October 3, 2022

The European champions are not left out.

Weeks after defeating Liverpool in the Champions League final, Real Madrid beat them to the signing of Monaco midfielder Aurélien Tchouameni.

The 22-year-old is set to follow French team-mate Eduardo Camavinga to the Santiago Bernabeu in a deal worth over €100m as Carlo Ancelotti continues to strengthen his midfield.

Tchouameni only arrived in Monaco from Bordeaux in January 2020 after making his professional debut aged 18, but has been shining since becoming a regular.

Athleticism recently presented Tchouameni the man, the character, the personality.

But what about the player Tchouameni?

As the saying goes, the best ability is availability, but great faith has been placed in Tchouameni as Monaco seek to return to the top of French football.

No outfield player has played more for Monaco than Tchouameni this season, having started 33 of Monaco’s 38 games while finishing third in Ligue 1.

Casting the net wider, Tchouameni has recorded the fifth-most minutes among players under 23 in Europe’s top five leagues since the start of 2020-21.

For such a young player, he arrives at the Bernabeu with experience.

Positionally, Tchouameni has most often played a defensive midfield role alongside Youssouf Fofana in a 4-2-3-1. However, he is more likely to play a slightly deeper role than his midfield teammate, filtering through the defense and getting more involved in Monaco’s preparation game.

Above all, his versatility should not be underestimated, as Tchouameni has the drive and maturity to also play as a solitary defensive midfielder in a 4-5-1, or in a more box-to-box role in as a No. 8 within a 4-4-2.

This positional versatility is undoubtedly a useful trait for any player, but as long as Ancelotti is at the helm in Madrid, the 4-3-3 is likely to prevail. The Italian manager has selected this formation in all but three of their games in all competitions this season.

Of course, any midfielder who has arrived at Real Madrid in the past five years has been given the small task of replacing one of Europe’s most successful trios in Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Modric, in particular, is still going strong at 36, but the age is increasing on all three of Ancelotti’s most-used midfielders, who are now in their 30s. Succession planning makes sense in the medium to long term, as evidenced by the signing of Camavinga last summer.

Although Camavinga has played a crucial role in Madrid’s success in La Liga and the Champions League – particularly on the bench – the Frenchman didn’t expect to be a regular in the first XI in his debut season. The 19-year-old’s minutes in Spain were lower than last season at Rennes, but he acted as an able assistant to Ancelotti’s favorite midfielder when he entered the fray.

A slightly more mature 22, Tchouameni will arrive with different expectations and will no doubt be looking to show off his skills on a regular basis. His positional versatility means he could fit in as a defensive midfielder – the position primarily filled by Casemiro – or one of the ‘No.8’ roles filled by Modric and Kroos.

So what can we expect from Tchouameni, who have been voted Ligue 1 team of the year in consecutive seasons?

One of Tchouameni’s main characteristics is his combative and relentless ball recovery ability. Use of data from smart scoutyou can see how well he reads the game, frequently catching loose passes and blocking passes (ball recoveries and interceptions 88 of 99 for a defensive midfielder).

Not only is Tchouameni high volume in his defensive actions, but he is also high quality. Getting close to his man is one thing, but using data from StatsBomb via FBref you can see that the success of his pressures – i.e. his team gaining possession within five seconds of applying of his pressure – stands at 36%, which is in the top 10% of Ligue 1 midfielders this season.

Along with his 79 out of 99 defensive impact, it shows just how proficient Tchouameni is at stopping the opposition from advancing further up the pitch.

At 6ft 2in, his long legs allow him to snuff out attacks before they materialize with his destructive break from play. A particular strength is his clever defensive work on his opponent’s blind side, which allows him to cut in front and intercept as he receives it.

A perfect example can be seen in Monaco’s recent loss to Paris Saint-Germain. Here, PSG’s Marquinhos is ready to play the ball to right-back Achraf Hakimi. At this point, Tchouameni is already scanning the pitch for danger, spotting Georginio Wijnaldum passing to receive the next pass.

Rather than stepping into space in front to block the pass, Tchouameni allows Wijnaldum to meet the ball and runs behind him to immediately get to the edge of the goal, running away from the ball as the pass is played.

Now behind Wijnaldum, Tchouameni follows the Dutchman to stay tight and just stays out of sight waiting for the ball to be released…

… before speeding up to get in front of Wijnaldum on the blind side and intercept the ball as Hakimi plays the pass. This is a common feature of the Tchouameni piece that is certainly by design rather than luck.

Examples like this show that Tchouameni has a tendency to go into hiding when issuing challenges. This is often justified, but beware of this full-strength style – he’ll need to make sure he doesn’t over-commit when adapting to the demands of a new league.

Ultimately, this inability to beat Tchouameni one-on-one is reinforced by his smarterscout dueling notes. These ratings are calculated taking into account the quality of the opponent faced in these duels – for example, a player gets more credit for tackling good one-on-one dribblers than weak ones.

Without neglecting the other Real Madrid midfielders in the squad, Tchouameni’s strength in duels compares well with the midfield trio of Modric, Casemiro and Kroos. In particular, his numbers show how often he comes out on top in his completed challenges (75 out of 99), more than his new teammates. Such strength in duels, however, is not reserved only on the ground, as Tchouameni displays a powerful presence in the air (open heads 99 out of 99), similar to that of Casemiro.

Along with his combative traits, Tchouameni has good passing range when regaining possession. When he has it, he frequently looks for a pass that will move the team upwards (progressive pass, 70 of 99) and, most importantly, take the ball into dangerous areas (xG of ball progression, 79 of 99).

Here is an example of Monaco’s visit to Metz, where Tchouameni wins the ball with the opposition still in a neat and compact structure.

As he moves forward, right-back Vanderson looks to run behind where the space is. Tchouameni duly obliges with a line-breaking pass inside the opposing full-back and into the penalty area.

Vanderson receives the ball in an advanced area, allowing him to remove the ball for a valuable chance. The opportunity was wasted, but the greatest added value to the sequence was brought by the pass from Tchouameni. Imagine Tchouameni’s attacking threat with Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Karim Benzema ahead of him.

The trust placed in Tchouameni is not limited to his football club. As good as playing for France in the European Under-21 Championship last yearTchouameni has since earned eight caps for the senior national team, where he has established a productive partnership with more defensive discipline alongside Paul Pogba.

Such is his profile that Tchouameni was handed France’s Nations League final against Spain, which Didier Deschamps’ side won 2-1, and has been a regular call-up to the squad since.

In club, Tchouameni has not yet made himself known on the biggest European stage. While he has had a taste of Europa League football with Monaco and Bordeaux, he will no doubt be desperate to show off his Champions League skills to his new employers – and who better to represent than the current Champions League holders ?

Welcome, Aurelien.

(Photo: Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)