Onana proves critics wrong; vital for Manchester United

Onana proves critics wrong; vital for Manchester United

The Red Devils’ goalkeeper went from being the butt of every joke to an indomitable force in the face of relentless pressure

Manchester United set an unwanted record last weekend, but at least one person came out of it with a good image: Erik Ten Hag’s team conceded 23 shots on goal in their unconvincing 2-0 win over Everton – the most shots a team has received in a Premier League game without conceding a goal since 2010.

The statistic didn’t quite reflect Ten Hag’s ability to organise his team or his porous midfield, but it did reflect it André Onana’s cheap football shirts, who made six saves against the Toffees. Another worrying statistic soon followed: United had conceded 20 or more shots in five of their last six Premier League games. However, during those games, the club conceded just five goals and kept two clean sheets – another positive reflection for Onana.

After being justifiably blamed for the team’s poor results at the start of the season and, in particular, for the failure in the Champions League, the Cameroonian has reversed the narrative. If before he was singled out as one of the main culprits for United’s problems, now he’s the one saving the team. It took a while, but the real Onana is now standing tall.

A lot of work, but no goals conceded

It’s never easy for any player to adapt to a new league, especially goalkeepers. David de Gea had a difficult first year in England after arriving from Spain and even Peter Schmeichel had some initial problems when he swapped Denmark’s Brondby for United in 1991. However, despite all the negative press Onana has received, he has adapted very well to the Premier League.

United’s goalkeeper has defended eight goals this season and only David Raya, of Cheap Arsenal football shirts (with nine), defended more. Onana’s record is particularly impressive when you consider that United have faced 467 shots, with only bottom-placed Sheffield United conceding more.

But while the Blades have by far the worst defence in the English top flight, the Cheap Manchester United women’s football shirts has the third best record, with 39 goals conceded. Only Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, respectively, have conceded fewer goals.

Champions League nightmare

Curiously, Onana was one of the best goalkeepers in the Champions League last season, conceding just 11 goals in 13 games with Inter, who he helped reach the final. However, his return to Europe’s premier competition with United was a nightmare from start to finish.

He started by letting Leroy Sane’s shot pass under his body, which gave Bayern Munich the lead in a 4-3 defeat. In the next game, against Galatasaray, he conceded three goals and gave the visitors a penalty and a one-man advantage by sending the ball straight at an opponent, which led to Casemiro making a last-ditch manoeuvre and being sent off.

They conceded four more goals against Copenhagen and another three against Galatasaray, reacting particularly badly to two free kicks from Hakim Ziyech as United twice squandered a two-goal lead to equalise 3-3. Onana finished the campaign with 15 goals conceded in six games, with only Royal Antwerp conceding more. United finished bottom of their group, which prevented them from playing in European competitions and deprived them of valuable income.

Desperation in Istanbul

Goalkeepers need to have a thick skin and Onana is usually calm after making mistakes, but he was inconsolable after making two errors against Galatasaray in Istanbul. At the end of the game, Onana tore off his gloves and was seen gesticulating in frustration, waiting alone on the pitch in the rain before joining his team-mates in the changing room.

It is believed that several players began to lose faith in him and wished that De Gea, who had been ruthlessly denied a new contract by the club the previous summer, had stayed. A team-mate said to him in training: “Are you trying to save a guy or what?

Onana also began to doubt himself and reportedly told a friend: “I don’t know what’s happening to me with these mistakes. I’ve always had confidence in myself, but now I’m losing it.”

Ten Hag’s demonstration of faith

The turning point came when he managed to keep a clean sheet at Liverpool, in a game in which United drew 0-0 and which many expected to be a bloodbath. The Red Devils lost two of their next three games, against West Ham and Nottingham Forest, but Onana wasn’t to blame for any of the defeats.

And, crucially, he received a huge vote of confidence from Ten Hag when United negotiated with Cameroon and he was later allowed to join his national team for the African Cup of Nations so that he could play for United against Tottenham and Wigan. It may have seemed disrespectful to substitute goalkeeper Altay Bayindir, but it showed how much United value Onana.

In the end, Onana probably wished he had never joined Cameroon, as he made just one appearance and conceded three goals against Senegal, leaving the tournament with a zero per cent defence rate.

The turning point

But the malaise in the national team didn’t affect his performance for his country, quite the opposite. His defences kept United afloat against Tottenham, Aston Villa and Luton Town. And after helping United beat Nottingham Forest 1-0 to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, he revealed that he battled demons in the first few months since moving to United from Inter, but came out stronger.

“I had a turning point, but not on the pitch… it was more mental. It took me six or seven months of not playing well just to feel good. It was a difficult period for me,” he revealed. “I feel a bit better now. Everything was new, it was hard to feel at home for many reasons… a new country.

“Playing in the Champions League final and being knocked out in the first round a few months later… that was a big lesson for me. Now I think I’ve forgotten everything. I learn from it, move on and try to be happy.

“I feel good now. I don’t want to talk about performance because I know I’m the goalkeeper I am. The most important thing is to be well, to be happy and I’m going to shine.”

From problem to solution

Onana has been shining for some time, but has faced many obstacles, not least a constantly changing squad of defenders. Ten Hag have had to use 24 different combinations in defence this season due to injuries, including playing without a natural left-back in several games due to the absences of Tyrell Malacia and Luke Shaw.

Lisandro Martinez’s long periods of absence have also affected the goalkeeper, who is one of the few defenders with the courage and ability to take the ball off the keeper and play out from the back. As they showed against Everton, Jonny Evans and Raphael Varane are excellent defenders, but they struggle to get forward with the ball.

As Onana was signed mainly because of his ability to create play, this is a significant disadvantage. However, he showed his aptitude for long-range shots with his pass to Bruno Fernandes against Manchester City, which led to Marcus Rashford’s goal. It was the second goal this season that Onana has contributed to.

Ten Hag hopes that his goalkeeper can continue to support United’s transition into a team that is more comfortable on the ball, rather than relying solely on counter-attacks. But the most important thing is that Onana no longer offers United compensation for his ability on the ball, but rather excels in the main function of a goalkeeper: preventing the ball from entering the net.

And that’s just as well, given the number of shots United are conceding. In less than four months, he has gone from being the cause of the team’s problems to the solution. Ten Hag may have 99 other problems, but Onana isn’t one of them.


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