Another season has passed where Ajax finish at the summit of the Eredivisie, albeit not as champions. The cancellation of the season saw Ajax finish above AZ Alkmaar on goal difference. With Andre Onana’s conceding only 21 goals in 24 games playing a big factor. Although this didn’t lead to a league championship, they have secured Champions League football once again.
This tactical analysis will look at Onana’s part in his side’s season and why he is attracting so much attention. We will also take a look at how he fits into Ajax coach, Erik ten Hag’s tactics.
How does Onana compare to the best?
In our data analysis of the best goalkeepers in the Eredivisie, Onana came out as one of the best in most categories. AZ Alkmaar have the best defence in the league and they deserve credit for this. However, it appears to be a one-off, with Onana out-performing Marco Bizot in all other seasons, showing his consistency. But how does he compare to the world’s best?
The above graph shows that Onana is performing pretty well in terms of how he was expected to perform. He has the sixth-best goals saved above expected, saving 2.52 more goals than he should have. Notice that Kepa Arrizabalaga has by far the worst, conceding 6.1 more goals than expected. The other players highlighted in the graph are Alisson, Jan Oblak, and Kepa. We will be comparing Onana’s stats to these three keepers to contextualize his performances.
The 24-year-old has been praised for his performances in the Champions League over the past two seasons. This was mainly down to his reflexes and ability to stop goals that looked impossible to save. Onana has kept clean sheets in 33.33% of his league games this season, with eight in total. Onana plays behind the best defenders in the league, meaning he isn’t forced into making too many saves. Ajax have only faced 2.91 shots per 90 this season. So could it be argued that Onana appears good because he plays behind the best defence in the league? The answer is no, as he performs consistently against Europe’s elite.
In the Champions League, Onana faces 5.05 shots per 90, making 4.11 saves per match, proving that he can cope against much tougher opposition. In the Eredivisie, the keeper makes 2.52 saves per goal, meaning that he is up to the task whenever he’s called upon.
For a relatively short goalkeeper, at 1.84m, his strong wrists and great reflexes mean that he can still save good shots. In the above examples, we see him make two great saves. These are good shots, meaning anything other than a strong hand will result in a goal. He is able to claw the ball from on the goal-line and make a great save. 47.2% of Onana’s saves are with his reflexes, which makes up for his height and helps him save difficult shots like these.
Onana may not be tall but he has a fairly large build, this means that he can close down the opposition and limit their view on goal.
In both examples above he uses a long barrier technique with his legs, whilst keeping arms out to make himself as big as possible. He throws himself at the ball to give the attacker as little time as possible to compose themselves. Looking at the first image, his right leg is low, meaning that the Heerenveen man is unable to poke the ball underneath him. Then in the second image, the attacker tries hitting the ball higher, but because Onana’s hands are outstretched he is able to save it.
So how can we put these stats into context? We’ll do it by comparing him to one of the best shot-stoppers in the world, Atletico Madrid’s Jan Oblak. Oblak is a good comparison because both keepers are in similar positions, Ajax and Atletico are both one of the best teams defensively in their leagues.
As the radar above shows, both keepers have very similar stats, with Onana performing slightly better. Both keepers have a 50% clean sheet ratio, with Onana facing 5.05 shots per 90, compared to Oblak’s 3.6. Although Onana has more goals conceded per 90, 0.95, he has more saves per goal, meaning that he is dealing with his shots just as well.
Ajax’s Cameroonian goalie can be put in the category of ‘sweeper-keeper’. Onana isn’t afraid to step out of his box to help his defenders out in desperate circumstances. Though a risky attribute to have, it can be helpful when a team such as ten Hag’s play such a high defensive line.
In the above example against Hercules, a ball is played over the top for their striker. Because Ajax plays such a high there is a lot of space between the defence and the goal, so Onana takes the responsibility of occupying that space. In this instance, he clears the ball with a no-nonsense approach, but he often likes taking a calm touch and playing it out from the back.
Onana has 0.67 defensive actions outside his penalty area in the Champions League, with an average distance of 15.7 meters. Showing that he can be selective in terms of when he leaves his box. However, one of his biggest weaknesses is leaving his box when he doesn’t need to.
In the two instances above, Onana leaves his box when he doesn’t need to, causing panic between the Ajax defenders. Against Heerenveen, a ball is played over the top, but the attacker is going away from the goal, meaning there is no immediate threat. The keeper irresponsibly goes out to meet him but gets beat to the ball. Luckily it didn’t lead to a goal.
Secondly, against Getafe, much higher up the pitch, Onana is beaten to the ball once again. We can see the two Ajax centre-backs are in a good position to deal with the attack, meaning Onana doesn’t need to interfere. Luckily the attacker’s touch is loose and Ajax regains possession.
