Scouted: Elisha Owusu
Chris Summersell returns for another player analysis piece, using MRKT Insights tools and video clips to analyse KAA Gent's Elisha Owusu.
In the seemingly endless production line of French-developed central midfield talent, one of the next names you may be hearing more about in the future is Elisha Owusu.
Currently plying his trade in Belgium's Pro League with KAA Gent, Owusu has impressed at the heart of midfield, including some impressive performances in the Europa League. Having moved last summer for a fee of around €1 million, that looks more of a steal with each game.
This feature analysis will be using data tools from MRKT Insights to demonstrate Owusu’s output, as well as highlighting established players his profile is similar to. Complete with video analysis, we will take a deep dive into the qualities Owusu possesses, areas he may need to develop, and what the future may hold for the young Frenchman of Ghanaian descent.
The first port of call is to consult the data in order to build up an idea of Owusu’s profile as a central midfielder. MRKT Insights have developed a tool that can show how a player measures up across key metrics in their league by percentile ranking.
Already, we can build an idea of what type of player Owusu is, with these numbers pointing towards a prolific ball-winner that is secure if not particularly progressive in possession.
Defensively, the data showcases a player that makes a high volume of defensive actions, with a success rate of 62.2% in duels, which ranks him among the top percentile in the Belgium's top-flight. It's fair to suggest that Belgium – while a good league which provides regular minutes for young players – doesn't match the level of Europe's established elite leagues. We can, however, also see how Owusu’s numbers are looking in European competition, owing to Gent’s involvement in the Europa League. The data exhibits a broadly similar level of output in this competition, which suggests there is a degree of profile portability to a higher level.
Once again, the data profile points towards a ball-winner with a high volume of defensive actions, as well as a player who is secure but not creative nor progressive with the ball.
In both the Pro League and the Europa League, Owusu is competing in over 9 duels per 90 minutes, putting himself in the upper percentile in both competitions, but most crucially, the data shows a player that is winning over 60% of these duels – it’s not just volume, but also the success he is showing in these situations.
This is also, however, where video analysis is essential – the data says ball-winner, but video will show a lot more. We want to find out if he is a pure destroyer, or whether he is able to recover the ball cleanly and launch counter attacks. We want to see if he is more of a hunter, and leaves the team’s defensive shape to press, or whether he is more of a holder who waits for opponents to enter his zone before engaging.
In possession, he rarely gives the ball away: recording a pass accuracy of over 90% in both domestic and European competition, but the amount of passes he plays forwards is noticeably low. He makes a high volume of passes but he doesn't often play it forward, although the data does also suggest that when he does play it forward, he remains accurate.
In terms of dribbling and ball carrying, the data profile shows a player that attempts a reasonable amount of dribbles in midfield, although a relatively average level of progressive runs. This may be a sign of a player that uses dribbling ability to escape pressure in an evasive manner, rather than someone who continually runs with the ball to commit opponents. Again, the devil is the detail, and this detail can be assessed using video analysis – an essential part of the scouting process.
In terms of profile similarity, MRKT Insights have a bespoke player similarity tool which enables to quickly view alternative players whose data profile compare closely to the player in focus. A quick search with Owusu reveals players such as Idrissa Gana Gueye, Pierre Emile Højberg and Florentino Luís. The following graphics shows how Owusu measures up with the ball-winning behemoth that is Idrissa Gana Gueye at Paris Saint-Germain, formerly of Everton.
Another player that made his name by being highly secure in possession, combined with an ability to dribble out of pressure as well as being excellent in the defensive phases, is Mousa Dembélé. Comparing Owusu with the Belgian midfielder throws up an interesting similarity of sorts in their data profiles – see below.
As demonstrated above, there is a passing similarity between the two, with Dembélé being more productive in possession, however Owusu is far more active in the defensive data. This is not a comparison to say both players are the same, far from it, but there is a certain match in terms of what they do on the field which is worth exploring further. As ever, video analysis will reveal more.
THE EYE TEST
We now have a pretty comprehensive understanding of Owusu from a data perspective, as well as have some handy comparisons of who the young midfielder profiles similarly too. Now it's time to put the microscope on him, using video analysis. In Gent’s usual 4-3-1-2 shape, Owusu usually assumes the deepest central role in midfield with the role of screening the defence out of possession and occupying the second line during the build-up phase.
OUT OF POSSESSION
One of the first things you notice watching Owusu closely when his side is out of possession is his calm, controlled intelligence when screening his central defenders. He proactively shifts with the movements of the ball, ensuring the distance between the lines is minimal as well as cutting off the direct passing line into the central forwards.
This role is more zonal than strict man-marking focused, a more complex marking scheme to master. Owusu shows a real aptitude in the manner in which he shifts across his zone to maintain his teams vertical and horizontal compactness while ensuring opponents that enter his zone are within pressing distance. The hardest aspect of zonal marking is handing over tracking duties when opponents move into different zones, and Owusu has developed a good sense of when to do so and rarely gets caught out of position having followed a marker too far, leaving spaces in front of the defence exposed.
When the ball enters his zone, this is where Owusu really excels. He's exceptionally quick to first recognise danger then move across the ground to engage. In this, he has an excellent approach when he applies pressure – he is quick to cover space, with a good burst of acceleration, and is able to quickly assess whether he can win the ball by following through with the tackle, or by slowing the opponent down and forcing them into playing backwards. Crucially, he does not plant his feet and therefore can quickly react to a change in direction from his opponents, as well as ensuring that he cuts off forward passing options with his pressing movements.
When it comes to engaging opponents in duels, this is where Owusu really shines. Virtually nothing gets past him but, crucially, Owusu is not just able to stop opponents in their tracks – he recovers the ball for himself to get his side on the move in transition too. The following sequence of screenshots will demonstrate said defensive ability.
