Sensible Targets: Eduardo Camavinga

With recent reports suggesting that Paul Pogba’s future lies away from Manchester United, it is only natural for the Mancunian club to be linked with a replacement for the French superstar. Pogba, who has a year left on his contract is not willing to extend his stay in England’s footballing capital and United can try and sell him right now, or keep him and hope he signs an extension before his contract expires next season. Regardless of whether Pogba moves or not, United desperately need a midfielder anyway. We have already done two articles on this before so I won’t elaborate about it here.

If Pogba does make a move this window, United should be (ideally) in the market for 2 Central midfielders. One midfielder being able to play a more deeper role and another one being a more dynamic, runner of the ball. And as it the case of almost every trsansfer window, Manchester United are linked to a host of different midfielders of both of those profiles. With Declan Rice being the standout name for the former and Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul being the most high profile for the latter. 

Another French midfielder who has one year remaining on his contract and would fit the Pogba replacement profile perfectly is Eduardo Camavinga. Today, I will try to explain how the young French sensation can fit the team and what little tactical tweaks we can observe with Camavinga in the side. 

History

For someone who is still in his teens, Camavinga already has moments in his short career that have been etched in the history books. Eduardo Camavinga signed his first professional contract when he just a month older than 16 and it was not long before he made his debut. 

Eduardo Camavinga was the youngest player at Rennes to sign a professional and also the youngest player to ever play for the first team. His breakout game came against PSG when he put in a MOTM performance in the midfield and also set up the only goal of the game. His assist meant he became the youngest Ligue 1 player ever to register an assist. 

After that, it wasn’t long before the young Frenchman cemented his place in the Rennes starting 11. The 2019-20 season can widely be regarded as his breakthrough season in France. Now, a full fledged first team regular and also a French International and with only one year remaining on his contract, it seems as if moving Camavinga on is the best move for all parties involved and Manchester United are among a host of clubs monitoring his situation at Rennes. 

Playing Style

When he first broke on the scene in 2019/20, Julien Stephan, the then Rennes manager used him as a defensive midfielder in a 4-4-2 or a 3-4-1-2 at the tender age of 17. Camavinga is excellent in tackling and disrupting the opponent’s play in his own half. He has displayed Kante-esque traits where his work ethic and excellent tackling make him a very good workhorse for the team. He won more tackles than any other player in the Ligue 1 in 2019-20 despite only playing 25 games. 

Even though he first made a name for himself for his tackling and work ethic, the youngster offers so much more than just that. He operates in the areas of a deep lying playmaker and his long passing also offers him to distribute the ball and start attacks playing from deep midfield. He completed 91% of long passes in 2019-20 displaying a perfect blend of maturity, tenacity and elegance in his style of play helping Rennes qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history. 

In 2020-21 season, Rennes shifted to a 4-3-3 formation and with Steven Nzonzi sitting at the base of the 3 man midfield for the French side, it allowed Camavinga to play a more advanced role. He has played at the heart, on the right and on the left side of the midfield throughout the last season but he mainly played as a RCM in a 3 man midfield. 

Even observing his heat maps from the 2 seasons we can see his development as a player.   

As we can see, in 19/20 (Top) he played a much deeper role compared to the one in 20/21 (bottom). 

Due to being given more freedom to roam ahead and play further up the pitch, Camavinga’s creative numbers have gone up. His dribbling and passing numbers have improved while his tackling has remained the same. Camavinga can best be described as a combination of N’golo Kante and Paul Pogba. He has the work ethic and the tenacity of Kante while being as elegant on the ball as Pogba. 

The Frenchman has shown a lot of maturity in shifting his game from a deeper lying midfielder to a box to box midfielder. He had a pass completion of 89.3% in Ligue 1 while also averaging 6.37 progressive carries p90. Adding to this, he also had 3.4 tackles p90 and 1.92 dribbles completed p90. He ranked in the 97th and 95th percentile for both the stats in Ligue 1. Very impressive for an 18-year old. 

He also possesses great awareness for his age. The 18 year old always wants to get on the ball and is never one to shy away from responsibility. As a result of his great awareness, he can be deemed as one of the midfielders who are ‘press resistant’. He has also got a strong physical presence. Even though he is just over 6 ft, his lean physique is just about at the stage where he can turn and dribble past players quickly but also not be bullied by his counterparts while he is in possession of the ball. His awareness coupled with his great vision allow him to play the creative, box to box role he has been playing for Rennes. Almost acting like a ‘Mezzala’. 

