PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Note: This profile was first written in May 2021. All statistics and facts are correct to that time period.
Who is Aurélien Tchouaméni?
Gradually ascending the ranks at Girondins Bordeaux, the club Tchouaméni joined as an 11-year-old, he made his senior debut almost three years ago – and it only took a season-and-a-half before Les Monégasques, a club renowned for picking up some of the outstanding young talent on the market, moved for him.
With less fewer than 40 appearances and 3,000 minutes in senior football to his name, Monaco invested a significant €18 million fee to pick him up in January 2020.
Aurélien Tchouaméni has found a new and exciting lease of life at AS Monaco under head coach Niko Kovač.After only playing a handful of minutes before last season’s disrupted campaign, Tchouaméni has since been granted consistent playing time as he has continued to find his best position and learn his role under Kovač, the Berlin-born coach.
Since dropping back from his more interior-based role as part of Bordeaux’s 4-3-3, Tchouaméni has found his best form playing in a double-pivot this season in the principality. Subsequently, the French under-21 international has had some of the weight taken off him in terms of ball progression and has instead been given more freedom to be an aggressive midfield destroyer.
Aurélien Tchouaméni's style of play
Firstly, Tchouaméni’s forthright approach to defending makes him a tour-de-force in the middle of the park. With all the freedom required to thrive, the midfielder has showcased how solid a tackler he can be. Whilst he still has room for improvement when it comes to tethering his aggression and timing his challenges, he has shown marked growth in these respects since stepping up a level.
Typically, the timing and strength of his tackles is superb. His ability to hold firm when face-to-face and to time lunges is very effective. When approaching from behind, Tchouaméni takes enough care to ensure he does not bowl his opponent over and is great at poking the ball away whilst doing so.
This is entirely reflected in Tchouaméni’s defensive output, with his 6.1 tackles and interceptions per 90 average ranking in the 99th percentile of all midfielders in Europe’s top-five leagues. To go one step further, when only accounting for performances in a double-pivot, his average rises to a European high of 6.8. Next best is Laurent Abergel’s 6.3 average.
“Tchouaméni’s forthright approach to defending makes him a tour-de-force in the middle of the park.”
The youngster is also a tireless chaser of the ball and is constantly moving across to the other side to get an unexpected foot in against an opposition receiver. Although he has always been guilty of ball-watching, his alertness has risen ten-fold this season, as has his reading of situations – which has seen his attempts at pre-emptive darts out onto opponents become more and more successful.
He is always sniffing out and moving towards danger. In the past, this has been problematic – and sometimes still is – since his technical approach has always had its flaws; the midfielder still struggles to shape his body at times to change direction as quickly as he needs to, which has left him exposed to dribbles and other actions that move against the grain of his press.
Consequently, he is often chasing exact dribble paths rather than effectively and intelligently blocking spaces ahead of the ball-carrier – which is why his dribbled past figures amount to 1.3 times per 90, a figure still levelling towards his Bordeaux days.
On a more positive note, the youngster’s counter-pressing is remarkable. Thanks to his steadier positioning on the perimeter of the attacking shape when penning opponents in, he is frequently in good positions to quickly latch onto loose balls and clearances. And, if he is not already on top of the ball, he instantly gravitates towards it, often providing an important extra body to help recover possession high up the pitch.
Even more outstanding is how well he handles the ball when reclaiming it. Tying into his passing game, his speed of thought and release when it comes to short, forward passes has improved exponentially this campaign – his 10 passes under pressure per 90 ranks as high as the 89th percentile. That figure jumps to 10.6 per 90 when isolating the minutes he has played in a double-pivot.
These transition-based states are when his brain is at its sharpest. It is in deeper phases where deficiencies begin to become apparent. Although his weaker foot set and stronger foot release can be a swift and effective move during build-up phases, he often struggles when there is greater space and time to operate in.
“His counter-pressing is remarkable. Tchouaméni is frequently in good positions to quickly latch onto loose balls and clearances.”
Tchouaméni’s lack of awareness lets him down more than anything. By so infrequently scanning his surroundings, he limits progression opportunities since many of his offerings to the ball are too close to the ball-holders, and are almost always too ball-facing – which inherently makes it harder to open his body up and act on small openings ahead.
Despite gradual improvements to the way he opens his body with his first touch, it remains an inconsistent upside to his game and still sees him either take too long to turn on the spot or, worse, shut off far-side options having cut his touch too short. Coupled with his issues in awareness, this can lead to him being caught off-guard by blind-sided challenges, which goes some way to explaining how he is dispossessed 1.4 times per 90 (20th percentile).
