Monaco 2022/23: How can Les Monégasques rebuild their midfield and replace Tchouaméni – scout report
At the time of writing, Aurélien Tchouaméni’s €100m move from Ligue 1’s third-placed finishers Monaco to La Liga winners and newly-crowned champions of Europe Real Madrid is the most expensive transfer of the 2022/23 summer window so far. The Monaco man was highly sought-after, with Real’s Champions League Final opponents, Liverpool also reported to have been in the hunt for Tchouaméni’s signature earlier this summer. Tchouaméni’s popularity this summer won’t have come as a surprise to many people, as the midfielder was tipped by many to be one of the hottest prospects in France’s top flight, especially following a stellar campaign in which he played a crucial role in Monaco’s UEFA Champions League qualification (pending a qualification playoff game).
Tchouaméni’s departure, along with that of Cesc Fàbregas who didn’t feature much for Les Monégasques in the last term but nevertheless was on their wage bill for the campaign, and the permanent departure of Jean-Eudes Aholou to Strasbourg after the midfielder spent the last two seasons on loan at Stade de la Meinau all points to the necessity of a midfield revamp at Stade Louis II, with replacing the significant contribution of Tchouaméni sure to be top of the Monaco hierarchy’s to-do list.
In this tactical analysis piece, I aim to highlight some potential solutions for Monaco from players who were plying their trade in Ligue 1 last term, to show the kind of profile(s) I think they should consider and offer some actual names that they should, perhaps, consider. This piece won’t go into great detail in terms of analysing each individual option, rather is targeted at finding some initial options based on what I think Monaco broadly need to replace in their team. This analysis will take two potential formations into account, the 4-2-3-1 that Monaco used last season and the 4-3-3, which Monaco boss Philippe Clement has used most often during his career and thus could be ideal for his preferred tactics. In any event, whether it’s via adding one or two players to the team, my aim for this analysis is to find somewhat realistic ways in which Monaco could look to achieve the near-impossible task of replacing Tchouaméni, as they look to push on from their impressive 2021/22 season and perhaps go deep into Europe next term. All stats and data used in this scout report come from Wyscout unless stated otherwise.
Tchouaméni’s role at Monaco
Before looking at potential options for replacing Tchouaméni, the first step in our analysis will be to explore/remind you of what the Frenchman’s role actually was in the team. Monaco primarily utilised a 4-2-3-1 last season, with Tchouaméni and Youssouf Fofana operating in the double-pivot.
As the heatmap above indicates, Tchouaméni is a very active midfielder who gets around the pitch quite a bit, heavily covering much of the area between the two boxes. However, he primarily operated on the left of the double-pivot, with Fofana playing to his right. Tchouaméni was comfortable in this position.
The new Real Madrid man is incredibly well-rounded. Last season, among Ligue 1 central midfielders to play at least 700 minutes — the criteria we used to compare and contrast all midfielders mentioned in this analysis and to assess Monaco’s potential options in the summer transfer market — he ranked in the 93rd percentile for interceptions per 90 (6.07), the 88th percentile for aerial duels per 90 (3.76), the 94th percentile for aerial duel success (64.42%), the 82nd percentile for passes per 90 (56.64), the 86th percentile for progressive passes per 90 (8.3), the 90th percentile for progressive pass success (83.97%) and, lastly, the 90th percentile for through passes per 90 (1.73).
These stats show that a lot of responsibility was placed upon the young Frenchman at Monaco. This is a big part of why he ranks so highly in all the above metrics. However, this is also a result of the midfielder’s impressive well-roundedness in terms of ability. It’s not solely his role in the squad that resulted in this impressive all-around performance nor is it solely his ability that resulted in such an impressive all-around performance, but rather a combination of the two. It’s not so common to find a midfielder given all of the responsibilities Tchouaméni was given — breaking up the play, starting build-up, progressing play, creating, etc. — but it’s also not common to find someone with the ability to not only thrive in all of those areas but thrive in all of those areas simultaneously, within the one role. This is what set Tchouaméni apart and convinced Real Madrid to spend big on him.
Tchouaméni likes to be the deepest midfielder in the build-up. This, to me, didn’t come across as a strict instruction from the manager, as Fofana sometimes operated deeper with Tchouaméni then operating higher and it was likely a case of the two midfielders simply having a great understanding and mutual respect wherein one midfielder went forward, the other dropped and vice versa — but most commonly, Tchouaméni operated as the deepest of the two midfielders, as we see in figure 2, where the 22-year-old can be seen dropping in between the centre-backs.
