André Onana is adapting smoothly to Manchester United

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Upon André Onana’s arrival at Manchester United in the summer, supporters were optimistic that the club had addressed their goalkeeper-related concerns. Despite David de Gea securing the Premier League’s golden glove with 17 clean sheets, his limited ability to accurately distribute the ball to teammates from a distance was considered a stumbling block for the team’s advancement.

While De Gea’s exit prompted varied reactions among fans and players, the undeniable reality was that United needed to elevate their goalkeeping standards to capitalize on the third-place finish from the preceding season. Onana’s acquisition was anticipated to fortify their chances of closing the gap with Manchester City. Given United’s 14-point deficit to City and a defeat in the FA Cup final, enhancements were imperative for United to compete more effectively.

On paper, Onana appeared to be the optimal selection. He played a significant role in Internazionale’s progression to the Champions League final earlier this year and had prior experience working with Erik ten Hag at Ajax.

Beyond showcasing his proficiency as a skilled shot-stopper, the Cameroonian also demonstrated his ability to distribute precise long-range passes, effectively functioning as both a goalkeeper and an outfield player. Topping the Champions League charts with 116 accurate long balls last season underscored his capacity to quickly initiate attacking plays for his team.

This aspect of the game was an area where United encountered difficulties last season, particularly in comparison to their competitors. Despite ranking sixth in the Premier League with an average of 24.7 accurate long balls per game, they fell considerably behind the top two clubs: Liverpool (30.3) and Manchester City (28.4). United has started to address this shortfall in the current season, averaging 25.2 accurate long passes, placing them fourth in the league.

Nevertheless, Onana has encountered challenges adapting to his new surroundings. Like most goalkeepers transitioning to a new league and country, he needs time to acclimatize—a point emphasized by Alex Ferguson’s staunch defense of De Gea in his early months at the club.

Onana’s adjustment has been impeded by United’s overall poor form, securing only nine points from their first seven matches, marking their worst start to a season in the Premier League era. Given the ongoing challenges faced by Ten Hag’s team, it is not surprising that Onana had a shaky start.

Nevertheless, he has initiated a positive turnaround in his performances. Although there are occasional anxious moments, such as directing the ball into precarious areas after making saves, Onana’s form has significantly improved as he grows more familiar with his teammates and operates behind a more stabilized backline.

In the ongoing season, only Wes Foderingham (65) has recorded more saves than Onana (51), and his save success rate of 76.1% is second only to Liverpool’s Alisson (84.6%).

Securing a clean sheet in the recent 3-0 victory against Everton marked Onana’s fifth in the Premier League campaign, the highest among all goalkeepers. His commendable displays contribute to a WhoScored rating of 6.96, topping all goalkeepers in the league, based on diverse statistics.

The unexpectedly composed defense has played a pivotal role in supporting both United and Onana. Although not the defensive lineup envisaged by fans or Ten Hag, it has proven to be effective. Harry Maguire, once on the fringes, has become a key figure alongside Victor Lindelöf, who initially ranked third behind Lisandro Martínez and Raphaël Varane. Maguire and Lindelöf, benefitting from injuries to the first-choice duo, have established a strong understanding, providing the team with much-needed stability.

Two of Onana’s five clean sheets this season occurred with Maguire and Lindelöf in defense, contributing to four of United’s eight league victories in the five matches they started together. Surprisingly, Onana’s improvement coincided with playing alongside two center-backs who were expected to depart the club in the summer.

Unforeseen changes in the midfield, prompted by injuries to Casemiro and Christian Eriksen, created an opportunity for Scott McTominay, another player previously on the fringes, to showcase his capabilities.

Despite initial expectations of leaving in the summer, McTominay has revitalized the side in recent weeks. Although the current United team’s core may lack the high-profile names desired by fans, the familiarity among seemingly overlooked players has undoubtedly assisted Onana.

While United initially struggled at both ends of the pitch this season, they have successfully strengthened their defense. Though not dominating opponents—11th-placed Brentford boasts a superior goal difference—their resilient defense enables them to remain competitive in matches.

Despite scoring only 16 league goals this season, equal to Nottingham Forest and not even half as many as Manchester City, Ten Hag still faces challenges in addressing offensive issues. Nevertheless, with Onana proving his value, it is evident that United is making strides up the table, providing Ten Hag with a solid foundation for future development.


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