Why Houssem Aouar is still the right signing for Europe’s leading clubs

This is the latest feature in our series counting down French football’s 20 hottest properties, those most likely to feature in elite clubs’ 2023 transfer plans. Look out for the next player tomorrow and follow the run down in full here on GFFN.

Houssem Aouar is arguably one of the most talented and technically gifted players in Ligue 1. As shown by iconic Champions League performances against Manchester City in 2020’s final eight to being one of Ligue 1’s more prolific goal-providing midfielders in recent seasons, the Lyon academy graduate’s quality is undeniable. However, after failed transfers, injuries and a fractious relationship with recently sacked Lyon manager Peter Bosz, the French international has been marginalised for much of this season. Still, his long-talked-about move may yet be on its way.

Despite starting Laurent Blanc’s first game in charge at OL, Aouar’s current situation will undoubtedly raise questions about his future with less than a year left on his contract. Many were surprised by the clubs the now 24-year-old was negotiating with this summer as promoted Premier League side Nottingham Forest and La Liga’s Real Betis become the most active suitors. Aouar has been linked with most of Europe’s elite clubs at some point and he’ll hope those teams return in search of his signature come January when he’s free to negotiate a pre-contract.

Despite a rocky season so far, Aouar would be a great acquisition for many around Europe, as Lyon’s tricky number eight offers a different dimension in midfield to most of his peers. It’s no secret his best football has been played in the final third, whether it be scoring or creating goals, and it’s where he’s often been a difference maker for OL. In 217 appearances for Les Gones, Aouar scored 40 goals and assisted a further 35, equating to a goal or an assist less than every three games on average.

It’s a record some forwards would be proud of and, if it could be translated to the Premier League, that ability to contribute would be helpful to clubs that lack midfield goals like Liverpool or Chelsea. However, Aouar has much to do to convince big English clubs he is worthy of their attention after minimal football so far this season. For now, it’s tough to assess interest but, looking at last season’s performances, there are certain aspects of the Frenchman’s game which make him a desirable asset.

One such skill is his influential progressive play. Besides fellow OL academy graduate Rayan Cherki, Aouar is one of the most active dribblers at Lyon, with 2.31 completed per 90 minutes while 2.4 players are beaten per 90 and 2.6 of his carries end in the final third. The numbers indicate he’s a useful dribbler and, at his best, the skilful, silky Aouar is a real threat with the ball at his feet, a useful asset for clubs requiring more spontaneous brilliance from their creative players.

Also decisive and reliable when progressing play, Aouar is in the top 3% of all attacking midfielders in Europe when it comes to passes into the final third, with 4.62 per 90. This shows his quality in releasing the ball into dangerous areas paired with an ability to drive into the final third. However, his key pass figures aren’t as competitive for an attacking midfielder, showing that Aouar isn’t the usual natural number ten while heat maps show he naturally positions himself on the left of midfield.

However, the fact that Aouar can feature on the left side of a midfield three, out wide and as a number ten makes him a versatile weapon in a number of roles, capable of executing all at a high level. Aouar is best suited to possession-based teams with calm, calculated passing play as the Frenchman’s passing range often goes under the radar, boasting an ability to play intelligent balls over a varying range of distances to a high degree of accuracy.

Seen as a number ten, concerns will be raised over Aouar’s defensive intelligence or work rate when used in a deeper role. However, he’s an active presser and has a knack for winning the ball back in midfield, shown by an average of 3.17 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes last season. Aouar’s shooting is also often criticised, despite his decent scoring record for OL, and, if he were to move, it’s something that needs work. After almost 250 career games already, it’s often forgotten that Aouar is still just 24 and far from the finished article.

Aouar is a French international, a versatile and technical midfielder still progressing as a footballer and is undoubtedly effective in the final third. The main question is: Who wouldn’t want such a player? Although the underlying circumstances are more complicated, with Lyon struggling to sell the player in recent years, his overall form being inconsistent and even talk of an extension at OL, with such a versatile midfielder potentially available on a free transfer next summer, the list of clubs chasing his signature will only increase.

Liam Wraith

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