As the aforementioned stats indicate, Tchouaméni was a key figure in ball progression for Monaco as his bravery and ability on the ball to split opposition lines and drive his team upfield are evident. He isn’t just seeking to play lots of progressive passes but he has an excellent ability to make them successfully, hence why he’s got such a high success rate despite playing so many progressive passes. This combination makes him a serious threat in ball progression, as a passer from a deep position.
While I wouldn’t describe Tchouaméni as a dribbler / progressive carrier, he does drive forward with the ball at times. He isn’t one to take players on in 1v1 and beat them via trickery but he’s good at driving into space, either on the ball or off the ball, and popping up in a position like the one we see him occupying in figure 3, in the chance creation phase. From here, the midfielder can split the opposition defence with his excellent passing ability combined with bravery and self-confidence, to send a teammate through on goal. So, on the ball, it’s clear that while Tchouaméni primarily operates as a deep-lying midfielder with key responsibilities in the build-up and ball progression phases, he likes to get forward too and possesses solid playmaking ability when required.
Off the ball, I’ve previously described Tchouaméni as an ‘interception monster’ and I think that’s a really apt description of him. He doesn’t engage in tonnes of defensive duels — this isn’t a particularly standout area for him. However, that’s more a result of the fact that this wasn’t a major requirement for him at Monaco than anything else. Instead, his focus was on reading the game, cutting passing lanes and breaking up the play, which are all things he excels at. When looking for a midfielder who reads the game well in a very fast-paced environment, Tchouaméni is elite. Additionally, Tchouaméni’s height and physicality made him a great aerial asset for Monaco, which can be a valuable quality for a holding midfielder too, with opposition long-balls and goal-kicks often landing within the holding midfielder’s assigned zone.
What if Monaco want to continue with the 4-2-3-1?
So, now that we’ve established what Tchouaméni is, how can Monaco think about replacing him? Firstly, I want to consider the possibility that Monaco continue with the 4-2-3-1, primarily, next season. Already under Clement, Monaco have turned to the 4-3-3 against more challenging opponents, notably doing so for their 3-0 home win over PSG in March, with Tchouaméni operating as the holding midfielder in that midfield trio. With Champions League football potentially on the cards for next term and Clement demonstrating a history of playing with the 4-3-3 most often, it wouldn’t at all surprise me to see Monaco switching to this shape.
Additionally, I think it’ll be difficult to replace all of what Tchouaméni offers simply by signing one player and the selection of players who I think could perform the role to a good level — not adequate, but good, as this is what is necessary for a team looking to compete at the level Monaco are looking to compete at — is very slim. On the other hand, the options for replacing Tchouaméni with two midfield signings (probably affordable given that Fàbregas is now off the books too and Tchouaméni commanded a high transfer fee) and completely revamping the midfield — while possibly giving Clement a more preferable setup for him anyway, is more achievable and, for me, a better option.
However, we ultimately don’t know what Monaco want to do and there’s a case to be made that Les Monégasques should stick with a more similar system to the one that got them to the Champions League playoff dance — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, after all. So, in that case, our first section considers: what if Monaco want to continue with the 4-2-3-1?
Weighing up the need for some really well-rounded attributes, realism in terms of Monaco’s ability to sign the player, value and age, there’s one main player I think Monaco could consider to slot straight into Tchouaméni’s spot in the 4-2-3-1 — Bordeaux’s Jean Onana (189cm/6’2”, 82kg/181lbs). However, I’m not even convinced he is best used in a role like this, although he is experienced with such a role.
Now, hold on, I’m not saying Onana is an exact like-for-like replacement, of course, the two players differ significantly in certain areas but for me, in key areas relevant to Tchouaméni’s role in Monaco’s system from last season, Onana fits the bill really well and is one of very few players who could feasibly perform the role well.
Why do I think Onana is a good option? Well, firstly, following Bordeaux’s unfortunate relegation all the way down to Championnat National 1, there’s sure to be an exodus from the historic club and Onana will be one of their most sought-after stars. Monaco would surely face plenty of competition for his signature given his quality and Bordeaux’s current position, with Serie A champions AC Milan one club that’s said to be interested in securing the Cameroonian’s signature. However, if there’s any chance Monaco can convince the midfielder to remain in Ligue 1 and help them in their European conquest, perhaps they should explore that possibility.
