|Written by Lee Chun Hang|
France’s got a new young defensive midfielder with immense potential, and no he is not Eduardo Camavinga.
Monaco’s New Fabinho
The title win in the 2016/17 season was a massive blessing but what followed through could be more of a curse to Monaco. The team led by Leonardo Jardim was perhaps the best Monaco fans have witnessed in sometime, it featured a brilliant young core with experienced professionals guiding them to their first league title since the 1999/2000 season. That season also saw the French outfit reached the Semi-Finals of the Champions League, beating Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund in the process. Fans were in dreamland, finally, Monaco can build on this and consequently dominate Europe for the next few years with the young core they have in their disposal. Or so they thought.
The subsequent transfer windows saw their young core of players move to European’s elite. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Bernado Silva and Thomas Lemar, to name a few, all left for a hefty price. Perhaps the most damming sale amongst all of those departures, was the sale of Fabinho to Liverpool for €45 million. A massive void was created, and nobody could replicate the same tenacity and quality shown by the Brazilian as he went on to win the Premier League and Champions League with Liverpool, ultimately fulfilling his potential as one of the best defensive midfielders in world football. Monaco finished 17th in the 18/19 season, conceding 57 goals in the processed (which was the greatest number of goals conceded in a league season by the side), a far cry from what they were 2 seasons ago.
Thankfully, the purchase of Aurélien Tchouaméni last season has seemingly filled the void left by the Brazilian. Tchouaméni is a brilliant defensive midfielder who has brought in the tenacity and grit that have been missed by Monaco. This season, the Frenchman has been instrumental in Niko Kovac’s side, currently sitting at 4th in Ligue 1, as he started the most games this season for Les Monégasques in the league, only missing one through suspension. The player is brilliant in blocking passing lanes, providing covers for teammates and is not shy in his tackles. He is also capable of progressing the ball forwards, helping to start attacks in the process.
The dashboard below shows why Tchouaméni is highly regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders of his generation and his importance to AS Monaco when compared to other midfielders in Ligue 1. This analysis will cover the Frenchman’s performance with his club this season. All figures below are based on performance per 90 minutes played, according to FBref via StatsBomb.
Reads the Game like a Book
Tchouaméni is a robust midfielder who has the athleticism to play as a box-to-box midfielder, but it is his defensive contributions and qualities that has encouraged Kovac to give him a more defensive role. Alongside midfield partner Youssouf Fofana, the duo has struck up a great understanding with each other and often interchange in positions during the game. This has coincided with the great upturn in form for the French outfit.
The midfielder is great at reading the game and often positions himself efficiently against oppositions to cut off passing lanes and intercept loose balls. Although he ranks amongst the highest pressers for the team, Tchouaméni is much more efficient when he takes a step back and anticipates play, predicting where the ball is travelling to before sprinting out to intercept it. Coupled with his immense athleticism, he is seemingly everywhere on the pitch, gaining ground quickly to break up opposition play to start one for his own. Tchouaméni is the joint 5th midfielder with the most interceptions in the league this season with 1.81 per90, which betters the likes of France’s Golden Boy Eduardo Camavinga with 0.78 per90.
In the game against PSG, the Frenchman demonstrated his great awareness and reading of the game where he made a couple of very important blocks and interceptions to break up PSG’s play. Whenever PSG’s defence attempts to progress the ball forward with a pass, Tchouaméni would often position himself in front of the intended target, essentially blocking the passing option, forcing them to pass it wide or back. In this instance, the Frenchman managed to block out a pass towards Icardi which in turn led to a turnover in possession.
Tchouaméni cutting out the passing lane, intercepting a pass towards Icardi
Another moment in the same game showcases his quick thinking and anticipation. Late in the first half, PSG were dominating possession at Monaco’s half, looking for an equalizer. Gueye got hold of a ball and Kean had made a run in behind Tchouaméni on his blindside. As Gueye was about to release his pass, The Monaco man had already anticipated its destination and quickly slid in to deny Kean. This showcases his brilliant reading of the game which enables him to anticipate play much more efficiently, which shows in his high interception numbers.
Tchouaméni showing great anticipation and awareness to block the pass
The Art of Defending
Other than breaking up plays via interceptions and blocks, Tchouaméni is also very capable when it requires him to put a foot in to win the ball back. In most cases, he makes sure the tackles he won back, is not lost in possession, meaning he keeps the play alive after winning the ball back. This season, the 21-year-old ranks amongst the best tacklers in the league amongst midfielders. With 4.24 tackles per90, he has won back possession for the team with 2.72 of them. This makes him a very efficient tackler, bettering the likes of Idrissa Gueye (2.58) and Danilo Pereira (1.00), both brilliant ball-winning midfielders for PSG.
