With United having completed the double acquistion of two world class players in Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho and Real Madrid’s center-back Raphael Varane, they have turned their attention to an addition in midfield with Camavinga one of their top targets.
The 18-year-old, who is widely considered as one of the world’s top teenage talents, also attracted interest from Spanish giants Real Madrid, but it is United that are said to be the frontrunners in landing his sought-after signature.
His standout match in the 2019/20 campaign, which announced him to the world as a prodigous talent, was the match against Champions Paris Saint Germain. Lining up alongside Clement Grenier and Benjamin Bourigeaud as the sole anchor of the Les Rouge et Noir midfield, Camavinga would go on to put a man-of-the-match display to expertly cut out Marco Verratti and PSG. He produced the match-winning assist to Romain, which sealed an upset 2-1 win for his side that night. As expected, the plaudits came rolling in for the 16-year-old as he announced himself to the world.
The now 18-year-old had been at the forefront of the widespread acclaim for Julien Stéphan’s side,his decision to field Camavinga in every area of central midfield – be it as an sole anchor, or as a more advanced 6 on either side of a double pivot – speaks to the level of trust between them, boosted by the youngsters exceptional talent and understanding of the game. The trust has been replicated by the current Rennes manager, Bruno Génésio as well.
Style of Play
The French international plays as a true metronome, building the actions for his team and organising the central areas in a way he sees fit. That is possible because of his manouevering space and as he is always close to the action to the zones he is tasked with. Camavinga works all around the field, mostly focused on the middle-third, but can be found floating around both the half spaces near the oppositions goal as well as coming closer to his own goal in order to be included in the build-up.
The lanky, six-foot youngster is mostly present in the central areas of the pitch where he participates in all of his duties. His higher movements are also related to the pressing game and fake runs, which he uses to create room for his teammates in the danger zones
Primarily Camavinga’s job is to be included in the first-phase of play and to organise them in the following ones. His positioning in those situations is on a very high level and he very often finds space between the lines to break the opposition’s pressing. The defensive midfielder receives the ball from the centrebacks and with his press-resistant trait he drives the ball upfield, easily maneouvering the challenges from the oppposition in the process.
Camavinga’s willingness to show for the ball is hugely impressive. He never shies away from moving to receive; dropping deep to provide quick passing options and an instant counter-pressing threat. That willingness to receive the ball in deep positions, has in no way impacted his eagerness to push through the half spaces when necessary. Being extremely press-resistant is an invaluable trait when attempting to bring the ball out of the defensive third.
What makes him so press resistant is excellent spatial awareness; he never stops scanning his surroundins. Constantly checking over both shoulders prior to receiving, he knows not only where his nearest opponents are, but also where his team-mates are. This in turn allows him to feed first-time passes without having to take additional touches or spend further time looking up for his teammates once he has the ball. With such alertness to danger, Camavinga knows exactly where to take his first touch, and although he regularly receives ball-facing, his ability to open his body up using minimal touches is quite impressive.
Camavinga frequently thrives in those scenarios making the most for his team and starting good counters or transitionary plays. He is familiar with conquering space with the ball at his feet and, as he is very good under pressure, doesn’t run away from direct play against numerically superior opponents. The midfielder also often finds a way to move the ball forward from these restricted areas and manages to supply his teammates further upfield in fast transitions.
He is often involved in the thick of action as evidenced in his stats, last season, when receiving the ball. He is actively sought after by his teammates either to progress the ball or whenever he opens himself as an easy option to pass to when they are pressured by the oppostion. He has a pass received percentage of 91 percent, which is not the highest for deep lying midfielders, but he is the only 2002 born to be anywhere near the top of the chart in the league.
In the central area of the pitch, he is the main rhythm-controller due to his vision and sense for the play because he knows when to overload and when to switch flanks if one gets overcrowded.
Also when his side is in possession, but he doesn’t have the ball, his constant motions are of great importance for his side. Camavinga frequently makes it possible for them to organise their actions even though he isn’t physically included in possession. The midfielder opens a lot of passing lanes with his runs and allows players in a better position to get the ball, showing considerable knowledge and maturity at such a tender age.
