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Are Everton Getting the Best out of Amadou Onana?

The Belgian has been quiet since Sean Dyche’s appointment, but why?


Young Belgian midfielder Amadou Onana’s €35 million transfer to Everton in the summer of 2022 caught headlines, and for good reason, as the former Hamburger SV and LOSC Lille starlet stands as the fourth-largest incoming transfer in Toffees history. The 21-year-old clearly has a bright career ahead of him, and despite being one of Everton’s three best players this season, in my opinion, I still feel that his talents are not being utilized to their greatest capabilities. Let’s take a deeper look.

The Senegal-born Belgian international was one of a few bright spots for LOSC Lille in an otherwise underwhelming season in 2021/22. After Les Dogues shocked the football world by pipping PSG to the Ligue 1 title in 2020/21, the tenth-place finish they endured last season was a dramatic drop-off which was caused in part by the departure of tactician Christophe Galtier and the sales of Boubakary Soumaré, Mike Maignan, and Jonathan Ikoné. Despite only making 11 Ligue 1 starts in 2021/22, Onana showed signs of very high potential and elite athleticism, prompting Everton to make a move for the midfielder in a bid to avoid the relegation battle which they are currently right in the thick of.

As previously mentioned, I believe Onana has been one of Everton’s best players in the 2022/23 season thus far, next to Jordan Pickford and Alex Iwobi. However, his statistical output has been significantly lower than last season at Lille, as shown by the table below.

*Statistics exclusively from domestic league games, via FBRef.

It’s relatively easy to explain away this decline using statements such as “The Premier League is a higher standard” and “He’s young and adapting to a new league” which are fair points on why Onana has not been as effective this season as he was last. However, my bigger concern is the fact that he has been even less effective during Sean Dyche’s first 6 games in charge than he was under Frank Lampard.

This leads us to this next table, which illustrates the difference in Onana’s performance under the two respective managers.

*Statistics exclusively from domestic league games, via FBRef.

Although Onana was fantastic in the first match of the Dyche-era against league-leaders Arsenal, in which he registered a 7.9 rating on FotMob, he has been unable to have that sort of influence on any of the fixtures since. In the last five games, FotMob rated his performances under 6.4 on average. Although this figure is not awful, the table above shows just how much less involved Onana has been since Frank Lampard’s dismissal. Amadou has had significantly fewer touches, has been passing less frequently and with less efficiency, and has been tackling at a rate that cowers in the shadow of his numbers at Lille and even under Lampard. So, why is this?

Well, a huge part of the answer is redundancy. Abdoulaye Doucoure has played all but 12 minutes of the Sean Dyche era thus far and has some very similar qualities to Onana. They both eat up the pitch, they both are strong in the challenge, and both are able and licensed to make third-man runs.

They also have been playing practically on top of each other since Dyche began employing the 4-5-1/4-1-4-1 formation, as shown by the average position maps included below.

Amadou Onana - 8; Abdoulaye Doucoure - 16; Alex Iwobi - 17; Idrissa Gueye - 27; Dwight McNeil - 7

Despite the fact that both Doucoure and Onana are pushing ahead of Idrissa Gana Gueye to practically the same degree, it’s Doucoure who has been significantly more influential going forward. Against Nottingham Forest last weekend Doucoure was often the only other blue shirt in the box alongside Neal Maupay.

Since Dyche’s arrival, Doucoure has registered 20 progressive passes to Onana’s 6, 10 progressive carries to 2, 17 shot-creating actions to 10, 44.7 touches/90 to 37.23, 8 blocks to 5, and an equal amount of interceptions with 8. The Mali international also scored his first goal of the season against Forest last weekend and has been quite simply outperforming his Belgian counterpart in nearly every category. Doucoure, however, has been known to be effective in a more advanced position throughout his career, so perhaps Onana’s role needs to change in order for Dyche to make the most of his attributes as he is with Doucoure.

So, how can we solve this problem?

With Idrissa Gana Gueye’s errors leading to goals amassing week on week, perhaps it is time for Onana to move back into a deeper role again. Although there will definitely be questions about the Belgian’s ability to distribute from deep considering his recent passing numbers, I can’t see him being much worse than Gueye who simply cannot stop assisting the other team at the moment.

This switch is entirely dependent on Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s fitness, however. Should DCL return to the striker spot, Demarai Gray could then be moved to right-wing, with Alex Iwobi returning to the central-midfield spot where he thrived under Lampard. Although Iwobi would be pushed higher next to Doucoure, just like Onana, his attributes are so much different from Doucoure’s that I believe a harmonious partnership could be struck, unlike the current one which sees Doucoure overshadowing Onana.

Iwobi is not nearly as prolific a tackler or interceptor as Onana in that role, but he certainly has the workrate to cover for Doucoure’s third-man attacking runs, and he also provides a level of creativity miles above what the current midfield three possesses. That line-up would look something like this:

So, what do you believe is the solution to get the best out of Amadou Onana? Does it look like mine, or is it something entirely different? Feel free to let me know in the comments below. Hopefully, Sean Dyche will figure out this part of the equation very soon because we certainly need Onana to start playing like one of our best for the crucial run of fixtures coming up.