Le50 2017 – Houssem Aouar
While it is never wise to read too much into squad numbers, Lyon have raised more than a few eyebrows with the new recipient of their number 8 shirt, Houssem Aouar. Once worn by Juninho Pernambucano and more recently Corentin Tolisso, the shirt doesn’t quite have iconic status, but a certain weight of expectation comes with it. As Lyon prepare for life without arguably their four best outfield players, the handing of the number 8 shirt to Aouar sends a signal that the club sees him as the potential next poster boy for Lyon’s brand of homegrown attacking football.
Lyon look to be restructuring themselves with a distinctly youthful approach, with Nabil Fekir, 24 in a week’s time, likely to often be the oldest player in the front six. Lyon have been proactive ahead of the departures of their stars, bringing in a raft of young attacking players in the last few months, including Bertrand Traoré from Chelsea and Mariano Diaz from Real Madrid. That said, it may be that the club continues its well-established penchant for trusting in its academy products, and Aouar, who has only just turned 19, may well feature highly.
Slight at just 5′ 9″ and 70 kg, Aouar’s few appearances with the first team to date have been on the left wing, but it appears increasingly likely that Lyon will opt for a 4-2-3-1 in the months to come, offering a change from what had frequently been a 4-3-3. With Fekir likely to be used as often as a striker as in a creative role, and Memphis Depay firmly entrenched on the left flank, Aouar’s dynamic style of play means he will likely be given every opportunity to make himself part of the first team.
Aouar has a doggedness about him, frequently working hard to win the ball back when he loses it. This, coupled with sublime vision, a wide range of passing and great acceleration, make him a fairly complete attacking midfielder, similarly adept on the wing, as well as able to play either an attacking or a more defensively-minded central role in a 4-3-3. His one Lyon goal to date, against AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League, highlighted his strengths, running the channel, finding space, good control and distribution and positional awareness to remain onside before showing great calmness to finish.
Even with the bit of wiry strength that Aouar does possess, he surely won’t play with the same wrecking-ball brio as Fekir did two seasons ago, lacking his burlier teammate’s physicality. However, what Aouar lacks in strength, he more than makes up for in composure, versatility and effort. This positional versatility is reminiscent of Tolisso, although Aouar perhaps has more in common with Thomas Lemar, another slightly undersized player who has prospered on the wing but may see more success centrally long-term.
Aouar has the opportunity to develop in a relatively pressure-free environment as Lyon seek to rebuild after missing out on this year’s Champions League. Given this situation and ample chances on the pitch, it is not inconceivable that Aouar could blossom this year, taking some of the sting out of losing the club’s more reliable performers.