He also tries to help out his teammates, in the final third of the pitch, by providing them with an extra-option. The youngster senses the gaps in the opponent’s defense and tries to utilise them by coming closer and supplying his teammates from those positions.
Camavinga is quite versatile in his decisions and uses various passes in order to dictate the tempo. He has a high pass accuracy rate of 89%. His vision and decision making are top-notch; it allows him to control the rhythm of the matches as he is really good at noticing his suroundings and picking out passes to his teammates who are in the best position to receive them.
As seen in the above plot, he is fairly average when it comes to metrics like key passes and expected assists, but keep in mind, its just his second season, also one where the new manager has experminted with him in several positions in midfield.
While he has a decent passing accuracy and is decent when playing the ball over short and medium distances (<30 metres) , his long passes are excellent. He attempts around 7 long passes each game with an accuracy of 86 percent which puts him in the 98th percentile in the league.
But clearly his current forte is not his passing game, rather his ball progression through carries. He averages around 3 successful dribbles each game, with a fairly decent 70 percent success rate. He averages around 7 progressive carrier per 90. Camavinga not only carries the ball over a significant distance, its that he constanly drives the ball towards the oppostions box whenever he starts dribbling. He ranks fifth among all Ligue 1 midfielders in this metric, with a 91 percentile ranking.
Defensive Cover & positioning
The youngsters abilities on the ball are on par with his abilities off it. He is a defensive midfielder who wants to control the middle of the pitch and one who tends to screen the back four, right behind his more adventourous midfield partners.
Out of possession, his main job is to play as a second line of defence in midfield, providing additional support if the first line gets broken. He is a very willing presser, watching for the closest opponents and staying at a reasonable distance from them so he can approach them with speed and regain possession for his side as quickly as possible.
He is very good at covering depth, as he is positionally disciplined and doesn’t often leave his position. His team can always count on him sitting behind the first line of defence marshalling his space and covering gaps between the lines.
As the second line of defence, he picks up a lot of breakthrough balls because he is quite good in “1v1” duels and sticks close to the action. Even though opponents manage to pass through the first part of his team’s pressing, he’s often there to provide correction and win the ball back. His pace is an added advanatage which aids in cutting out quick transitionary attacks from the oppostion.
He is always in constant contact with his center backs and his more advanced midfield partners. He manages to keep firm links with them, to be close enough to both the space he is tasked with and the player he needs to guard, maintaining the shape of his team’s transitive system. Although he can have the occasional lapse in concentration that can be accredited to his tender age and can be seen as the facet of his game which he can improve on.
Now if we are to look at his defensive statistics last season, all the above mentioned stats prove he is a very proactive defender who prefers to snuff out danger at the slighest sniff of it. What makes him stand out from his peers, is that his defensive metrics are not only in a high volume, but that he succeeds in most of the challenges he makes.
Camavinga is in the 87th percentile for tackles won, even while playing as the deepest midfielder he manages to impose himself all over the pitch; throwing himself into tackles across the defensive, middle and attacking third(albeit to a slighter extent) in a ploy to regain possession as quickly as possible.
As mentioned before he is a relentless presser who will constanly look to recycle posession and his proactive trait sees him being a nuisance to the oppostion all over the pitch. His willingness to win the ball, sees him make the most successfull pressures much higher up the pitch.
Now what he is not, is a player who likes to only sit back, be content with his reading of the game to be at the right place at the right time to intercept the oppostions passes. His defensive game, right now, is based on his energy and tenacity to win the ball back at any cost. While his understanding of the a game is top notch which sees him make the right decision as to when to time his tackles and when to press , he does get the occasional rush of blood and overcommits.This leaves his defence exposed, and as he is usually the last line of midfield defence, gets caught out of position time after time.
United’s requirement and Player Comparison
What United needs to complete this transformational summer window is a Defensive midfielder. However that is much easier said than done,given the definition of a defensive midfielder is one that has been subject to much debate. Predominantly there are two main schools of thought.
The first being midfielders whose primary task is to break up opppositions play and shield the back four. They are defenders first and foremost, so their ball playing abilities might not be the best for a team who is looking to play out from the back.They will struggle to impose on the ball when a team sits back. Examples of these players being Ndidi, Kante etc.