Owusu begins in his usual central position: marking zonally with an opponent within pressing distance, but also access to inside channels should the opposition penetrate in that space.
Gent’s right-sided central midfielder over-commits and gets beaten, but Owusu recognises this early. Due to his positioning, he's able to cover the ground in order to intervene.
Many players in this scenario would consider it job done, to put in a tackle and stop the opposition attack, perhaps even with a crowd pleasing sliding tackle. Owusu, however, uses his excellent agility and balance to initiate contact and get his body between the ball and opponent and turn out facing forward with the ball at his feet.
Owusu replicates this sequence regularly, which makes him very valuable to his side, and if we refer back to an earlier comparison is something Mousa Dembélé was a master of.
The data profile suggests Owusu is very secure in possession, but he doesn't add a great deal of progression with the ball, despite possessing some dribbling ability. Video analysis backs up the data profile, but we can take what the data is saying and add some football context to it.
When Gent are in possession, Owusu generally positions himself on the second line of play as they build-up from the back, positioning himself behind the first line of opposition pressure.
We can immediately identify certain issues as to why Owusu does not add a huge amount of progression with his passing. It's not his passing technique, but rather his body shape and movement to receive the ball which requires development. This significantly limits his field of vision and his picture of the game ahead.
Here, he's facing directly towards the ball having not opened up on the angle to receive the pass, meaning he has a a very limited awareness of what is happening ahead of him. If he receives the ball, he will have to turn blind, or bounce the ball back to his defenders.
In build-up, he struggles to provide good passing lines for the centre-backs to find him behind the first line of pressure, where he spends a lot of time in the cover shadow of opponents. This often forces the centre-backs to build through the full-backs.
He's often available to receive the ball from the full-backs but by then the opposition are in a better position to restrict passing options when the build-up begins in wide areas, making progression of the ball more difficult. In these situations, Owusu will recycle the ball with safe passes – always with good weight and accuracy, but rarely with any amount of progression forwards, between lines. If he were to position himself better to receive central passes from the centre-backs he would give himself more possibilities of playing forward in the build-up.
On occasion, Owusu will drop into the defensive line to aid the build-up, but in this instance shows another facet of his game that may explain his low ball progression numbers.
Here, he receives the ball under no pressure yet he fails take a positive first touch, neglecting the obvious opportunity to push the ball forward and drive into the space. Instead, he first receives the ball in his front foot then turns out and plays the pass to the left-back – thus an opportunity to progress the ball forward and centrally is lost.
One attribute on the ball he does possess is evasive dribbling skills. He is skilled at protecting the ball under pressure, retaining possession and dribbling out into space after riding often multiple challenges. Such press resistance in deeper areas is a vital asset, particularly for teams that seek to dominate possession where he can stay on the ball under pressure until he is able to pass to an open teammate. The following sequence will demonstrate his quality, as well as his drawbacks, in possession.
Here, Owusu receives a loose ball in an area of dense pressure, with an opponent ready to press from behind as well as from the side, with a covering defender ready to intervene if necessary.
He uses his ability to stay on the ball by beating the immediate pressure with neat feet, his balance and low centre of gravity, and is subsequently presented with forward passing options almost immediately. Option A is one in which few players can see and execute, the preserve of high-level talents like Thiago Alcântara and Tanguy Ndombélé. Option B, however, is the type of progressive action that Owusu would do well to add to his game on a regular basis – escaping immediate pressure and finding an early forward pass.
In this case, Owusu either fails to see the pass, or simply prefers the safer option by checking back and beating covering opponents and spreading the play to the right-sided centre-back.
Not only does this sequence demonstrate Owusu’s habits in possession, it directly translates to what the data is telling us. Owusu can dribble, but more to evade pressure than look to carry the ball in order to attract opponents and advance with the ball up the pitch. This is demonstrated by his lower progressive run numbers in the data profile. When it comes to his passing, this sequence shows how he sometimes struggles to move the ball forward, but is safe and secure with his distribution.
Having joined Gent ahead of the 2019/20 season, this is likely to be seen as both a fantastic decision by both player and club in the coming years. Owusu has now experienced a year of regular minutes in a good developmental league, as well as having gained European level experience. Gent have benefited from his quality and will almost certainly pocket a significant amount more than the €1 million investment they made last summer.
Moving into a top five European league will undoubtedly be a step up in quality, although his Europa League performances are encouraging in this regard. His brand of ball-winning is always an attribute in demand, and he should be able to comfortably make the transition to higher quality football such is his dominance in Belgium.
Potential suitors may look at his progressive numbers with caution and question, but it would be wise to envisage him taking up a role in a midfield that is already equipped with progression but lacks control and ball-winning ability. In the Premier League, Spurs boast the likes of Tanguy Ndombélé and Giovani Lo Celso yet lack a reliable ball-winner. It may be seen as too much of a risk signing a player without top-five league experience, but there is a case to say that his ability to win the ball and give it to the ball progressors regularly could be an exciting proposition in North London.
Everton will also be on the look-out for a ball-winner, the consequence of news that Jean-Philippe Gbamin will be out for another extended period. Everton have struggled to control midfield areas of late and, if he were paired with a more progressive central midfielder, Owusu may well be a smart move for the Merseysiders. There is also a case that Serie A suitors may be drawn to his intelligent and composed ability to mark zonally and control spaces at the base of midfield, which seems in theory like a good league to make good use of his skillset.
Elisha Owusu is a highly-talented defensive midfielder that is probably only a development step or two from being a very strong player in higher echelons of European football. His next move will be key: it is imperative that he joins a side that will allow his skillset to flourish, as well as where he will receive top coaching to coax that bit more out of his game.
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