However, Camavinga still has a long way to go in terms of his technical and physical aspects. The midfielder still can’t be considered as a goal threat, either by his long shots or his presence in the 18-yard box. While his positioning and vision is still not polished, it is to be considered that the Frenchman is just 18 years old. 

In short, Eduardo Camavinga is a tenacious, dynamic, box to box midfielder. His awareness, tackling ability, dribbling and passing allow him to be a great all round option to have in the middle of the pitch. 

Tactical Fit at Manchester United

Well, first things first, Eduardo Camavinga is not someone who can play alongside Paul Pogba in the pivot as many fans are suggesting he might. He may have some of the skills required but his natural game isn’t that of a holding midfielder and if Pogba is to be played in a double pivot, he needs someone in that profile to play alongside him. Someone in the similar mould of a Nemanja Matic and even that is not enough to get the best out of Paul Pogba. He works best playing in the attacking areas of the LW-half space, something he has done recently for Manchester United playing from the LW.

So, if we cancel out the possibility of Paul Pogba playing in the deep midfield pivot in a 4-2-3-1 that leaves us with 4 potential partners Eduardo Camavinga can be paired with them being Fred, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek. Now the main reasons why van de Beek can’t be a good partner for the French youngster is the same as Pogba in the sense both are much better playing closer to the goal. Adding to the fact that whenever van de Beek has played, he has played in the no.10 spot under Solskjaer. So, the Norwegian manager definitely doesn’t consider him to play in the pivot as a deeper lying midfielder. 

Now, that leaves us with only 3 options. Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic. Camavinga would thrive if he’s paired with any of the aforementioned midfielders. Let’s understand why by taking the most recent game against Leeds United as an example. 

In that game, Manchester United lined up in their trademark 4-2-3-1 with McTominay and Fred playing in the double pivot while Pogba started on the LW and Bruno Fernandes played in his usual no.10 role. The McTominay-Fred pivot or ‘McFred’ allows Pogba and Bruno to link up further up the pitch. 

The midfield pivot was very dynamic as they both didn’t have a defined role as McTominay and Fred (and Camavinga) are all pretty similar players. Manchester United usually build up with a 2-4 or a 3-3 shape including the backline and the fullbacks depending on who the opposition is. In that build up phase, Fred drops deep to receive the ball while McTominay is the one who is a more free midfielder given the license to roam in the middle of the park looking for pockets of spaces but again, even that depends on game to game. In short, both midfielders can do the job of carrying the ball from the deep and their high energy and work ethic suit the fast-paced counter pressing, quick transition style of play Manchester United like to play.

As we can see here, United build up in a 2-4 shape when they are pressed with 2 strikers with McTominay and Fred both dropping a bit deep to receive the ball. But once United are past the build up phase, McTominay is the one who makes the late runs from midfield and Fred is the one who holds his position. 

Just by seeing his heat map in the game against Leeds United, it is pretty evident that McTominay likes to make runs and maraud forward

That is the role where Camavinga would thrive under at Manchester United. He is good at dropping deep and building from the back but he is also among the best young dribblers in Europe making him a very good ball carrier. His work rate coupled with his excellent dribbling and we have a younger and maybe arguably better version of Scott McTominay. 

As you can see, his progressive carrying and dribbling makes him a very viable alternative to the role the Scotsman plays at Manchester United.

Considering the fact that Eduardo Camavinga is still very young, he can very well be developed into the role Fred plays as well. While his passing and vision isn’t polished, his awareness and press-resistant nature means he is very good at dropping deep and receiving the ball. His passing and vision can only improve in the future. As mentioned earlier, when Manchester United build up in a 3-3 shape with Fred or Matic dropping in the defence, Camavinga can easily be the mid who drops deep too as he has all the attributes in him to be developed in that profile. Adding to the fact that Camavinga’s work rate is pretty similar to Fred. 

Being alongside Nemanja Matic and he can very well play the same role Scott McTominay plays as the Serbian is the perfect DM allowing Camavinga the freedom to carry the ball forward in threatening attacking spaces allowing Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba to be closer to the goal and flex their creative or goalscoring muscles. 

All in all, Eduardo Camavinga going by his most recent form is the perfect alternative for Scott McTominay in the current 4-2-3-1 setup that Manchester United play but can be a viable alternative for Fred also seeing how much of a versatile midfielder the young Frenchman actually is. Assuming that Paul Pogba would play on the wings in the near future, signing Camavinga would make a lot of sense for Manchester United. 

