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Why Erik ten Hag wanted Andre Onana at Manchester United

Tactical analysis of why Erik ten Hag desperately wanted to reunite with Cameroon goalkeeper Andre Onana.

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With Andre Onana being given the famous “Here We Go” and with it being reported that he will be having his medical in the next 24-48 hours to join up with the side on their US tour.Lets look at why exactly ten Hag was so desperate to sign his former number 1.

To best understand why ten Hag wanted Onana, we must first investigate what it is that a goalkeeper does in his system, both on the ball and off it.

The way in which he has used de Gea has changed throughout the season, although at times we’ve seen the blueprint, we’ve never seen the final product. De Gea seemingly can’t be trusted with the ball at his feet, to properly execute the style in which ten Hag wants to ensue.

We’ve seen various times this season where de Gea has faltered, one which comes to mind is the Brentford goal. Ten Hag likes his keeper to make short passes in order to draw the opposition out, usually this is done by playing a ball into the feet of a player on the edge of the area who is being pressed by the first phase press. Once the ball is played into them, they are expected to either play it back to him or find their centre back who at his point has split to create an option.

In the Brentford game de Gea finds Eriksen as he should, but Eriksen doesn’t scan, and he passes it into his marker. Whilst on the surface de Gea has done exactly what is asked of him, the weight of the pass and shape on it is all wrong. You can tell someone exactly what you want them to do just by the way you pass it, de Gea has made the right pass, but taken too long and the pass is poor.

It is poor from Eriksen and de Gea in this instance, this can somewhat be excused due to the fact that they are playing a new system, one in which neither is fully adverse in yet, if de Gea put more on the ball and allows Eriksen to take it on his back foot and turn out it allows him to open up the whole pitch and beat the first phase bypassing 3 players from one pass.

This is the essence of what ten Hag wants from both his goalkeeper and his midfielders, he wants the keeper comfortable enough that he sees that image in his head and has the intelligence to spot the pass and put the right shape on it to tell his player exactly what he wants them to, that is the benefit of the goalkeeper, they can see the full pitch, the full picture, but de Gea keeps making the “Same ol’ Mistakes”.

Where does this tie in with Onana? When it comes to Onana, very few are better than him on the ball, he’s perhaps the best press resistant goalkeeper out there, as outlines by Pep Guardiola after the Champions League Final where he states “Onana, makes it really difficult to deploy a high press against. You cannot press the goalkeeper properly.” This is due to just how comfortable and capable he is on the ball.

He averages 35 passes per games, launching just 5 per 90. Meaning the majority of his play is interchanging with his defenders. He’s very comfortable playing the little chipped passes out to his full back as well, he has a lot of finesse to his passing. He’s very confident on the ball, he’s very happy when on the ball to drive out from the back, he doesn’t feel stuck inside his 18 yard box.

At times running past his back line to find a pass himself because he is that confident in his abilities, when it comes to occasional long ball abilities he has a 41% success rate which puts him in the top 25% of goalkeepers, it is comparable to Ederson and Alisson, when a goalkeeper has this ability along with dangerous wingers on his side in behind, it makes the opposition have a tendency to drop of that little bit more, which only leaves more space in the midfield in which someone like Bruno will thrive in.

One of the other big concerns when it comes to de Gea is his sweeping and his command of his area, on the face of it Onana statistically isn’t much better, however the back 3 of Inter is set up in a way that they deal with everything that comes into the box and play such a low block that it is very rare that Onana is needed in a sweeping capacity.

If we were to look back to the 20-21 season which was his last full season at Ajax, in which he played in a high intensity ten Hag side, where his defence operated inside the opposition’s half, he was in the top 5% for “average distance of defensive actions” whilst also being in the top 5% for crosses completed.

With a lot of the best ball playing goalkeepers, what they have in ball playing, they lack in shot stopping. This is less of an issue for Onana however, he is in the 88th percentile when it comes to save percentage whilst also being in the top 18% when it comes to “Post-Shot xG – Goals allowed”.

He ticks all the boxes to be the perfect Manchester United keeper. Onana “you Da One”. One thing that ten Hag is so particular on is his automatisms, this is why we saw the likes of Casemiro take a few games to adjust and why Cristiano who missed pre Season struggles to get involved, of all of ten Hag’s signings in the summer, the only players that started straight away, were those that had worked under, this is why he was so adamant he wanted Antony and one of Timber or Martinez as they are 2 players that know how to play his system, Onana is the same, there were other goalkeepers out there with similar skill sets but none of which are proven in his system.

Ten Hag likes order, another of his buzz words is “control”, you don’t have control if you don’t know the full skill set of the players at your disposal.

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