The second being the ones who essentially are deep lying midfielders, who control the tempo of the game. They can speeden up or slow down the game as they see fit, they possess excellent spatial awareness of their surroundings so that they know when to show up at the right place with or without the ball. They might not be blessed with the athleticism and robustness in the tackle of the former group , but they make up for that in footballing IQ ( at a lack of better words). Examples of these players being Busquets, Carrick etc.
While I do feel the Mctominay-Fred double pivot doesn’t get the respect it needs, I do think we will be better off having a proper defensive midfielder in our ranks. While Mctominay is an excellent ball carrier, he is very poor while receiving and while his passing has certainly improved recently it is by no means United quality. Fred is an excellent ball winning midfielder but needs a midfielder anchor next to him . As Fred is a very proactive defender who looks to regain posession as quickly as possible , he often rushes to get a tackle in. Most of the time it pays off, but when it doesn’t it exposes the united backline and largely he would be the final midfielder.
We struggle the most when teams sit back against us and counter us. With the twin exceptional additions in Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, we have solved the need for creativity in the final third and defensive accumen. However we still need an alternate to Maguire driving up the pitch frequently to link up our midfield and defense. Our requirement is a midfielder who will help out in the first phase of the game. Hence the need for a deep lying playmaker of sorts with defensive capabilities, effectively an anchor, who sits at the base midfield, cutting out oppostion passing lanes and dictating play. Matic can effectively play the role …. for one half of a game, for maybe 15 games a season. We are essentially looking for a Matic clone.
When measured up against the current options we have, who are usually deployed in the pivot, in midfield, Camavinga offers something different from the rest. From what small sample size of what I’ve seen from Camavingas he has reminded me a lot of Fred. However stats speak for itself when it coudn’t be further away from the truth. On the surface while it might seem they are quite similar in playing profile and position, they perform their tasks in very different manners.
Camavinga is more box-to-box rather than a defensive midfielder. His strength lies in carrying the ball out of defense and then having the vision to pass the ball at the right time to yield optimum results for the team. This however doesn’t mean he can’t grow into our required role, as he has the capability and the talent to grow.
However if we are to replace Matic in midfield, we should be looking at Camavinga’s international teammate, Aurélien Tchouaméni.
Even from a statistical viewpoint Tchouameni is very similar to Matic in profile. Ranking very highely in defensive metrics without leaving his position and starting attacks from deep with long vertical passes. The 20 year old as a midfield anchor at the base of the midfield and often drops into defence to make it a back 3 out of possession.
Even though his game is not focused on his energy and he does not rely on his athleticism to get the ball back, he is pretty quick and does in fact make more tackles than Camavinga, who makes more tackles than any United midfielder per 90. Tchouameni also maks more interceptions, block, clearances and successfull pressures each game, while ranking higher for ball progression through progresive passes.
His attraction towards the ball, especially in a way that serves and frequently benefits his team’s ball progression, is huge for a player of his age, even if his passing is not quite as penetrative as it potentially can be. He is also smart in the way in which he utilises his body with clever positioning, whether to draw fouls in tight situations or when dispossessing opponents.
His risk-averse playing style, might draw criticism or scepticism, but can likely be attributed as result of his youth. It is the fact that the great things he does are clearly a result of his natural intelligence that makes him such an exciting prospect.While he has played across the entirety of midfield and can be moulded to be a specialist anywhere across, Camavinga is most suited to being a deep-lying number eight, rather than an out-n-out 6. Given that he is afforded the positional freedom in and out of possession to make himself an option to the ball and a nuisance to opponents.
A pipeline dream perhaps would be a midfield of Camavinga and Tchouameni. Camavinga as a ball carrying 8 and Tchouameni as a deep lying 8/6 hybrid.
All that being said Camavinga won’t come in and solve our midfield issues, infact I would even go as far as to say he won’t be the answer to our problem. He is an exciting talent that would be good for any big team, however his acclimitisation period to English football paired with the change in his playstyle which will have to be implemented to aid how we play, will take some time. If we are ready to bare with all these issues and pay a premium for a future world class player then we should absolutely go in for it.