Now, there are multiple situations pertaining to this. Manchester United are long term admirers of Declan Rice and if Rice was to switch sides and join the Manchester based club along with a contract extension for Paul Pogba, it would mean Pogba would be dropped back into midfield as a pure Defensive midfielder like Rice would allow Pogba to play with more freedom from the midfield pivot which could hinder Camavinga’s opportunities in the first team. If Pogba won’t renew his contract then Camavinga is probably among the top 5 candidates to replace him. 

If we look closely at the current scenario, it looks like Paul Pogba would be staying at Old Trafford this season and that would mean the current setup with Pogba playing on the LW would be Solskjaer’s go-to system considering that Rashford is out for a considerable time. That leaves Manchester United with only 3 viable options who can play in the midfield pivot with ‘McFred’ and Matic and it only makes sense to bring in another option to add to the depth of the squad. 

In conclusion, Manchester United should make a late push for Eduardo Camavinga as his asking price is probably the lowest it can ever be and the financial strength of Manchester United’s competitors for his signature is also the weakest at the current moment. If Camavinga does decide to run down his contract and leave Rennes next season, then Manchester United may have to be involved in a bidding war for the young Frenchman’s signature. If Manchester United do manage to make a late push and get his signature then the transfer window would be classified as a very successful window for the Red Devils. 

Midfield Combinations for 20/21 season

Manchester United rewarded their patient fans with their first foray into the summer transfer window with the signing of Donny Van De Beek. The Dutch international reportedly comes on a 5-year contract with a transfer fee of 39m Euros + 5m Euros in add-ons – a very shrewd acquisition given the fee and United’s need for midfield depth. The quality in that department now means that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has many combinations to consider for the coming season. We analyse what Van De Beek brings to the table and the best midfield combinations as a result.

Van De Beek playing style

Solskjær’s official statement after signing Van De Beek: “His [Van de Beek] ability to see space, time his movements and read the game will really complement the qualities that we have in midfield and his arrival really strengthens the depth of talent we have in that position.”

Ole clearly knows what he’s talking about. Donny adds a few qualities to United’s midfield that are largely absent and his weaknesses are already covered with qualities of the existing roster.

Firstly, let’s analyse his playing position and role. Donny has spent the majority of his time playing in the No. 10 position in a 4-2-3-1 in his time at Ajax. He is predominantly an attacking midfielder. De Jong’s departure saw him play in a central midfielder role last season as Ziyech took the no.10 role and Neres the right wing slot. In half the games when one of these 2 players would be dropped to bench, De Beek would retain his no.10 spot. He ended up starting 19 times in the attacking mid slot and 18 times in central midfield as a result. Even the times Donny featured in central midfield, the defensive-minded Lisandro Martinez sat back to allow VDB to bomb forward and give a 4-1-4-1 shape during attack similar to how Matic allowed Pogba to join Bruno in attack during the second half of United’s season. From these, it can be inferred that Donny would serve as a competitor for Bruno and Pogba in United’s first XI or speaking role-wise, the box-to-box role and the no.10 roles. We will get back to this when we discuss combinations.

Next, we compare Van De Beek statistically with United’s midfielders to see what he brings to the table. All players who played in the 3 midfield roles in Ole’s 4-2-3-1 have been considered. These 7 players are Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Scott Mctominay, Fred, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Perriera and Jesse Lingard. Only stats for the 19/20 league season have been considered. While the Eredivisie vs Premier League difference will obviously be there, this comparison should serve as a good indication.

Firstly it must be said that VDB played 23 of the 25 Eredivisie games this season. Over the last 2 seasons he played in all 34 games in each season for Ajax coming on as a substitute only 5 times in this stretch. His fitness is impeccable and a big pro given Pogba’s regular niggles. 


His goals per 90 is 0.38 inferior only to Bruno at 0.61 who has had an amazing period since joining the club. Scott is the next closest at 0.2. Donny’s shots on target % is highest at 36% beating Bruno (35%) and Pogba (33%). His shots on target per 90 is 0.75 inferior only to Bruno (1.06) and Andreas (0.85). His goals per shots is the highest at 0.18 beating Scott (0.13) and Bruno (0.1). These stats indicate a player who is an adept and efficient scorer. VDB guarantees goals without being wasteful. He is a player who picks his moments and possesses immense technique and finishing prowess. Unlike Bruno, he is not too trigger-happy and rarely attempts long-range shots. Smart off-the-ball movement to ghost into good areas and well-placed finishes are the two big traits that fans can look forward to. He has already shown a glimpse of this in his substitute appearance against Luton this season.

