Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: Andre Onana at Ajax
Artwork by @chapulana

André Onana is one of the breakout stars of this season. The goalkeeper of Ajax reached the semi-final of the Champions League and won the Eredivisie, as well as the Dutch cup. He missed just three out of the 58 games of Ajax in this campaign.

Especially because of their incredible run in the Champions League, many European clubs have cast an eye at Onana. The 23-year-old Cameroonian already has eight apps for his country and has the highest market value of all Cameroonian players. This tactical analysis will show why he is one of the greatest goalkeeping talents in world football.

Player overview

Onana began his career at the Samuel Eto’o Academy in Douala. In 2010, he joined Barcelona and was a member of the youth academy La Masia for five years. He played in the 2014/15 season in all six group games in the UEFA Youth League.

In 2015 he joined Ajax and got a contract until 30 June 2018. This has already been extended until 2021. He also debuted for the Cameroonian national team on 6 September 2016. Due to his solid performances, several clubs from Europe’s top leagues have him on their scouting list.

Positioning

Most of his saves look really simple. However, this is because of his good positioning and that’s one of the most important skills for goalkeepers. Due to his position, he doesn’t always need to make spectacular saves.

Of course, he always stays in the near corner of his goal but in addition, he stands straddle-legged, which has two major benefits. Firstly, he covers more width, so it is more difficult for the opposing striker to get the ball past him. Secondly, he’s in a good position to jump and make a save. This is visible in the following image. Dele Alli receives a perfect pass from Christian Eriksen and shoots towards goal. Onana is able to save the ball because of his good positioning.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
Great positioning by Onana and so he is able to deny the goal

Furthermore, he tries to stay upright as long as possible when the opposition has got a chance to score. He almost never speculates and throws himself into a corner. Instead, he tries to cover as much width as possible and stays upright. This is especially important when it comes to one-on-one situations with an opponent.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
Onana saves the ball in a one-on-one situation

Saves

The Cameroonian conceded 0.86 goals per game in this season. On the other hand, the expected conceded goals value is 1.03. These two values clearly show what a great goalkeeper he is. Even though his positioning is solid, some goals can’t be denied just because of the position of the goalkeeper. In these situations, Onana shows his pure class.

He often makes flying saves which look spectacular. The main reasons for these are his incredible jumping power and agility. In the image below, he makes a good save to deny the goal.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
Great save by Onana

However, he makes one particular mistake on multiple occasions. Usually, a goalkeeper tries to parry the ball to the side. But Onana often parries the ball in front of his goal where a striker could get to the ball on the rebound. The young Cameroonian needs to work on this in the future if he wants to be among the best goalkeepers.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
Onana parries the ball in front of goal

Passing

As you would expect from a goalkeeper who was in La Masia and now plays at Ajax, Onana is good with the ball at his feet. Considering this, the young goalkeeper always tries to be a possible passing option for his teammates. He also isn’t afraid of positioning beside or some feet away from his goal. The main objective remains that the defenders should always be able to include him in the build-up.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
Onana positions beside the goal to be a passing option

Since the Dutch champions always try to build-up from the back, he mainly plays short passes to the centre-backs, defensive midfielders, or full-backs. He doesn’t have any problems with these short passes. On average he played 12.86 short passes per game this season, while 97.4% of them were successful.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
An easy short pass by Onana

In the Eredivisie, almost no team puts pressure on Ajax high up the pitch and instead they sit back and wait for Onana’s teammates. In light of this, almost no team presses in at the Cameroonian and so it is really easy for him to play these short passes. However, in the Champions League, several teams pressed Ajax very aggressively. In these cases, Onana also played more long passes.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
Good long ball

Weaknesses

Even though he’s a talented goalkeeper, when it comes to passing there are some aspects at which he isn’t all that good. At first, his long balls aren’t especially precise. Just 58.2% of his long passes are successful. As already explained, in the Dutch league he almost never needs to pass the ball over a long distance, and so this weakness only became truly visible in the Champions League.

In addition, these long passes aren’t always necessary. He often plays long passes even though he has one or more short passing options. That happens when the opposition puts pressure on him and he starts to panic. In these situations, he needs to be calmer and choose the short option.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
Onana plays a long ball even though he has enough short options

Lastly, Onana isn’t as good with his left foot as he is with his right. Especially when he tries to play a long ball with his left foot, the pass isn’t that precise. Considering this, particularly the players of Tottenham tried to press him so that he had to play long passes with his left foot.

Eredivisie 2018/19 Tactical Analysis: André Onana at Ajax
Onana plays a bad long pass with his left foot

Conclusion

Onana has the potential to be among the best goalkeepers in the world. With his good positioning and ability to make outstanding saves, he has enormous goalkeeping skills. However, he needs to work on his passing ability. Especially his long passes are not precise. He needs to work on these factors, as well as trying to parry shots to the side.

In any case, the young Cameroonian goalkeeper is on a good path. It will be interesting to see if he joins a new club in this summer transfer window. And if so, how he performs and develops in a new league.


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