Onana is the same age as Tchouaméni and is even bigger, physically, than Tchouaméni so Monaco would not lose the physical presence in midfield, but more importantly than that, Onana is similarly well-rounded and used to playing in a midfield duo, having done so most of the time at Bordeaux.
The Bordeaux man isn’t quite the interception-monster Tchouaméni is, but no one is, for that matter. However, he ranks in the 86th percentile (using the aforementioned criteria) for interceptions, which is quite impressive. Onana isn’t as great of a progressive passer as Tchouaméni, and this is one potential issue he’d face. He’s not as good at breaking lines and driving the team forward at all, lacking Tchouaméni’s elite technical ability. However, he doesn’t lack in bravery or self-confidence, with long passing a notable strength in Onana’s game. He loves to switch play from the left-sided central midfield/holding midfield position to the opposite wing or launch a long ball over the top for a pacey attacker to chase. Monaco have plenty of pacey attackers in their forward line so this is, perhaps, one way in which Onana could add a new dynamic to their midfield. The Bordeaux man loves to take risks with his long passing and at times, this can be a liability for the team in terms of giving away turnovers and allowing the opposition to counter but that wouldn’t put me off Onana so much as it would just highlight an area in which Monaco should be prepared to deal with the negative consequences, should they add Onana to the team.
It’s common to see Onana dropping deep, similar to Tchouaméni, to collect the ball from the backline and assist in both the build-up and the ball progression phase, as we see in figure 4. This has been an important part of his central midfield role at Bordeaux. He’s trusted to get on the ball and make a lot of passes. When required to be safe, of course he can be but again, Onana is definitely a risk-taker, perhaps to a little bit too great of an extent at times, which can hurt, again, in terms of conceding the ball dangerously, which doesn’t bode well for receiving the ball in areas like this one so often under pressure. He is experienced with this role and stood out in Ligue 1 for how he performed it with Bordeaux.
Onana loves to get forward as much as Tchouaméni — probably even more, I’d say. It’s common to see him receiving high and looking to either link up with teammates or take the ball on the half-turn and look to split the opposition’s defensive line. In this regard, perhaps Onana would actually be better suited to a more specialised position than the one he played at Bordeaux, where he shouldered a lot of responsibilities. I think, perhaps, Onana may be better suited to an ‘8’ role for the time being but I think he could be developed into a good double-pivot player, and if Clement believes he can achieve that with coaching, then I definitely think Onana is one they should consider.
In a similar position to Onana, in our book, in terms of fitting the bill for potentially filling Tchouaméni’s boots at Monaco, is Xeka (6’1”/186cm, 79kg/174lbs), who is set to become a free agent as his Lille contract expires at the end of this month. Xeka is also experienced with playing in a two-man midfield, having done so regularly with Lille in their 4-4-2. Furthermore, on a free and with plenty of Ligue 1 experience, including a Ligue 1 winner’s medal to his name, Xeka represents potentially great value for money in lots of ways. What about his playing ability, though?
Xeka notably ranks in the 77th percentile for interceptions per 90, the 74th percentile for defensive duels per 90 and the 86th percentile for through passes per 90. He performs okay-to-decent in those defensive duels, performing better at cutting passing lanes and making interceptions, similar to Tchouaméni but, again, not to the same extent at all. Xeka’s high percentile ranking for through passes shouldn’t come as a surprise, as his primary role is being a deep-lying creator.
Xeka is an interesting one because he likes to operate in deep areas and, for example, collect the ball from the centre-backs or sit in between the two centre-backs during build-up and ball progression. However, at the same time, he doesn’t tend to spend so much time circulating the ball via short passes. Again, he’s aggressive and risk-taking; the Lille man likes to get the ball forward through the opposition’s midfield and defensive lines via his impressive technical passing quality. In this regard, Xeka presents a great creative threat to the opposition from deep. So, if chosen to replace Tchouaméni, Monaco could benefit from Xeka as someone who could drive the team forward if given space in deeper areas, which he’s good at finding.
We see an example of Xeka drilling a through ball in behind the opposition’s backline for a teammate to chase down in figure 6. This kind of deep, creative threat would, again, similar to Onana’s long passing, provide good service to Monaco’s pacey attackers when playing against a higher defensive line. However, while Xeka provides a deep creative threat via his through passing, he doesn’t provide as much of a general progression threat and doesn’t slide balls in between the lines for attackers to receive to feet so much. This is something Tchouaméni was great at, so with Xeka, Monaco would likely be far more direct, looking to the deep-lying midfielder to be more of a main creative outlet, which Tchouaméni was not. So, like Onana, Xeka is someone who can fill the position but probably not the role, so fitting these players into the squad would require a willingness to change this role from Monaco.