The Frenchman is well-built, which makes his tackles more robust than usual. His tackles often leave opponents on the floor due to the sheer impact and force he applies. This does win back the ball effectively for his side and he often look to progress with it immediately, causing a turnover. This was certainly the case in the victory against Nice, where he managed to stop the attacker from advancing with ease. With just a stretch of a leg, he managed to win the ball cleanly and yet sent the attacker tumbling on the ground. He then Instantly carries the ball forward, initiating the counterattack.
strong in the tackle, leaving opponents on the floor
Being 6’1 and weighing 179lbs makes Tchouaméni a massive unit to be reckon with. The Frenchman can be often seen bulldozing opponents with his sheer physique whilst utilizing his great leap to win aerial battles. This makes him an obvious aerial threat to opponents. Being 6’1 is considerably tall for a footballer but what truly enables him to win 2.77 aerial duels per90 this season is his massive leap and strength. He also ranks second in terms of this metric amongst midfielders in Ligue 1, second only to Lille’s Benjamin Andre.
This evidently makes him a massive target during set-pieces, where his direct running and strength has caused havoc multiple times. Tchouaméni currently has a goal and an assist from corners and ideally, should have had more from the various set-pieces Monaco had. Nonetheless both time he has shown great athleticism to shrug himself off defenders and conjure up a massive leap to win the header.
The goal he got against Marseille was a great example that highlighted his aerial presence. An in-swinging delivery by Golovin looked to be easily claimed by Mandanda as it was travelling towards him. Suddenly, Tchouaméni can be seen bulldozing his way to the front post and outjumping his marker with a massive leap and heading it home, leaving Mandanda helpless and defenders stunned.
The Frenchman showing incredible leap on him to win the header
Always Looking Ahead
The moment Tchouaméni receives the ball, he’d look to progress the ball whenever possible. The Frenchman has a keen eye for a pass as well as the dynamism to carry it forward. Unfortunately, he may not be the most efficient when taking players on, but when there is open space ahead of him, he’d always look to exploit it before opponents get their men back. When compared to other midfielders in the league, Tchouaméni actually completed slightly less than the average number of passes per game at 45.3 (the average being 46.85), but 5.06 of his passes are progressive passes forwards, making him a rather efficient playmaker, making the most of his passes when given the opportunities.
Perhaps the moment that accurately describes Tchouaméni’s style of play is one instance against Nice. Nice won the ball back and were looking to progress with Gouiri, as he holds the ball up waiting for runners in behind. Tchouaméni stood his ground while an attacker ran past him on his blindside. The pass was made but Tchouaméni had already anticipated the play and followed the run just in time to break up play high up on Nice’s half. At this moment, the ball was won at Nice’s half, the midfielder’s first thought was to immediately progress it forward to his forwards.
Upon winning the ball back, Tchouaméni instantly looks to progress the ball forward
That said, the midfielder is also capable of the more extravagant passes with his underrated technical abilities. In the game against OGS Nice, Tchouaméni received the ball just at the final third of the pitch with two players rushing to press him. Tchouaméni improvised and lifted the ball to Jovetic with his left foot effortlessly. The pass led to a big chance created in the sequence but was unlucky to not have scored.
Brilliant ball with his left foot
With Casemiro aging, Real Madrid would look to sign an understudy to the Brazilian as soon as possible. Recent reports have suggested that the Spanish outfit has shortlisted Tchouaméni if Camavinga is too expensive for them. So how does the Frenchman compare amongst one of the best defensive midfielders in the world? I have decided to compare both Tchouaméni with Casemiro, to see how he fares against one of Real Madrid’s most important players for the past decade. The dashboard below highlights the ball playing attributes in Progressive Passes and Progressive Carries, as well as defensive attribute such as Tackles and Interceptions.
In terms of defensive contributions, Tchouaméni have registered more tackles than the Brazilian this season. This statistic may be skewed due to the differing playstyles. Real Madrid are a team that dominates the possession and rarely gives the ball away to opponents, often suffocating them at their own half. This may explain the lower tackles registered. However, it still demonstrates the Tchouaméni’s brilliant ball winning abilities, ranking amongst the best in Europe as well. As for interception, the Brazilian has only registered 0.1 more than the Frenchman, which does show that Tchouaméni more than holds his own in this regard.
Ball progression sees the Frenchman reign supreme over the Brazilian as Tchouaméni registered more progressive passes and progressive carries compared to Casemiro. Though Casemiro may not have to progress the ball forward as much as he should, especially when playing in a midfield with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, it does show the quality and responsibility taken by Tchouaméni for Monaco this season. Not only is the Frenchman the enforcer that shields the backline from danger, but he is also the one instigating play and starting attacks from midfield.
Aurélien Tchouaméni’s name may not ring a bell to many, with many eyeing up his much younger international counterpart Camavinga for blockbuster moves instead. Nonetheless, the midfielder has shown maturity and awareness beyond his age and demonstrated monstruous athleticism in every game he has played. That said, he is still very new to the scene and the lack of European experience in Champions League may be what he needs to address in his next phase of development.
Despite rumors linking him to Real Madrid and Chelsea, the best option for him is to remain at Monaco with Niko Kovac. The Croatian is building the team around a young core and Tchouaméni is at the heart of it. Alongside other young stars like Badiashile, Fofana and Diop to name a few, Monaco can finally look past their golden generation and build on a new one, this time hopefully the core will remain for years to come.