From La Masia to Amsterdam, Ajax’s Cameroonian shot-stopper Andre Onana has had what many would consider the perfect footballing upbringing. As a result, his performances over the past two seasons, most notably in Ajax’s run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2018/19 have appeared to make good on his boundless potential. It is, therefore, no surprise to learn that the 24-year-old has caught the attention of Chelsea’s scouts following a season in which Chelsea’s backline has come under increased scrutiny.The question as to whether Onana is actually prepared to compete with Kepa Arrizabalaga, a player whose world-record fee renders him impenetrable from a PR perspective, even in light of his in discrepancies between the sticks, has been the source of much debate and is a separate argument in itself. With this in mind, the forthcoming article will deal solely with whether Onana is the right fit for Frank Lampard’s ever-evolving tactical setup.In order to gain an understanding of where Onana would begin to improve this Chelsea side, we must first identify it’s shortcomings, in particular Kepa’s technique and positioning. In an interview with Chelsea’s official website earlier this season Kepa admitted to finding it difficult to adapt to the physicality of English game “The players, and the goalkeeper also, are less protected by the referee. You need to be stronger in some balls because the referee doesn’t say it’s a foul. You need to learn a little bit these situations.” and said comments have been underlined by his insistence to stay back on his line when defending set-pieces.This lack of aggression in isolation is not necessarily a bad thing. If you’re confident both in your defenders to clear the ball and your positioning in relation to any potential shot on goal then the likelihood of conceding a goal decreases dramatically. This, however, is exactly where the problem arises. Chelsea rank 13th for aerial duels won per game and have conceded 9 goals from set-pieces – the joint eighth-most with Southampton and West Ham. Herein lies the more all-encompassing problem of a defence that lacks height and aggression, but instead of providing a moderate solution, Kepa only serves to emphasise the issue further. The Spaniard has had a tendency to readjust his positioning just moments prior to an attacker or even teammate engaging with the ball. This slight shift in his bodyweight precipitated by poor anticipation puts Kepa at a marginal but at times critical disadvantage when attempting to redress the space he has just vacated.This snapshot from Ajax’s opening goal against Chelsea presents Kepa’s shift in balance quite clearly, and whilst he appears well prepared for one granted more predictable eventuality, it is this minor overcompensation that allows for Abraham’s deft touch to beat Kepa at his near post.Another long since ingrained technique which appears to be hindering Kepa’s game is that he doesn’t dive forward to save a shot, which means that whilst he tends to get a strong hand or fingertips to opposition shots he is already at a disadvantage when attempting to push it away from the goal as the direction of his dive is not moving forward in relation to his body or the shooter. The technique Kepa employs is one commonly taught to young Spanish goalkeepers in an attempt to help increase their spring and agility but at just six foot one he does not possess the height needed to make up the distance between his starting position and the placement of the shot. This is exacerbated by the aforementioned shift in body weight which prevents him from taking a step across to elongate his dive and give him a better chance of getting a hand to the shot.Expected shots on target are the best indicator of a goalkeepers quality, as it isolates his shot-stopping ability from the quality of the defenders around him based on the location of the shots he is facing rather than the volume. This stat doesn’t make good reading for Kepa, as just a few weeks prior to being dropped against Leicester City only Angus Gunn (7.38) and Nick Pope (8.09) ranked comparably.Kepa had conceded 29 goals in the Premier League, almost six more than Chelsea’s expected goals against (xGA) figure of 23.21. Using expected goals on target, (xGOT) it has emerged that Kepa has allowed 7.45 goals more than the average goalkeeper would have been expected to.Back to Onana now and it would be fair to say that his style is of shot-stopping is in stark contrast to Kepa’s. Whilst also capable of producing spectacular saves on a consistent basis Onana’s first priority is to keep the ball out of the back of the net, and whilst that may seem blatantly obvious, this means he is insistent on palming the ball out back into the centre of the box so long as it prevents the initial threat, this is a glaring weakness in his game. Kepa, on the other hand, looks to tip his shots wide of the goal but as previously mentioned this approach brings with it its own set of difficulties for Kepa’s positioning highlights a lack of self-assurance when prioritising how to deal with a shot on goal. It is clear that both keepers can learn from their respective mistakes, but whilst this may seem a tantalising prospect for everyone involved with the club, the mind of a goalkeeper is often mired with too much arrogance and pride to allow for such situations.Onana once again shows little to no likeness to Kepa when it comes to one on one situations, he displays a level head by standing strong and covering as much of the width of the goal as possible before quickly deciding where to shift his body weight in order to block any potential shot. Kepa, whilst quick off his line, is often too rash in going to ground allowing for the forward to take control of the situation and pick his spot rather than dominating the space by using his body to cut off the angle.This technique is also adopted by Onana when attempting to save shots on his line, he uses a straddle legged approach to cover more width and better position himself to jump and make a save. Physically Onana possesses superb jumping power and agility, which allow him to frequently defy expected goals metrics.Finally, we have to look at Onana’s ball-playing abilities. For a player brought through the ranks at La Masia, you would presume his decision making and composure on the ball to be of the highest standard. This presumption, however, is misguided and if he is to make it at one of Europe’s elite clubs this is an area of his game that needs serious attention. Ajax enjoy plenty of possession in the Eredivisie and are rarely victims of a high press, so a more accurate assessment of Onana’s passing ability comes from their Champions League games. In the six games Onana played in this season’s Champions League he averaged 32.8 passes per game with a measly 59.4% completion rate, whilst only completing 5.7 long passes (a good measure of a team who are pressed high) compared to the 13.2 unsuccessful long balls he attempted.Kepa doesn’t fare much better though and despite possessing far superior passing statistics in the Champions League this season, in which both Ajax and Chelsea were in the same group, high profile mistakes when playing out from the back have served to undermine his ball play abilities. The most notable of these mistakes being the wayward pass he aimed in the general direction of Kurt Zouma, which eventually led to Dominic Calvert-Lewin sealing Everton’s 3-1 win over the Blues in early December.Whilst Onana appears to be an excellent shot-stopper with Champions League pedigree, he will likely see little benefit in sacrificing regular game time to join a club who whilst on an upward trajectory, offer no significant improvement on Ajax’s standing in world football. If Chelsea were, however, to pull off such a deal it would provide great competition for Kepa as the pair both have much to learn from each other.Edited By Martell

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