Raphael Onyedika: The 21-year-old midfielder making a big name for himself with Club Brugge – scout report
Club Brugge have been dominating the Belgian Pro League for the last few years, winning four league titles in the last five seasons. This time though, they have been below their best and currently sit in third place. But they have been brilliant in the UEFA Champions League and have qualified for the knockout stages for the first time in their history with two games to be played. One of their key performers has been their summer signing, Raphael Onyedika.
The Nigerian defensive midfielder has settled in really well. This scout report in the form of a tactical analysis discusses the strengths and weakness of Onyedika as a player and states how he contributes to the tactics and playing style of Club Brugge. Let’s begin the analysis.
Raphael Onyedika is a right-footed defensive midfielder who plays as a lone pivot or as part of a double pivot for Club Brugge. In Midtjylland, he was part of the double pivot where he was playing in the right defensive midfield role.
We can see his action map in the image above and he has mostly featured as an RDMF in a double pivot, but in recent games, he has featured as the lone defensive midfielder for Club Brugge.
Playing as a number ‘6’/lone defensive midfielder for a side that plays with high possession and territory in their league, Onyedika has a responsibility on the ball especially when his team is looking to play out from the back. The critical thing for any defensive midfielder on the ball is having a secure first touch and the ability to control the ball over a five-yard radius from the opponents.
Onyedika has a very good first touch on the ball which is pretty much clean and secure from multiple angles. The following image shows an example of his exquisite first touch. He receives the ball in half-turn from his teammate which gives him the option of playing a pass to a player upfield. On top of that, when he receives, he slides the ball just ahead of him with his first touch which allows him to carry the ball with space ahead of him.
Onyedika is also strong with other basics like scanning the field around before receiving the ball or performing an action on the pitch. Scanning is an important aspect that is very much required from a midfielder especially when they are looking to perform the feasible and ideal step next to progress the ball or help their team control the game. It gives a good understanding as to how the field is set with your own teammates as well as the opposition players, especially the information about where they are placed. Onyedika scans at least twice before receiving the ball from his teammate. This can be seen in the image below where he scans behind before receiving the ball.
He averages 42.2 passes per 90 in all competitions this season while also averaging 7.58 progressive passes per 90, which is a very high value for a midfielder. This means that he is one of the most critical progressors for his side and is very crucial for their transition from the first to the second phase and the second to the third phase in possession.
The image below shows him playing a long pass that progresses the ball for his team and finds a free man in space on the wing.
In another example below we can see Onyedika playing a pass forward to one of the wingers who is ahead. Although his passing is good during settled possession, it’s during transitions we see his passes adding more value to the team, particularly when he launches them into the spaces available for his teammates to run and receive them higher up the field.
He is also good at disguising passes when playing it forward for his teammates. The advantage of such passes are that it takes a lot of opposition players out of the equation and breaks lines swiftly. We can see an example of that in the image below where his body orientation suggests that he is going to play a pass to the full-back near the wing. However, he eventually plays it forward to one of the wingers out there in the forward line thus breaking two lines of defence at once.
One of the key things that is expected from a midfielder is security on the ball, especially to shield it and protect it under pressure. It is something that is very much observed carefully when signing a midfielder because of their location which is in the middle of the park and these are the regions where the opposition would look to win the ball and immediately start a transition. So a secure midfielder in these regions is very crucial to a side in possession.
Onyedika has that security on the ball where he is very good at covering it and protecting it under pressure from the opponent. Due to his physicality, he has the ability to shield it with his strength and due to this, it’s not easy for the opposition players to dispossess him. We can see an example of that in this image below where he is being pressurised by the opposition but he still managed to get out of pressure and play it to his teammate.
But Onyedika has this glaring technical inconsistency with his passing where, at times, his passes might have too much weight on them which leads to them being overhit and his teammates struggling to reach them on most occasions. This can be seen in the image below where he looks to play a through ball for his teammate who makes a cross run from the wing. But the weight in the pass was too much and before his teammate could reach the ball, it went out of play for a goal kick.
Onyedika is also not a very high-volume dribbler or carrier of the ball. This means that 90-95% of his progression on the ball comes from his passes. Although this is not something that is an issue in his game, as most of the deep-lying midfielders are mostly progressive with their passes and focus very less on their ball-carrying game, it still means that his game on the ball is not entirely complete. We can see this image below which shows that he has made very less progressive runs on the ball.
Overall, his ability on the ball in possession is very good and is one of the crucial aspects of Club Brugge’s tactics in possession. Since he is still young, he could probably iron out some of the inconsistencies he has in his game as he ages.
Although ability on the ball is something very important to look out for, in modern-day defensive midfielders, their ability to defend and protect the backline is what would make them valuable for any team. A defensive midfielder without good defensive principles is not worth starting even for a feeder club. Onyedika’s defensive principles are very good and are very well refined to play in a highly competitive league.
We can see him in the image above where he waits in his position and when the opposition player receives the ball and has a bad touch on it. He immediately presses him forward and wins the ball back from him when he is in an unstable position. This starts a counterattack for Club Brugge and they go on to take a shot.
In another example in the image above we can see him contest a duel again and he wins it cleanly from the opponent. He has contested 8.1 defensive duels per 90 across all competitions and has won 58% of them which is at a very good rate. His technique he contests the duel and while performing the tackle is very good.
He is also very good in 1v1 situations and mostly comes out victorious in the duels that he contests in these situations. We can see an example of that in the image above where he wins the ball out in the wings in a 1v1 situation against a forward from the opposition team.
Although he engages in duels a lot, he does not look to dive into duels and waits for the right time to engage in challenges. He knows the drawbacks of diving too early into challenges which would lead to the opening of gaps in midfield. We can see that in the image below where he stays in his position without intensely looking to press the ball carrier higher up the pitch. He covers the passing lane to the inside and then intercepts the ball immediately.
Another example can be seen below where he delays his defensive action and looks to cover the passing lane to the player behind him while slowly moving forward to cover the angle as well. This combined with his long legs and broader shape helps him to intercept the ball and win back the possession for his side. On average, he records 4.84 interceptions per 90 for his side across all competitions.
He is also an active defender and tracks his markers really well. He keeps tabs on them and also shows good determination to keep pursuing them until he manages to mark them completely out of the game. We can see an example of that in the image below where he tracks his marker all the way to the penalty box.
This is a valuable trait in him which would also improve his team’s defence in transitions. Even at times when he is slightly ahead and positionally at a bad place where he is not near his marker, his athleticism and speed mean that he can catch up to the marker as soon as he reaches the penalty box.
He also covers the half-spaces really well and whenever his team sets up in a low block, he does a good job to cover the half-space as well cover the zone-14 for his side. We can see an example of that in the image below where Club Brugge have set themselves in a low block to defend. He covers the half-space well which prevents the Atletico Madrid player from playing the through pass.
The below image is his defensive territory which shows how big his territory is and he has been present almost everywhere across the first two-thirds of the pitch. He is also very good in the air and due to his physicality, he is very good at winning aerial duels against stronger opponents as well. This means that he is also a useful figure when it comes to defending set pieces or even attacking set pieces.
Onyedika has been a wonderful addition to the Belgian defending champions and has played an important key role in their qualification for the round of 16 of the Champions League. Many top clubs playing in major leagues like the Premier League and Serie A should be monitoring his development, especially for someone who has a refined game at the age of 21.