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.
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.
Name: Aurélien Tchouaméni
Position: CM, DM
Age: 22 (DOB: Jan 27, 2000)
Foot: Right (88% usage)
Height: 185 cm
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
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.
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
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?
|Aurélien Tchouaméni – 8/10|
|Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa|
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)