He scored 8 goals last season matching Bruno’s half-season tally while being far ahead of any other United midfielder. His 5 assists also rank him second after Bruno (7) placing him second-best in terms of goal threat. This is confirmed with his strong G+A per 90 stat of 0.61 only bested by Bruno again (a ridiculously good 1.14) while being far ahead of Pogba at 0.25. These signify Donny’s goal threat. While Ole has markedly improved United’s defence conceding 20 less goals in the league compared to the 18/19 season to bring the goals conceded stat to 36 (only bested by Liverpool and Manchester City in the 19/20 season by 4 and 2 goals respectively), the goals scored stat hasn’t improved much going from 65 to 66 goals from 18/19 to 19/20. While this can be attributed to Lukaku leaving, Greenwood settling in and Martial’s first full season playing as the centre-forward, Ole will want more goals. A full season with Bruno should help that but Van De Beek chipping in with a few goals and assists will help as well. If more firepower is what Ole is looking for, he is getting that with VDB for sure.

An underrated part of Donny’s game is the defensive aspect. While his best work undoubtedly comes in advanced areas of the game, he is no passenger in the defensive phase showcasing intense pressing and a penchant for crunching tackles in key moments of the game. The stats highlight these as well. His tackles won per 90 is 1.22 bested only by Fred (2.13) and Scott (1.57) who have both played in much deeper and ball-winning roles this season. Donny beats Bruno (1.06), Matic (1.1) and Pogba (1.19) indicating what a good tackler he is despite his attacking traits. His interceptions per 90 are also decent at 0.75 surpassed by Scott (1.68), Fred (1.58) and Matic (1.31) who play much deeper than him. Pogba at 0.37 and Bruno at 0.68 are the next best. This fits really well with Ole’s requirements of a hard-working ball-winning midfielder. The only thing Donny can be accused of not being a master of is playmaking. His key passes, chances created and through balls aren’t especially great indicating playmaking isn’t his strength. He prefers to be on the end of assists with his intense off-the-ball runs which fits well with the likes of Pogba, Rashford, Martial and Bruno who now have another partner to find in the attacking phase while deconstructing defences.

In a nutshell, United fans can look forward to an aggressive attacking CM/AM player who has a knack for scoring goals, guarantees intense pressing and tackling in midfield, prefers to be on the end of quality passes rather than play them himself and is fit and hard-working enough to do these consistently.

It must be noted in the analysis above that Jesse Lingard and Andreas Perriera rank in the bottom 2 for most of these stats unless explicitly mentioned, highlighting why Ole considers them lowest in the pecking order and possibly surplus to requirements with the arrival of Donny. 

Midfield combinations

Before understanding where VDB can fit, let’s first understand what he is fitting into. Ole has deployed a 4-2-3-1 throughout the 19/20 season with the only variations being in him playing a counter-attacking style in the first half of the season and a possession-based style in the second half. The only times he played a back 5 were in big games to play on the counter which worked pre-lockdown but failed in the FA cup semi-final against Chelsea. The chances of a diamond formation also seem low given the fact that Ole has played it only once in his caretaker stint. A diamond requires 2 attacking wingbacks and 2 aggressive shuttlers ahead of a defensive midfielder to work. The one time Ole played it was more of a defensive ploy with Herrera and Fred as the shuttlers and Matic as defensive midfielder. The chances of a diamond with the current setup seem low. Coupled with Ole’s clear attraction to wingers, Greenwood’s rise and the Sancho pursuit, it’s safe to say Ole’s ideal blueprint is a variant of 4-2-3-1.

Next it’s important to understand that in the 4-2-3-1, Ole does have a clear differentiation between the 2 midfielders in the pivot. There’s one player who drops deeper between the CBs to pick up the ball during the build-up phase and playmakes from the defensive midfield zones while the other is more of a ball-carrier who keeps trying to move closer to the most advanced attacking midfielder and focuses on linking defence to attack. For this discussion let’s name the 3 roles as the deep-lying-playmaker (DLP), box-to-box midfielder (B2B) and attacking midfielder (AM).

Let’s see which players have played in the 3 roles over the course of the 19/20 season.

