If Manchester City‘s coach Pep Guardiola says that a player is “incredible”, then we should pay attention to that player. And rightly so, as Houssem Aouar is one of the most exciting prospects of Ligue 1. The Frenchman was also linked with Liverpool last summer and it is easy to see why.
In this scout report, we will analyse how he has shown excellent technical skills and the grit to perform at the highest level at the age of 21. This scout report shows that Olympique Lyon deserve to keep their reputation as talent developers, adding Aouar to a long list of talented players to come from the club such as Karim Benzema.
Despite being young, Aouar possesses the technical ability and the intelligence to shine on the field. With him having his breakthrough season last year, up until Ligue 1 was suspended, he was on track to improve last season’s statistics. In this tactical analysis, we will analyse his performance in the two main positions he is played in, central midfield and left midfield.
The position where Aouar has been played the most this season is in central midfield. As a central midfielder, he does not shine as bright but he still helps the team by doing his role well. He does not perform as admirably because he gets less of the ball and when he does, he usually has little time and space to prove his technical ability.
There is a reason that he gets less of the ball. When building up, he normally stands behind the opponent’s midfield and in between the lines as you can see in Figure one below. Here it is harder to receive the ball as the opponents cover that passing lane well, meaning Aouar does not get the ball as much. Additionally, the opponent knows of Aouar’s ability, thus making sure to close down that area well.
However, when he does get the ball in between the lines, he is able to cause trouble with his technical ability and excellent progressive runs. In the example of Figure two, Aouar’s teammates manage to find him and Aouar cleverly turns and runs to the goal. The one time he managed to receive the ball in that position, he created Lyon’s most menacing action.
In fact, he completes 2.94 progressive runs per game – one of the highest in the league. These statistics show that Aouar likes getting hold of the ball and driving towards goal. Nonetheless, after 58% of his progressive runs, the team loses the ball which is something he needs to work on to become an even greater threat. The rest of the times he produces danger.
The other position Aouar usually plays is left midfielder and the particularities of that position also show when being a centre midfielder. This is because when the left-back has the ball, Aouar makes a run in behind the opponent right back, as if he was a left midfielder. When he does this, the centre defensive midfielder comes to support the left-back and balance the team out. This is portrayed in Figure three below.
Consequently, this proves that Lyon’s coach, Rudi Garcia, knows that Aouar plays better in a left midfielder position. We will come to this later on.
When in a central midfielder position, Aouar likes to go to the left side as if he was a left midfielder to support the left-back. He especially does this when Lyon play in a 3-5-2 formation because there are no wingers, so the left-back needs support in that flank.
Another example of this is shown in Figure four where Aouar links up with the left-back to leave him in a great position to cross. In this game against Lille when he was playing as a central midfielder, the only times he really participated were when he leaned to the left side, not from a central position.
When defending, Aouar is responsible for pressing the right-back when playing a 3-5-2 and this is shown in Figure five. However, Aouar is not the most defensive player which is proven with his 4.68 defensive duels per game with a 53.7% success rate.
From this, we can see that defending is not one of his strengths as he should have higher numbers than that for a centre midfielder. He makes up for this with his good positioning and by having the two other midfielders next to him who are always more defensive.
Now we move onto the position where Aouar produces the most danger from. Aouar is a technically gifted player who shines at dribbling and 1 vs 1 situations. This is why when he is at left midfield, he can be more creative, and he also has more time and space on the ball.
Aouar is one of Ligue 1’s most skilful players which can be seen with his 6.71 dribbles per game and a 55.48% success rate. To put it into context, this is a higher success rate than Neymar.
When he is a left midfielder, he tries to dribble more as can be seen in Figure 6. It is clear there is an agglomeration of dribbles in the left side of the pitch and quite a few dribbles which were followed by a goal, proving his attacking threat.
An example of when Aouar took advantage of his dribbling skills was against Benfica in the Champions League and in Figure seven we can see him taking on Benfica’s right back 1-on-1.
He manages to get past him and reach a good position in the penalty box from where he then assists Depay to score a goal. This is shown in Figure eight below.
Here we see one of Aouar’s assets which is his vision and precision. Aouar has a 69.49% success rate when it comes to accurate passes to the penalty area, one of the highest in the league. The indicated image shows how he is able to dribble the ball into the area and then have the vision and ability to find a teammate in the box.
He did a similar play against Juventus in the Champions League round of 16 – arguably the highest-profile game of his season. Consequently, this proves that he does not shy away in important games.
Additionally, when playing as a left midfielder, he is capable of producing many attacking options. The first one is to cut in and shoot when he has the chance. He has scored from this method a few times this season. The best example comes from the high profile match against Red Bull Leipzig in the UEFA Champions League where Aouar calmly cuts in and scores a wonderful goal. Figure nine below shows this.
Another attacking option Aouar has in this analysis and does quite often is linking up with the left-back to unbalance the opposition. Once more against RB Leipzig, we see in Figure 10 how he drives towards the opponent right back to draw him in so that the left-back will then have more time and space. Aouar then sets the left-back with a great opportunity to produce danger.
Overall, the three main attacking options Aouar does well are dribbling into the box, cutting in to shoot, and lastly, linking up with his left-back. Furthermore, another factor Aouar does well in is leading counterattacks. This is proven by his 0.12 xGChain in counterattacks per game. The xGChain is “a metric that assigns the xG (expected goal) value of a shot to every player that made any action in the attack that led to the shot” (Wyscout). It is a general-purpose metric for measuring attacking contribution.
Having an xGChain of 0.12 is one of the highest in Ligue 1, proving Aouar is one of the most dangerous players when counterattacking. In Figure 11 we can see Aouar’s counterattacks throughout the season and it is clear that the number of accurate passes is vastly superior to the inaccurate passes. In fact, when counterattacking, he usually plays as a left midfielder and his teammates actively look for him, knowing he creates danger.
When defending as a left midfielder, Aouar is responsible in terms of pressuring the opponent right-back and helping out in defence. We can see in Figure 12 how much he dropped down to help the defence. As a result, we can see Aouar is generous in his effort to help his teammates.
Overall, Aouar is already a quality player with huge potential as he is only 21. So far, he is being played at centre midfield more than left midfield. However, we have seen he is able to get more involved in the play and create more danger from the left midfield. His traits are more adapted to this role and it is the position where he has been the most influential for the French side. It will be interesting to see how Rudi Garcia takes this into account to modify his tactics next season if Aouar is to stay at Lyon.