With an unprecedented global pandemic that threatened this season to be null and void and forcing UEFA to postpone Euros and almost all regular football leagues, summer transfer window can well become an autumn one. This, however, shouldn’t stop football fans from thinking about who their favourite club should sign or let go of, with all the media starting to bombard us with transfer rumours about different players, not in July, but say, in late August. Elisha Owusu, the 22-year-old former Ligue 1 side Lyon academy graduate, should definitely be on the list of many football clubs in the top five European leagues. After a great and very productive loan spell to Sochaux Owusu was approached by Gent last summer and eventually bought for the fee of around one million euros, becoming a starter for a Jupiler League side. Improving at such a high rate and still being very young leaves Owusu very promising career in the top-tier leagues. In this scout report, we will look into how Owusu fits into Jess Thorup’s tactics, what role does he have offensively and defensively, and what are his prospects for the upcoming seasons.
We will begin our tactical analysis by looking into the defensive attributes of Owusu. I believe this aspect of his play to be the most valuable and important, even though in later sections we will also discuss his passing, which should be a significant part of this analysis too.
To begin with, I would like to point out that almost all parts of the Owusu’s defending game are on point: tackles, interceptions, and ball recoveries. In terms of tackles, in the Europa League, he has made two tackles per game. He has a very similar tackling technique to one of the EFL‘s finest Kalvin Phillips, about whom I wrote in our February magazine. Once the opponent gets a touch on the ball, Owusu tries to make a tackle right away, not giving much time and space.
He played more than 70% of the time in the 4-3-1-2 formation this season, playing as the only deep-lying midfielder. This means he has to not only control the tempo of the game and directing the attacks, but he also needs to cover a lot of ground and do the so-called dirty work, not allowing opponents to go through the middle or the flanks. And he manages to do exactly that. Below you can see his territorial coverage and you can tell that he is basically everywhere on the pitch.
His understanding of the game and reading the situations in-game are also in point. Statistically, he makes 4,8 interceptions per game. Just like any other good defensive midfielder, he first tries to cut off the pass before it arrives at the feet of his opponent. He excels in this aspect of the game. He has good acceleration and agility, plus quick decision-making, and that allows him to steal a lot of passes.
Above you can see an example of that in the game against Roma. He sees the pass being made to Henrikh Mkhitaryan and he intercepts the ball even though he was starting from the centre circle. He has great acceleration and good agility, which allows him to intercept multiple times a game when the opposing team try to play through the middle.
Along with interceptions, Owusu’s style of defensive play gets him a lot of ball recoveries too. This is very similar to interceptions, where a player gets a hold of the ball when none of the teams has possession. From a statistical perspective, Owusu makes 11,5 recoveries on average, 4,5 of them being in the opposition half. From these numbers, the importance of Owusu for his team in defensive transitions is pretty straightforward. He makes huge numbers of defensive actions on the pitch, successfully fulfilling his role of the only defensive midfielder.
In terms of other defensive parts of his game, Owusu has a really good sense of defensive positioning and also a sense where it is best to tackle and where it is best to just follow the opponent until he makes a mistake. In the example below, Owusu is left 1v1 with Royal Charleroi attacker in the closing stages of the game. If the opposition attacker manages to cut inside, he will be open to run through on goal. Instead, because of Owusu’s smart positioning and the right timing when to press the opponent more, he forces him to the touchline where he eventually loses the ball. This is a perfect example of good defending, and considering the fact that he is not a centre-back, and usually they find themselves in these situations, it becomes even more impressive.
When he has to follow the opponent on the flanks and sometimes in the centre, he applies the same strategy as in the example above. Forcing the opponent to make a mistake and then tackle or force him to pick an inconvenient pass. As we saw in one of the examples above, his tackling is great and he is very difficult to play against.
However, in this paragraph, I would like to point out one weak aspect of his defensive play. Even though he is pretty quick to be able to collect loose balls and tackle from the back at the time of ball reception, I believe he could do more during the opposition team possession phase. A lot of times he just runs back without putting pressure on the opponent or cutting off passing lanes. Of course, it is not happening consistently, but it is fair to say that some of the goals Gent conceded this season have his direct negative involvement. For example, at this moment against Serie A‘s Roma, there is a huge gap between the defenders and Owusu is the only Gent player who can try and close that gap. Instead, he casually runs back and watches Kluivert scoring the decisive away goal that got Roma through to the last-sixteen in Europa League.