The 27-year-old soon-to-be free agent is solid defensively, provides good physicality, and is creative. However, on the ball, he’s not amazing as a general passer in terms of retention or ball progression.
Ultimately, I feel that while these two players could provide good squad options for Monaco, the direct replacement for Tchouaméni doesn’t exist in Ligue 1 and that’s why I feel bolstering the midfield with two bodies may be the way to go for Monaco.
What if Monaco change to a 4-3-3?
So, what if Monaco do change to a 4-3-3? Well, firstly considering who will play as an ‘8’ alongside Fofana, either Onana or Xeka could be considered for this position too but I’ve selected a couple of different options for consideration in this section, with the knowledge that they’d have a dedicated holding midfielder behind them to screen the backline.
The first option I’d implore Monaco to consider is already at Stade Louis II. It’s Jean Lucas (181cm/5’11”, 78kg/172lbs) who Les Monégasques signed from Lyon last summer. I think Lucas will, at the very least, be a good option for Clement to have in the squad, even more so if Monaco switch to a 4-3-3. Lucas is a good creator who could do well with the security of an extra midfielder behind him and alongside Fofana. Last season, he ranked in the 85th percentile for through passes per 90 and the 72nd percentile for xA per 90, highlighting his creative threat.
Lucas is a great ball progression option but in a different way to Tchouaméni. While the Frenchman is great at progressing via passes, Lucas loves to progress via dribbles and carries — ranking in the 87th percentile for dribbles per 90 for last term. He doesn’t progress via passes as much but is happy to make himself available to receive passes in advanced areas before looking to receive on the half-turn and either run at the defence or slide a ball in behind for a teammate to chase.
Defensively, Lucas is not much of an interception-maker but is very active in engaging in defensive duels and pressing the opposition higher upfield, so could offer an aggressive defensive option from midfield. This could work well if given adequate support and cover from teammates in an organised pressing system, including the holding midfielder behind him. Jean Lucas had a decent 60.74% defensive duel success rate in 2021/22, showing that he’s capable in this regard at Ligue 1 level.
Figure 7 shows an example of Lucas in action for Monaco last season. It’s worth noting that the midfielder is coming off the right, rather than the left, here. While the Brazilian played some games on the left, it was far more common to see him on the right when deployed as a central midfielder last term, with Fofana even moving to the left at times to accommodate this, so perhaps this is where we’ll see him play next season too. Regardless of which side of midfield he plates on, Lucas demonstrates great vision regularly to try and set up more advanced teammates for high-value goalscoring opportunities like the one we see being set up in figure 7.
While Lucas is a decent option for the 4-3-3, I think Monaco still need to add another central midfielder to their ranks, at least as competition for Lucas but probably to be a starter, with Lucas as the competition.
One great potential option for Monaco to consider is Tottenham Hotspur’s Tanguy Ndombele (181cm/5’11”, 76kg/168lbs), who spent the second half of last season on loan at former club Lyon. Of course, his game time was limited as a late January transfer with little time to settle in back at his old club but in just over 700 minutes of time on the pitch, we saw glimpses of the player who left Lyon for €60m three years ago. Ndombele is currently rumoured to be on the way out of Spurs and if Monaco were to reinvest the Tchouaméni money, signing Ndombele — who’s currently valued at just €30m according to Transfermarkt — as a left central midfielder and signing a holding midfielder to sit behind him and Fofana could create a very interesting midfield.
In Ligue 1 last season, Ndombele ranked in the 92nd percentile for xA per 90, the 85th percentile for passes per 90 (with a very high 90.16% pass success rate) and 77th percentile for progressive passes per 90 — with an amazing 88.89% success rate, the second-best progressive pass success rate in France’s top flight. Ndombele would replace the progressive passing quality along with the bravery and self-confidence that departs with Tchouaméni excellently — better than anyone else mentioned in this scout report. He is constantly looking to play the ball forward and create chances for teammates both by driving the ball to feet and by sliding the ball through the defensive line for teammates to chase in behind.
Defensively, while Ndombele offers little in terms of interceptions, he’s happy to defend aggressively and hunt for the ball — ranking in the 71st percentile for defensive duels per 90 last term and achieving a very good 62.69% success rate. This is why I’d like him in a more advanced left-sided (his preferred side) central midfield position with a holding midfielder behind to read the game and sweep up after any mishaps.
