Houssem Aouar is the man who makes things happen
Manchester United are supposedly interested. Liverpool and Arsenal, too. Manchester City and Chelsea have reportedly been in touch. Barcelona may try for a swoop. At some point or another, most of the biggest and wealthiest clubs in Europe seem to have been linked with Houssem Aouar, the 21-year-old French international CM at Lyon. So what's all the fuss about?
Well, Aouar is quite simply the kind of player who makes things happen. When on the pitch, he's been involved in a higher share of moves leading to a goal in Ligue 1 than any other Lyon player who's played at least 700' at a position – and that includes all the strikers. He's also been involved in a higher share of the club's total expected goals than any other player. This is, shall we say, rare for a CM, and even rarer for one so young.
We first flagged Aouar as a smarterscout young prospect during the 2017-18 season. Since then, his attacking output has increased and his overall defending has improved markedly as well. Here are his stats at a Champions League standard:
He's skillful in the air for a CM, despite measuing just 1.75m, and he's also a very good finisher in open play. His style is bit risky, though; he's a prolific dribbler, but his skill in ground duels isn't really exceptional.
So what makes Aouar so effective? His smartermap for Ligue 1 offers some clues. In the heart of his territory on the left, he mostly uses short passes. But as he gets forward or drifts towards the middle of the pitch, all those blue markers start to turn brown or gray – and that means he's mixing up his actions in a way that defenders might have a hard time predicting. Aouar also likes to dribble as he nears the box, but just on the edge he's likely to try a short pass or shoot:
Aouar's versatility and range of passing have certainly attracted attention from around Europe, but his style is actually somewhat rare in Europe's top five leagues. Here are the closest matches to his style from recent seasons:
These players aren't exactly household names, but Florian Neuhaus is well known in Germany, and Seko Fofana is a French-born Ivorian international who's just 24 and a product of the Manchester City academy (and before that Lorient). Here's comparison of the three at CM, though Neuhaus has played a bit more CAM of late:
Their styles at CM are indeed similar, with lots of dribbling and link-up play but not much passing toward goal, and they all get into the box to shoot. Interestingly, Aouar and Neuhaus both seem to defend a lot overall but don't manage to disrupt opposition plays or recover balls too often. Neuhaus's skill in ground duels boosts his ball retention, but he's not as good a defender as Aouar. And Fofana looks like a more laid-back defender than the others, but with better ball retention still.
As the youngest of the three, Aouar's stock is clearly the highest. Neuhaus would cost less but has committed himself to Gladbach for now. That leaves Fofana, who's almost as important to Udinese at Aouar is to Lyon. Will anyone try to grab a bargain by prising him away from the Pozzo empire?
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