His awareness also has a direct impact on his exploitation of space; he is ill-suited to being a sole number six during build-up phases as he poorly utilises large spaces. Often he has had several yards of space to back into before receiving but has not noticed it, so has subsequently dropped too close to the ball-holder, which then draws in greater pressure from the opposition’s first line of defence. It does not help that he is a reluctant ball-carrier and is not overly press-resistant, either. So, unless there is a very direct path clear for him to burst into, he will not force the issue and break lines.
His 1.8 fouls won per 90 does, on the other hand, highlight how his consistent winning of free-kicks, which he does best following turnovers – sometimes by simply throwing his body in front of the ball. However, his centre of gravity is not low enough to do more when getting to a loose ball first.
The Frenchman can struggle to free himself of his marker too. His 43.8 passes received average is very middle-of-the-range and speaks to him being tucked away most of the time, which can be problematic when he is needed as an option but has not done anything to shrug off his marker. His movements against the grain are scarce, his double movements even more so.
Similar can be said of his movement beyond the second line that he most often occupies, as his forays forward are sporadic. That being said, some of his strategic runs from deep could become more prominent in the future, as he has the ability to spot an open channel and use it to pin a space deeper or to receive towards the byline.
In any case, this only occasionally occurs in general phases of play; whereas on counter-attacks, he will always let play run well beyond him, even when there are valuable spaces that need filling ahead.
Having played mostly from the right at his previous club, Kovač’s shifting of the midfielder to the left has afforded him the head start he needs when receiving, as he naturally has his body open to more of the pitch. And, in such deep-lying positions, he has even more time to field longer passes – Tchouaméni has outdone his previous best for long balls with 8.6 per 90 in Ligue 1 this season.
In spite of this, the range of his final ball is still somewhat lacking. His team-mate spotting is not as sharp over longer distances, nor is his weight of pass. He has struggled to consistently execute driven passes and clipped balls that target space rather than the man – this has dampened his creative output, as depicted by his 0.06 expected assists per 90.
His shot assists average of 0.5 is therefore unsurprisingly low. The most prominent factors as a creator are his shooting, fouls drawn, and his defensive actions, especially when compared with the little his passing and dribbling do to create shots for team-mates. Shooting is the most prominent contributor, as his 1.5 attempts per 90 have led to a further 0.18 shots per 90 for his team-mates, which ranks in the 90th percentile for midfielders. Tchouaméni’s technique is black and white: his shots, driven with power, stay hit.
Coupled with the fact he can be too easily lured into taking a shot from range, which alludes to poor decision-making in that regard, it is not much of a surprise that many of his shots are blazed over the bar, as illustrated by his low 19.2 percent shooting accuracy.
Forecasting Aurélien Tchouaméni's future
Tchouaméni’s five goal contributions this past season made for his best league return ever, which is just one of many positive indications that he is flourishing right now. And, having overcome major concerns over what are now his strongest traits before moving east, he is finding his best form on the left of a double-pivot.
What will have suitors tethering their expectations, though, is how much of a ‘confidence’ player he seems to be, especially in attacking terms. He appears sheepish when the team is not functioning as coherently as they often have this season. When play is moving quickly and pressure is sustained, he is great at maintaining it – but during periods of frustration, his lack of receiving, as well as the rhythm and speed of his passing does little to reignite his team’s attacking tempo.
This is why improving the frequency and prominence of his positioning and movement in the final third could be key to him advancing to a higher level. Otherwise, he will not necessarily cut it at many of the best sides in Europe, who are all possession-heavy and can thus be frustrated for longer stretches. If he can offer more of himself vertically, in the strategic sense, he can not only be a key counter-presser, but also someone who helps free up the lock-pickers that surround him.
Whether he improves in that respect or not, the left side of a double-pivot is almost certainly where he looks best fit to play for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that leaves his career options somewhat limited – although several Champions League-challenging sides have, in recent seasons, started to devote greater value to the less technically gifted, role-based players, which is a category Tchouaméni might fall into.
Were Tchouaméni to move to a higher level league and be afforded a similar role, he certainly possesses the tools to be a starter in a side at Europa League level straight away and the upside to go higher.
Aurélien Tchouaméni is a tour-de-force of a midfielder, not least because of his elite-level ball-winning abilities. He’s also a strong and robust athlete, one capable of building and progressing play once his teams regain possession.
He isn’t suited to playing as a single defensive pivot as many think; he lacks the requisite ability and awareness in possession to shoulder such responsibilities.