Overall, Owusu is a really good defensive player, great ball-winner and a crucial outlet to have during the defensive transitions. Apart from one drawback that I pointed out above, he is a superb player defensively. Gent’s defensive tactics haven’t been that solid defensively this season, conceding more than a goal per game in the league, 1,17 to be exact. So, it can be said that in a better defensive system he can be more useful and efficient.
Apart from the defensive output, another job of every defensive midfielder is ball distribution – the volume of it varies from player to player and from system to system, but any player of this kind is expected to direct attacks in some degree. I believe that Owusu is exceptional at this. Although he doesn’t pick smart passes that disrupt the opposition defensive structure immediately that often, even his number of long balls per game is not that high – only 1,62. But in my opinion, his ball retention and decision-making during the build-up phase are on point. He is the focal point of the team in the build-up phase, his ball distribution help the team massively in terms of progressing the ball. Below you can see some stats of Owusu for this season, but I would like to focus on a couple of things: ball retention and link-up. Firstly, Smarterscout uses algorithms and mathematical models developed by North Yard Analytics to assess a player’s performance. Here, Owusu got 90 out of 100 in ball retention and an incredible 97 out of 100 for link-up ability. This shows how good he is on the ball and what influence he has on his team in this department. Also, you can point out his recovering with 77 out of 100, but it’s off the subject.
Regarding ball retention, Owusu has the ability to hold off the ball and keep his team’s possession or get fouled. He knows how to shield the ball and he also knows how to play under pressure. For example, in the game against Royal Charleroi he gets pressured by an opponent, who then gets helped by his teammate. However, before Owusu gets outnumbered and loses the ball, he manages to get fouled because of right body positioning. This prevents an attack and keeps the ball to his team. It is very hard to push him off the ball, and with his vision, I believe he becomes the most important player in the build-up, connecting the defence with midfield and attack, and previously highlighted qualities make him very reliable in this aspect of the game.
There is no need to show examples of passes that he makes in the build-up phase, it is important to highlight that his passing accuracy is above 90%, the great example is the game against KV Oostende where he completed 104 out of total 106 passes. Below you can see the passing map in the game against Roma with only one unsuccessful passing attempt from Owusu against a great opponent. He mainly operates in the middle third, with a lot of diagonal passes to both flanks. Sometimes he takes a place of one of the centre-backs, and while the centre-backs pushes up and is positioned in the half-space in the middle third, Owusu is directing an attack from his position. It is very similar to the concept of midfielders dropping to the centre-backs to form a back-three, but in this situation, one centre-back pushes higher.
With great passing accuracy and ball retention, Owusu is a brilliant player to have in the build-up – reliable, he is rarely making mistakes and makes enough progressive passes, which we will take a closer look at in the next section.
Progressive passing and shooting
So far I have described Owusu’s passing more as safe-oriented and pragmatic, but in this section of this tactical analysis, we will see that he is great at more forward and high-risk kinds of passes. For this purpose, here is another graphic to showcase his passing abilities. Here we will need to look at the Passing & Progression section and according to MRKT Insights Owusu is making 7,17 progressive passes per game(progressive passes, in this case, mean passes that allow the team to progress towards the opposition goal for 10-15 yards). Another couple of statistics to note is the final third passing accuracy(equaling to 84%) and forward passes accuracy with 88,37%. These statistics show that along with the reliability that Owusu provides with his passing, he also makes a lot of high-risk passes with great completion rate too.
This is one of many examples of his progressive passes. Owusu sees his teammate between the lines and between the two players vertically, so he makes a forward pass to him. As previously mentioned, he makes such passes around seven times per game, and this shows that Owusu is not only good with distributing the ball with simple passes to the flanks or down the centre, but he is also can pick a pass that would progress the team forward. His progressive passes made up 15% of his total passes, which is not that bad.
There is not a lot of things to talk about considering his shooting, because Owusu registered only three shots so far this season, and there is very little to analyse. He has a different role in Gent, a midfield destroyer with a great passing skillset, so it is reasonable that he has very few shots and total actions in the penalty area.
This is the second season where Owusu is recommending himself as a brilliant player. However, it is important to note that he hasn’t played in the top five leagues in his career, getting regular minutes in Ligue 2 and Jupiler League so far. But, given his amazing improvement in his last two seasons, I am pretty confident that he is ready for the big move in the next transfer window(when that might begin). I believe the best decision for him would be joining some mid-table club from the top leagues and then after hopefully a good spell, he can jump into the top club. I think he has great potential and he has already shown his defensive and passing abilities on the high level, but he needs further development, and any good club from, for example, England, would be a great option as the next step of his career. He hasn’t appeared for Ghana national team yet, but if he manages to keep up the same pace of his development, I am sure that he will have many caps for his country at the end of the day.