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Analysis: How André Onana has overcome his early Manchester United struggles



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Manchester United fans were very excited for a new goalkeeper at the club, and when André Onana was announced in the summer it felt like a statement signing.

A standout player in Internazionale‘s unexpected run to the UEFA Champions League final, he exhibited exceptional shot-stopping abilities, commanding his area with authority and confidence. Onana‘s agility, reflexes, and distribution were instrumental in his team’s defensive stability and possession play, contributing significantly to their final run.

Many considered him Man of the Match in the final, making some impressive saves and putting on an excellent show in possession. Almost nine months later, he is again at the losing end of a game against Manchester City, and the move doesn’t seem to have gone as planned.

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Onana faced some early struggles in his Manchester United career, most notably playing in the same competition where he earned his world-class status a season earlier. Many howlers saw United crash out of Europe, finishing bottom of a group they were expected to get through comfortably. In the league, United aren’t faring too much better.

Currently, they sit in sixth place but are a significant distance away from fourth. It would take a huge improvement from United and a colossal collapse from the teams above them for the side to get into the UEFA Champions League next season.

Yet, on Sunday afternoon, it felt as though the Cameroonian goalkeeper was one of the only players who could leave with some dignity and one of the only players who might actually still be a Manchester United player in two or three years’ time.

Outside of his struggles in the early months, Onana has genuinely been one of United’s players of the season. United are having one of their worst-ever defensive seasons in the league, but Onana has kept it from being even worse at times. There have been many games where he’s had to come up with 4/5 huge saves whilst United scraped a win.

United are in the bottom half of the league for shots on target conceded, and only four goalkeepers have a better save % than Onana. Only five teams have kept more clean sheets despite how many chances United concede. This is already a strong indicator of his goalkeeping performance. [FBref]

His distribution skills were perhaps what excited fans the most, and despite the system not facilitating them nearly enough, they have been on show this season. In the game at the Etihad, it was an excellent pass in behind City’s high line that led to Marcus Rashford’s stunning opener, facilitated by some excellent play from Bruno Fernandes.

But throughout the game, Onana provided United’s best moments on the ball (not that there were many of them). He stepped up into United’s backline almost as a faux centre-half, something we have seen on many occasions this season.

Onana steps up to play alongside Varane, with Evans pulling out wider (Sky Sports)
Onana once again forming a back four with three United defenders (Sky Sports)

The 27-year-old’s composed nature under pressure and varied technical skillset makes him an ideal goalkeeper when trying to build possession and establish ball dominance. United have not done so effectively this season but through no fault of Onana’s.

INEOS have made it clear that they plan to decide on a style of play, and whatever this style of play is, Onana is showing that he should be one of the building blocks of it. He is in his prime years as a goalkeeper and excels in many areas, making him suitable for a variety of different systems. He is also a leader who wears his heart on his sleeve and loves being at Manchester United – which, at the end of the day, is one of the most important things.

He has been a big player for Manchester United this season in less-than-ideal circumstances, and while the move has not gone as planned so far, football always teaches us not to judge transfers too early. André Onana could yet be another reminder of that.