there’s a lesser known player who has turned the eyes of many clubs like Liverpool,Barcelona and Dortmund. Karim Adeyemi has had one impressive performance after another and is the next big thing to come out of RB Salzburg’s amazing talent factory.

Player Background-

Name- Karim Adeyemi

DOB- Jan 19,2002(19)

Country – Germany

Height- 177CM

Foot- Left

Wage- € 8,120 p/w

Positions – CF,LW,RW

Similar players- Timo Werner,Breel Embolo,Ben Yedder

Adeyemi started his career at the age of 8 at FC Forstenreid after which he moved to the youth system of Bayern Munich. It didn’t go well for him at Bayern and he soon moved to SpVgg Unterhaching in Germany where he began to show glimpses of his talent. RB Salzburg signed him up in 2018 and immediately sent him to their feeder club FC Liefering. He impressed there so much that he was shortly called back to Salzburg’s main team to be part of their attacking force.

Playing Style-

Adeyemi, who’s left-footed, likes to play in the centre forward position but he can be equally menacing on the wings. His style of play is very direct,intense and energetic. He likes to dribble and also likes to run behind defenders which makes marking him a big task. Coupled with his blistering pace, he has great balance and agility, thus making him difficult to contain during counters.

Here’s a Pizza Percentile chart of Adeyemi over the last 365 days in European competitions.

Although last season he was used mostly as a sub, this season he has been their preferred man upfront and he has given a great return. He has scored 14 times this season in 15 starts at a rate of 0.8 p/g. He has taken 2.7 shots p/g with 1.5 of them on target. He has a penchant for dribbling and then taking a shot, a characteristic feature found in many goalscoring wingers. Coming to chance creation, he has given 2 assists while giving 1.2 key passes p/g. So apart from scoring, he can create goals for his teammates although he will look to improve his passing if he wants to fit in a system which needs him to keep the possession. He has a dribble success rate of 46% with 2.1 dribbles p/g. He wins 3.5 duels p/g, an amazing number which shows his defensive ability.

If we look the heatmap we can understand that he’s played in the wider areas more this season,especially on the left. He’s actually best suited as the left sided CF in a front two. Not a traditional line leading CF, but someone who tends to operate in the wider areas whilst also roaming in the central areas to score goals.Therefore he can be used as a wide winger and also as a winger who likes to cut in and create chances

Given the fact that he is still very young, his decision making can sometimes be rash, a thing which can be polished by proper coaching. Sometimes he tries to do too much with the ball often which might give the defence time to settle or block his passing lanes. Adeyemi’s best ability is finishing, he has that keen eye for goal and he takes very well placed shots which is a rare attribute at this age.In tight areas,he breezes past defenders and cuts in swiftly, either taking a shot or setting up a teammate. When he’s in wide areas, he tries to cut inside on either wing rather than whipping in a cross,some attributes of an inside forward or a second striker. Rather than leading the forward line, he would be the one dropping a little deep and moving his way forward as he makes spaces for his teammates. He interprets the space around him and can dribble his way out or play a slick one two and move in open areas where he has the advantage. Adeyemi’s off the ball movement is really good which makes him a perfect player for teams which attack spaces and rely on off-the-ball movement.Coming to his weaknesses, Adeyemi is a poor passer as of now and needs to work on that aspect. If he plays in a possession based team he’ll have to contribute in the build up with quick thinking and passing. Also he will have to improve his movement in tight areas as he won’t get so much space in other big leagues. That being said, he works hard and tries to do the best with every opportunity he gets on the ball. Hopefully he can overcome his shortcomings and develop his stronger areas to suit whatever team he plays for.

Adeyemi giving a cross to his teammate.
Adeyemi getting at the end of a cross.
Adeyemi’s precise movement into the box which led to a goal

Conclusion:

Salzburg play an attractive brand of football, pressing high up the pitch and relying heavily on constant off-the-ball movements. Adeyemi is generally the one who starts the press upfront, and is adept at troubling defences with his blindside runs and mazy dribbling. As he’s very young, he can be moulded into any kind of forward as the manager wants because of his diverse skillset which suits a lot of tactics. If he fits in a system perfectly he will be a force to reckon with. Barcelona,Dortmund,Bayern and Liverpool are the clubs who fancy his signature and rightly so. At a price of about 40 million euros, he can become an asset to any team and under the right manager and tactics, he can flourish and become a player whom everyone will love to watch.