We see an example of Ndombele operating in his preferred position in figure 8. Here, he disguised his through pass well after having just received the ball under pressure and protected it well while turning, getting his body between the nearest man and the ball nicely. From here, while disguising the pass, the 25-year-old manages to drive the ball through the opposition players and into his teammate’s running path very well to set up a goalscoring opportunity.
Ndombele presents an option of greater quality than Jean Lucas, Xeka or Onana for this position and if there’s any chance Monaco’s sporting director Paul Mitchell can prise the midfielder from his own former club and convince him that Monaco is the place to reinvigorate his career, then that option has to be explored as I think he could be the best potential option on the market if Monaco are happy to move to a 4-3-3 and get a holding midfielder in behind the creative midfielder as well.
So, about that holding midfielder, then. There are a few interesting options in Ligue 1, including Ajax academy product Azur Matusiwa who’s currently plying his trade at Reims. However, for me, the best option is Lucien Agoumé (185cm/6’1”, 81kg/179lbs) of Inter, who spent last season on loan at Ligue 1 side Brest.
Agoumé is set to depart from Inter this summer, with the talented 20-year-old currently linked with soon-to-be Serie A newcomers Cremonese. However, if I’m at Monaco, I’m doing what I can to try and get him at Stade Louis II. Of course, he’s not a direct replacement for Tchouaméni, he’s different like every option mentioned in this scout report. However, paired with a Ndombele type and Fofana, I think Agoumé could absolutely thrive at Monaco next season.
Last term, the 20-year-old ranked in the 87th percentile for interceptions per 90 (5.48). Meanwhile, he made a relatively average number of passes per 90 (43.14) with a decent success rate (87.39%), an encouraging number of progressive passes and forward passes while retaining a decent success rate in those particular metrics and also engaged in a high number of defensive duels (7.66) with a good success rate (63.31%).
Agoumé can become braver in possession and could perhaps benefit from Clement and his coaching team in that regard. Perhaps he could still hone some particular technical skills but more important for Agoumé, in our view, is the need to improve mentally, get more confident on the ball and ultimately become braver with the ball. That said, with both Fofana and Ndombele beside him — and especially in Monaco’s system where the full-backs play such an important role in ball progression — the need to be the main ball progressor is far reduced than it was for Tchouaméni. As a result, I think Agoumé could be an excellent option for the holding midfielder position at Stade Louis II, especially if they switch to a 4-3-3.
Agoumé is comfortable dropping deep in the build-up to be the first midfielder to receive, as Monaco found out first-hand in their recent clash with Brest. He’s excellent at recognising when he’s needed deeper and then dropping to facilitate ball progression. We see him intelligently dropping to create a 3v2 advantage for his side in figure 9.
As we move on into figure 10, we see how Agoumé and his side used this numerical advantage well by drawing a forward to press high as he receives the ball. Agoumé can then use his technical ability to get around that pressing player and send the ball out to the right centre-back, who we can see enjoying plenty of space now in figure 10. Agoumé charges forward into space behind the pressing forward immediately after releasing the ball to try and provide the right centre-back with a forward passing option by creating a good passing angle.
Monaco also found out about Agoumé’s interception-making skill in their recent clash with Brest, which figure 11 shows an example of. Just before this image, the midfielder pressed wider but the opposition progressed centrally. He quickly recovered and managed to cut the passing lane just as Monaco threatened to slice through Brest’s low block. As a result of this clutch interception, Brest were able to retain their 1-0 lead for a little longer and spring a counter-attack to threaten Monaco at the other end.
Agoumé is equally comfortable pressing high when required and is decent at recognising opportunities to jump higher and cut a pass out as it arrives, though he may actually be too aggressive at times and could tone things down a bit, as the holding midfielder, focusing more on defending his own space and providing the other midfielders with that safety net. All in all, though, I think Agoumé is a great option for Monaco as a pure holding midfielder.
To conclude this tactical analysis piece, if it were up to me, I’d be switching to a three-man midfield to compensate for Tchouaméni’s departure and doing my utmost to sign Ndombele and Agoumé but I have no doubt there are also fantastic options from outside of Ligue 1 (last season) that Monaco will be aware of and considering both for this possibility and the possibility that they stick with the 4-2-3-1.
I hope that this analysis has highlighted the key attributes that Monaco really need to think about replacing, however, following Tchouaméni’s departure, and has shown some of the kinds of profiles on the market that could be of interest to Les Monégasques, regardless of whether or not they actually target any of them.