Analysis

Could Aurelien Tchouameni be the heir to Paul Pogba at Manchester United?

Aurelien-Tchouameni-Paul-Pogba

“He’s not a boy, he’s a man. It’s a pleasure to play next to him. He brings a lot of energy. A lot of energy, extraordinary technical and physical quality. “– said a jubilant Paul Pogba when asked about the experience of playing alongside AS Monaco star Aurelien Tchouameni.

The pair featured together for France in the UEFA Nations League final and bossed the midfield department even though Spain had Sergio Busquets and Rodri in the midfield line. For far too long, a lot of people believed in the myth that Pogba could only excel in the national setup due to the protection provided by N’Golo Kante.

The Chelsea midfielder is great at intercepting passes and recycling the ball, thereby making him a great fit alongside the United man. However, Pogba was allowed to do so even in a double pivot with Tchouameni. This, in itself, is a compliment to the former Bordeaux man.

A near-perfect midfielder in today’s day and age, Aurelien Tchouameni has been insatiable in the last year. Since joining Monaco last summer, the midfielder has developed an entirely new skill set under former Bayern Munich manager Niko Kovac. One of the very young stars of this youthful Kovac-led side, the French international has hit numbers that would make him a good fit at any club.

Thus, let us take a look at exactly which areas of the game does the 21-year-old excel at.

CHANCE CREATOR:

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Despite occupying a role in the double pivoted midfield of Monaco, Tchouameni provides his fair share of contribution in the attack. Last season alone, he created 9 goal-creating actions and had an average of 0.26 goal-creating actions per 90. To put it into context, this is very similar to Paul Pogba at United (0.33). However, it must be noted that the Monaco ace was doing so from a far deeper position.

So how does Tchouameni pull off similar numbers? The youngster is often moving from side-to-side and never misses the opportunity to make himself available for a pass. Staying stagnant on the pitch would have put a dent in these numbers because his involvement would have been a lot lesser. However, he is always in motion and trusts his first touch to put him into a good position to make the next move.

Awareness: Constantly looking across his shoulder, the midfielder has a great way of turning with the ball and immediately looking up. In the 2020/21 season, he made a total of 339 passes under pressure and had a pass completion rate of 85%. Passing under pressure is only possible when you are constantly aware of the environment around you and Tchouameni certainly has that. Almost as if having eyes at the back of his head, the Frenchman often drifts into spaces to create holes in the opposition and pulls them out of position.

Pass types: Lastly, his goal-creating chances are so high because of his innate accuracy of medium-length passes. Often ranging between a distance of 15 to 30 yards, Tchouameni attempted 786 of such passes last season and completed nearly 700 of them at an accuracy rate of 88.8%– similar numbers to the likes of Ilkay Gundogan at Man City and Eduardo Camavinga at Rennes. A bonus factor for his chance creation to be on the up is also the fact that he completed 162 progressive passes last season.

It is often hard to create such an attacking presence in a midfield pivot, but the numbers do not lie, and Tchouameni’s statistics will only improve over time.

DEFENSIVE ENGINE:

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If his attacking numbers were close to some of the best midfielders last season, his defensive numbers could be the winning hand.

A fantastic protector of the ball, Tchouameni understands how to place his body between the ball and himself to ensure that he either wins a foul or is allowed to shrug off the opposition. However, his eye-catching numbers lie in the interceptions and his understanding of stepping in at the right time and pressing the opposition into losing the ball.

Last season, the youngster had a successful pressure percentage of 78%. (successful pressure percentage implies the percentage of the time the squad gained possession within five seconds of applying pressure). Thus, he knows when to press, how to press, and where to press. More often than not, his guard is up when the opposition enters his half, and he almost assumes a slightly crouched position so he can pounce on the misplaced passes.

Additionally, at 6’2, he can win most aerial duels. However, more often than not, he prefers to win the second ball. His tall stature also allows him to cover the ground quickly, courtesy of which he managed 64 interceptions last season. A surprising statistic when compared to players in his position last season, he is in the 93rd percentile of midfielders with most interceptions last season.

In fact, this has also to do with the fact that he has a great tackling method. Tchouameni rarely rushes into challenges and seldom slides in. His technique, like French compatriot N’Golo Kante, is to nick the ball away from the opposition or shoulder push them into the ground. This is also why he ranked in the 98th percentile of most tackles (4.13 tackles per 90 last season).