Taking pressure off the defence
Goalkeepers who are confident in their decision making and claiming crosses are vital to taking pressure off his teammates. In the league this season, Onana averages 1.22 exits per 90 and 0.35 aerial duels per 90, showing that he is willing to leave his goal and help his defence.
As the analysis proved in the previous section, Onana is a confident goalkeeper, even if his decision making isn’t the best. In the instances above, we can see how the 24-year-old is able to jump above all other players to claim high crosses. His ability to read the flight of the ball and awareness of where opposition players are, helps him take matters into his own hands. In the Champions League this season he stops 2.21 crosses per 90.
Below we see the unfortunate side of being a confident goalkeeper. Unlike any other position on the pitch, if Onana makes a mistake, there is a high chance that it will result in a goal. He misreads the flight of the ball, meaning he is out of position when Myron Boadu heads in at a crucial time of the game.
Liverpool’s Alisson has been arguably the best goalkeeper for the past two seasons. So let’s see how Onana compares in turns of preventing opposition attacks.
This graph shows us that Alisson is more of a sweeper keeper, with his 2.4 defensive actions outside of his penalty area per 90. But Onana is certainly more aggressive when it comes to matters within his box. He has more exits, aerial duels, and crosses stopped per 90.
Depending on a team’s tactics and style, passing can be a great attribute for goalkeepers to possess. In teams that control possession, a goalkeeper is a vital part in starting attacks. Ajax average 60.1% possession and 84.9% pass accuracy. Meaning Onana’s passing style is important.
The Cameroonian makes 19.93 passes per 90 with an accuracy of 88.95%. He only makes 5.94 long passes per 90, meaning that he prefers to play the ball short to his teammates. However, his pass accuracy suggests that even when he does go long, he is still able to find his target.
As previously mentioned, Onana likes to come out of his box to cover the space between the defensive line and the goal.
Onana’s calmness on the ball may appear risky at first. However, he has the footwork and football IQ to make the correct decision to play it short when he can. He often finds himself in these positions, further up the field. He is able to do this because teams don’t often press Ajax. therefore once Onana beats the striker to the ball, there is nobody else to put him under pressure.
In both the Eredivisie and Champions League, Onana is vital to starting Ajax counterattacks. He does this by claiming crosses and looking instantly to start an attack.
In both examples above, Onana has come off his goal-line to claim the ball. With Ajax leaving a player on each wing, he then aims to find them as fast as possible, usually with a throw. Onana makes 4.11 throws per 90, this is the fastest way to start a counter-attack for his team. It enables him to cut out the players surrounding him.
Liverpool play a similar style to Ajax, in regards to the way they like to keep possession. So let’s compare with Alisson again.
Though both keepers see the ball just as much, Alisson is clearly more likely to avoid playing the ball long. Onana’s medium tendency is 35.87 compared to Alisson’s 47.40. With Onana much more likely to avoid playing short goal kicks (55.10 to Alisson’s 22.2). The biggest difference here is their passes under pressure, Onana is put under much more pressure than Alisson. Onana makes 8.05 passes under pressure per 90. Once again demonstrating his calmness on the ball.
Onana or Kepa?
With Onana being heavily linked to Chelsea, let’s compare him to their current goalkeeper, Kepa. To compare the two, and analyse whether Onana would be an improvement on Kepa we will focus on data from the Champions League. Chelsea and Ajax were both in the same group. Meaning that the data given will be a fair representation of them both.
Onana is expected to concede roughly four more goals than Kepa. But the latter has in fact conceded three more goals than the former. Leaving Onana with a +2.52 difference and Kepa with a –6.1. This means that Onana has overperformed, whilst Kepa has underperformed. Though Onana has faced more shots per 90 (5.05) than Kepa (3.41), the Ajax man still concedes 0.45 less goals per 90.
Clearly here, Onana is the most aggressive keeper in terms of stopping opposition attacks within his box. However, Kepa has the edge when it comes to the ‘sweeper-keeper’ term. He has 0.83 defensive actions outside his penalty area per 90 compared to Onana’s 0.67.
Onana has more exits per 90 (1.11), aerial duels (0.47) and, crosses stopped per 90 (2.21). Proving that he helps out his defence a lot more than Kepa.
Onana and Kepa’s passing stats are almost identical. Apart from the fact that Onana has more passes under pressure per 90. Both keepers medium and long tendencies are very similar as well as their throws per 90. Onana launches slightly more of his goal kicks. Kepa is good at passing short, with an accuracy of 98.6%, however, Onana is just as effective.
This scout report has proven that Onana should now be ranked with the world’s best goalkeepers. He is likely to move on this summer, and with intense links to Chelsea, this is a real possibility. His shot-stopping, aggressiveness, and passing style would be effective for Chelsea and their defence. He can be over-aggressive with his decisions to leave his line, but this will improve with experience. He would be a great fit for Chelsea, with this analysis proving that he is currently performing better than Kepa. Without hitting the traditional goalkeeper peak yet, he is sure to continue to improve.