  • When Pogba and Scott played at the start of the season Pogba was dropping deeper allowing Scott to move ahead. Pogba was the DLP and Scott the B2B while Andreas and Jesse rotated for the AM role. 
  • When Scott and Fred played during the rest of the first half of the season, Fred was the DLP. United didn’t build up much and played on the counter so both seemed almost balanced in a double pivot but Fred was comparatively deeper. 
  • In the second half of the season when Matic and Pogba played, Matic was the clear DLP dropping and maintaining a very defensive minded position, allowing the B2B Pogba to join the AM Bruno almost creating 4-1-4-1 shape in attack against weaker oppositions. 
  • Towards the Europa knockouts in the end we again noticed Fred playing the DLP role and Pogba B2B with Bruno AM.

Given all these combinations, Ole’s pecking order equation seems to be

DLP: Matic>Fred>Pogba

B2B: Pogba>Scott>Fred

AM: Bruno>Jesse/Andreas/Mata

Ole has never played Scott as the DLP. Even when paired with Pogba, Scott never dropped deep and was always maintaining a B2B movement on the pitch. This goes in line with his youth days where he has always played as an AM or B2B as well. There is a good case to be made that Ole doesn’t see Scott as a DLP even if his Matic comparison comments may have made many fans think so. Lingard and Perreira are clear backups to Bruno and the choice for who comes next might get solved with their transfer scenarios this summer, while Mata also remains an option for AM.

From all that we have seen and analysed of Donny Van De Beek, we can take a shot at guessing where he might fit in this equation.

DLP: Matic>Fred>Pogba

B2B: Pogba>VDB>Scott>Fred

AM: Bruno>VDB>Jesse/Andreas/Mata

It’s a safe assumption that VDB will not affect the DLP equation. He has never played that role and does not have the traits to nail it. He should easily slot in as the next best options for both B2B and AM roles after Pogba and Bruno. This now brings to the fore 3 clear combinations in which Ole can lineup this season:

1. Matic (DLP) + Pogba (B2B) + Bruno (AM)

Simply lining up the first choices of our equation we come up with the impressive trio that bossed many games post-lockdown during the red devils’ outstanding run to clinch 3rd finish in the league last season.

Pros:
1. Heavy possession game that sees the best of Pogba and Bruno in terms of chance creation and Matic in terms of ball retention and build-up. This is ideal for breaking down low-block teams that cede possession.
2. VDB coming off the bench as a great quality option if the plan A doesn’t work out, which was something United lacked in their season-end run
Cons:
1. Matic’s age makes him susceptible to pressing. Southampton gave him a hard time and mitigated United’s possession game, while Aston Villa also troubled him for a while before they were scored against. This led to Matic being rightfully dropped against the press-hungry Sevilla in the Europa league.

2. Fred (DLP) + Pogba (B2B) + Bruno (AM) 

We explore the next-best DLP option paired with best options for the other 2 roles

Pros:
1. Good counter-press value with Fred’s ball-winning and pressing a huge trait. He bossed the midfield against a press-heavy Sevilla. This would be Ideal for games on the counter against the Premier league top 4 and Champions League knockouts.
2. Again, VDB coming off the bench as a plan B
Cons:
1. Fred’s build-up and possession traits aren’t impressive. His passing range and creativity is average making it tough to dominate possession and create chances. Against low block teams this becomes a big negative as displayed often in the first half of the season.

3. Pogba (DLP) + VDB (B2B) + Bruno (AM) 

We round off with a slightly left-field but not entirely improbable midfield combination, given it presents a chance to field the 3 most attacking midfielders United have.

Pros:
1. Creativity and attacking movement can be expected to be highest with all 3 players boasting goal and assist threat. Can be experimented against weaker Premier League teams to start with.
2. A potential elite team 4-1-4-1 attack which United have been craving for for ages
Cons:
1. Pogba as a DLP isn’t super convincing. He lost the ball a few times during building from the back last season and isn’t a natural defensive midfielder. In getting the best out of VDB and Bruno, Pogba’s best role as a B2B suffers.

There is also a good case of switching the B2B and AM roles in this combination to allow Donny to be further ahead which has hinted at when he was brought on while chasing the game during the 20/21 league opener against Crystal Palace.

While the chances of a formation other than 4-2-3-1 are low but not zero and incoming or outgoing transfers can still change these equations before the window ends, these 3 combinations seem the most likely options Ole would be considering. It will be really interesting to see which combination the Norwegian opts for over the course of the 20/21 season.