Thus, all in all, he is a huge defensive presence and often backs himself to win most duels and rarely takes the chance of getting sent off with dangerous tackles.

So, we have established that Tchouameni excels on both ends of the pitch and might be a useful asset to most clubs in search and need of a box-to-box midfielder currently. Paul Pogba is a great friend of the youngster but is in the final 12 months of his contract at Manchester United and is yet to make a decision over his future, with the likes of Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Barcelona eyeing a move for the 28-year-old.

If the crème de la crème of football do come a calling, most players make one obvious decision- leave. So, if the former Juventus ace does leave Old Trafford, could Tchouameni become the ideal replacement?

A signing that would benefit all parties:

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Manchester United have been crying out for a central midfielder all summer and are yet to bring one to the theatre of dreams. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, for all his progress at the club, does not have the ability to reposition players as he is more of a man-manager and relies on setting up a system that shall allow its best players to reap the rewards of it.

However, Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1 system is a bane more than a boon for him. The over-reliance on players like Scott McTominay and Fred is not doing him any favours, nor his Nemanja Matic’s aging body. Out of the trio, only Matic can sensibly perform the defensive midfield role. McTominay is more of a box-to-box presence and could be nurtured as a defensive midfielder if his responsibilities are limited to it. Fred likes to venture forward and win tackles but is a liability during counter-attacks and in a possession heavy game.

Paul Pogba currently occupies the role of being the creative lynchpin to start all the attacks or find the moment of brilliance in the center of the pitch. Always occupying a wide role rather than a central one, the French international always tries to whip balls into the box or find an ongoing runner into the six-yard area. His defensive contributions are nothing to write home about as he proves to be a huge problem when United need to set up in a 4-3-3. His attacking numbers are not on the same level as Bruno Fernandes, while his defensive contributions are practically zero if a team from the top half of the table tries to press United.

In such a scenario, who better than Tchouameni?

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Pogba’s presence does not allow Solskjaer to field a midfield three consisting of a defensive midfielder like McTominay, Fernandes, and Pogba himself. This is because it would ruin the entire defensive structure of the team. Thus, the Norwegian boss needs a player who can provide quality defensive contribution but also act as a deep-lying playmaker when required.

It is not a coincidence that the Monaco man and United have been linked but it is important to understand the reason behind it. United’s front three need a lot of defensive cover when they push up because they constantly bombard the penalty area with crosses. This, in turn, provides them with a lot of chances but also makes them prone to counter-attacks. Raphael Varane’s arrival was supposed to allow the Red Devils to play this way because his pace and positioning skills would thwart most counter-attacks. That has not been the case and the former Real Madrid man has found it hard to cope with the physicality and the pace of the English league.

However, Tchouameni would be priceless in this team. The youngster is somebody who can create and defend at the same time. More or less like Liverpool’s Thiago Alcantara or Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic, the Frenchman knows how to venture forward but prioritizes protecting the backline. In fact, besides Nemanja Matic, there is not a single player in United’s current setup who willingly sits back and dictates the play. Solskjaer has a bunch of creators in his side, but he needs somebody to control the tempo of the game and keep the ball moving constantly.

In the case of counter-attacks, if Tchouameni is fielded alongside somebody like McTominay, he could certainly flourish. The Scotsman certainly likes to get forward at times but he will now have the guarantee of somebody providing some cover to the defence if he does venture ahead. Moreover, a 4-3-3 would also enable United to play Bruno Fernandes and three other attackers. This would provide the team with enough firepower and ensure that there are two sitting midfielders who can mop up if the ball comes their way.

Moreover, the Monaco star is also somebody who will allow the club to make some mistakes. Solskjaer’s side are all about producing extraordinary quality on the day, and sometimes their free-flowing football requires a risky pass in a dangerous area. They are often punished for these, but the 21-year-old’s presence will be enough to make sure that it is not the case anymore. This is because he often sniffs out danger and resolves the issue by either committing tactical fouls or pressuring the opposition into conceding the ball. 

Thus, Tchouameni will be the player who could provide some calm in United’s all energetic and high-risk system. 

It is not an exact science but Aurelien Tchouameni could become the unsung hero Solskjaer needs to balance his team out and to add a little discipline. A talented midfielder and certainly one that will come good for any club that shells out the big bucks for him, the Frenchman could be an era-changing signing for the Old Trafford outfit.

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